The term Ursulines refers to a number of religious institutes of the Catholic Church. The best known group was founded in 1535 at Brescia, Italy, by Angela Merici (1474–1540), for the education of girls and the care of the sick and needy. Their patron saint is Saint Ursula. They are divided into two branches, one being the monastic Order of St. Ursula (post-nominals OSU), among whom the largest group is the Ursulines of the Roman Union, described in this article. The other branch is the Company of St. Ursula, commonly called the "Angelines", who follow the original form of life established by their foundress.

Ursulines of the Roman Union
Named afterSaint Ursula
MottoTo God alone give glory
PredecessorCompany of St. Ursula
Established1535 (1535)
FounderAngela Merici
Region served
Prioress General
Cecilia Wang
AffiliationsRoman Catholic



Merici, a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, was a woman of deep mystical belief, which she combined with the service of the poor and needy. She believed that she experienced a call from God to found a community to share this work. From men and women who labored with her, she selected 28 women who wished to commit their lives to this endeavor.[1]

These women, along with Merici, made a commitment of their lives to the service of the church and of the poor on 25 November 1535, the feast day of Catherine of Alexandria, a major female spiritual figure in the Middle Ages. The women called themselves the Company of St. Ursula, taking as their patroness the medieval patron saint of education. Continuing to live in their family homes, they would meet regularly for conferences and prayer in common. Merici drew up a Rule of Life for them. In 1538 the company held its first General Chapter, at which Angela was elected "Mother" for life.

In 1539 she added her Testament and a book of Counsels to regulate the life of the group.[2] Merici's vision was that they were to live among the people they served without any distinguishing feature, such as a religious habit.

The company grew rapidly, being joined by women from throughout her hometown of Desenzano. They came to be organized in groups, according to the parish in which they lived, and the company spread throughout the Diocese of Brescia. One of the early works of the new Company was to give religious instruction to the girls of the town at the parish church each Sunday, which was an innovation for the period, having traditionally been left to the local parish priest. Their work quickly spread to other dioceses in the region.[1] Angela Merici died on 27 January 1540.

The company was formally recognized in 1546 by Pope Paul III. Merici's death in 1540, however, had left the company without a clear leader. Organized loosely, questions about their future began to surface. Additionally, pressure began to come from the officials of the church, who were uncomfortable with a group of consecrated women living independently, not under the direct authority of the clergy.[2]

Introduction of monastic life

In 1572 in Milan, at the insistence of Charles Borromeo, the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, the Ursulines agreed to become an enclosed religious order. Pope Gregory XIII approved this step, putting them under the Rule of St. Augustine, in place of Merici's rule. Especially in France, groups of the company begin to re-shape themselves as cloistered nuns, under solemn vows, and dedicated to the education of girls within the walls of their monasteries.[1]

In the following century, the Ursuline nuns were strongly encouraged and supported by Francis de Sales. They were called the "Ursuline nuns" as distinct from the "federated Ursulines" of the company, who preferred to follow the original way of life. Both forms of life continued to spread throughout Europe and beyond.[2]

At the beginning of the 18th century, the period of its greatest growth, the order was represented by 20 congregations, 350 convents and from 15,000 to 20,000 nuns.[3][4]

Ursulines in North America


The Ursuline sisters were not the first Catholic nuns to land in the new world. They were preceded by the Heironymite order in 1585 in Mexico City, who established the convent of San Jerónimo y Santa Paula.[5] In 1639, Mother Marie of the Incarnation, 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 languages of the native peoples and then began to educate the native children.[6] They taught reading and writing as well as needlework, embroidery, drawing, and other domestic arts.[7][8] The Ursuline convent in Quebec City is the oldest educational institution for women in North America.[9] Their work helped to preserve a religious spirit among the French population and to Christianize native peoples and Métis.

