VATICAN CITY, MAY 16, 2003 (Zenit.org).- This Sunday, John Paul II will canonize religious Ursula Ledochowska, an indefatigable apostle of young women, who worked in many areas of Europe at a very difficult time.
Julia Maria Ledochowska was born to a Polish family in 1865 in Loosdorf, Austria, where she lived on a country estate. The first three children, including Maria Ursula, chose the consecrated life: Maria Teresa — beatified in 1975 — founded what would become the Society of St. Peter Claver, and her younger brother, Vladimir, became the general superior of the Jesuits.
At 21, Julia Maria entered the Ursuline convent in Krakow, Poland, and was highly regarded as a teacher and educator.
Her profound spiritual intuition and apostolic commitment led her to establish a boarding school for young girls. At the same time, she founded the Association of the Daughters of Mary for the students, so that their education would be rooted in Christian values.
Ursula Ledochowska was superior of her Ursuline convent for three years. Eventually, she went to Russia, where she adapted to the existing conditions. She studied Russian, passed the state exam and, in 1908, the convent affiliated to the Ursulines in Krakow became an autonomous Ursuline house in St. Petersburg, running a boarding school for girls.
Two years later, Ursula established a girls’ school in Karelia, in the Gulf of Finland which was then part of Russia. The school implemented the most modern pedagogical ideas of the time.
Impelled by love of Christ, Ursula came in contact with the local Protestant population. In no time the Catholic chapel became a place of prayer for the Finns.
The outbreak of World War I changed Ursula Ledochowska’s life. As an Austrian, she suffered persecution. She went to Stockholm, where she established a boarding school.
In 1916, determined to sustain Catholics in the faith, she created the newspaper “Solglimtav,” which is still published in Uppsala, with the current name “Katolsk Kyrkotodnig.”
The following year, Ursula traveled to Denmark to develop a work of intense assistance to Polish refugees. She stayed there for three years.
Her circumstances and moves were dictated by her great concern for young women needing support and education. In a letter to her sister Maria Teresa, a mature Ursula wrote: “I would like to gather all the people who would like to work for God in the field of education — and there are many — to create a kind of ‘light cavalry’ that would be able to go wherever good teachers are needed!”
In 1920 she left her institute to found a new religious congregation, which she called Ursulines of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Agony. It received initial approval in 1923, and final approval in 1930.
When Ursula Ledochowska died, the congregation she founded had over 700 religious carrying out their apostolic work in 44 houses opened in different European countries, including Rome, where the future saint died on May 22, 1939. John Paul II beatified her in Poznan, Poland on June 20, 1983.
Together with Ursula Ledochowska, on Sunday, May 18, the Pope will canonize three other founders: Polish Bishop Joseph Sebastian Pelczar, 1842-1924, founder of the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; Maria De Mattias 1805-1866, founder of the Congregation of Sisters, Adorers of the Blood of Christ; and Virginia Centurione Bracelli 1587-1651, founder of the Religious Daughters of Our Lady on Mount Calvary.