views updated May 14 2018


The Order of St. Ursula (OSU) was founded in 1535, at Brescia, Italy, by St. Angela merici for the education of girls. Known originally as the Company of St. Ursula, it became recognized later as a monastic order and spread throughout Europe and eventually to every continent. The title of Ursuline is claimed by religious institutes with varying constitutions, including independent monasteries of pontifical jurisdiction; unions, the largest of which is the Roman Union; and distinct convents of diocesan rite.

Foundations and Early History. Angela's plan for a religious society took a long time to evolve. Finally in

1516, after many years at Desanzano on Lake Garda, where she sought to lead a life of Christian perfection and to attract others to follow her example, Angela settled in Brescia. There on Nov. 25, 1535, she and 28 companions formed the Company of St. Ursula to combat heresy by giving instruction in Christian doctrine and to oppose the widespread immorality of the time by their example. They placed themselves under the protection of St. ursula, patroness of education, whose cult was popular in medieval Europe.

Among the writings Angela left to her daughters, the most important are her Testament, the Counsels, and her Primitive Rule, a document of 12 chapters in which the company was given a definite form. Necessary modifications were provided for in her Testament directive: "If according to times and needs you should be obliged to make fresh rules and change certain things, do it with prudence and on good advice." By the end of the 16th century radical changes had taken place within the company. After the approval of the primitive rule by Paul III in 1544, the Ursulines spread rapidly throughout Italy. It was at Milan, whence they had gone in 1566, that the first major change in their organization was effected. Under the Brescian rule, the members of the company had lived with their families, but at the request of (St.) Charles borromeo, Milan's bishop, they began to live in community and to take simple vows publicly. A new rule entitled For Ursulines Desiring to Live in Community, dated 1585, was approved by Gregory XIII.

As early as 1574 there were Ursulines in France living under the primitive rule. The Avignon community was the first to adopt the Milan rule in 1596. Thereafter independent Ursuline communities modeled on those of St. Charles appeared throughout France, where the Order experienced its greatest growth and was raised to the monastic state. The bull of Paul V (June 16, 1612) elevating the community of Paris to the status of a religious Order was soon extended to Toulouse, Bordeaux, and other Ursuline monasteries. At the beginning of the 18th century, there were 350 monasteries in France, with about 9000 Ursulines, now officially termed nuns, living a strictly cloistered life under solemn vows (see nun; sister, religious). During the French Revolution their numbers decreased; many religious were dispersed and about 35 Ursulines suffered martyrdom.

Missionary Expansion. The monasteries that were most important to the development of the Order were those of Paris and Bordeaux; many new foundations in France and other countries took their origin from them. In 1639 (Blessed) marie of the incarnation and two companions, the first Ursuline missionaries to the New World, left France for Canada. They had been invited by

the Jesuits to participate in the work of their newly founded mission to the Huron. Madame de la Peltrie, a wealthy widow of Alençon who had offered herself and her wealth for this venture, accompanied the pioneer Ursulines. The foundation made at Quebec was the first convent devoted to the instruction of girls in North America. Nearly a century passed before the next Ursuline foundation was made in the New World. In 1727, at the invitation of the Jesuits of Louisiana, 12 French Ursulines arrived at New Orleans and established their first school in what later became part of the United States. From the New Orleans convent, foundations were made in Cuba, Texas and Mexico. By the middle of the 19th century various other Ursuline missionaries from Europe had opened schools in the United States. But missionary activity was not confined to the New World, for during this period Holland sent nuns to Java, France sent them to Greece and Brazil, Belgium sent them to India and the Belgian Congo, and Germany sent nuns to Australia. In the 20th century missions were opened in Guinea, South Africa, China, Thailand, Alaska, Taiwan, and the Island of Flores in the Lesser Sundas, a province of Indonesia. Since Vatican II the Ursulines have continued their service to the Church by collaborating with the laity in works of parish ministry, in religious education and catechesis, in diocesan offices and marriage tribunals, and in volunteer work with the marginalized.

