EARLY EXPANSION OF THE COMPANY
The first Sisters of the Company continued to live with their families, carrying out their
normal occupations but living their consecration on the lines bequeathed to them by
Angela. For Brescia, these were years of crisis. The Protestant Reformation had by now
taken firm root in Germany and, through German immigrants had passed into Italy where
Brescia became foremost among the cities affected by the new religion.
The Church had to come to grips with the situation. Schools of Christian Doctrine were set
up by the Bishops who quickly enlisted members of the Company of the Virgins of
St. Ursula as teachers. Thus began a long tradition of education, which was to be
characteristic of the Company from that day to this, while remaining fully in continuity
with Angela's heritage of the spoken word as an instrument of evangelisation. As the
Company's apostolate became more focussed on education, it was inevitable that at
least some of its members should decide to live under the same roof; community life
became a feature, though at this stage still an exception, of the Company.
From Italy, the Company first spread to France. It was here that the Bishops, in
conformity with the custom of the time, transformed the communities into
monasteries with solemn vows and enclosure. Confined within four walls, the
Ursulines (as they were now called) were obliged to specialise and the monasteries
grew into schools in the full sense. If this development curtailed the freedom of
movement to which Ursulines had been accustomed, it had the advantage of
facilitating an intense life of prayer, which had meant so much to Angela. It was
this tradition which produced the Ursuline mystic and first woman missionary to
Canada, Blessed Mary of the Incarnation.
Later, other European countries, whether through natural expansion or because of
persecution which forced the Sisters to seek refuge abroad, were dotted with Ursuline
convents, each autonomous but all looking to Angela as their mother.
New foundations were always made in view of a work of education to be accomplished.
Generalate of the Ursulines
Of the Roman Union, Rome.
At the turn of the century, Pope Leo XIII suggested to the Ursulines that they should form a Union. The idea was enthusiastically taken up
and many of the monasteries opted to join the Roman Union of the Order of St. Ursula. Houses that were geographically close were formed
into Provinces and a Generalate was built in Rome as a residence for the Mother General and as an administrative centre. Among the many
advantages that the Roman Union brought, not only to its members but to the Church in general, was a great missionary expansion for
which personnel was drawn from the different Provinces. Thus it was that, caught up in the tide of evangelising fervour, a group of Ursulines
from Holland and England, soon to join the Roman Union, responded to the call to minister to the people of South Africa.
They arrived in Barberton, Transvaal, on 31 December, 1895.