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Ursulines celebrate 170 years

Today, a venture off U.S. 68 will take you to Chatfield College in St. Martin if you’re headed there from Georgetown.

The college opened its doors to the public in 1971 as a liberal arts college for the residents of Brown County and the surrounding areas, but the story of Chatfield goes much deeper. This month marks the 170th anniversary of the Ursuline Sisters establishing in Brown County.

In 1845, at the request of Bishop John Baptiste Purcell, Julia Chatfield and 10 other sisters embarked on a journey from France to southern Ohio at the old seminary in St. Martin.

According to Sister Patricia Homan, Purcell offered the land to the Sisters to establish a boarding school for girls on the land of the old seminary. The journey from Cincinnati to the seminary in St. Martin was not an easy trip in 1845.

“Thirteen hours,” Homan said. “It took the Sisters 13 hours to travel from Cincinnati. They left at three in the morning so they would get here before it got dark.”

The movement of the capital to from Chillicothe to Columbus helped paved the way for the establishment of the Ursuline Sisters to come to Brown County.

“Bishop Purcell had originally placed the seminary in St. Martin and that was when Chillicothe was the capital of the state,” Homan said. “But when the capital moved, and the 68-50, which was supposed to be a booming metropolis was not … he pulled the seminary back to Cincinnati and gave the Sisters the property when we came.”

Those Sisters were led by Julia Chatfield. Though Chatfield’s journey to church was not all bells and whistles, she eventually found her way to Brown County.

Chatfield was born in England to an Anglican family, but when her mother became ill and died, her father sent her to France to be educated, with one stipulation – that she not be taught Catholicism.

Chatfield fell in love with the Catholic Church to her father’s disapproval. He pulled her out of school and tried to force her into marriage, but Chatfield saved her money and ventured back to France. Her father shipped her things after she wrote a letter home to say she was joining the Catholic Church.

Her move to Brown County in 1845 set a foundation for education for women in the area. The Sisters, having arrived in July, had the first class opened in October of the same year with 17 students.

“At the time, a lot of boarding schools were actually considered finishing schools,” Homan said. “But we know Julia Chatfield physics and astrology and had a much broader concept of education which is probably why it was so successful.”

The Sisters not only taught basics of education, but had to go beyond the arts and literature of the times. They were groundbreaking revolutionaries chosen by Purcell.

“I think education was important to them, that’s why they came from France,” Homan said. “Abp. Purcell really valued education and believed if the population was not educated then it would not thrive and grow. He really believed education was critical for the development of Ohio which is why he brought the Ursuline Sisters because they had such a good reputation for education.”

Chatfield and the 10 others Sisters were vital to the development of not only what became Chatfield College, but the community of Brown County as a whole. The Sisters were instrumental in establishing the Chamber of Commerce, the public school in St. Martin, the private boarding school, the Ursuline Academy in Cincinnati and an endless list of activities in the county, state and nation.

Today, 27 Sisters are left carrying on the values of the Ursuline of the past that have brought great value to the community.

Homan said the Ursuline education focuses not on the masses where everyone is the same, but the development of the individual as a person in both education and spirituality. She said a liberal arts education goes beyond the cookie cutter and believes the Ursuline teachings are ingrained in the basis of liberal arts.

“It allows each person to develop their talents and gifts in what is a unique way for that person,” Homan said. “That, I think, is the value of liberal arts. There are so many aspects to learn about and to develop. I think it’s the basis of our liberal arts education.”

Chatfield may not be the same as it was in 1845 – the buildings have changed, the campus has changed, the type of school has changed — but the mission hasn’t changed in 170 years.

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