History of the Ursulines

he history of the origins, the development of the community and its educational work have kept unfolding since 1535. Indeed, the Ursulines cross the centuries serving the family, the school and the society. Let us recall the main episodes of this journey throughout the ages and places

1. The Ursulines at Their Beginning

The Founder

On November 25, 1535 in Brescia, Northen-Italy, Angela Merici, who was born of a peasant class of modest status, founded the Company of Saint Ursula, in Italy. From this Company originated several groups of women with called Ursulines instilled Angela's spirit.

In spite of poor schoolingbackground - the lot of women in those days - Angela received a Christian education in her family. Though burdened with work, Jean Merici, Angela's father took the time to read the lives of the saints and virgins to his children.

Angela, orphaned at the age of fifteen, stayed with her uncle in Salo for some time, and became a member of the Franciscan Third Order. Later on, she went back to her family's farm, called Grezze, near Desenzano, where she developed her spiritual life and shared in the peasant life.

At this time, she was revealed in a vision a specific mission she matured at length in prayer.

In her late forties, she left the Grezze to comfort some of her broken-hearted relatives living in Brescia. Meanwhile, she undertook several pilgrimages: Mantoue, Varallo, the Holy Land and Rome where Pope Clement VII invited her to take over the work in the Roman charitable public institutions. But, Angela withdrew humbly from this proposal in order to come back to Brescia and carry out the mission given her at the Grezze.


A New Path

Back in Brescia, a light from heaven showed her that it was high time to accomplish the mission God had entrusted her: recruiting young girls and women who wished to serve Christ altough living in the midst of the world, but not in a cloister.

After years of preparation and expectation, on November 25, 1535, at about the age of 60 Angela gathered 28 women who were committed with her to the promotion of Christian values in the heart of the family, the society and the Church. These women were not linked to any common activity, but formed a real spiritual family chosen by Saint Angela which became the Company of Saint Ursula, patron saint of the first centuries.

Such a way of living was new and quite unique in the Church of those days; it contributed with great audacity to the promotion of women.

After Angela's death, the population readily venerated her as a saint, so much had she influenced their lives. In order to support and spread their devotion, the people collected and recorded telling documents. She was beatified in 1768 and canonized in 1807.

The first Ursulines' life presented the following original features:

La vie des premières Ursulines comporte les traits originaux suivants :

  • Completely promised to Christ, and living in their customary homes without a cloister
  • Commited by vows and not by promises
  • Having a vivid apostolic spirit, without any special community activity
  • Possessing a strong fraternal and community tie with the dispersed sisters whom they met regularly
  • An all-Women Government at the head of which was a Mother Principal

In order to pave a way of living to be followed by her members and to designate persons - especially women - to govern them, Angela dictated documents to Gabriel Cozzano, her secretary where her last will and her thoughts on education can be found:

HE RULE, for all the Company members called virgins.

THE COUNSELS, addressed to the Colonelli: (leaders responsible for the Company) members living in a designated section (colonello) of the town.

THE LEGACY, bequeathed to the Lady-Governors also called Matrons who were widows as well as to the four men of mature age to whom she entrusted the government of the new Company.

Angela, endowed with practical experience, suggested principles of wisdom, common sense, stability, which not only contributed to the formation of the first Ursulines, but also had guided so many of them in the field of education for centuries.

The Company Develops and Expands

After Angela's death, in a context of wars and religious ignorance, the members of the Company were led to devote themselves to the teaching of Christian Doctrine and the care of orphans.

Many Ursulines continued to live in their families. However, for a good number of them, it became necessary to live together in residences called 'colleges', either to help isolated sisters or to accomplish more effectively their apostolate, helping the poor and the abandoned. They gradually added to their task teaching, reading and writing.

The daughters of Angela shared their responsibilites according to the different districts of the city of Brescia, and were thus faithful to their Mother Angela, who exhorted them to strive ever more for the salvation of souls, adaptating to the times and needs.

The Company of Saint Ursula expanded rapidly, since five years after its foundation - in 1540 - it already numbered 150 members. At that moment Angela died, after barely having the time to determine the organization of her institution.


2. The Ursulines in Italy

From Brescia, the Ursulines were established in the diocese of Milan by Bishop Charles Borromée. He did not hesitate to modify the primitive Rule and to introduce an ecclesiastical superior for the young Company. Other Bishops followed his example in establishing such Companies in their own dioceses.

During the 19th century, the Companies of Saint Ursula had several problems with the Italian Government, even to the point of disappearing. The Holy Father, Pope Pius 1X, having extended the Saint Angela devotion to the universal Church, also endeavoured to see to the revival of Saint Angela's life style. Because of his great influence, more than sixty Companies bloomed afresh throughout Italy and afterwards, the whole world.


3. The Ursulines in France

In 1592 in France, a group of women began to live according to the Rule of Angela Merici. The Companies of Saint Ursula then became the Order of Saint Ursula and were obliged to live in a cloister with the specific aim: " the education of young girls ".

They had to stay in monasteries in order to pursue this education. In some convents, the engagement became so important that all the sisters committed themselves making a special vow in that respect. From then on, each monastery organized its own boarding school for young girls. On the eve of the French Revolution in 1789, there were about four hundred monasteries in France.

