Saint Orsola Ledóchowska, 1865 – 1939
“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.