“More than the work, I really do love the Chilean people. They’re wonderful, very outgoing and very friendly. They take you in and they accept you very well. I do love the work very much, too. I guess this is just the kind of work that’s right for me because I love all the crafty stuff, teaching and the diversity of the place. No two years are ever the same, almost no two weeks are ever the same, either.”
Sister Mary Elizabeth “Mimi” Ballard, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph, was talking about her 10-year ministry as director of the Dianna Ortiz Ursuline Center for Women, also known as Casa Ursulina (Ursuline House), in Chillán in Chile, South America. Casa Ursulina serves just under 200 women in this poverty-plagued area, teaching them crafts, giving them an opportunity to earn money with their craft making, and providing them with classes to further their personal growth.
“Sister Mimi has always had the heart of a missionary: a sense of adventure, a willingness to try something new and ‘to go with the flow,’” says Sister Michele Morek, congregational leader of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. “Among all her other gifts, who knew that it would be her knack with crafts and her teaching skills that would turn into Casa Ursulina? This is a wonderful example of how, if we turn our gifts over to God, God can do wonders with them. Or, as Angela Merici would have said, Act, move, believe, have faith…and you will see marvelous things!
“Our Ursuline community of Mount Saint Joseph is so grateful to Mimi that she is our presence in South America – for where one of us is, there are we all!”
Sister Mimi is the oldest girl in a large family, the fourth oldest of 13 children born to Lawrence Ballard, Jr., a lifelong Bell Telephone employee, and Mary Orline Simpson Ballard, a nurse and homemaker. Their offspring consisted of eight girls and five boys. The family was living in Fairfield, Kentucky, when Mary Elizabeth was born, but they moved to Bardstown when she was a young girl.
For eight years Mimi attended Saint Michael Grade School in Fairfield, where she was taught by Maple Mount Ursulines.
Her going on to Mount Saint Joseph for high school came as no surprise to her teachers, family members and friends.
Sister Dolorita Robinson, one of Mimi’s teachers at Saint Michael, remembers an early desire of Mimi’s to become a sister. “She was one of two girls and two boys who lived in the same neighborhood and liked to play Mass together,” she recalls being told. “The boys always played the priests and the girls played the servers. One day Mimi and the other girl told the boys that they were going to play the priests because they were both going to be sisters someday. They played the roles of priests that day, and they both went on to become sisters – Mimi became an Ursuline, of course, and the other girl became a Carmelite.”
“Since I was a little kid I always wanted to be a sister,” Sister Mimi recalls. “The sisters knew that, and they encouraged me to come to the Mount for high school. I also got a wonderful scholarship and that helped too.” She says Sister Mary Edgar Warren played a major role in her going to Mount Saint Joseph for high school and in her becoming an Ursuline Sister. “I had Sister Mary Edgar for five of my eight years at Saint Michael’s,” says Sister Mimi. “I thought she was so wonderful and I wanted to be just like her. And when I entered the community after high school graduation, she was in charge of the postulants.”