During the Revolution, the French Ursulines strived to maintain their apostolate as long as they could and upheld it courageously and daringly, but, suppressions and dispersions greatly hindered their life. Out of some ten thousand Ursulines living in France at that time, about one thousand were jailed, 38 guillotined among which, 27 martyrs of Valenciennes and Orange who were beatified in 1920 and 1925. Nothing permanent could be re-established until 1820. Napoléon, in 1806, legally recognized the Ursulines as teachers, but not as religious. They then had to undertake a period of adaptation which bore fruit only when the new generations of sisters were able to shoulder the expenses of the new recruits


4. The Ursulines in America and Elsewhere

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the French monasteries which were well-off sent some sisters to found elsewhere: the Netherlands, Holland, CentralEurope, Belgium, the Mediterranian countries, England and Ireland. The Order of Saint Ursula expanded also in both Americas, the Far East and Africa.


5. The Ursulines in New France

In 1639, Mary of the Incanation arrived in Canada with two companions: Sister Saint-Joseph and Sister Cécile de Ste-Croix. A lay founder, Mme de la Peltrie, financed this project, and accompanied them. The story of Marie Guyart, Claude Martin's spouse, and mother of a son (later she became a widow at the age of 19) is already told elsewhere in the website. A woman of apostolic zeal, prayer and action, she answered the Lord's call, entrusted her son to reliable people and the Holy Providence, to become a religious by the name of Marie de l'Incarnation, at the Ursulines of Tours

Angela had recommended to her daughters to be " moved by the sole love of God and the zeal for the salvation of souls? (Legacies 3, p.111.) and this, they accomplished in New France, by consecrating themselves to the education of young girls. Mary of the Incarnation, having seen Canada in a dream and heard the Lord tell her: "... you must go to Canada to build a house in honor of Jesus and Mary ", obtained her superiors' permission and sailed to Canada. The Ursulines established in Quebec, were also entirely committed to the education of young girls and even engaged themselves by a fourth vow in this respect till around the year 1928.

Up to her death, Mary of the Incarnation was entirely devoted to the Ameridian and the French girls. Her abundant correspondence revealed to France and Canada the woman of action she was, as well as the educator and the mystic.


6- The Ursulines of Mary of the Incarnation's Lineage

The sisters of Mary of the Incarnation's lineage took root from an offspring of the Ursulines of Tours which had been founded by Bordeaux.

From 1639 to 1953

Established in 1639, the monastery of Quebec, also founded the following monasteries and convents which were autonomous until 1953 :

1. MONASTERY OF TROIS-RIVIERES: 1697 which later founded :
Waterville, 1888-1892
Skowhegan, 1899-1900 (Maine, USA)
Grand-Mère, 1900-1972
Shawinigan, 1908-1977
Trois-Rivières, Christ-Roi Monastery, 1939-1996

2. MONASTERY OF ROBERVAL; 1882-2002. Residence since 2002 at the Augustines de la Miséricorde de Jésus in Roberval; and different foundations as well:
Chambord, 1945-1970
St-Eugène, 1946-1960
Ste-Croix, 1949-1964

3. MONASTERY OF STANSTEAD; 1884-2004. Residence in Magog since 2004 they had opened a convent in Swatow, China, 1922-1952, which foundation was assumed by the Ursulines of the Roman Union on April 23, 1923.

4. MERICI COLLEGE; 1902-2002

5. MONASTERY OF RIMOUSKI; 1906-1970, many residences in Rimouski where the Ursuline Monastery became the Université du Québec à Rimouski as well as other foundations:

6. MONASTERE DE GASPE; in 1924-1970, then a few residences in Gaspé followed by the foundations of: - St-Simon, 1951-1970
- Anses-aux-Gascons, 1950 -1964
- Monastère d'Amqui, 1946-1972; later, other residences in the city
- Hakodate, Japan, 1948, which later founded HACHINOHE, 1950
- Matane, 1950
- St-Léon-le-Grand, 1952
- Maillardville, B.C., 1952-1968

7. SENDAI ; (Japan), 1936 - Tamonoki , 1967
- Tokyo, 1972
- Yagi, 1974-2004

8. Loretteville: Boarding School, 1941-1997; Day School 1941
9. Jacquet River, 1945-1971
10. St-Léonard, N.-B. 1947-1987


1953 Up to Today

In 1953, l'Union Canadienne des Ursulines was founded which included Province du Québec, Trois-Rivières and Rimouski. In 1975, the Province of Japan and Perou were added. Then the three provinces of Canada were grouped in january 2008 and called the Province du Québec with its head.Since then, other foundations were added:

- Ile d'Anticosti, 1990-2008
- Montréal, 1992
- The Formation Center, 1987

Many residences within the City of Québec as well as the following foundation:
- The Center of Spirituality, 1961

3. TROIS-RIVIERES; several residences within the city as well as the following foundations:

- Aucayo in Peru in 1961
- Yanashi in 1964
- Lima in 1967

4. RIMOUSKI; several residences within the city as well as the following foundations:
- Grande Vallée, 1953-1960
- Murdochville, 1060-1990
- Franquelin, 1970-1975
- Hauterive, 1971-1995
- Pabos, 1972-1991
- Matapédia, 1972-1977
- Baie-Comeau, 1973
- Val d'Espoir, 1974-2007
- Albertville, 1979-1982
- St-Charles-Garnier, 1982-1987
- Cap d'Espoir, 1984-1995
- Ste-Thérèse, 1987
- Chute-aux-Outardes, 1988-1999
- St-Majorique, 1990
- Lac Humqui, 1997-1998
- Anses-aux-Gascons, 1950-1964; 1996
- St-Arsène, 2001
- Amqui - Maison d'Angèle, 2004

- Shimoda, 1985

Philippines :
- Mati, 1989
- Mati ; Mary of the Incarnation Retreat Center, 1998
- Manay, 1998-2004

6. PERU:
- Iquitos-Punchana, 1968
- Iquitos-Fatima, 1994

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