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Friday, November 22, 2019

Ursuline Sisters of Cincinnati Archives - a Treasure to our City

 By Grace DeGregorio

Inside the walls of St. Ursula Academy (SUA) in East Walnut Hills there not only is a busy academic setting but a treasure trove of history.  There are the impressive original buildings from the turn of the 20th century; the charm of the front rooms, where guests still are greeted, and period furnishings - many donated - and décor restored to what they would have been in the 1870s; the bustling school rooms and hallways; the quiet reverence of the chapel.

The room is filled with documents, pictures and artifacts from the Ursulines of Cincinnati history in Cincinnati.
But there also is the south wing, now purposed for school use, which was the home of Maria Longworth Storer and her husband Bellamy Storer.  And, up several floors in the main building, is the home of the Ursulines of Cincinnati Archives.

Nancy Broermann, SUA ‘68,  is one of five archivists (also Anne Gutzwiller, Jan Hurst, Kit Overbeck and Elaine Semancik) who maintain and do ongoing research on the Ursuline Sisters of Cincinnati. 

Nancy Broermann welcomes you to the Ursulines of Cincinnati Archival Display at Ursuline Academy
“We are archivists of the sisters, not of St. Ursula Academy,” Nancy clarifies.  “The sisters taught in 10 parochial schools and two high schools in the area,” Nancy says.  “There were 100 sisters in the early days, and they did everything including building maintenance and even making their own habits.”

According to The Story of the Ursulines of Cincinnati by Mary-Cabrini Durkin, 11 Ursuline sisters came to Cincinnati in 1845 at the behest of Bishop John Baptist Purcell and settled in Brown County. Mother Fidelis Coleman of the order arrived in 1896, the year the Ursuline Sisters of Brown County established Ursuline Academy at Oak and May Streets.  She was elected Superior in 1907 and opened a school at Holy Name Parish in Mt. Auburn. 

A room is set aside for “The Rookwood Connection” - acknowledging Maria Longworth Storer’s legacy.
But, as Durkin explains, “Differing visions of where and how to pursue their educational mission, and under whose leadership, led to divisions within the [Ursulines of Brown County] community.”  After several years of discussion, in November 1910 official notification was delivered to Mother Fidelis in a letter from Archbishop Henry Moeller formally establishing the Ursuline Sisters of Cincinnati.

St. Ursuline Academy, under the aegis of the new order,  opened on September 18, 1910 in the rented Moorbrink house at McMillan and Ingleside with 63 students in grades kindergarten through 12.  Mother Fidelis purchased the Worcester mansion, to which a third floor was added, on 1339 East McMillan, with another purchase made on the adjacent Harrison House in 1911.

This beautiful Rookwood pottery piece is one example of the pristine work done by the famed artisans.
On January 3, 1914, Bellamy and Maria Longworth Storer knocked on the SUA door when the couple called on Mother Fidelis. They had returned to Cincinnati from Bellamy’s international diplomatic assignments and were looking for a home which might include a chapel.  According to Durkin, Archbishop Moeller referred them to the Ursulines of Cincinnati.

In response to their suggestion of living at the East McMillan property, Mother Fidelis explained it wasn’t possible with the current crowded conditions. Maria, not to be deterred, after discussion with Bellamy offered funds for a building addition and a new chapel.  Their generosity was accepted.

The roof was removed from the Harrison house to accommodate a third floor.  Durkin reports, “In an addition to its south side, the Storers took up residence in May 1915.” They were to live there until 1919.

This 1926 Ursuline Academy yearbook was obtained during a six year project to collect yearbooks from 1910-1936.
The Storers consulted on the artistry of the new chapel.  It was to have altars of renowned Italian Carrara marble, stained glass windows in the Munich style from Frei Brothers of St. Louis (Nancy Broermann says their brilliant colors will never fade, as they are made of non-organic materials) and an Austin pipe organ donated by Bellamy Storer.  The first Mass was held in the chapel on May 28, 1916 - coinciding with Mother Fidelis’ silver jubilee.  Archbishop Moeller dedicated the chapel on May 31 - “the date then celebrated as [the Ursuline’s founder in 1535] St. Angela Merici’s feast,” according to Durkin.

School uniforms, T-shirts, clothing worn at school functions are among the interesting memorabilia welcome as donations to the archives.
These and other historical facts - and fascinating anecdotes - are part of the Ursuline Sisters of Cincinnati Archives.  Unlike the typical vision of archives ensconced in dark, dusty atmospheres, these are kept in clean, well-lit rooms with functional tables and computer access for scanning materials and enhancing research.  Archival items are kept in clearly labeled boxes easily identified and located.

The archives include documents about every sister and every school where they taught.  “Sisters’ Journals” relate stories the archivists research.

One of the rooms where archivists catalog documents and do fascinating research.
“One says the sisters wanted one of their own to design the chapel,” shares Nancy.  “They [eventually] hired the architect Joseph Steinkamp who, with his brother, designed 230 buildings in their career.  They are part of a book Tom Connolly is writing about the architects of Cincinnati.”

Also included are anniversary notes; programs of events; correspondence with archbishops and other clergy.  In addition, the archivists have meticulously gathered, framed and displayed photos of every SUA graduating class.  They seek out donations of everything from SUA-related clothing (uniforms, T-shirts, etc.) and accessories from different eras of the school history.  They also welcome documents, pictures, posters, etc.

This 1915 SUA floor plan created much excitement when it was discovered.
A “museum” of artifacts, with explanatory tablets, has been established at St. Ursula Academy that is open to the public for viewing by individuals and groups.  Included is a myriad of photos, artifacts, letters and other documents which chronicle the activities of the Ursuline Sisters of Cincinnati. 

“The teaching of students is only one part of what the sisters do,” says Nancy. “For example, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, sisters were brought here from Miami, Florida, The local sisters cared for them, taught them English and brought them back to teach in Miami.”

There is a display in the museum explaining that the sisters were trained in Civil Defense during World War II.  “They would stand on the school roof, looking for an impending attack,” says Nancy.  “If they detected something suspicious, they were to run to a designated place to sound an alarm to warn the East Walnut Hills residents.”

The beautiful chapel at St. Ursula Academy is a key part of the history of the school.
Part of the museum is dedicated to “The Rookwood Connection” in homage of Maria Longworth Storer and Cincinnati’s renowned Rookwood Pottery which she founded.

Today five sisters from the Ursulines of Cincinnati remain at SUA, which currently has 670 students, to ensure the curriculum reflects the beliefs of the order.  The history of the Ursulines of Cincinnati includes the 1960 purchase of the LeBlond estate in Mt. Lookout, which was converted to a grade school, St. Ursula Villa.  Today the Villa educates students from toddlers through 8th grade and, following a major renovation, has an updated campus that still reflects the elegance of its root architecture. 

The order is active in local church and community activities and initiatives, adhering to the essence of its mission statement:

“We, the Ursulines of Cincinnati, are a community of Christ-centered women transforming lives with compassion and creativity.  We pledge to respond to the needs of our times through our diverse ministries and in collaboration with the laity.  We will respect the dignity of each individual, nurture their unique gifts and be present to them as we all seek a deeper and more personal relationship with God.”

For more information, please visit
The chapel altars and two flanking angels are made of Carrara marble from Italy.  On this angel, note the carved lily, believed to represent the Storers.

This stained glass window depicting The Annunciation also bears the Storer lily motif.

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