October 21 is the Feast of St. Ursula. It is a day celebrated by Ursulines throughout the world. Who is Ursula? Where did she come from? Why are we Ursulines? Why do we celebrate Ursula’s Feastday?
St Ursula was the daughter of a 4th Century Christian King in Britain. She was a beautiful, intelligent, outgoing and friendly girl. Ursula was a spiritual girl and at an early age had dedicated herself to God and had decided to remain a virgin because of her love of Christ.
At that time young girls did not choose their own husbands, their parents decided whom they would marry. A powerful pagan king requested of Ursula’s father that she would marry his son Ethereus. The pagan king sent ambassadors to Ursula’s father offering large sums of money and other promises if the marriage took place. However they added terrible threats of what would happen if the marriage were not to take place. Ursula’s father was very afraid for three reasons: he was afraid of the violent reaction of the other king; he didn’t think Ursula would agree to marry and; both he and Ursula would prefer a Christian marriage..
Much to her father’s surprise Ursula, inspired by God agreed to the marriage but only on certain conditions.
- Each king should put at her disposal ten girls.
- Each girl was to be accompanied by another thousand girls.
- The kings were to provide ships for a journey.
- Ursula was to be granted three years to dedicate herself to God.
- The young prince was to receive Christian instruction for baptism.
Ursula actually thought the proposal would be withdrawn on these conditions – but no, the king agreed and Ursula’s demands were carried out immediately.
Ursula’s father also invited a group of young men to accompany her and young people began arriving from all directions to join the voyage. During the journey Ursula converted all the girls to Christianity and soon they arrived in Cologne, Germany. Here an angel appeared to Ursula and told her that she and all her companions would return to this place and win the crown of martyrdom.
They moved on to Rome and Pope Cyriacus was delighted to see them since he himself came from Britain and he had many relations among Ursula’s travelling companions. That night an angel told the Pope that he too along with Ursula and her companions would gain the crown of martyrdom. In the next few days Pope Cyriacus asked to join Ursula’s group. He put another Pope in his place called Ametos. Pope Cyriacus, Ursula and her companions set out to return to Cologne.
The Huns were afraid that Christianity would become popular and that many people would become Christians. They gathered an army and plotted to kill Ursula and all her companions on their arrival back in Cologne.
Back in Britain, Etherius who had now become king received a message from an angel that Ursula was on her way back to Cologne with the Pope and her companions and that he should go quickly and join them. He too would become a martyr. Etherius set off for Germany and met Ursula and her companions in Cologne.
When Ursula and her companions arrived in Cologne they met the Huns who were only interested in women for pleasure. Ursula and her young girls resisted this violation. Julius, leader of the Huns, instructed his army to kill them all, including Etherius and the ex-pope Cyriacus. Julius decided not to kill Ursula as he thought she was so beautiful he wanted to marry her. Ursula firmly refused his proposal because she wanted to keep the promise she had made to God to remain a virgin. Julius was so enraged he threw an arrow towards her, which pierced her heart and killed her. And so Ursula and her companions were martyred in Cologne.
Angela Merici founded the Ursulines in 1535 in Italy. At that time the story of Ursula was very popular and people would have heard it and prayed to Ursula. Angela was calling young women to live a life of virginity and to be of service to others. She choose Ursula as a role model for herself and her companions and so still today we are known as Ursulines. Just as God called Angela and her companions he still invites women of today to say yes to the call to dedicate their lives to Him in the spirit of St. Angela Merici.