Sister Mary Elizabeth (Mimi) Ballard, OSU: “….has always had the heart of a missionary.”

After painting faces on about 100 angels, Nora and Sister Mimi show off their work. Angels are among many crafts made at Casa Ursulina that are sold at Mount Saint Joseph Book and Gift Shop.

Following high school graduation, Sister Mimi began college at Brescia College as a postulant. Although she hadn’t yet completed the work toward her teaching degree, she began her teaching career early at Saint William School in Knottsville when that school was in need of a teacher for first, second and third grade students.

After three years at Saint William, Sister Mimi taught kindergarten classes at Brescia for five years before her first venture to South America in 1978.

Why South America? “I always wanted to be a missionary,” says Sister Mimi. “At least since the fourth or fifth grade. So I had this conflict because I also wanted to be an Ursuline, and Ursulines were not missionaries. But when I was in high school in 1965, the Ursulines sent their first missionaries to Chile — and that solved my conflict.”

But the solution didn’t come easily. She recalls, “I asked to go to Chile probably every year for maybe five years before they finally said yes. Part of the reason was that I didn’t make my final vows until ’74, and then I hadn’t completed my master’s degree, and it wouldn’t have been very sensible to go off and leave that undone.”

Finally, in 1978, after she completed her final vows and earned her master’s degree in early childhood education, Sister Mimi’s dream was fulfilled. She was sent to Chillán, Chile, where the Ursuline Sisters were doing pastoral ministry work.

She worked in Chillán until 1986 when she joined fellow Ursuline Sister Dianna Ortiz and two Franciscan sisters in Guatemala to do pastoral ministry in San Miguel Acatán for four years.

During a two-month sabbatical at Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods in Indiana, Sister Mimi learned practical fiber arts skills which she will pass on to the ladies at Casa Ursulina.

Sister Mimi returned to Chile in 1991, working with fellow Ursuline Sister Gia Mudd and Sister of Mercy Jane Kendrick in parish ministry in Viňa del Mar.

In 1993 Sister Mimi returned to Chillán to begin work specifically with women in crisis situations such as low incomes and raising children alone. This led to the establishment of Casa Ursulina in 1997.

The first home for Casa Ursulina was a low-income government house, one half of a duplex 5 by 7 meters (15 by 21 feet). “It had a classroom, a bedroom – where I lived – and a supply room,” Sister Mimi recalls. “There were two wooden shacks in the back of the house which we also used as classrooms.”

Officially known as The Dianna Ortiz Ursuline Center for Women, the building was expanded 18 months later through a grant from the Conrad Hilton Fund for Sisters and funds raised by Sister Suzanne Sims and the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. “We knocked down one of the shacks and built a sewing room the same size plus an upstairs room where I moved my quarters,” says Sister Mimi. “A year later we obtained some additional funds, tore down the second shack, and built a meeting room and kitchen.”

The most recent addition to the center came in 2003 with the purchase of the other half of the duplex. The purchase added an additional 15 x 21 feet of space plus another shack behind the building and more back yard space, where a small open room for exercise classes was built in 2004.

With the purchase of the other half of the duplex, Sister Mimi says the center finally has the space it needs for its many programs.

One aspect of the house is a cooperative with women with financial needs producing items (crafts, weaving, sweatshirts) for sale to produce a steady income. The co-op uses the center every morning, Monday through Friday.