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History of the Institute

1.The Congregation of the Ursulines of Mary Immaculate (UMI), was founded in Piacenza, Italy, on 17th February 1649, by Blessed Brigida Morello under the patronage of St. Ursula, after whom the Institute is named.

2. Protectress, Patroness, Foundress:

The  Foundress had a filial devotion to Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God and took her as the perfect model of spiritual and apostolic life. Hence the Congregation is entrusted to the maternal protection of Mary Immaculate (Feast on Dec.8th) and St. Ursula is the Patroness of the Congregation (Feast on Oct.21st ).

3.Patroness: St. Ursula

St. Ursula was a legendary Saint, who had shown heroic strength, fidelity and courage in defending a group of young Princesses from the attack of ‘pagans’ and led all of them to prefer death/martyrdom, rather than give up their faith in Christ and their integrity. She was one of the Saints most popular at that time and was considered as the  patroness of educators. What Brigida and her contemporaries knew of her, was more due to legend than to history. Blessed Brigida chose St. Ursula as patroness

4.Foundress – Blessed Brigida of Jesus: 1610 – 1679 (Feast on Sept.4th)

Blessed Brigida was born on 17th June 1610 as the sixth of eleven children in St. Michael of Pagana in the leading city of Rapallo, Genova. The family was of ancient roots. Nicolo, the father of the family, in 1633 became the Governor of Rapallo and mother Lavinia Borzese looked after the household activities.

From her early childhood little Brigida showed an extra ordinary interest towards religious and pious practices and devoted herself to them with enthusiasm and without reserve. She maintained a special devotion to Mother Mary which enabled her to love Jesus ever more ardently.

She had a very significant experience at the age of four that filled her with tremendous love and compassion for the Crucified Jesus. She listened to the homily, on the passion and death of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday. The priests’ description of the pain and sufferings of Jesus, touched her deeply and moved her to tears that she decided to flee every vanity and sin. Her desire for sanctity grew beyond her age and she wanted to become a saint.

However, in obedience to her parents, in 1633 Brigida was married to Mathew Zancari of Cremona and the couple settled in Salsomaggiore. In 1637, the husband fell very ill and died. As a widow she realized that she was drawn towards an entirely new way of life. She spent more time in prayer and grew in her spirituality. She was also engaged in works of charity, helped the poor and the sick, taught Catechism to children, thus becoming the teacher of Christian Doctrine.

God had blessed Brigida with a large heart, lively intelligence and clarity of judgment. She was highly favoured by God with mystical gifts of contemplation, prophecy, ecstasies and heavenly visions. The charismatic action of the Holy Spirit brought her to a total surrender to God and enabled her to perceive and re-live the gospel message contemplating on Jesus Crucified and Risen.  Meditating on the mystery of Christ’s love, as revealed in his passion and death, she deepened a very special devotion to the Crucified Saviour, who became her model not only for her personal life but also for the future members of the Congregation she was called to found. Her identity as a Foundress can be traced to her deep mystical relationship with Christ and a great desire to save souls.

Brigida Morello was significantly influenced by the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius and was deeply rooted in the Ignatian Spirituality. She was carefully guided by Jesuit spiritual directors who sustained her in discerning God’s will. Thus, through her maturing in faith and communion with God, she was able to  give shape to God’s project in founding the Institute.  

Blessed Brigida, despite her poor health, carried on a life of intense prayer, commitment to the religious community founded by her and service to the young boarders. She gave herself totally to the mission of education, which she considered to be of utmost importance for the life of young girls entrusted to her. After long years of mystical experience, illness and suffering, Brigida was called to her eternal reward on 3rd September 1679.

5.Charism, Apostolate:

Charism: The Ursulines, identified with Christ Crucified, are dedicated to live a total self gift to God, in perfect purity of heart, in communion with one another and joyous service to the needy, in the spirit of  the Foundress, Blessed Brigida of Jesus.

The Ursulines render their service to the people through the apostolate of Education, Social, Pastoral and Health Care.

6.Founding and Growth of the Congregation:

The context of founding the Congregation was strongly influenced by the social, political, cultural, religious and historical context of the 17th Century. It was a strongly patriarchal and authoritarian society, rampant with illiteracy, ignorance and poverty. To add to these, was the crisis of the medieval Church which broke down the unity and harmony among the believers. These aspects had deeply affected Brigida’s life of faith and spiritual progress, as she grew from childhood to mature adult stage.