United States

The first Ursulines arrived at Mobile, Alabama, in 1719 (though information is contradictory from remaining and available sources). In 1727, 12 Ursulines from France landed in what is now New Orleans. 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 of Louisiana (New France). They came to the country under the sanctions of Pope Pius III and Louis XV of France. Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, their charter came under the jurisdiction of the United States.[10]

They instituted a convent and school, both of which continue today.[11] Ursuline Academy (New Orleans) is the oldest continually operating Catholic school in the United States and the oldest girls school in the United States.[12] 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 Mississippi Valley region, Ursuline provided the first social welfare center.[13]

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. They had a well established presence as a hospital by the time of the US Revolutionary War. Ursuline sisters treated in the same building both British and United States soldiers wounded in the war. They may have been the first group of women propagating the ideals of diversity in a society, which flowed directly from the teachings of St Ursula and her followers.

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 City (1855), Louisville (1858), Chatham, Ontario (1860), and Bruno (1916) and Prelate (1919) 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.[14] In 1771, the Irish Ursulines were established at Cork by Nano Nagle.[3]

Today the monastic Order of St. Ursula (post-nominals OSU) has as its largest group the Ursulines of the Roman Union, described in this article. The other branch is the Company of St. Ursula, commonly called the "Angelines", who follow the original form of life established by their foundress.

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.[15]

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.

1927, the Ursuline Sisters of the Eastern Province restructured catholic education in Elkton, Maryland by assisting in the founding of Immaculate Conception School, originally located at the corner of Cathedral Street and Singerly Avenue in historic Elkton, Maryland. The Ursulines ministered within the schoolhouse from 1927 to 1930, followed by the Glen Riddle Franciscan Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia.

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 that remains in operation.

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 in October of Ursies Weekend for relaxing and socializing before November exams.

Secondary education

Ursuline secondary education schools are found across the United States and other countries. The first school was Ursuline Academy, began in 1727 in New Orleans, Louisiana. It is the oldest all-girls school in the country. The Academy of Mount St. Ursula High School[16] in the Bronx is the oldest all-girls Catholic high school in New York State, founded in 1855, the same year Sacred Heart Academy in Louisville, Kentucky, was founded.

The Ursuline nuns had been invited to St. Teresa's parish by Rev. James Boyce in 1873 to open a girls’ academy, which was incorporated in 1881 on Henry Street in what is now the Bronx, New York. In 1899 they took possession of a mansion originally built by General Winfield Scott, which he had dubbed, "The Hermitage," and shortly thereafter changed the name of their school from St. Teresa's Ursuline Academy New-York to the Ursuline Academy. In 1905, a news article announced plans for a four-story seminary building to be made for the Convent of St. Theresa on that site by architect Joseph H.McGuire.[17] However, photos show the building unchanged as of 1911.[18] They occupied this building until selling it in 1912, and moving the school to the Ursuline Provinculate at Grand Boulevard and 165th Street.[19]

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 all-female Ursuline secondary schools in the United States include Ursuline Academy of Dallas, Texas, Ursuline Academy in Saint Louis, Missouri (founded in 1848), and Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Delaware.

In the London Borough of Newham, United Kingdom, is the all-female girl school St. Angela's, named after the founder of the Ursulines. Only the sixth form centre of the school allows males. 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.[20] Ursulines also have St Ursula's Convent School in Greenwich which educates girls aged 11 to 16 and coeducational Ursuline College, Westgate-on-Sea.

The British philosopher and author Celia Green has written extensively about her time at the Ursuline High School (now Ursuline Academy Ilford) in Ilford, London.[21] 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 Angela de Merici, by serving their society.[22]

There is an Ursuline Convent, in Ranchi, Jharkhand, India.[23]

In Thailand, the Ursulines established Mater Dei School in Bangkok in 1928. Its elite alumni include Kings Ananda Mahidol and Bhumibol Adulyadej.[24] Although an all-girls school, it enrolled boys from Kindergarten through Primary 2.

In Indonesia, the Ursulines established the Princess Juliana School in Batavia (1912), after its initial establishment as an Ursuline Convent in 1859. Now the school is known as St. Ursula Catholic School and is an all-girls school.

