About the Ursuline Sisters
Since their spirited arrival in Wilmington in 1893 at the request of Bishop Curtis, the Ursulines have devoted themselves to Catholic education, community service, and the development of strong female leaders in the image of their foundress, St. Angela Merici.
Originally tasked with establishing “a school for the liberal education of girls,” six Ursuline sisters courageously assumed the school previously run by the Visitandine Sisters in downtown Wilmington, Delaware – more than 130 miles from their home in Bedford Park, New York. The selfless acceptance of their transfer orders, including the daunting re-establishment of the school, showed not only their faith in God’s plan but their dedication to living in the trailblazing footsteps of St. Angela. With the steadfast commitment to and fearless passion for their mission from the Bishop, the school reopened in 1893 with a total of 39 day students and two boarders under the leadership of Mother DiPazzi, with five girls graduating in the first commencement exercise. These pioneering sisters prevailed despite constant challenges throughout the first decade of the school’s existence and became an independent community of the Roman Union in 1896, with help and advocacy from Bishop Monaghan. Through its independence and generosity of benefactors, the school found its footing, laying the path for the prosperity the school experiences today as a Catholic educational leader.
Beyond the formation and development of Ursuline Academy of Wilmington, Ursuline sisters have been vitally important in the establishment and operation of numerous area schools. The Ursulines’ regional impact started as early as 1917 by implementing CCD religious education classes at St. John’s in Hockessin, now known as St. Mary of the Assumption, and continued with assistance in the creation and/or support of Christ Our King School in Wilmington, Holy Rosary School in Claymont, Immaculate Conception School in Elkton, Maryland, St. Helena’s School in Bellefonte, St. Paul’s School in Wilmington, St. Peter’s School in New Castle, St. Anthony of Padua Grade School in Wilmington, Holy Spirit School in New Castle, and St. Mark’s High School in Newark.
In addition to their educational responsibilities, the Ursuline Sisters have perpetuated the work of St. Angela Merici and furthered their order’s mission in Wilmington through service to the homeless and disadvantaged, including direct involvement with Sojourner’s Place, the Ministry of Caring, and Catholic Charities, among others. The Ursulines have also had a strong and deep relationship with residents of both Luther Towers and Ingleside, a relationship that has benefitted both communities spiritually and socially.
Their service has also included cultural enrichment for the people of Wilmington, most notably through the works of Mother Aloysius Peach, who served as Poet Laureate of Delaware from 1963-1964, the establishment of the Wilmington Diocesan Library at Ursuline in 1932, Mother Brickel’s writing in the Morning Star newspaper, for which she was then the only nun in the United States to write a weekly column, and the 1975 appointment of Sr. O’Hara to the post of Associate Vicar of Religious, the first woman in Wilmington to assume the role.
In the words of Sr. Jeanne Cashman, OSU, “The history of the Ursuline Community in Wilmington is a uniquely woven tapestry of shared lives brought together from different states and different countries at specific points of time. During these intertwined moments, life has been shared, prayers have been offered, tears shed, and laughter experienced. Great women have been brought together to further the Kingdom both as a community and individually.” The progressive foundation, both physical and educational, set by the Ursuline Sisters over the past 120 years has positively affected the lives of countless individuals and will continue for many years to come, thus securing their legacy as a fundamental part of Wilmington history and the Order of St. Ursula.