Saint of the Day – 29 May – St Ursula Ledóchowska (1865-1939) religious name – Maria Ursula of Jesus – Religous and Foundress of the Institute of Ursuline Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Agony (17 April 1865 at Loosdoor, Austria as Julia Ledóchowska – 29 May 1939 in the Gray Ursuline convent, Via del Casalet, Rome, Italy of natural causes) . Canonised 18 May 2003 by Pope John Paul II at Vatican Basilica. Her body is incorrupt, it was transferred to the Gray Ursuline motherhouse in Pniewy, Poland on 29 May 1989.
Born in Austria, Julia was born into a privileged family, the daughter of a Polish count and a Swiss noblewoman. She was one of five children born into the family. Her elder sister, Blessed Maria Teresa Ledóchowska, founded the Missionary Sisters of Saint Peter Claver and is affectionately known as the “Mother of Africa.”
Julia’s uncle, the Cardinal Mieczyslaw Ledóchowski, the Primate of Poland, was persecuted and imprisoned for his opposition to the policies of the Prussian “culture war.” For this reason and for reasons of finances, Julia’s father moved the family back to his native Poland, where he fell ill. Before his death, he gave his daughter his blessing to enter the Convent of Ursuline Sisters in Krakow. Taking the name of Maria Ursula of Jesus, she dedicated herself to service of those in need. Sister Maria Ursula was especially drawn to youth, specifically young women who were in need of education. She founded the first Polish residence for female university students and both watched over them and assisted them in their spiritual and academic studies.
Sister Maria Ursula became prioress of the convent in which she lived and later received a request from Monsignor Constantine Budkiewicz, a Polish nobleman living and priest of Saint Catherine’s Church. His wish was for Mother Maria Ursula to found a boarding school in Russia, for Polish girls wishing to study in Saint Petersburg. Having received approval from Pope Saint Pius X, she traveled to Russia and founded a convent there to work among Catholic immigrants. Given the state of Russian politics at that time, the nuns wore lay clothing and conducted themselves appropriately, but were under constant threat and surveillance by the Russian secret police.
As World War I dawned, Mother Ursula was expelled from Russia, given her Austrian birth. Monsignor Budkiewicz was eventually martyred for the faith, during the fall and renaming of Saint Petersburg as Leningrad. Having been expelled from Russia, Mother Ursula fled to Sweden. There, she organised relief efforts for war victims, charitable enterprises for those (like herself) living in exile from Poland. She further founded a monthly Catholic newspaper.
In 1920, Mother Ursula and her growing community made its way back into Poland, bringing with her dozens of orphaned youth. Upon their return, Mother Ursula found that her community had developed a separate and unique identity, mission and charism from the Ursuline community, given their exile and separation and as a result, she founded her own congregation: The Institute of Ursuline Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Agony. Having obtained Vatican approval, she dedicated herself and her congregation to “the education and training of children and youth and service to the poorest and the oppressed among our brethren.”
From that time on, the Ursulines founded congregations in working class towns, organizing a “Eucharistic Crusade” by which to educate the factory workers and their families in the ways of the faith. With tireless energy and faith, Mother Ursula continued to lead her community until 1939, when she passed away quietly at the general house of her community in Rome. Her incorrupt body was translated to the Gray Ursuline motherhouse in Pniewy, Poland in 1989. She was canonised in 2003 by Pope John Paul II. At her canonization, the pontiff proclaimed:
“Mother Ursula Ledóchowska made her life a mission of mercy for the most deprived. Wherever Providence took her, she found young people in need of instruction and spiritual formation, poor, sick or lonely people, battered by life in various ways, who expected of her understanding and concrete help. In accordance with her means, she never refused help to anyone. Her work of mercy will remain engraved forever in the message of holiness, which yesterday became part of the whole Church.”
The first miracle that led to her beatification involved the cure of Jan Kołodziejski on 26 March 1946 while the second miracle leading to beatification involved the cure of the nun (from Ledóchowska’s own order) Magdalene Pawlak (in religious “Maria Danuta”) on 16 April 1946. The decisive miracle that led to her canonisation was the cure of Daniel Gajewski (b. 1982) who avoided electrocution in circumstances where he would otherwise would have been killed had it not been for the late nun whom he saw moments before fading into unconsciousness on 2 August 1996.