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Saint Ursula, painted by
Benozzo Gozzoli, c.

The Ursulines are a Roman Catholic religious order founded at Bresciamarker, Italymarker, 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 instance of Saint Charles Borromeo, the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, declared the Ursulines a religious order with enclosure under the rule of Augustine of Hippo.

In the following century, the Ursulines were powerfully encouraged and supported by Saint Francis de Sales. In most cases, especially in Francemarker, 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.

By 1639, there were Ursulines in Canadamarker who taught the catechism to aboriginal children. There is also an Ursuline conventmarker in Quebec Citymarker that is the oldest educational institution for women in North America. Their work helped to preserve a religious spirit among the French population and to Christianize aboriginals and M├ętis. In 1771, the Irishmarker Ursulines were established at Corkmarker 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 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 Cubamarker continue to observe strict enclosure, most convents have adopted less restrictive forms.

Role in education

Colleges and universities

In the United Statesmarker, the Ursulines have founded two well-known Catholic women's colleges. Ursuline College in Pepper Pikemarker, Ohiomarker was founded in 1871 by the Ursuline Sisters of Clevelandmarker. It was followed in 1904 by College of New Rochelle, which is located in New Rochellemarker, New Yorkmarker.

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

From 1922 to 1975 the Mary Manse College in Toledomarker, Ohiomarker 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 Fallsmarker, Montanamarker. 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, Kentuckymarker, 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 Taiwanmarker 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 Hallmarker. 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 secondary education schools are found across the United States and other countries. The first school, Ursuline Academymarker, began in 1727 in New Orleans, Louisianamarker. It is the oldest all girl's school in the country. There is also an Ursuline high school in the Bronx, the Academy of Mount St. Ursula High Schoolmarker ,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 Dallasmarker in Dallas, Texasmarker and the all-female Ursuline Academymarker in Wilmington, Delawaremarker.

Also in Newham, in London, UK, is the all-female girl school St. Angela'smarker, 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 Schoolmarker in Wimbledon. The Ursuline College, marker, 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 Ilfordmarker, London.

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 Schoolmarker in Youngstown, Ohiomarker, founded in 1905, is fully co-educational.

Other Ursuline secondary schools in the United States include Beaumont Schoolmarker in Cleveland Heights, Ohiomarker (founded in 1850); Ursuline Academy in San Antonio, TX (founded 1851 - closed 1992); Ursuline Academymarker in Cincinnati, Ohiomarker (founded in 1898); St. Ursula Academymarker in Cincinnati, Ohio; Ursuline Academy in Saint Louis, Missouri (founded in 1848); the Ursuline Academy of Dedhammarker in Dedham, Massachusettsmarker; Ursuline High Schoolmarker in Santa Rosa, Californiamarker (founded in 1880); and Ursuline Academy in Springfield, Illinois (founded 1857), which was coed from 1981 until it closed in 2007. There is also an Ursuline secondary school in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, Waterford, and Sligo, Ireland, which have remained fully single sex.


  1. Catholic Encyclopedia link
  2. Academy of Mount Saint Ursula
  3. Green, Celia (2004). Letters from Exile: Observations on a Culture in Decline. Oxford: Oxford Forum.

See also

External links

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