Ursuline Sisters Undeterred by Pandemic

Director of Mission Advancement, Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Recognizing the importance of employees’ physical and mental well-being in their ability to serve others, Ursuline Sisters Mission, formerly Ursuline Ministries, will emphasize wellness initiatives in 2022.

Vicki Vicars recently joined the staff as director of the newly created office of Mission, Equity and Resilience. She and Christine Brugler, trauma-informed care specialist and registered nurse, created a 14-day self-care challenge for employees at the end of 2021 and will offer more programs this year.

“Prior to COVID, we had begun to enhance employee development, including more focus on trauma-informed care and strengths-based growth,” says Brigid Kennedy, president of Ursuline Sisters Mission. “We initiated an employee assistance program, engaged consultants, and used counselors in our clinic, school and outreach programs.”

The pandemic, Kennedy says, heightened the need for all these offerings. So Ursuline Sisters Mission is expanding to meet the challenges.

Ursuline Sisters Mission, based in Canfield, is a gospel service conducted by the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown through ministries they founded – Beatitude House, Ursuline Education & Wellness Center, Ursuline Preschool & Kindergarten, Ursuline Sisters HIV/AIDS Ministry and Ursuline Sisters Senior Living.

The ministries reflect the Mission’s commitment to social justice and wherever individual sisters serve.

The Ursuline Sisters have been serving the people in the greater Youngstown area since 1874, notes Sister Mary McCormick, general superior.

“We have evolved to meet changing needs and Ursuline Sisters Mission commits to continue adapting and serving for generations to come,” she states.

“Beginning in the 1990s, we initiated new
services, especially to the poor, in response to the Gospel,” she says. “Ursuline Sisters Mission captures the full scope of the work in which the sisters and our co-workers in mission are engaged – teaching, housing, health care, immigrant outreach and working in parishes.”

Thirty-one Ursuline Sisters are joined in mission by 100 employees, dozens of volunteers and nearly 100 Ursuline Associates, Catholic adults who formally embrace the mission and ministry.

Although the pandemic posed additional challenges, Ursuline Sisters Mission expanded most services, making adjustments such as implementing telehealth appointments and reducing class sizes.

Some activities that were suspended, such as land and water exercise classes, cautiously resumed in 2021, but far from pre-pandemic capacity.

Ursuline Sisters Mission leadership engages in ongoing planning and continues to require strict safety protocols at all sites, which has prevented major outbreaks of COVID-19. While many organizations found themselves precariously ill-equipped when the pandemic arrived, the Ursulines were proactive and prepared, McCormick states.

“As a leadership team, we made a commitment to the sisters and our stakeholders that we would follow the best public health advice available,” Kennedy says. “We couldn’t just shut down essential services. So we needed to work diligently to keep everyone safe. I’m so proud and grateful for how the staff has rallied around our efforts.”

For our region to emerge from the pandemic stronger than before, Kennedy suggests, we must accept that life as we knew it will not return, but we can be smarter, more resilient, and more creative going forward.

“We’ve made changes in service delivery, staff development, and resource allocation in response to COVID that ended up making us leaner and more responsive,” she says. “We can’t just wring our hands and wish for the past – we must take the best lessons the pandemic is teaching us and keep improving.”