The greatest international conflict of the period was the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). In 1636, the Spanish army invaded Parma and Piacenza. Amidst all these disturbing troubles, Brigida’s spirit of prayer and deep trust in God, persuaded her to gather the women together, in front of the statue of Our Lady, to recite prayers and litanies, while the men were busy defending their castle. She remained calm and reached out to others with commitment and compassion.

In 1645, during the reign of the noble Duke Ranuccio Farnese I, the Duchess of Parma and Piacenza Margherita de Medici, desired to have a house in Piacenza for the education of the young girls. So the Duchess approached Fr. Carletti S.J, who would be best acquainted with persons suited for this work. His first choice was Brigida, whom he was accompanying as a Confessor, in her spiritual journey.

In this way God manifested His ways in leading Brigida through different paths until He found her ready to realize His plan for the House of St. Ursula. She left no stone unturned until all obstacles to its foundation were cleared with the assistance of influential ecclesiastical and civil leaders. God’s plan was finally realized on 17th February 1649, when Brigida and her five companions, garbed themselves in the religious habit and vowed to remain consecrated to God. The Blessed Virgin Mary was the perfect model in her life of consecration as she believed the Marian motto “Ad Jesum per Mariam” (To Jesus through Mary).

The House of St. Ursula was founded with the mission of educating young girls of the city of Piacenza as per the will and desire of the Duchess Margherita de Medici. Brigida and her companions were engaged in the integral formation of girls who were admitted to the Boarding House. The only form of Religious life for women recognized by the Church in those days was Cloister. Though the external structure and style of life in the House of St. Ursula resembled largely to that of the Cloister, but in its Foundation and original inspiration, it had not been conceived of, as a Cloister.

The House of St. Ursula was blessed, as it spread its mission to different parts of Italy. Almost three Centuries later, the Institute had the Ecclesial approbation under the leadership of a visionary Superior General, Mother Felice Radini Tedeschi. In 1928, she made a formal request to the Holy See for the Ecclesial approbation and the availability to open and spread out in the Missions. On 8th December 1934, she consecrated the Institute to the Immaculate Virgin Mary, because it was the desire of the Foundress that the devotion to the Blessed Mother, may strike deep roots in the hearts of the future members of the Institute. In 1936 the Congregation became an Institute of Pontifical Right with the title, Congregation of the Ursulines of Mary Immaculate.

7.Growth and Spread of UMIs in India

The strong thirst for a missionary vocation born in the heart of Brigida remained inactive for almost three Centuries. It sprouted, developed and yielded abundant fruit in the twentieth Century. The dynamic figure, Mother Felice Radini Tedeschi, the then Superior General, having imbibed the spirit and zeal of the Foundress, found ways and means of carrying the missionary flame to the distant Indian land. To this end, she chose, prepared and sent a band of five brave and generous Ursulines as Pioneers.

The Pioneers landed in India on the shores of Arabian Sea at Calicut, Kerala on 12th November 1934. This fulfilled  the prophetic vision and mission of the Foundress to go to the ends of the world, to save souls and to proclaim the Good News. A few days after their arrival, they earnestly began their service:  opened a dispensary, visited the sick in their houses and distributed medicines. They were greatly supported by Rev. Fr. Benjamin Ranzani S.J, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Calicut, Fr. Peter Caironi S.J. and Fr. Aloysio Del Zotto S.J, the Italian missionaries. However, due to unavoidable circumstances, the pioneers were compelled to move to Kannur in 1936 and opened a house at Payyambalam.  The tragedy of the Second World War struck them and they were interned at Payyanur. They braved all hardships and dedicated themselves to the suffering members of Christ by opening an orphanage and a dispensary at Payyanur.

Their hard labour was rewarded with the gift of two indigenous vocations Sr. Maria Felix Padinjarekutte, in 1939 and Sr. Maria Josephine Gonzalves in 1940. The third indigenous vocation, Sr. Maria Aloysia Vaz in 1940, was a great instrumental in the growth and development of the mission in India. Meanwhile, other Italian missionaries were sent to assist the pioneers, among whom, Mother Stefania Murelli and Mother Giovanna Alberoni have remarkably helped in the growth of the mission.

