Born in 1865 in Loosdorf, Austria.
Mother Ursula tells the sisters to love God above all, and to live a life of simplicity, humility, self-sacrifice and creativity in serving others, especially children and youth. She regards smiling, serenity and kindness as the most credible witness of being united with Christ and the most influential means used in evangelization and education. She teaches that holiness is accessible to everyone and is based on deep love of God and others, shown in performance of everyday duties.
“If only I knew how to love, to burn and consume oneself in love” – so the 24 year old Giulia Ledóchowska wrote before taking religious vows, novice in the Ursuline convent of Krakow. On the day of the religious profession she took the name ‘Maria Ursula of Jesus’, and the words stated above became the guide lines of her entire life. In her mothers’ family (of Swiss nationality and of the dynasty of the Salis), as well as in her fathers’ (an old Polish family) there were many politicians, military men, ecclesiastics and consecrated people, who were involved in the history of Europe and of the Church. She was raised in a family of numerous brothers and sisters where affectionate and disciplined love was dominant. The first three children, including M. Ursula, chose the consecrated life: Maria Teresa (beatified in 1975) founded the future ‘Society of S. Peter Claver’ and the younger brother Vladimiro became the general Preposito of the Jesuits.
M. Ursula lived in the convent at Krakow for 21 years. Her love for the Lord, her educational talent and sensibility towards the needs of youngsters in the changing social, political and moral conditions of those times put her at the centre of attention. When women earned the right to study in Universities, she succeeded in organising the first boarding-house in Poland for female students where they not only found a safe place to live and study, but also received a solid religious preparation. This passion, together with the blessing of Pope Pio X, gave her the strength to move into the heart of Russia which was hostile towards the Church. When, in civilian dress, she left with another Sister for Petersburg (where religious life was prohibited) she did not know that she was headed towards an unknown destination and that the Holy Spirit would lead her upon roads she had not foreseen.
In Petersburg the Mother with the steadily growing community of nuns (soon established as an autonomous structure of the Ursulines) lived secretly, and even though under constant surveillance by the secret police, they brought forward an intense educational and religious project which was also directed towards the encouragement of relationships between Polish and Russians.
When war broke out starts in 1914, M. Ursula had to leave Russia. She headed for Stockholm and during her Scandinavian travels (Sweden, Denmark, Norway) her activity concentrated not only on education, but also on the life of the local Church, on giving aid to the war victims and on ecumenical work. The house where she lived with her nuns became a point of reference for people of different political and religious orientation. Her strong love for her country was the same as her tolerance towards ‘diversity’ and towards others. Once asked to speak of her political orientation, she promptly answered ‘My policy is love’.
In 1920 M. Ursula, her sisters and a vast number of orphan children of immigrants returned to Poland. The Apostolic Headquarters transforms its autonomous convent of the ‘Ursulines of the Sacred Agonising Heart of Jesus’ The spirituality of the congregation is concentrated on the contemplation of the salvific love of Christ and participation in His mission by means of educational projects and service to others, particularly to the suffering, the lonely and the abandoned who were searching for the meaning of life. M. Ursula educated her sisters to love God above everything else and to find God in every human being and in all Creation. She gave a particularly credible testimony to the personal bond with Christ and to being an efficient instrument of both Evangelical and educational influence by means of her smile and serenity of soul. Her humility and capacity to live the ordinary everyday routine as a privileged road towards holiness made her a clear example of this life style.
The congregation developed quickly. The communities of the Ursuline nuns in Poland and on the eastern frontiers of the country which were poor, multinational and multi-confessional were established. In 1928 the Generalate was established in Rome along with a boarding-house for girls who were economically less well-off, in order to give them the possibility to come into contact with the spiritual and religious richness of the heart of the Church and of European civilisation. The Sisters began to work in the poor suburbs of Rome. In 1930 the nuns accompanied girls in search of work and established themselves in France. Wherever possible M.Ursula founded educational and instructional work centres. She sent the nuns to Catechise and to work in the poor parts of town. She wrote books and articles for children and youngsters.
She initiated and sustained ecclesiastical organisations for children (Eucharistic Movement), for youngsters and for women. She actively participated in the life of the Church and State thus receiving great acknowledgement and decorations from both the State and the Church. When her laborious and not easy life came to an end in Rome on May 29, 1939, people said of her: “She died a saint”.
His Holiness Pope John Paul II beatified M. Ursula on June 20, 1983 in Poznan and declared a Saint on the fifth Sunday of Easter 18 May 2003.
From Pope John Paul II’s homily declaring the canonization of Ursula Ledochowska:
Throughout her life, St Ursula Ledóchowska fixed her gaze on the face of Christ, her Bridegroom, with fidelity and with love. In a particular way, she united herself to Christ in agony on the Cross. This union filled her with an extraordinary zeal in the work of proclaiming in words and in deeds the Good News of God’s love. She brought it first of all to children and young people, but also to all who were in need: the poor, the abandoned, the lonely. She addressed to all the language of love, borne out by her work. With the message of God’s love she crossed Russia, the Scandinavian countries, France and Italy. In her day she was an apostle of the new evangelization, demonstrating a constant timeliness, creativity and the effectiveness of Gospel love by her life and action.
Through love for the Eucharist she also drew the inspiration and strength for the great work of her apostolate. She wrote: “I must love my neighbour as Jesus loved me. Take and eat…. Eat my strength, I am available for you…. Take and eat my abilities, my talents… my heart, so that with his love he may warm and brighten your life…. Take and eat my time, may it be at your disposal…. I am yours, as Jesus the Host is mine”. Do not these words echo the gift with which Christ, in the Upper Room, offered himself to his disciples of all times?
In founding the Congregation of the Ursuline Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Agony, she passed on to it this spirit. “The Most Blessed Sacrament”, she wrote, “is the sun of our life, our treasure, our happiness, our all on the earth…. Love Jesus in the tabernacle! Always leave your heart there, even if you are busy at work. It is there that Jesus dwells, whom we must love ardently with all our heart. And if we cannot love him, let us at least seek to love him – to love him more and more”.
In the light of this Eucharistic love, St Ursula could glimpse a sign of the times in every circumstance, in order to serve God and her brothers and sisters. She knew that for believers, every event, even the least important, becomes an opportunity to carry out God’s plans. What was ordinary, she made extraordinary; what was part of daily life, she transformed so that it became eternal; what was banal, she made holy.
If today St Ursula has become an example of holiness for all believers, it is because her charism can be grasped by those who, in the name of the love of Christ and of the Church, want to witness effectively to the Gospel in today’s world. We can all learn from her how to build with Christ an ever more human world – a world in which values such as justice, freedom, solidarity and peace will be more and more fully achieved. From her we can learn how to put into practice every day the “new” commandment of love.
Quote: “You must never ask Jesus to wait.” – – Saint Ursula Ledóchowska – –
Prayer To Saint Ursula Ledochowska
By the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ accept, O God, the prayers we offer You through the intercession of Saint Ursula who faithfully imitate the virtues of Your Most Sacred Heart and grant us the graces ______ we ask for with childlike trust.