Brescia to France
The Ursulines, originally called "The Company of St Ursula", were founded in 1535 by Angela Merici in the town of Brescia, northern Italy. Members of the Company of St Ursula did not take vows, but simply promised "virginity", and lived in their own family homes, supporting themselves by their work.
After Angela's death in 1540 and under the influence of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), strongly promoted by St Charles Borromeo of Milan, members of the Company became involved in the teaching of Christian Doctrine. By about 1590 the Company reached France. Parisian noblewomen, anxious to support the reforms of the Council, undertook to establish religious communities of women in Paris and elsewhere.
Thus by 1612, with the Papal approval of the Congregation of Paris, the original idea of Angela's "Company of St Ursula" gave way to that of a monastic order in which the members were called "Ursulines", with strict canonical enclosure, though the nuns managed to retain their apostolate of teaching by taking a fourth vow of education of girls.
France to Germany to EnglandConvent Door, Duderstadt Germany
In 1660, just 125 years after the formation of the Company, Ursulines went from Paris to open a school in Erfurt in Saxony. From there a foundation was made in 1700 in Duderstadt, an ancient Hanoverian town.
During the Napoleonic wars the nuns were expelled from their monastery. Later they returned to a building almost in ruins, but they restored their home and reopened the school which was to flourish. Difficulties beset them again in 1871 when Prussia was victorious in war against France and Prince Otto von Bismarck became Chancellor. Bismarck attacked the church, enacting anti-clerical legislation. The May laws of 1873 dictated that all teaching religious orders were to be dissolved or expelled from the territories of the new German empire and their property confiscated, with education passing under the control of the state. The Ursulines were able to avoid the impact of these laws until 1877 when they finally had to leave Germany to find a home elsewhere.
They managed to establish themselves in Greenwich, London and immediately set up a school. While there they met a young Capuchin priest Fr Elzear Torreggiani who promised to help them if ever he had the opportunity. He was made bishop of Armidale New South Wales in 1879 and promptly invited the Ursulines to his diocese. Around this time many religious congregations came to Australia at the invitation of bishops, precisely to carry out the work of Catholic Education and especially since by 1882 the government had withdrawn financial aid from independent schools.
Ursuline Convent Armidale Welcoming Lady Stonehaven , wife of the Governor-General, 1929
When they were expelled from Germany by the laws of the Kulturkampf in 1877, members of the Ursuline Community of Duderstadt fled to Greenwich in England. Five years later ten of them took the long voyage to Australia.
After a few days in Sydney, including attendance at the opening of St Mary's Cathedral on 8th September, they travelled by boat, train and coach to Armidale. There they were welcomed to their new home late in the evening of 12th September, 1882. One week later they had begun their new school. They also taught in St Mary's Parish School. Among the students were boys up to the age of fifteen – quite a new experience for the sisters.
After almost one hundred years of educating girls and providing boarding school facilities for them, in 1976 St Ursula's College amalgamated with De La Salle College becoming what is now O'Connor Catholic High School. St Mary's is still a flourishing primary school, now under the care of a lay principal. Ursulines continued to teach in O'Connor until 1998 and in St Mary's until 2000.
The Ursuline community continued living in the original building provided by Bishop Torreggiani. In 2011 after a Province discernment process a decision was made to move from this place where the founding mothers had settled. For over 125 years the sisters had shared the faith and life of the people of Armidale.
Tweed Heads NSW
St Angela's Convent - Tweed Heads
In August 1917, five "pioneers" left Armidale for Tweed Heads, to establish the first "branch house". A week later they opened St Joseph's Primary School with sixty pupils; music, speech and commercial subjects were also taught.
A high school was opened with the first students sitting for the Intermediate Certificate in 1929. The Ursulines closed St Angela's Convent in 1951, and the Lismore Presentation sisters took over the running of St Joseph's school.
In 1919, the sisters accepted the invitation from Bishop O'Connor, of Armidale, to go to the small town of Guyra. The sisters named their convent St Augustine's and the primary school St Mary of the Angels.
In 1921 a small secondary school was begun. It closed in 1958. The Ursulines left Guyra in 1969, with the Sisters of Mercy from Monte St Angelo, North Sydney, continuing the work commenced by the Ursulines in Guyra.
Dutton Park QLD
The Ursulines first came to Dutton Park on 3rd January, 1919. They set up house in "Wahcumba", renamed "Rosary Hill". This was situated some distance from St Ita's Chapel across Gladstone Road at "Borva" which served as Chapel, Presbytery and classroom.
School opened on 27th January and the following April the foundation stone for a new school was laid. In January 1924 the nuns moved to Ingelnuck, adjacent to the Church and School. Following the Government's approval of St Ita's as a Secondary School in 1932, a new school building was commenced which was to accommodate both levels of education until a new Secondary School, to be known as St Ursula's College, was built in 1956, to be extended in 1964. Developments in education in the 1970s required careful discernment about whether further building should occur or a decision made about the viability of the College.
