Lakemary students move into former Ursuline motherhouse in Kansas

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In 1969, the Ursuline Sisters of Paola, Kan., set aside 32 acres of their land to begin the Lakemary Center, so children with developmental disabilities would be nurtured and given the opportunity for personal growth and happiness.

The Ursulines of Paola merged with the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph in October 2008, but once again the Ursulines are making way for Lakemary students in need.

Lakemary is entering the construction phase of its $3.3 million capital campaign to renovate and expand their school, so special arrangements had to be made to ensure that the students remain safe with the least amount of disruption possible. The solution proved to be moving the students and staff into the former motherhouse in Paola.

“Both students and staff have settled in across the road beautifully,” said Amanda Martell, Lakemary principal.

The ability to relocate Lakemary’s day students to the Ursuline campus will eliminate the need to do the construction in phases, and allow the building contractor to complete the project sooner than originally anticipated, said Mary Wheeler, director of marketing and development for Lakemary. Loyd Builders of Ottawa, Kan., will begin construction soon with completion scheduled for summer 2014.

“It is a fitting tribute to the Ursulines that they would continue their caring, educating endeavors on behalf of children with disabilities,” Wheeler said. “Even though our friends reside now across the miles, spending our days in the Paola motherhouse again makes them seem somehow not quite so far away. All of us at Lakemary send our thanks to the sisters in Paola and in Maple Mount for their collective efforts to make the plan a reality.”

Lakemary students watch a video in a makeshift classroom on the ground floor of the Ursuline convent in Paola. The students moved into the convent in August to start the school year.

Most of the sisters who were living in the former motherhouse moved to Maple Mount or to new ministries in 2009. While efforts continue to sell the property, Sister Helen Smith, the property manager at the time of the merger, and Sister Kathleen Condry, the last superior in Paola, live in the 64,000-square foot convent, while they both minister at Church of the Nativity in Leawood, Kan.

“I am still adjusting to the flurry of activity that is happening on the ground floor each morning as I leave to start my day,” Sister Helen said. “It has been some time since the quiet of the near empty convent has been invaded with sounds of life. Yet I smile realizing how wonderful it is to hear and see the building alive again and more importantly to know that the work we began years ago continues in very capable hands. Being able to provide space for Lakemary’s continued ministry for the next 12 to 18 months is an extra joy.  The Spirit does work wonders in our midst.”

At the end of June, Sister Helen received a call from staff members at Lakemary who were looking for space to hold adult training classes for their current staff and new hires during the renovation period.

“They were hoping that the convent building might have space that would meet their needs,” Sister Helen said. “I met with them and showed them all the space available.”

That was followed by a visit from Kirk Davis, vice president for Lakemary instructional services, who asked if Sister Helen would be willing to show the Lakemary principal space that might be available.

Sister Helen Smith gets a hug from Mary, a member of the Lakemary Center cleaning staff, on March 12, 2009, during a farewell celebration for the love and devotion of the Ursuline Sisters.

“With each visit, I kept telling the Lakemary personnel that Lakemary was near and dear to the hearts of our community and especially the former Paola sisters among us and we would love to help,” Sister Helen said. “However, our Paola property continues to be up for sale and I didn’t know how much time would be available even if there were no other stumbling blocks.”

Principal Amanda Martell visited and was thrilled with the potential space, Sister Helen said. Additional discussions took place ending with Lakemary making a formal proposal to Sister Sharon Sullivan, congregational leader, and the leadership team.

“With Lakemary’s willingness to vacate the building in a timely manner should the property sell, the agreement was made,” Sister Helen said.

Lakemary is using most of the ground floor of the convent and a large meeting room on the first floor, best known to those in Paola as the “wicker room.” The children who are served in the building have both mental and physical challenges, and the staff is committed to helping the children reach their individual potentials in a safe, positive environment.

“Thanks to our Ursuline friends, the perfect solution was found,” Wheeler said.


  1. Mary Lou Rottinghaus

    I can’t tell you how much it means to me to know the beautiful Motherhouse is again alive with the sounds of laughter and education.
    Having been my home for twelve years it has a special place in my heart along with my Ursuline Sisters.

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