The Ursuline Sisters were a constant presence in the small town of Paola, Kan., for more than 100 years. Two agencies serving people in Paola plan to make sure the Sisters are never forgotten.
Ursuline Sisters first arrived in Paola in 1895, after separating from the Ursulines of Louisville. They established a reputation as wonderful teachers in the Kansas City area, and were key members of the community. The Ursulines of Paola merged with the Ursulines of Mount Saint Joseph in 2008, and the following year many of the Sisters at the convent on Miami Street moved to Maple Mount.
One of the lasting legacies of the Ursulines of Paola was the creation of the Lakemary Center in 1969, to serve the growing number of special needs children. In the 1970s, service to adults were added, and today it continues to serve children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“There were at least 50 Ursulines who volunteered or worked at Lakemary,” Sister Pat Lynch said. She served 13 years at Lakemary, first as a speech pathologist and then as education coordinator. She served on the board of Lakemary until 2016, when she moved to Maple Mount to serve her six-year term as assistant congregational leader for the Ursuline Sisters.
In its early days, when Lakemary struggled to financially survive, the Ursuline Sisters who served there returned their paychecks to Lakemary to help pay the bills. Sister Pat said the creation and support of Lakemary was what Saint Angela Merici meant when she told her Ursuline daughters to respond to the signs of the times.
“It has mushroomed into a wonderful program,” Sister Pat said. “It serves over 600 people at locations in Paola and Olathe. The children at Lakemary have multiple disabilities. The Lakemary staff helps kids no one else can handle from all over the country.”
Now the current leadership of Lakemary wants to give back. The lake on the property has been filled and grass seed planted for the area to be developed as the Ursuline Legacy Park, complete with walking trails and benches, Sister Pat said.
In the Lakemary Impact Report from June 2022, Kirk Davis, president and chief executive officer of Lakemary, said First Option Bank in Paola made a major gift to support the Ursuline Legacy Park.
“We worked with the new owners of the convent and were able to get a few pieces of memorabilia that we will have on display at Lakemary,” Davis said. “The artifacts and park will be a wonderful way to continue to honor the history of our organization and the Ursuline Sisters.”
Employees from the marketing department are hoping to visit Kentucky this summer to interview the four former Paola Sisters who now live at Maple Mount. Photographs and video stories will help archive the many stories of the beginnings of Lakemary.
“This new addition to the grounds at Lakemary will create a reverent and significant space dedicated to the Ursuline Sisters,” the impact report said. The Ursuline project is expected to be completed by fall of 2023. Those who want to contribute to the project can contact Sally Beyers at [email protected].
Not far from Lakemary, the former Ursuline convent was sold in 2019, and then sold again in 2021 to GMF Capital, which is renovating the property for Arista Recovery, a drug rehabilitation center. As reported in the Miami County Republic on June 8, 2022, Arista officials are working to preserve as much Ursuline history in the building as possible.
Marisa Garrett, a behavioral health technician for Arista Recovery, is serving as resident historian throughout the process. She said a wing of the Arista Recovery facility will be dedicated to the Ursulines and the history of the building.
“We love and appreciate and want to know that history,” Garrett told the newspaper.
With renovations near completion, Arista officials held a special event on June 4, 2022, before the facility started taking clients. Ursuline Associates along with Ursuline Sisters Angela Fitzpatrick and Michele Morek were invited to visit the campus and held a prayer service in the cemetery.
Sister Angela said the visit was touching. Her knowledge of the former convent was helpful to the Arista staff, who asked her many questions about its history.
“I’m so glad it’s going to have life again,” Sister Angela told the newspaper.