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October 21st is the traditional date on which Ursulines around the world celebrate the feast of Saint Ursula. The following reflection provides a brief synopsis of the life of this saint as described in the Ursuline Book of Prayer, Volume II: OrdinaryTime, published by the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, Maple Mount, KY, 2017.

Legend surrounds this fourth-century figure, but all stories agree on three points: Ursula (dates uncertain) was said to be a committed Christian virgin, of royal birth, and martyred in Cologne for refusing to marry an invading tribal leader. Various legends suggest that, to flee either marriage or persecutions by invaders at home, this British princess went on a pilgrimage with 10 companions, going first to Rome, then through Germany by ship along the Rhine River. In one version, she so impressed the pope that he resigned and joined her. In another legend, her fiancé also joined her in Rome. Because she urged her companions to accept death rather than the sexual advances of their attackers, Ursula was invoked as the patron of young girls throughout the Middle Ages. She also became the patron of learning, and thus of teachers of young girls….

Because of her devotion to martyrs, Ursula’s patronage of girls, and the fittingness of this company of women to be patrons of her own company , St. Angela Merici named her followers “the Company of St. Ursula,” making Ursula the patron of her community.

Regardless of the many versions of the stories about Ursula, the truth that cannot be disputed is the fact that Angela did not name her company after herself. Rather she chose for a patron a woman whom her members would readily recognize as heroic, one who put principle above social expectation, one who was willing to adhere to her beliefs regardless of the personal cost. Does the story of St. Ursula have anything to teach us today in our current circumstances? Is there possibly some woman (or man) whom you recognize as being heroic and exceptionally high principled, dedicated to a cause worth fighting for, someone worthy of your admiration? And possibly imitation? What is this role model telling you?

Sister Janet Moore