The Roman Union. In 1900 Leo XIII invited representatives of Ursuline convents throughout the world to convene in Rome to consider unification under one superior general. When 70 monasteries from nine countries

responded and 63 of them voted for incorporation, the Pope, on Nov. 28, 1900, approved the Roman Union of the Order of St. Ursula. Mother St. Julian was elected first prioress general, and the motherhouse was permanently established in Rome. The Roman Union is international in character; the superior general exercises authority over the whole institute in the measure granted by the constitutions. She and her assistants, representatives of national groups, are elected every six years at a general chapter that convenes in Rome.

In 2000 the institute was composed of 30 provinces with 15 novitiates, where candidates for the Order spend several years of probation before they pronounce simple vows for a period of five years. During the period of temporary vows the sister continues her formation in the religious life and in the spirit of the Institute, and she also prepares for her active ministry in the Order. After the period of temporary vows, the religious pronounce simple perpetual vows. Approximately ten years after first profession, the sisters are given an opportunity for a year of prayer and study. The tertianship of six months is made during this year, followed by a time for study and experience in a third-world country. The tertianship is usually spent at the Ursuline Generalate in Rome, Italy. In 2000 the Roman Union's 2600 members were distributed in 265 Communities in 37 countries and in 132 dioceses throughout the world.


In 2000 there were about 3,600 professed Ursulines in the United States, including those belonging to independent houses and those of the Roman Union.

Roman Union Ursulines [#4110]. United States communities with membership in the Roman Union, the oldest of which is that at New Orleans (1727), are of varied origins. In the year 2000 there were about 500 professed members of the Roman Union in the United States, organized in four provinces and located in 44 communities. Their ministries are in the field of religious and academic education at all levels, in retreat work, and in varied pastoral and social services. These ministries are located in 18 states and the District of Columbia. One of these academic institutions, the College of new rochelle, New York, founded in 1904 by Mother Irene Gill, was the first Catholic college for women in New York State. The formation of the "Ursuline Associates" which consists of men and women who feel a personal response to the call of Ursulines in the modern world, was begun in the early 1990's. This group, numbering over 150 persons, shares the life and mission of the Ursulines through prayer, ministry, retreats, study, celebrations and bonds of friendship. Another group, "Companions in Mission," is a lay volunteer program that offers opportunities for temporary service in the Ursuline mission and ministry. Important branches of the Order not belonging to the Roman Union include those of Cincinnati, Cleveland, Toledo and Youngstown, Ohio; Paola, Kansas; Louisville and Owensboro, Kentucky; Belleville, Illinois; and Blue Point (Long Island), New York.

Ursulines of Cincinnati. [#412002] This pontifical community was founded in 1910, when 20 Ursulines, with the permission of Archbishop Henry Moeller, left the Brown County, Ohio, community to establish an autonomous convent in Cincinnati. Mother Fidelis Coleman was elected superior. Property was secured for a motherhouse and St. Ursula's Academy; soon after Rome approved the establishment of a novitiate. In 1961 a house of studies for junior nuns was opened at a 25-acre suburban site. The community gradually extended its apostolate to include teaching at the Archbishop's Choir School, at six Cincinnati and Dayton parish schools, and at three catechetical centers in suburban areas. Alert to Latin American needs, the community gave residence and English instruction to 18 sisters of Spanish-speaking communities, exiled from Cuba.

Ursulines of Cleveland. [#412004] In 1850 at the request of Amadeus Rappe, first bishop of Cleveland, Ohio, a foundation of Ursuline nuns from Boulogne-surmer, France, was established in Cleveland by Mother Annunciation Beaumont and four companions. That September a boarding, day, and parochial school was opened on the convent property. Although the Ursulines were under a monastic rule and were cloistered, they obtained permission from Rome as early as 1853 to go out to teach in the parochial schools that were then beginning. The Cleveland convent established three foundations between 1854 and 1874 at Toledo, Tiffin, and Youngstown, Ohio; all became independent pontifical institutes.