Like their colleges, not all Ursuline secondary schools have remained single-sex. Villa Angela Academy, founded in 1878, in Cleveland, Ohio, merged with Marianist (Society of Mary) St. Joseph High School in 1990 forming the coed Villa Angela St. Joseph High School. 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; 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, New York (closed in 1977 and was coed at least from the mid-1960s). There are Ursuline secondary schools in Ireland in Thurles, County Tipperary; Waterford, Blackrock, County Cork; and Sligo, Ireland, which have remained single sex.

See also


  1. "The Company of St. Ursula". Ursulines of the Roman Union. Archived from the original on 19 July 2013. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
  2. "Our History". The Company of St. Ursula in the United States. Archived from the original on 8 May 2012. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
  3.  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Ursulines". Encyclopædia Britannica. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 804.
  4. Collier's New Encyclopedia: A Loose-leaf and Self-revising Reference Work; with Illustrations and Ninety-six Maps. Google Books: Collier. 1921. pp. 140–141.
  5. Lavrin, Asunción (2008). Brides of Christ: Conventual Life in Colonial Mexico. Stanford: Stanford University Press. p. 259.
  6. Buescher, John. "Religious Orders of Women in New France", Teachinghistory.org, accessed August 21, 2011
  7. Chabot, Marie-Emmanuel (1979) [1966]. "Guyart, Marie, dite Marie de l'Incarnation". In Brown, George Williams (ed.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. I (1000–1700) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.
  8. Agnes Repplier, Mère Marie of the Ursulines: a study in adventure (New York, 1931)
  9.  Fidelis, Mother Mary (1912). "Ursulines" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  10. Dom Guy-Marie Oury, Les Ursulines de Québec, 1639-1953 (2000)
  11. "Ursuline Academy and Convent in New Orleans Before and After Hurricane Katrina Photo Gallery by Coleen Perilloux Landry at". Pbase.com. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
  12. "Ursuline Academy and Convent in New Orleans Before and After Hurricane Katrina by Coleen Perilloux Landry". PBase. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  13. "Ursuline Heritage | Ursuline Academy". www.uanola.org. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  14. "Follow the Spirit." Angela Merici and the Ursulines. Editions du Signe. Rome: Spada, 1998
  15. Eaton, Andi (2014). New Orleans Style. Google Books: The History Press. p. 52. ISBN 1626196419.
  16. "Academy of Mount Saint Ursula". Amsu.org. 2010-08-14. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
  17. "New Home For Ursuline Convent" (PDF). New York Daily Tribune. July 9, 1905. Retrieved May 7, 2019.
  18. "(still image) Manhattan: Park Avenue - 93rd Street, (1911)". |author=Digital Collections, The New York Public Library |accessdate=May 7, 2019 |publisher=The New York Public Library, Astor, Lennox, and Tilden Foundation}}
  19. Miller, Tom (2013-04-01). "Daytonian in Manhattan: The Lost 1847 Winfield Scott Mansion -- 93rd and Park Avenue". Daytonian in Manhattan. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
  20. "London Secondary | Church Schools Awards". Churchschoolawards.com. 2012-06-28. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
  21. Green, Celia (2004). Letters from Exile: Observations on a Culture in Decline. Oxford: Oxford Forum.
  22. UrsulineAcademyMA. "The Ursuline Sisters - Carrying forth The Legacy of St. Angela de Merici". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
  23. "Welcome to Ursuline Intermediate College!!". uicranchi.com. Retrieved 2017-06-20.
  24. The History of Mater Dei School Archived 2013-02-07 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading

  • Agnes Repplier. Mère Marie of the Ursulines: a study in adventure (New York, 1931), on Canada to 1672
  • Dom Guy-Marie Oury. Les Ursulines de Québec, 1639-1953 (2000)
  • 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),
  • Lierheimer, Linda.
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