Nuns who stood up to bishop at former Ursuline Academy to be honored with plaque

Debra Erdley
| Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, 12:46 a.m.

The story of an order of nuns who stood up to a Pittsburgh bishop more than 100 years ago was among the keys to earning the former Ursuline Academy in Bloomfield a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

Officials and preservations will gather on Saturday at 201 S. Winbiddle St., which now houses the Waldorf School of Pittsburgh, to mark the debut of a plaque that identifies its official historic designation.

The event marks the culmination of four years of work by Jeff Slack's students in the architectural studies program at the University of Pittsburgh.

Slack said students in his 2008 Documentation and Conservation Studio course began pouring over paperwork, including building permits, in 2008 in the first phase of nominating the Victorian mansion to the register.

A second class of Slack's students took over in 2010 and wrote the initial draft of the register nomination.

“It's been very rewarding. The whole point of the course is for the students to do real-world work,” said Slack, who along with being an instructor at Pitt is a preservation planner with Pfaffman + Associates, Downtown.

The 21-room mansion, built as a home for Henry J. Lynch in the late 1860s, features stained-glass windows, 14-foot-high tin ceilings and carved corbels.

But Slack's students soon learned that preservationists consider the use of a building almost as critical as the facility itself when weighing it for inclusion on the register.

That's where the Ursuline nuns came in.

They acquired the Winbiddle Street mansion in 1894 and operated an elite progressive school for girls there until 1981.

Slack said the story of the sisters' battle to operate their school independent of the Pittsburgh Diocese in the 1890s helped highlight the historic nature of their work at the facility.

“Bishop Phelan wanted to control the school, and the sisters resisted him, saying, ‘We raised the money and built the curriculum.' There were articles from The New York Times and all over the country about it,” Slack said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or

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