Photo by Caleb Motsinger
Teresita Rivet looks on in awe as she’s handed a gift from a nurse at the Queen of Peace infirmary. In a few weeks Rivet will relocate to Louisiana, where she was born, raised and educated.
As the spring sun shines through the parlor’s lace curtain, it becomes evident why the Ursuline Sisters have decided to leave the Queen of Peace infirmary and the adjoining Ursuline convent.
“This building is very expensive to keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter,” said Sr. Susan Kentzler, who has been the community leader at Queen of Peace since September. “Most of the sisters here are in their 80s and 90s, and as our transition process nears its end, sisters who live here are making their way toward alternative living arrangements, with hopes to be completely moved out of the building by the beginning of the summer.”
The 155-year-old building, on Danforth Street in Alton, was built in 1859 and has become too expensive for the order to maintain.
The Ursuline Sisters of the Central Province, based in St. Louis, are part of a worldwide congregation, the Ursulines of the Roman Union. Their sisters serve on six continents and in 36 countries, specializing in education, with Central Province communities in Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri and Texas, with their ministries extending to other areas of the United States and foreign countries.
The Ursulines came from Bavaria to St. Louis after the Civil War, and were sent to Alton to work in Catholic schools throughout the area.
Currently, there is but a single Ursuline working in an area preparatory school. Now, the majority of the Ursulines here are elderly and no longer are involved with the education system.
Timothy Hanlon, 64, of Alton, was taught by the Ursulines at Sts. Peter and Paul School and Marquette High School in Alton. He referred to them as top-notch educators who are staples of the community - ones who never tolerated horseplay.
“The Ursuline sisters are a part of Alton’s history,” he said. “They’ve educated thousands of kids in the area over the years, and them leaving signifies the end of an era.”
As of this week, there were 31 Ursulines and two sisters of the Divine Providence order living on the premises. Two Ursulines have already relocated, and Monday, the remaining sisters gathered in the commons room for a going-away party as their time here in Alton dwindles.
When the Ursulines announced in November that they no longer had the financial resources to provide quality health care, management began a quest to relocate the sisters to quality living arrangements that better suited them.
“We may retire from our duties, but we never retire from our commitment to the God,” Kentzler said. “Everyone has had a positive attitude about the switch, and most look at it as an opportunity to expand their ministry.”
Kentzler said four criteria were considered as the search began for the sisters’ new homes.
“We wanted to make sure they’re headed to a place with a positive spiritual atmosphere, that they are given quality care, community and that it’s affordable,” she said.
However, from the attitude at their party Monday, the sisters are anything but glum as they prepare for their departure.
Sister Teresita Rivet is more than 90 years old, and as she laughs with friends and drinks root beer floats at the going-away party, she lights up the room with her jokes and stories.
“I worked for 75 years in Louisiana before I finished my tour of duty and came here to Alton,” she said, smiling. “But I’m leaving soon and I’m New Orleans-bound once again.
“I’ve been in the ministry for a long time, but I still feel like I’m sweet 16.”