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Ursuline sisters blend old, new in state-of-the-art motherhouse

News of the Diocese

April 4, 2019

Merici Crossings, a sleek, modern 68,000-square-foot structure located on about 10 acres near the campus of Ursuline College in Pepper Pike is now home to 68 members of the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland. They moved into the new motherhouse, which cost about $22 million, in mid-February. The project took nearly a decade to complete and involved a capital campaign to fund roughly half of the development.

There is a distinctive swooping roof reaching upward toward heaven over the chapel where the sisters pray and have daily Mass.
Ursuline sisters blend old, new in state-of-the-art motherhouse
Sister Susan Durkin, president of the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland, said the nearby 268,000-square-foot old motherhouse was too big for the sisters and was not suited for an older population. In addition, the building – which opened in 1958 -- cost more than $1 million annually in maintenance and was in need of major repairs.

Their new home features a chapel, dining area, great room, one-, two- and a few three-bedroom suites, a fitness center, ministry offices, underground parking and more amenities. Sisters living at Merici Crossings must be able to live independently. Those who need more care are at Regina Health Center in Richfield or Light of Hearts Villa in Bedford.

Bishop Nelson Perez visited the new facility on April 1 and blessed it during a prayer service. Sister Susan and other congregational leaders led him through the first floor of the building where he blessed the chapel, dining room, great room/reception area, ministry hallway and atrium/residence. She carried a small statue of the Blessed Virgin and baby Jesus that has great significance to the congregation because it was brought from France to Cleveland by the first four sisters who arrived here in 1850 at the invitation of Bishop Amadeus Rappe, the first bishop of Cleveland.
Ursuline sisters blend old, new in state-of-the-art motherhouse
According to reports in the congregation’s history, the ship carrying the sisters ran into a storm that strengthened into a hurricane. The sisters brought out the statue, began praying the rosary and gradually the storm subsided. The plaster statue, which was later painted gold, has had a place of honor with the congregation throughout their years in the diocese, Sister Susan said. The Ursulines were the first sisters invited to minister in the diocese and they have provided a ministry of hospitality for other congregations over the years, Sister Susan said.

Bishop Perez congratulated the sisters on their new home. He said while they looked forward to moving, he knows it also can be difficult to leave the past behind.

“Believe me, I understand moves. I’ve been in three dioceses in the past seven years – and they were big moves,” he said, referring to his years in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In 2012, he was ordained a bishop and assigned as an auxiliary for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, before he was named bishop of Cleveland in 2017.
Ursuline sisters blend old, new in state-of-the-art motherhouse
“God only knows how this place will unfold over time. He has his ways and we have ours. Buildings, like people, will come and go. We bless a structure, but in the reading, Paul speaks of a temple – the temple inside us,” the bishop said.

He also recalled the end of the movie “Schindler’s List” when the Jews that Oskar Schindler saved during World War II and their descendants visited his grave and placed rocks on it. Bishop Perez said he didn’t understand the significance of the gesture until he visited the Holy Land and asked a guide.

“He explained that it was a monument to life that the deceased person (in this case Schindler) was building. I continue building and so do you. But it’s not really about this building; it’s about building the temple of life,” the bishop said. “In the scheme of things, we sometimes worry about things that really don’t matter. This building (the physical structure) is done, but the building (the spiritual kind) that Paul talks about is not finished.”
Ursuline sisters blend old, new in state-of-the-art motherhouse
On behalf of the Ursulines, Sister Susan presented Bishop Perez with Bishop Rappe’s episcopal ring. He had a special relationship with the sisters because he had served as a chaplain for them before he came to the United States. After he was named first bishop of the diocese in 1847, he asked the sisters to come and work here because he was familiar with their efforts in education. They have ministered continuously in the diocese ever since. When Bishop Rappe died, he left his ring and travelling Mass kit to the sisters.

“With our move comes some downsizing. We now return this ring to the diocese,” Sister Susan told Bishop Perez as she handed him a small box containing Bishop Rappe’s ring. The Mass kit was transferred to the diocesan archives earlier.

As they walked throughout Merici Crossings, Sister Susan and other Ursuline sisters pointed out features of the new building, including a large, stained-glass panel featuring the Holy Spirit that hangs in the great room outside the chapel. It was presented to the sisters in 1981 and is dedicated to the memory of the four churchwomen – including Sister Dorothy Kazel, an Ursuline from Cleveland – who were murdered on Dec. 2, 1980 near the diocesan mission in El Salvador during the country’s civil war. A display case nearby contains some of Sister Dorothy’s memorabilia and other items, including a sketch of the four women. A total of 14 Ursuline sisters served at the El Salvador mission from 1968 until 2014.
Ursuline sisters blend old, new in state-of-the-art motherhouse
Other display cases and photos share some of the history of the Ursulines in Cleveland. There are pictures of the first motherhouse, a home Bishop Rappe purchased for the sisters, some of the schools they founded and staffed over the years including Villa Angela Academy and Beaumont School, the new motherhouse the sisters moved into in 1893 at East 55thStreet and Scovill Avenue in Cleveland and early pictures of Ursuline College, which was established in 1871. Also displayed are memorabilia from the congregation’s history including a replica of Bishop Rappe’s chalice, a place setting of dishes and flatware brought to the U.S. by the four sisters who travelled here and a collection of Thomas Merton books.

Merici Crossings also features stained-glass window panels from the chapel in the old motherhouse that were removed and now hang from the ceiling in some of the building’s first-floor corridors, helping to blend the congregation’s past, present and future. The building is filled with large windows that offer a great deal of natural light and views of the property.

Sister Susan said Merici Crossings was designed by HDS Architecture with principal Dave DiFrancesco. A.M. Higley was the builder and Bill Morse was general contractor. It is designed with an eye to the future, she said, with amenities like individual bathrooms, kitchenettes, private bedrooms for each sister, a dining room/living room combination and laundry facilities in each unit to enhance potential future resale or redevelopment.
Ursuline sisters blend old, new in state-of-the-art motherhouse
Offices for the congregation remain in the old motherhouse but Sister Susan said the plan is to relocate them later this year. Once the building is empty, she said it likely will be demolished and some of the property devoted to a land conservation easement.

In addition to Sister Susan, other members of the congregational leadership team are Sisters Joanne Gross, Susan Bremer, Kathleen Flanagan and Laura Bregar. The Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland also helped launch several other communities of Ursulines in Ohio and Kentucky.

Their ministries primarily are education, spiritual direction and parish ministry.

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