The Spiritual Life is a process of discovering and realizing the true self that is hidden within the sacred space within us. It is like entering a deep cave inside, utterly dark, yet full of Light.

A Brief History of the Society of St. Ursula founded by Venerable Anne de Xainctonge

The Society of St. Ursula traces its origins to the dream of a young French woman who was born in 1567 in Dijon, France. Anne de Xainctonge was the eldest child of Jean and Marguerite de Xainctonge, of a highly reputed family. Jean was a French Parliamentarian. Despite the fact that she was not the son he had hoped for, he gave her the education that boys of aristocratic families of that time would normally receive. Thus with such an education and her home being located next to the Jesuit school, Anne’s young heart was inclined towards God and His Kingdom. Seeing what the Jesuits were doing for the boys in the field of education, Anne wanted to do something similar for the girls. However when Anne expressed her desire to work in Dole as the Lord inspired her, the father was adamant not to send her. This was mainly because of political reasons. Dijon and Dole were at logger heads with each other. Overcoming all obstacles Anne left Dijon in 1596 to go to Dole.

Upon her arrival there, she found a group of young women who had been praying for a leader to guide them in their desire to instruct girls and women. God’s call to Anne to come to Dole was an answer to their prayer, but not without difficulty. After facing a prolonged struggle and opposition from her parents and others, along with companions who shared the same vision, Anne founded the Congregation of St. Ursula on 16th June 1606. She placed it under the special protection of Mary, Virgin and Mother who inspired her to be a woman of courage and conviction in her mission.

School teaching was not considered a respectable occupation in the late 16th and 17th centuries because of which most of the women whom Anne found waiting for her in Dole when she arrived, left her. Added to this was Anne’s determination to form a Religious Community of women bound to God by Vows but who would not be cloistered. This would give her sisters the freedom to visit the sick, to accompany the students to the Parish Church, to seek spiritual direction etc. Guided by her Jesuit councillors, Anne and her first companions were indeed pioneers, since in addition to their choice of teaching women and girls as their mission and their rejection of the cloister, they added a third characteristic. Anne had no desire for a religious habit that would set them apart from the women they had chosen to serve. She and her companions adopted the simple black dress of the Spanish widows then visible everywhere in the region of Dole.

After the founding of the Company of St. Ursula at Dole in 1606, the surrounding towns and villages soon asked for sisters to instruct and educate their daughters. It is thus that the pedagogy of the foundress, coupled with a solid Christian formation, quickly met with success. Thus in 1615 a community was founded in Vesoul, later in Besancon, Arbois and St. Hippolyte – France. Since Anne’s health was not good, in 1619 she sent some sisters to the city of Porrentruy to found a school there.

The long years of penance, sacrifice, persecution and rejection took its toll on Venerable Anne de Xainctonge’s life. She died on 8th June 1621 at the age of 54 seeing her vision become a reality. After her death the new Congregation spread fast. In 1634 the House of Fribourg in Switzerland was founded. In 1659 a community was started in Lucern by the sisters of Fribourg and in 1661 another in Brig, both in Switzerland. Brig was soon established as an independent House. Houses were also established in Freiburg and Villengen in Germany. Tours in France was founded in 1814. Brig founded the House of Sion in 1884. Everywhere the same concern for the faith of women and girls, brings together women who put their hearts, skills and resources at the service of girls and women especially the poor. The 20th century saw the opening of several communities in the mission lands of Africa and India. Thus the sisters of Brig left for South Africa in 1934, India in 1953 and India for Romania in 2000.

After the Second Varican Council, in 1965, the different Houses or Branches of the Society of St. Ursula of Anne de Xainctonge came together to form a Federation that has been approved by the Sacred Congregation of Religious and Secular Institutes. The Houses of Federation are Dole, Fribourg, Brig, Freiburg, Villengen, Tours and Sion. The common Constitutions guide the spirituality of the Society. Each House is independent with its own Generalate and yet bound together with the same spirit.

In 1953 three Swiss Sisters from the House of Brig - Sr. Nicholas, Sr. Zita and Sr. Xaveria touched the Indian soil and began their mission in Rahata, a remote village in the Ahmednagar District in the State of Maharashtra. Today the Society of St. Ursula has established mission stations in several States of India such as Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Orissa. Our mission in Romania helps us to serve God’s people there through Social, Pastoral and Catechetical work.