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Sisters of Notre Dame and School Consider their Futures

The Covington Provincial of the Sisters of Notre Dame are considering what to do with their future.

Sister Mary Ethel Parrot spoke to the Park Hills city council this week. A meeting was held at St. Joseph Heights, one of the older buildings on the campus that also includes Notre Dame Academy.

Sister Parrot said that the women at Notre Dame are aging and that some were in need of assisted living, which can't be provided at the current location.

There are plans now to build a new 16-unit senior care building on the St. Charles Community site, which it sponsors, on Farrell Drive in Covington. Some nuns already reside there, Parrot said.

The Park Hills campus is about 45 acres, with 19 occupied by the sisters and 26 by the school. The sisters believe they will eventually need more help in taking care of the property in Park Hills, where 53 nuns still reside.

A task force has been created to explore the possibilities, and Notre Dame Academy could end up taking over management of the St. Joseph Heights building and the acreage. Tentative plans could also result in the demolition of a pair of newer buildings added to the site between 1950 and the 1970s, which were described as being in bad shape.

Notre Dame Academy president Dr. Laura Koehl said that the school's board of directors formed the task force, which includes a representative from the nuns, Sister Mary Judine Lambert.

Koehl said that local representatives involved in the process will soon visit Sacred Heart Academy in Louisville, an all-girls Catholic school, that recently went through a similar transition with their related religious organization.

"The first priority for us would be, of course, to be able to partner with the sisters as they continue to need some living space for the sisters who are independent, and office space for the sisters who are continuing to work," said Koehl.

 

Koehl also said that she was honored that the sisters asked if the school would take over care of the small cemetery behind the main building.

There are larger plans afoot for the Sisters of Notre Dame. Currently there are four provinces, with two in Ohio, and one in California, and the one designated as Covington. In the summer of 2020, there are plans to bring the four provinces together and combine them into one as their numbers have dwindled.

The combined provinces would be centered in Chardon, Oh.

The Sisters of Notre Dame have been in Northern Kentucky since 1874 and currently have 88 sisters here. In addition to Notre Dame Academy and the St. Charles Community, the organization also sponsors Julie Learning Center, Notre Dame Urban Education Center, and St. Claire Healthcare.

Major change for the sisters started in 2008 when administrative parts of their ministries were designated to lay people, a board of directors was selected for the school, and the school's leadership changed to a president/principal model. Dr. Koehl is the first lay principal and president at the school.

One nun still teaches at the school, with Sister Mary Francine Stacy handling Spanish classes. Others serve as substitute teachers, and a couple handle a work-study program.

"The NDA Community is forever grateful to the sisters of Notre Dame and all they have done to make Notre Dame Academy a premier Catholic High School, providing excellent academic and co-curricular programs that prepare graduates to be outstanding female leaders serving our world," Dr. Koehl wrote in a letter to parents earlier this month. "The recent announcement by the SNDs and the eventual launch of SND-USA does not impact our sponsorship by the sisters in any way. Notre Dame Academy remains a school sponsored by the Sisters of Notre Dame and recognized as such as part of the Covington Diocesan system of schools. We are blessed to be a school sponsored by the Sisters of Notre Dame and look forward to our continued partnership."

The entire master plan is in its infancy, but since Park Hills council meets regularly at St Joseph Heights, Notre Dame wanted to inform council and the community.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor