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History of the Ursuline Order

History of Ursuline Order

Founded in 1535 in Brescia, Italy by St. Angela Merici, the Ursuline Congregation has been involved in the work of education since its foundation.

Angela created a religious community of women which was fundamentally different in its self-concept from other Orders existing then. This she called the Company of St. Ursula. Angela combined open-mindedness and religious commitment in a way which opened up new possibilities for women. The first Ursulines did not live in convents, but remained integrated in their families or stayed at their work places. Angela's religious vision made her comunity different from any other, giving a particular uniqueness to her spirituality.

The driving force in Angela's life was her personal relationship with God. She was a woman of great integrity, courage and inner strength. Angela emphasised the dignity bestowed upon each individual and modelled gentleness, courtesy, love and respect in all her relationships. She sought to foster all these qualities in others.

The congregation has St. Ursula as its patron saint. Angela chose Ursula as she was a role model for women, a contemporary patroness for learning and a courageous leader.

Since 1535, Ursulines have evolved from being a Company, to a monastic Order, to a religious Congegration. They became one of the first female teaching orders and made a major impact on the religious education of young people in Europe and in the 'New World'. They continue to do so today.

In 1771, invited by Nano Nagle, the Ursulines came to Ireland and have played a major role in education since that time at primary, post-primary and third level. The Ursuline congregation founded one of the first second-level schools for girls in Ireland after the penal times. The school in Waterford was opened in 1816.

Angela Merici


Foundress of the Ursulines

Once upon a time a young woman had a dream, a dream she pursued. The young woman was Angela Merici and she described her dream in these words: "I saw heaven open and a glorious procession of angels and virgins advancing two by two....I recongised one of the virging as my beloved sister who said to me that God wanted to make use of me to found a company of concecrated virgins."

One hears in this description echoes of Angela singing, "I believe in angels, something good in everything I see..... when I know the time is right for me, I'll cross the stream, I have a dream."(Abba)

Angela's life crossed a stream, not literally, but this dream set a new path for her. She believed in her dream and it led her in a new direction. She knew she had been called by God to something new, something full of hope. So Angela moved on in her life and leaving behind the familiar shores of Lake Garda set out like a pilgrim following her dream.

All around her she saw sickness, disease, poverty, famine, war - and family life breaking down. Seeing these needs she became aware that society needed good role models living within it as agents for change. Inspired by the lives of the virgin martyrs Ursula and Catherine of Alexandria, she moved towards the realisatin of her dream.

Angela was a woman of great courage at a time when women had two choices: the enclosure of the convent or marriage arranged by their parents. She made her decision. We might hear her singing, "choose to chance the rapids, dare to dance the tide "for this is what she herself did. "With the good Lord as her captain" Angela chose to "sail her vessel " knowing that she would "never reach (her) destination if (she) never tried. (Garth Brooks).

So her dream was fulfilled.

On the 25th November 1535 the first group of 28 women signed the Book of the Company of St. Ursula.

Thus the Ursuline came into being and from a dream in a field in the Italian countryside, the world received a new and special gift, a gift that has over centuries spread across the globe keeping alive the dream of this very special woman...........

Today the Irish Ursuline Union draws together communities in Ireland, Kenya and Wales. Sisters continue to respond to the needs of time and place and so you find the Ursulines involved in education at all levels, healthcare and pastoral ministries.....

"Keeping the dream alive.......... "

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St Angela's School, Ursuline Convent, Waterford

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