The call of the missionaries to North India came through the invitation of Rt. Rev Dr. L. Raymond, Bishop of Allahabad, to start the mission in his Diocese. Mother Stefania Murelli as the Superior of the Indian Mission, responded to this call and opened  St. Patrick’s Convent Kanpur in 1953. The Ursulines were involved in the health care and pastoral activities. Consequently, a number of  houses were opened and the mission grew in the Northern part of India, to render service to the people in the field of education, health care and socio pastoral apostolate.

Divine providence designed ways as the Ursulines extended their mission to the Central part of India and opened the first house in the Diocese of Bangalore in 1966. Gradually, the mission was blessed abundantly and they opened  communities in the Central, Southern and Northern parts of India.

Due to the geographical distance and the increase in the number of communities, the Indian mission was divided into two Regions in 1979, under the direction of the Delegate Superior, Mother Aloysia Vaz.  The Northern Region was headed by Sr. Monica Manikunnel and Southern Region by Sr. Alphonsa Thyparambil. In the course of time, the mission of UMIs spread through the length and breadth of India. The increase in the number of members, the communities as well as the apostolic institutions called for administrative adaptation and restructuring. Hence the Northern and Southern regions were reorganised into 3 Provinces.

8.Global Presence of Ursulines:

At present, the Congregation of the Ursulines of Mary Immaculate is spread out in seven countries, into five Provinces and one Delegation, with a total number of 780 Sisters. From the time of its foundation the Congregation is governed by 42 Superiors General with the head quarters in Piacenza, Italy. In 1998 the Generalate was shifted to Roma; Casa Generalizia, Istituto Orsoline di Maria Immacolata, Via Dandolo 46, 00153 Roma, Italia.

The Italian Province, erected in 1989, is based at the Mother House of the Institute at Piacenza. It has witnessed three Centuries of dedicated service to the Church of Piacenza. The Sisters work in the dioceses of Piacenza- Bobbio, Chiaveri and Alghero – Bosa in the field of education and pastoral activities.

 Amala Province: The first House of the Ursuline mission in India that began in 1936, at Kannur, grew as a Region and was raised to the status of a Province in 1988. It remains as the Provincial House of Amala Province consisting of 27 communities in the dioceses of Kannur, Ooty, Calicut, Trivandrum, Allappey, Palghat, Thanjavur, Neyyattinkara, Vijayawada, Thalasserry and Thrissur.

 Vimala Province: The mission that was initiated in the Northern part of India, became a Region and grew up into a Province in 1988, with its headquarters at Lucknow. It has 21 communities and the Sisters are working in the dioceses of Lucknow, Allahabad,  Ambikapur, Jabalpur, Guwahati and Tura.

Sacred Heart Province: It was erected in 1988 with its Provincial House based at Bangalore. The Sisters, in 24 communities are working in the dioceses of Bangalore, Goa, Mangalore, Shimoga, Jamshedpur, Karwar, Mysore, Nashik, Mumbai, Balasore and Ernakulam.

The Nirmala Province was bifurcated from Vimala Province as a Vice Province in 2004 and raised to the status of a Province in 2010. Its Provincial House is at Greater Noida, having 15 communities in the dioceses of Agra, Bareilly, Allahabad, Varanasi, Meerut, Chandigarh and Daltonganj.

Brazil Delegation: The mission in Brazil was begun in 1985 in the southern state of Parana. The Ursulines, working in the two dioceses of Santos and Ponta Grossa, offer  significant service to the people, through pastoral care and parish activities where the main focus is the poor and  marginalized of the society. The mission was raised to a Delegation in 2006.

Mission in Africa: Following the vision of the Foundress, Ursulines entered the African continent in Tanzania and Kenya. The Tanzanian mission was born in 2001 in the Archdiocese of Songea. It has steadily grown, comprising of 7 communities and blessed with indigenous vocations. The Sisters work in the field of education, health care and socio-pastoral activities in the Dioceses of Songea, Dar-es-salam and Njombe.

In the Kenyan mission, that began in 2003, the Ursulines render their service to the people in the diocese of Machakos, in the field of education.

Mission in Ireland: Responding to the signs of the times, the Ursulines set foot in Ireland in 2017 in the Diocese of  Kildare and Leighlin, to carry out the work of evangelization with special focus on pastoral and healing ministry.  

Mission in UK: Ursuline mission in UK began in the year 2018 in the Archdiocese of Birmingham and in the year 2019 in the Diocese of Plymouth. The sisters render their service through the socio-pastoral activities.   

9. Foundress of the Congregation Brigida Morello of Jesus was beatified by St. Pope John Paul II on 15th March 1998, in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome.