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

Afternoons from 3-5 are used for classes. A wide variety of classes – knitting, sewing, crocheting, cooking, baking and painting – are taught by volunteer women. English, dancing and exercise classes are available two to three evenings a week from 5:30-7. Childcare is available, thanks to volunteer childcare workers.

Sister Ruth Gehres will be joining Sister Mimi later this year to begin a new ministry at Casa Ursulina.

How is the center financed? The women pay one dollar a month (500 pesos) for the classes – if they can afford it, Sister Mimi explains. And that “just about pays for the utilities.” She continues, “We have an ongoing bazaar, the women hold fish fries and they host a big Independence Day fundraising celebration every year. Saint Joseph parish in my hometown of Bardstown has been very generous, giving us between four and five thousand dollars every year, a lot of people in the states donate pretty steadily, and we get small grants every now and then.”

Sister Mimi recently spent two months participating in a Sisters of Providence sabbatical program at Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods near Terre Haute, Indiana, to learn practical fiber arts skills and to be spiritually renewed. She wanted to learn the new craft to broaden the fiber arts program at Casa Ursulina. While on sabbatical, she was featured on the Providence sisters’ web site (, and she left the Woods with much more than new craft skills.

“I learned to make yarns like spinning yarn and 100 percent wool items like that,” says Sister Mimi. “And before I left, the Providence Sisters held a bingo and a few other things to raise money for two spinning wheels. They were just a great group of women. It was really something how they just got involved in this whole project. Even after I left, the sister in charge of the sabbatical program came up with more money for me to buy more equipment when I get to Chile. I thank God a lot of people like this project. I think they may like the fact that the money we generate goes directly to the women.”

Sister Mimi also has words of praise for fellow Ursuline sister Suzanne Sims, director of development and mission advancement for the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph.

Sister Mimi and baby Constanza enjoy a visit at the home of Carola Pulgar, an Ursuline Associate who is one of the founders of Casa Ursulina. Constanza is the daughter of a friend of Mimi and Carola.

“Sister Suzanne has been my lifesaver on everything,” Sister Mimi proclaims. “Every time I’ve had some real big need, she’s come through. She’s been as faithful to this mission as anybody in that for any major advancement thing we’ve needed – like when we needed to build on, when we needed to get more space, when we had certain crisis situations we needed money for – she has always come through. She did it by getting the donors, by getting in contact with the people. Sister Suzanne’s always been there whenever I’ve had a need.”

Sister Ruth Gehres, associate director of communications for the Ursulines at Maple Mount, made a month-long visit to Casa Ursulina in March of 2006.

“It was amazing to me that this ministry – just 10 years old – has become such an important part of the lives of the women who are part of the Casa Ursulina community,” says Sister Ruth. “From the beginning, Mimi involved the women themselves in planning and carrying out this ministry. She knows how to bring out the best in them, and to challenge them to become leaders. This sense of empowerment is at the heart of the mission of Casa Ursulina.”

Sister Ruth found the joyful spirit at Casa Ursulina so compelling that she will soon be making a major change in her ministry.

She says, “From my first day at Casa Ursulina, I was energized by Mimi’s free spirit, creativity, and dedication to the women and children who come here for learning and growing. Days are long, and Mimi works hard, along with the women who work closely with her in coordinating the work. But she always has time to laugh, to listen, to be delighted with someone’s new idea, to be compassionate with someone in need of support. This joyful spirit is infectious; I am one of many who have ‘caught’ it.”