Saint Ursula

Following reflection was written by Sister Dorothy Kundracik

If St. Angela Merici founded the Ursulines, why are we named after St. Ursula? Unlike the Dominican and Franciscan orders, named for their founders, St. Angela chose to offer her maidens the model and protection of St. Ursula.

st ursulaAngela’s father read to his children from the Lives of the Saints. In northern Italy, where Angela lived, there were many artists’ works displayed in the churches. These renderings of saints were a way to remember and tell the stories of holy people from the past.

People have always needed heroes. Saintly people inspired others — held up for their bravery, steadfastness, and willingness to suffer for what they believed.

St. Ursula, circa the 5th century, is honored as the patron saint and protector of Cologne, Germany. One legend is that Ursula and a band of companions sailed from Britain for Rome to visit the tombs of the saints. Swept northward by a storm and wrecking at the mouth of the Rhine River, they met Attila and his barbarous Huns, who were planning to attack Cologne. Refusing to yield to the barbarians’ lustful desires, the women were slaughtered, “martyred for their faith and maidenhood.”

How might Angela have understood this tale? While the Medieval culture tended to diminish women in economics, sexuality, education, politics and culture, Angela pursued respect for unmarried women. She was seeking an ideal for her companions to espouse, emulate, and if necessary, die for. She found that ideal in Ursula, who embodied the Gospel and protected her companions. At home in Brescia and in other Italian churches, Angela’s eyes must have prayed with many paintings popular at that time. Angela especially would have loved the painting by Moretto of Ursula that still graces the Church of St. Clement.

In it, Ursula is depicted as a graceful, beautiful, wise, cultured scholar. Her learning confounded church doctors and theologians; Ursula was the special protector of the theological school and the Sorbonne in Paris. Her influence was far reaching: Columbus named the Virgin Islands after St. Ursula and her companions. Angela took that life of Ursula that was monumentalized as a confident, charismatic leader, with her intelligence, grace, goodness, and resolve and gave it to her company to immortalize in their lives.

Just as the women in Ursula’s story stood up to evil, women today need to stand up and refuse to be treated as objects rather than persons. Ursula stood up to the barbarians. She and her companions stood firm on what they believed, their dignity and self-possession, and on their love of the good and beautiful. We can hardly do less.

What Makes an Ursuline Sister Different From Other Sisters?

Welcome to our “Ask a Nun” series. Today, Sister Norma discusses what makes an Ursuline Sister different from other sisters.

All Catholic Orders of Nuns are structured in the same way according to the requirements of the Catholic Church. Each group however is unique because of the time and place and reason for why the community was founded.

Ursuline Sisters have St. Angela Merici as our founder. She gathered a group of women in 1535 in Brescia, Italy and formed a group of women under the name of St. Ursula. St. Angela believed that women could live holy lives expressed in service to those in need without living in convents. Although the women did not live together they gathered regularly as a community. This model of community still prospers today as the Company of St. Ursula, a Secular Institute in the Church.

A parallel model soon emerged in Italy when St. Charles Borromeo, was bishop in Milan. The Ursulines, known as the Order of St. Ursula, became an official religious order in the Church, similar to all other orders. Although the Youngstown Ursulines serve mainly in Northeast Ohio there are women who have their origins in St. Angela all over the world today.

21 October – Feast of St Ursula

October 21 is the Feast of St. Ursula. It is a day celebrated by Ursulines throughout the world. Who is Ursula? Where did she come from? Why are we Ursulines? Why do we celebrate Ursula’s Feastday?

St Ursula was the daughter of a 4th Century Christian King in Britain. She was a beautiful, intelligent, outgoing and friendly girl. Ursula was a spiritual girl and at an early age had dedicated herself to God and had decided to remain a virgin because of her love of Christ.

At that time young girls did not choose their own husbands, their parents decided whom they would marry. A powerful pagan king requested of Ursula’s father that she would marry his son Ethereus. The pagan king sent ambassadors to Ursula’s father offering large sums of money and other promises if the marriage took place. However they added terrible threats of what would happen if the marriage were not to take place. Ursula’s father was very afraid for three reasons: he was afraid of the violent reaction of the other king; he didn’t think Ursula would agree to marry and; both he and Ursula would prefer a Christian marriage..

Much to her father’s surprise Ursula, inspired by God agreed to the marriage but only on certain conditions.

  • Each king should put at her disposal ten girls.
  • Each girl was to be accompanied by another thousand girls.
  • The kings were to provide ships for a journey.
  • Ursula was to be granted three years to dedicate herself to God.
  • The young prince was to receive Christian instruction for baptism.

Ursula actually thought the proposal would be withdrawn on these conditions – but no, the king agreed and Ursula’s demands were carried out immediately.

Ursula’s father also invited a group of young men to accompany her and young people began arriving from all directions to join the voyage. During the journey Ursula converted all the girls to Christianity and soon they arrived in Cologne, Germany. Here an angel appeared to Ursula and told her that she and all her companions would return to this place and win the crown of martyrdom.

They moved on to Rome and Pope Cyriacus was delighted to see them since he himself came from Britain and he had many relations among Ursula’s travelling companions. That night an angel told the Pope that he too along with Ursula and her companions would gain the crown of martyrdom. In the next few days Pope Cyriacus asked to join Ursula’s group. He put another Pope in his place called Ametos. Pope Cyriacus, Ursula and her companions set out to return to Cologne.

The Huns were afraid that Christianity would become popular and that many people would become Christians. They gathered an army and plotted to kill Ursula and all her companions on their arrival back in Cologne.

Back in Britain, Etherius who had now become king received a message from an angel that Ursula was on her way back to Cologne with the Pope and her companions and that he should go quickly and join them. He too would become a martyr. Etherius set off for Germany and met Ursula and her companions in Cologne.

When Ursula and her companions arrived in Cologne they met the Huns who were only interested in women for pleasure. Ursula and her young girls resisted this violation. Julius, leader of the Huns, instructed his army to kill them all, including Etherius and the ex-pope Cyriacus. Julius decided not to kill Ursula as he thought she was so beautiful he wanted to marry her. Ursula firmly refused his proposal because she wanted to keep the promise she had made to God to remain a virgin. Julius was so enraged he threw an arrow towards her, which pierced her heart and killed her. And so Ursula and her companions were martyred in Cologne.

Angela Merici founded the Ursulines in 1535 in Italy. At that time the story of Ursula was very popular and people would have heard it and prayed to Ursula. Angela was calling young women to live a life of virginity and to be of service to others. She choose Ursula as a role model for herself and her companions and so still today we are known as Ursulines. Just as God called Angela and her companions he still invites women of today to say yes to the call to dedicate their lives to Him in the spirit of St. Angela Merici.