In 1848 Rome, in approving new constitutions for the Cleveland Ursulines, whose only apostolate was teaching, granted them the privilege of the fourth vow of instruction. The nuns teach in 24 parochial schools and conduct 3 secondary academies and Ursuline College for women (1871), Cleveland. Beaumont School for Girls, operating under the original high school charter of the 1850s, is the second oldest secondary school in Cleveland. The Toledo Ursulines staff Mary Manse College for women (1873) in that city, as well as three boarding schools, 16 elementary schools, and five secondary schools. In the Diocese of Youngstown, the Ursulines teach in 16 parochial and two high schools. Aspirants make a year of postulancy, two years of novitiate, and three years under temporary vows prior to their final profession of vows.

Ursulines of Kentucky. Mother Salesia Reitmeiter, of Straubing, Bavaria, and two companions opened the first Ursuline school in Kentucky, St. Martin's Parochial School (1858) and later Ursuline Academy (1860). The academy building served as the first motherhouse of the Ursuline Nuns of the Immaculate Conception of Louisville, Kentucky, [#412003?] until a separate motherhouse was erected (1918). The community follows the Rule of St. augustine and shares the general Ursuline ideal of the education of women and the custom of the Congregation of Paris in pronouncing a fourth vow, that of the instruction of youth. It amalgamated with Ursuline communities in Columbia, South Carolina (1937), and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1956); in 1964 it had a total membership of 561. Two independent houses have branched from it, those at Paola, Kansas (1895), and Maple Mount, Kentucky (1912).

The Ursuline Nuns of Mt. St. Joseph, Maple Mount, Kentucky, [#412005] were founded from the Louisville house by Mother Aloysius Willett and her assistant, Mother Agnes O'Flynn; they follow the rule and customs of the parent community.

Ursulines of Kansas City. [#412002] In 1895, led by Sisters Mary Jerome Schaub and Mary Maurice Albert, Ursulines from Louisville, Kentucky, arrived in Paola, Kansas, where they immediately opened schools under Bishop Louis M. Fink of the Leavenworth Diocese, which then comprised the entire state of Kansas.

Ursulines of Mt. Calvary. In 1838 Mother Theresia Schaefer and seven Bordeaux-Liège Ursulines transferred from the monastery in Montjoie near the French border to Mt. Calvary, Ahrweiler, Germany. Subsequently, these Ursulines founde several schools for women along the Rhine and Saar Rivers, among which were the colleges of Aix-la-Chapelle, Saarbrücken, and Koblenz, West Germany. In 1870 the motherhouse and five daughterhouses obtained permission from the Holy See to forgo papal enclosure and to form the first European congregation within the Ursuline Order. These Mt. Calvary Ursulines became leaders in elementary, secondary, and vocational schools; colleges; and normal schools. In 1910 at the call of Bishop Vincent Wehrle, OSB, of Bismarck, North Dakota, a group arrived in the United States and established their motherhouse at Kenmare, North Dakota, later transferring it to Belleville, Illinois (1945). The Mt. Calvary Ursulines also do catechetical work, summer mission work among the Native Americans and public school children in Montana and North Dakota. They have also undertaken the direction of youth clubs, sodalities, and adult groups.

Ursulines of Tildonk, Belgium (RU) [#4130]. A diocesan congregation founded in 1831 by John Corneille Martin Lambertz, parish priest of Tildonk; the group adopted the constitutions of the Bordeaux Ursulines. By 1869, when Lambertz died, 40 convents had been established and thereafter the congregation continued to spread in Belgium, Holland, England, the Transvaal, and Java. The first United States foundation was made in 1924 in Brooklyn, New York, and the American motherhouse, novitiate, and juniorate were located in Blue Point, New York. The generalate in Haecht, Belgium, exercised jurisdiction over all the congregation's houses. The members staffed schools, two hospitals (one each in Belgium and India), and nine dispensaries (seven in India and two in the Congo).