Ultimately a decision was taken to close the College in 1974. In exchange for the College building the Archdiocesan authorities provided a new convent to accommodate seven sisters. Two units for aged sisters were built with funding from the Commonwealth Government and Ursulines continued to enjoy these facilities until the final move from Dutton Park in 2005.
"Duporth", Oxley QLD
Archbishop Duhig blessed and formally opened "Duporth" on 7 December 1924. By 1938 there were 35 students coming from distant parts of Queensland, as far away as Hungerford and Normanton on the Gulf of Carpentaria. "Duporth" never became a big school but was always much loved by its pupils for its very homeliness and the individual care which this allowed.
Under pressure to provide education to larger numbers, the Ursuline province leadership closed the school at the end of 1957.
Ashbury (Sydney) NSWFormer Ursuline Convent, Ashbury
In 1929 the parish of Ashbury was established. Father Edward McMahon, the priest in charge, invited the Ursulines to come from Armidale and they opened school on 4th February 1930 with both primary and secondary classes.
On 31st January, 1939 the new building of St Ursula's College was opened on land beside the convent. When the College was closed in 1965, many of the students continued their education at St Ursula's College, Kingsgrove. In 1999 the Ursuline convent was demolished and residential homes built on the property continue to ensure that there is an Ursuline presence in Ashbury today.
At the end of 1930 "Kerrielaw" became the residence for five Ursulines and the nucleus for a boarding and day school, officially opened and blessed in February, 1931. Four sisters were added to the community in February 1940 to staff the newly established parish primary school of Our Lady of Lourdes in Newtown.
A new venture of co-education began in 1971 with about 80 senior girls from St Ursula's joining the senior boys of Downlands College. This arrangement lasted until 1993 when the Senior classes were resumed at St Ursula's.
In 2006 St Ursula's College was incorporated and became a company under the Commonwealth Corporations Act in order to engage the experience and expertise of many lay people who have worked in partnership since then with the Ursuline Sisters for the good governance of the college. In recent years, owing to the fact the Ursulines are no longer able to maintain their role of responsibility as Members (owners) of the Company of St Ursula's College, negotiations have taken place to transfer the governance of the College.
On 19th August 2016 the role of the Ursuline Sisters as Members of the Company of St. Ursula’s College Toowoomba and the property of the college was transferred to the Corporation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toowoomba.
The college continues to be governed by the Board of Directors who are now responsible to the Bishop of Toowoomba as Member. St. Ursula's College continues to be a Catholic College in the Ursuline tradition within the Diocese of Toowoomba. Today in 2017 St Ursula's College Toowoomba continues to thrive as a boarding and day school for girls. www.st-ursula.qld.edu.au
Kingsgrove (Sydney) NSW
Original Ursuline Convent - 69 Caroline St, Kingsgrove
In January 1949, two Ursuline sisters, accepting an invitation from Father Eamon Clune, the parish priest of Kingsgrove, began travelling each day from Ashbury to the primary school at Bexley North, then within the Kingsgrove parish. Fr Clune pressed ahead with the required buildings for Kingsgrove, and the primary school, opened in 1953 with over three hundred pupils, was staffed by Ursulines. While having connections to the school there are presently no Ursuline sisters who minister at Our Lady of Fatima School.
On the 5th February 1957 St Ursula's College opened with 54 students. The Ursulines took up residence in Kingsgrove in 1954 and continued their administration of St Ursula's College until 2007. However, Ursuline sisters still continue to minister in the College.
Today St Ursula's College Kingsgrove remains a vibrant secondary school educating young women and continuing the spirit of St Angela in society. At present St Ursula's is undergoing large renovations and refurbishment in accordance with modern educational requirements. Part of the refurbishment required the demolition of the original convent in 69 Caroline St. The College celebrated its Diamond Jubilee Anniversary in February 2017. www.stursulakingsgrove.org
The span of Ursuline life in Macedon, Victoria, was just 5 years (1950-1955). It began with the foundation of a boarding school in what was previously the Golf House, Mount Macedon. However, demands for sisters to staff schools and to become fully trained professionally led to its closure in favour of places with a "higher population density".
Canberra ACTUrsula College, Canberra
The first Ursuline community in Canberra opened in 1958 as a House of Studies. Ursula College followed in 1968 as a residence for 200 female students within the ANU (Australian National University). Sisters studied at the University and Signadou Teachers College and over the years taught at Catholic Girls High School (later Merici College), St Michael's School, (Lyneham) and afterwards at Kaleen, Charnwood and Gungahlin. They also engaged in pastoral work in the parishes of Aranda, Kaleen and Gungahlin, and the coordination of the Young Catholic Women's Interfaith Fellowship program.
In more recent years Sisters have moved into smaller communities allowing involvement in diverse ministries in ACT, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland and the Philippines.
Have a look at our Resources page for list of books about each foundation