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Saint Ursula, painted byBenozzo Gozzoli, c. 1455 60.
Saint Ursula, painted by
Benozzo Gozzoli, c. 1455 60.
The Ursulines (in full: Ursulines of the Roman Union) are a Roman Catholic religious institute for women founded at Brescia, Italy, by Saint Angela de Merici in November 1535, primarily for the education of girls and the care of the sick and needy. Their patron saint is Saint Ursula.



St Angela de Merici spent 17 years leading a group of women known as the "Company of St. Ursula," who regularly met for conferences and devotional practices but did not live together. They were recognized in 1544 by Pope Paul III. In 1572, Pope Gregory XIII, at the insistence of Saint Charles Borromeo, the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, declared the Ursulines a religious order with enclosure under the rule of Augustine of Hippo.

Ursulines were the main accusers in the Loudun and Aix-en-Provence demonic possession cases.

In the following century, the Ursulines were powerfully encouraged and supported by Saint Francis de Sales. In most cases, especially in France, the sisters adopted enclosure and took solemn vows. They were called the "religious Ursulines" as distinct from the "congregated Ursulines," who preferred to follow the original plan.


  • 1535 November 25 marks founding of the Company of Saint Ursula by St. Angela Merici with 28 companions
  • 1538 First General Chapter, Angela elected Mother for life
  • 1539 Angela falls ill, dictates Testament and Counsels
  • 1544 Pope Paul III formally approves the Company

Ursulines in North America

The Ursuline Sisters were the first Catholic nuns to land in the new world. In 1639, Mother Marie of the Incarnation (n e Marie Guyart, b. 1599), two other Ursuline nuns, and a Jesuit priest left France for a mission to Canada. When they arrived in the summer of 1639, they studied the language of the native peoples and then began to educate them.[1] They taught reading and writing as well as needlework, embroidery, drawing and other domestic arts. The Ursuline Convent established by Mother Marie of the Incarnation is still inhabited by Ursuline Sisters in Quebec.

By 1639, there were Ursulines in Canada who taught the catechism to indigenous children. There is also an Ursuline convent in Quebec City that is the oldest educational institution for women in North America.[2] Their work helped to preserve a religious spirit among the French population and to Christianize native peoples and M stis.

In 1727, 12 Ursulines from France landed in what is now New Orleans. (See also: History of the Ursulines in New Orleans.) They were known commonly in the colony as the Filles du' Casket or "casket girls" because of the wooden cases which contained their possessions on the trip from Rouen to the colony in the New World. When the first Ursulines arrived it was not on the banks of the Mississippi but at Mobile Alabama in 1719 (though information is contradictory from remaining and available sources). The entire group of Ursulines were the first Roman Catholic nuns in what is now the United States. Both properties were part of the French colony. They came to the country under the sanctions of Pope Pius III, and Louis XV France, later, their charter came under the jurisdiction of the United States following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 .

They instituted a convent and school, both of which continue today.[3] Ursuline Academy New Orleans is the oldest continually operating Catholic school in the United States and the oldest girls school in the United States. Convinced that the education of women was essential to the development of a civilized, spiritual and just society, the Ursuline Sisters influenced culture and learning in New Orleans by providing an exceptional education for girls, and women through its now defunct college.

The Ursuline tradition holds many United States firsts in its dedication to the growth of individuals, including the first female pharmacist, first woman to contribute a book of literary merit, first convent, first free school and first retreat center for ladies, first classes for female slaves (which continued until abolition), free women of color (a unique New Orleans group also known as Creoles of Color) and Native Americans. In the region, Ursuline provided the first center of social welfare in the Mississippi Valley. They also operated the first boarding school in Louisiana, housing and educating a large number of Catholic Hispanic girls and women from central and South American countries - most from economically and socially privileged families.Ursulines also operated the first school of music in New Orleans.