Ursuline Nuns of Quebec. In 1639 (Blessed) marie of the incarnation (Marie Guyard) left her monastery at Tours, France, to found a house in Canada. With Madame de la Peltrie and two religious companions, Mothers Saint Joseph and Sainte Croix, she landed at "Kebec" on August 1, and immediately opened a school for French and Indian girls in a small two-room house at Lower Town, lent by the Company of the Hundred Associates. Two years later she erected the first monastery on Cape Diamond, site of the present convent. The first Ursulines of Quebec, like those of Tours, followed the rule of the Congregation of Bordeaux, but the arrival (1640) of nuns from the Paris convent brought about the problem of union. After various concessions on both sides, the Quebec Ursulines were affiliated to the Ursulines of Paris (1681). Twice burned to the ground, the Quebec monastery was rebuilt each time. In 1660 it temporarily became a fort against an Iroquois attack. A century later during the English siege, it sheltered both English and French wounded soldiers, and in 1760 became the headquarters of the military governor, General James Murray. During this time, the monastery had as superior a daughter of New England Puritans, Esther Wheelwright, Mother Mary of the Infant Jesus. As a child, Esther had been taken from her home during an Indian raid (1703) and brought to Canada by the Abenakis. Ransomed in 1708 by Governor Vaudreuil, she was sent with his own daughter to the Ursuline Convent and became a nun.

Since 1953, the Ursulines of Quebec have formed the Ursuline Union of Eastern Canada, and follow with a few modifications, the rule of Roman Union Ursulines, under a superior general residing at Quebec. In addition to the provinces of Quebec, Three Rivers, and Rimouski, the union embraces a vice-province in Japan with houses at Sendai and Hachinohe. A smaller mission in Aucayo, Peru, is under the Three Rivers Province. Mere Marie was declared "Blessed" by Pope John Paul II in Rome in 1980.

Bibliography: m. aron, The Ursulines, tr. m. a. griffin (New York 1947). m. j. mckiernan The Order of Saint Ursula (New Rochelle, New York 1945). m. m. bellasis, Towards Unity: History of the Roman Union of the Order of Saint Ursula (Exeter, England 1951) v.1. c. mondesÉrt and h. de lubac, "Spirituality," The Ursulines of the Roman Union (Lyon 1958) 4359, sep. pub. (Lyon 1959). Archives, St. Ursula Content, Cincinnati, Ohio. Archives, Immaculate Heart of Mary Convent, St. Martin, Ohio. m.f. hearon, The Broad Highway: A History of the Ursuline Nuns in the Diocese of Cleveland, 18501950 (Cleveland 1951). Archives, Ursuline Nuns of the Immaculate Conception, Louisville, Kentucky. Archives, Ursuline Nuns of Mt. St. Joseph, Maple Mount, Kentucky. c. bathilde, Die Ursulinen von Calvarienberg-Ahrweiler (Trier 1940). m. h. pagÉs, Vexilla Regis: History of the Congregation of the Ursulines of Mount Calvary (master's diss. St. Louis University 1951). Manuscript Archives, Ursulines of Quebec. m. de st. jean martin, The Spirit of St. Angela (Rome 1950).

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views updated Jun 27 2018

Ursulines. Monastic order established in 1535 by St Angela Merici, a lay Franciscan, at Brescia (Italy). Orginally intended for religious women living in their own homes as teachers, the order became communal in 1566 under the guidance of St Charles Borromeo, while from 1612 the Ursulines of Paris, and later throughout France (where the largest number of communities were concentrated) and beyond, were strictly enclosed following an Augustinian rule. The order became famous for missionary and educational activity, particularly in North America. In 1900 most Ursuline communities (which followed differing institutes) were united in the ‘Roman Union’.

Brian Golding


views updated May 29 2018

Ursuline a nun of an order founded by St Angela Merici (1470–1540) at Brescia in 1535 for nursing the sick and teaching girls. It is the oldest teaching order of women in the Roman Catholic Church.