TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) — A congregation of Catholic nuns is looking to get
in on western Indiana's oil rush.
An oil company is set to do seismic testing through the weekend on much of
the some 1,200 acres that includes the motherhouse of the Sisters of
Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods near Terre Haute.
The testing comes after numerous oil finds in the area over the last few
years, including a large discovery in 2011 on property belonging to the
Hulman family that owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Indiana State
University also is drilling for oil around its downtown Terre Haute
The nuns struggled with the decision since they place a high value on
environmental protection, Sister Denise Wilkinson, the congregation's
general superior, told the Tribune-Star.
"It comes down to 'no money, no mission,'" Wilkinson said. "If someone
wanted to parachute down $50 million, we'd be happier with that."
The congregation sponsors or supports several ministries locally and
around the world, including the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice and
Providence Food Pantry in West Terre Haute.
Wilkinson said the Terre Haute congregation has nearly 340 nuns, with a
median age of 78.
"It's not like we have a lot of wage earners," she said.
Charlie Smith, the CEO of Indianapolis-based oil company CountryMark, said
even if the seismic tests are promising, it could be more than a year
before drilling would start.
The testing is being concentrated on a farmland area on the northern end
of the congregation's property, which includes St. Mary-of-the-Woods
College. If drilling takes place, it would be on a site no larger than one
acre, according the congregation.
The presence of the Sisters of Providence at the site dates to its
founding in 1840 by Mother Theodore Guerin, who was named a saint by Pope
Benedict XVI in 2006.
Sister Lisa Stallings, the congregation's general officer, said even if
oil is found, "we're not going to be rich. We're going to be less poor."