A Welsh of knowledge

Thomas Welsh presented the first chapter of his new book at a West Side Bowl event sponsored by Lit Youngstown. Photo by Christopher Gillett / The Jambar

By Christopher Gillett / The Jambar

A Youngstown State University professor has written a book documenting 150 years of work by the Ursuline Sisters, an organization of Catholic nuns who work to serve the Youngstown community.

Thomas Welsh, a journalism professor, wrote “The Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown,” which was published by The History Press on March 11.

Welsh has written other books on local history, such as “A History of Jewish Youngstown and the Steel Valley” and “Stross’: Youngstown’s Dependable Store.” Welsh said he was drawn to the Ursuline Sisters because of his proximity to the organization growing up.

“I grew up with the Ursulines. There was never a time when I was unaware of them. Visits to relatives often involved visits to the motherhouse. My siblings and I all attended Ursuline High School,” Welsh said. “I don’t even remember the first time I was aware of the Ursulines — let’s put it that way. It’s like, when did you become aware of your parents?”

Welsh said he wanted to write the book after doing research for another project.

“I had been doing some interviews with members of the Ursuline community about an unrelated project. I was considering a project on the Irish American community, and it turned out there wasn’t a groundswell of support,” Welsh said.

Welsh said he decided to pursue the project on the recommendation of Michele Ristich Gatts, the Ursuline Sisters’ media and public relations coordinator, who became the book’s contributing editor. When writing the book, Welsh said he couldn’t include all the history.

“I had to cut about 25,000 words because the story is complicated, and the story includes a lot of color, and I had to make some judicious decisions about what to include and what to exclude,” Welsh said. “The book took about a year — I’d say a little longer than a year, and I was working on it continuously.”

Welsh’s book came out in time for the 150th anniversary of the Ursuline community’s founding. Photo by Christopher Gillett / The Jambar

Welsh said the Ursuline Sisters have been a significant pillar of the Youngstown community since its founding in September 1874.

“The Ursulines are the only religious community active in local schools who had a long time presence here in the Youngstown area,” Welsh said. “The profile of the Ursulines has increased, even as their numbers fell, because they became very effective at working with lay people.”

For his book, Welsh conducted 30 interviews with members of the community involved with the Ursuline Sisters. The book is also forwarded by the Youngtown-raised actor Ed O’Neill, who attended Ursuline High School.

Among those Welsh interviewed was Sister Norma Raupple, who said she was grateful to help.

“It’s an opportunity to be a part of a story. I just realized 60 years out of 150, I’ve been alive for about half of it,” Raupple said. “Just knowing and supporting someone who’s trying to put that in print was just very gratifying.”

Welsh also interviewed Sister Dorothy Kundracik, who said the opportunity brought back happy memories.

“It was a wonderful interview because it took me back and I just start describing everything I remembered,” Kundracik said. “It really stirred up some memories and I have scrapbooks and things and I looked at the pictures — wonderful memories.”

Editor’s Note: The contributing editor of “The Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown,” Michele Ristich Gatts, is the faculty advisor for The Jambar. Gatts had no involvement in the editorial process of this story.

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