The Ursuline College opened on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans' Garden District on the 100th anniversary of Ursuline Education. It taught women from 1927-1965. In 1965 the Ursuline College closed. Low enrollment, competition in the university district, and eliminating the school's program for foreign boarders were factors contributing to its demise.

The Old Ursuline Convent is located in the Vieux Carre (New Orleans' French Quarter).It is the oldest building in the Mississippi River Valley. The building now houses the Archdiocese of New Orleans' Archives as well as operating as a tourist attraction/ museum with public tours available almost daily (although one should check the schedule if planning to visit the Old Ursuline Convent) These Ursulines also worked in health care establishing one of the first hospital in Nouvelle Orleans and an orphanage.They treated malaria, yellow fever and slave populations when it was not politically or socially correct.The first pharmacist in the United States was an Ursuline woman practicing in New Orleans in the early 1700s.They had a well established presence as a hospital by the Revolutionary War period in US History .Ursuline sisters treated both British and United States Soldiers wounded in the war in the same building..They may have been the first group of women propagating the ideals of diversity in a society, as it was directly related to the teachings of St Ursula and her followers, the Company of St.Ursula (1535 a.c.e. and then by St.Angela Merici foundress of the Order generalate as is known today ( that is the Roman Order, as there are two: one "The Ursulines of the East" and " the Roman Order).

The tombstone of the Ursuline Sisters in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery (New Rochelle, New York)Ursuline nuns, primarily from France and Germany, settled in other parts of North America including Boston (1820), Brown County, Ohio (1845), Cleveland (1850), New York (1855), Louisville (1858), Chatham, Ontario (1860), Bruno (1916) and Prelate (1919), both in Saskatchewan. These foundations spread to other parts of North America including Toledo, Youngstown, OH, Mount St. Joseph, Kentucky, Santa Rosa, Texas, and Mexico City.[4] In 1771, the Irish Ursulines were established at Cork by Nano Nagle.

Towards the beginning of the 18th century, the period of its greatest prosperity, the Ursuline order embraced some 20 congregations, with 350 convents and from 15,000 to 20,000 nuns. The members wore a black dress bound by a leathern girdle, a black sleeveless cloak, and a close-fitting headdress with a white veil and a longer black veil.

The founder of the Order of St.Ursula was beatified by Clement VIII in 1768 and canonized as St. Angela Merici of Brescia by Pius VII in 1807.

Today, while some convents in Europe, Canada, and Cuba continue to observe strict cloister, most convents have adopted less restrictive forms.

Role in education

Colleges and universities

In the United States, the Ursulines have founded two well-known Catholic women's colleges. Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio, was founded in 1871 by the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland. It was followed in 1904 by College of New Rochelle, which is located in New Rochelle, New York.

In 1919, the Ursulines founded a university-level liberal arts college for women in London, Ontario, Canada. Currently called Brescia University College (Brescia College at its foundation), it remains the only university-level college for women in Canada and is affiliated with the University of Western Ontario.

From 1922 to 1975 the Mary Manse College in Toledo, Ohio, was operated by the Ursulines. It was a women's college until 1971, then was coeducational for its final four years.

In 1932, the Great Falls Junior College for Women was founded in Great Falls, Montana. Now the University of Great Falls, it has an open admission policy.

The Mount Saint Joseph Junior College for Women operated between 1925 and 1950 in Maple Mount, Kentucky, with the Ursulines offering co-educational extension courses at Owensboro. The Ursulines merged their extension courses with Mount Saint Joseph Junior College in 1950, creating the co-educational Brescia University still in operation today.

In 1966, the Ursulines established in Taiwan what became the Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages.

From 1968 to 2003 the Ursuline Order operated Ursula College at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. It is a co-educational residential college for approximately 200 undergraduates. In 2003 the college was sold to the University and was renamed Ursula Hall. The Ursuline tradition has been retained in the Hall's high educational standards, retention of Ursuline symbols and livery, and the observance of St Ursula's day in October. St Ursula's day is celebrated as Ursies Weekend and is a final opportunity to relax and party before final exams are held in early November.

