In August 1874, five Ursuline Sisters of Louisville boarded a flatboat on the Louisville waterfront and journeyed down the Ohio River to Owensboro. Their mission: to establish a Catholic school in western Daviess County. During its 109-year history this school, Mount Saint Joseph Academy, served hundreds of young women from across the United States and several foreign countries. With the closing of the Academy in 1983, the buildings reopened as Mount Saint Joseph Conference and Retreat Center, which continues as a sponsored ministry of the Ursuline Sisters.
Those pioneer Ursulines were strong women who lived through many hardships. Sometimes they didn’t know where their next meal would come from. They had to deal with illness and lack of funds. They taught, took care of the buildings, fed the few animals that gave them milk and food, and constantly prayed for God to watch over them and their students.
The Ursuline Sisters re-enacted this early trip in 2004 in celebration of the community’s 130th anniversary. They wore the habits of the early pioneers, ate what they ate, and slept on the boat. They tried to imagine what it must have been like to be on that first boat so long ago.
During the present-day journey, the sisters shared the wonderful work of those early pioneer sisters. Their Aug. 11-15 journey was designed to provide education about the history, life and work of the Ursuline Sisters, vocations to religious life, and the history of Kentucky during the late 18th century.
The flatboat, constructed and helmed by Capt. John Cooper, made stops in:
- Brandenburg, Ky.
- Cloverport, Ky.
- Tell City, Ind.
- Grandview, Ind.
- and Owensboro, Ky., where it arrived shortly after noon on Aug. 15.
From there the Sisters boarded a horse-drawn wagon, similar to the one that transported the first Ursulines, to begin the journey to the Mount. Bruce Blandford and his family greeted the sisters upon their arrival. Bruce is a member of the fourth generation of Blandfords who worked with the sisters at the Mount. His great-great-grandparents, Aquilla and Louise Blandford, brought the five pioneer Sisters their first meal of watermelon and buttermilk.
At the Mount, a special prayer service and celebration welcomed the Sisters. This event honored the pioneers and all the Ursuline Sisters who have given their lives in service to the people of God over the past 130 years.
Copies of the award-winning DVD based on the journey, “Adventurous Hearts” are still available in the Mount Saint Joseph Gift Shop.