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Western Indiana congregation of nuns relieved drilling test finds little oil on property


TERRE HAUTE, Indiana — The leader of an aging congregation of Catholic nuns says many of its members are glad that little oil was found on its western Indiana property despite the prospect of a financial boost.

Seismic testing on the Sisters of Providence's 1,200 acres near Terre Haute found oil, but not enough to make drilling worthwhile, said Sister Denise Wilkinson, the congregation's general superior.

The testing was done after numerous oil discoveries in the area over the last few years, including 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 campus.

Wilkinson said many of the congregation's 320 nuns were reluctant to even allow Indianapolis-based oil company CountryMark to conduct the testing because they place a high value on environmental protection.

"We may be the only people they have dealt with that said we were relieved," she said.

The congregation decided last fall to allow the testing because of the financial needs to support its nuns, who have a median age of 78.

The site includes St. Mary-of-the-Woods College and the congregation's presence there dates to its founding in 1840 by Mother Theodore Guerin, who was named a saint by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

Wilkinson said the congregation would continue a study of its buildings and land for ways of generating money.

"We, as a congregation, made the choice that we want to continue," she said.

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