Secondary education

Ursuline Convent, Dallas, Texas (postcard, circa 1901-1907) Ursuline secondary education schools are found across the United States and other countries. The first school, Ursuline Academy, began in 1727 in New Orleans, Louisiana. It is the oldest all-girls school in the country. There is also an Ursuline high school in the Bronx, the Academy of Mount St. Ursula High School,[5] as which is the oldest all-girls Catholic high school in New York State. It was founded in 1855.

The Ursuline School in New Rochelle, New York is a school for girls in grades 6-12 and is closely affiliated with the nearby Iona Preparatory.

Other notable Ursuline secondary schools in the United States include the all-female Ursuline Academy of Dallas in Dallas, Texas and the all-female Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Delaware.

Also in Newham, in London, UK, is the all-female girl school St. Angela's, named after the founder of the Ursulines. The sixth form centre of the school allows males while the school does not. The same applies to the Ursuline High School in Wimbledon, which has recently been selected as a Regional Winner- "London Secondary" in the Church School Awards 2011.[6] The Ursuline College, (Westgate-on-Sea), is also part of the order, and is open to male and female students.

The British philosopher and author Celia Green has written extensively about her time at the Ursuline High School in Ilford, London[7].. St. Angela de Merici inspired the Ursuline Sisters to provide young women with an opportunity to achieve their full potential. Throughout their lives, students continue to remain part of the Ursuline community and continue to carry forward the legacy of St. Angela de Merici, by serving their society [8]

Like their colleges, not all Ursuline secondary schools have remained single-sex. The aforementioned Ursuline Academy in Delaware permits male students in grades 1-3, and Ursuline High School in Youngstown, Ohio, founded in 1905, is fully co-educational. Other Ursuline secondary schools in the United States include Beaumont School in Cleveland Heights, Ohio (founded in 1850); Ursuline Academy in San Antonio, TX (founded 1851 - closed 1992); Ursuline Academy in Cincinnati, Ohio (founded in 1898); St. Ursula Academy in Cincinnati, Ohio; Ursuline Academy in Saint Louis, Missouri (founded in 1848); the Ursuline Academy of Dedham in Dedham, Massachusetts; Ursuline High School in Santa Rosa, California (founded in 1880); Ursuline Academy in Springfield, Illinois (founded 1857), which was coed from 1981 until it closed in 2007; and St. Joseph's Ursuline Academy in Malone, NY (closed in 1977 and was also coed at least from the mid-1960s). There is also an Ursuline secondary school in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, Waterford, Blackrock, Co. Cork and Sligo, Ireland, which have remained fully single sex.

See also


Further reading

  • Querciolo Mazzonis, "A female idea of religious perfection: Angela Merici and the Company of St Ursula (1535-1540)," Renaissance Studies, 18,3 (2004), 391-411.
  • Emily Clark (ed), Voices from an American Convent: Marie Madeleine Hachard and the New Orleans Ursulines, 1727-1760 (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 2007).
  • Q. Mazzonis, "The Impact of Renaissance Gender-Related Notions on the Female Experience of the Sacred: The Case of Angela Merici's Ursulines," in Laurence Lux-Sterritt and Carmen Mangion (eds), Gender, Catholicism and Spirituality: Women and the Roman Catholic Church in Britain and Europe, 1200-1900 (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011),

External links

ca:Companyia de Santa rsula cs: msk unie du svat Vor ily de:Ursulinen es:Religiosas Ursulinas de la Uni n Romana fr:Ordre de Sainte-Ursule id:Ursulin it:Orsoline dell'Unione Romana he: la:Unio Romana Ordinis Sanctae Ursulae hu:Szent Orsolya-rend nl:Ursulinen pl:Urszulanki Unii Rzymskiej pt:Religiosas Ursulinas da Uni o Romana ro:C lug ri ele Ursuline ru: sl:Ur ulinke sv:Ursuliner uk:

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