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A religious order founded by St. Angela de Merici for the sole purpose of educating young girls. It was the first teaching order of women established in the Church, and up to the present date has adhered strictly to the work of its institute. Though convinced of her divinely appointed mission to lay the foundations of an educational order, Angela for seventeen years could do no more than direct a number of young women who were known as "The Company of St. Ursula " but who continued to live in the midst of their own families, meeting at stated times for conferences and devotional exercises. The many difficulties that hindered the formation of the new institute gave way at last, and in 1535, twelve members were gathered together in a community with episcopal approbation, and with St. Angela de Merici as superioress. The movement was taken up with great enthusiasm and spread rapidly throughout Italy, Germany and France. Within a few years the company numbered many houses, each independent. Constitutions suited to the special work of the institute were developed and completed shortly before the death of the foundress in 1540. In 1544 the first approbation was received from Paul III, and the Rule of St. Augustine adopted. Many important details were left unsettled at this time, and, as a result, several congregations developed, all calling themselves Ursulines but differing widely in dress and customs. The largest and most influential of these were the Congregation of Paris and the Congregation of Bordeaux. In 1572 St. Charles Borromeo, Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, obtained for the new congregation the status of a monastic order with enclosure. In some of the older European convents, in Canada and Cuba, strict enclosure is still observed; in other sections, though nowhere entirely abolished, the enclosure has been modified to meet local conditions. A Bull of final approbation was given in 1618 by Paul V.
In the early part of the seventeenth century an appeal was made from Canada for bands of religious women to undertake the arduous task of training the Indian girls to Christian habits of life. It met with an instant and generous response. In 1639 Madame de la Peltrie, a French widow of comfortable means, offered herself and all that she had to found a mission in Canada. In May of that year she sailed from Dieppe accompanied by three Ursulines and three hospital sisters. At Quebec the latter founded a Hôtel-Dieu, the former, the first Ursuline convent on the western continent. The superioress of the new foundation was mother Marie de l'Incarnation Guyard, whose heroic virtues won from the Holy See the title of venerable in the year 1877, and the process of whose canonization is about to be presented. The earliest establishment of the Ursulines in the United States also owes its origin to French initiative. in 1727 Mother Marie Tranchepain, with then companions, embarked from L Orient to found their convent at New Orleans . After years of struggle a firm foothold was secured, and the Ursulines still flourish in the city of their original foundation. A notable feature of Ursuline labours in the United States may be found in the history of the Rocky Mountain Missions where for years they have laboured for the Indians, and have established ten flourishing centres. From these western foundations have sprung two branches in Alaska. In accordance with the wish of Leo XIII, a congress of Ursulines from all parts of the world convened at Rome during the fall of the year 1900. Representatives were sent from the United States, South America, Java, and all parts of Europe. Under the auspices of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, the Roman Union of Ursulines was then formed, with the most reverend Mother Mary of St. Julien as the first mother-general. Cardinal Satolli was appointed the first cardinal protector. To this union belong over a hundred communities; aggregations are made from year to year. The united communities are divided into eight provinces as follows: Italy ; Austro-Hungary; Hungary ; the East of France ; the West of France ; Holland-Belgium-England-German; the North of the United States ; the South of the United States ; Spain and Portugal. Many large and important communities still retain their independent organization. Of late years the Ursulines have suffered severely in France and Portugal. The members of the expelled communities have become affiliated to other foundations both in Europe and the United States.
The habit of the order is of black serge, falling in folds, with wide sleeves. On ceremonial occasions a long train is worn. The veil of the professed religious is black, of the novice white. The guimpe and bandeau are of plain white linen. the cincture of black leather. There are two grades in each community; the choir religious, so called from their obligation to recite the office daily in choir; and the lay sisters. The former are occupied in teaching, the latter in domestic duties. Candidates for either grade pass six months probation as postulants in the community in which they desire to become stabilitated. This period is followed by two years of preparation in a central novitiate, at the expiration of which the three vows of religion are pronounced temporarily, for a term of three years. At the end of the third year the profession is made perpetual. In some Ursuline communities solemn vows are taken, and there papal enclosure is in force. The vows of the Ursulines in the United States though perpetual, are simple. From their earliest foundations the Ursulines have been thorough and progressive teachers. Their system might be termed eclectic, utilizing the effective points of all methods. The European houses are fore the most part boarding schools ; in the United States combinations of boarding and day-schools. The nuns also conduct many parochial schools, which, like the others, comprise all grades: elementary, academic and college courses. The first Catholic college for women in New York State was founded by the Ursulines at New Rochelle [New York] in 1904. The Ursulines in several other parts of the United States have followed the precedent, and are labouring practically to further the higher education of women. The German Ursulines, who were expelled through the influence of the Kulturkampf and re-admitted after an exile of ten years, are permitted to resume their teaching, but for pupils of high-school grade only. In Europe and America alike the Ursulines make it a point to secure State approval, and avail themselves of every advantage offered by the public institutions.
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