Ursuline College – Responding to the Needs

In 1871, the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland recognized a need for furthering the education of women, and thus Ursuline College was established. The first women’s college in Ohio and one of the first in the United States, the Ursuline Sisters pioneered the way of higher learning for women.

This “pioneer” spirit was patterned on the example set for them centuries earlier by their foundress, Saint Angela Merici, who in 1535, “founded the company of St. Ursula without a specific task in mind but rather to go out and serve whatever the needs were of the time,” said Pat Riley, Director of Development at Ursuline College.

“For her (St. Angela) the mission was to meet the needs of the people she encountered; if there were sick she took care of the sick, if there were orphans she took care of the orphans and if they were uneducated she taught them,” added Sister Rosaria Perna OSU, Director of the Visual Communication Design Program at Ursuline College. “The mission of the Ursulines is to touch the lives of many and she did just that.”

St. Angela and her followers were known for living among the people and responding to needs – an atypical kind of religious life for women.  By 1612, the Church had converted the Ursulines into a religious order, requiring them to live in a cloistered monastery. When this change took place, the sisters insisted on taking a fourth vow – of education, so that they could continue to minister to the uneducated, particularly young girls.

“Ursuline College is an offshoot of meeting the needs of the time,” explained Pat Riley, “This college was founded to educate women because few others at the time were doing that. We continue that mission today with the programs and degrees we offer.”

In July, 1975, the Division of Nursing of Saint John College of Cleveland transferred to Ursuline College and became the Ursuline Center for Nursing- now the Breen School of Nursing. “It wasn’t an easy decision because it was an expensive program to run. But there was a great need for nurses and so the Ursulines responded,” said Pat Riley. “That has always been the history of this place, there was previously no art therapy program in Ohio and so the college founded that under the direction of Sister Kathleen Burke.  The Diocese needed more administrators in the grade schools and high schools so we created a Masters of Arts in Educational Administration, led by Sister Rosemary Hocevar,” he added. Today, the College also offers graduate study in Art Therapy and Counseling, Education, Historic Preservation, Liberal Studies, Ministry, Business Management and Nursing.

Though the degrees offered come with a certain presumption of excellence, what’s more notable are the “values, voice and vision” instilled in the graduates of Ursuline College. That tag line is reflected in the service of a committed faculty, administration and staff, twelve of whom are Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland – ten are full-time.

“Many students experience of nuns is limited when they come to Ursuline College,” explained Sr. Rosaria. “What I really try to do as a sister is to develop good values in what I teach and in how I teach, even if I’m teaching something like graphic design, I try and weave values into that such as responsibility for others, dignity of the person, concern for the environment, and so on.”

“I became an Ursuline Sister because I found the Ursulines to be very dedicated to what they were doing; they were highly intelligent, they valued education, they valued learning and they valued spirituality and that was all very attractive to me, added Sr. Rosaria, it’s these type of values that I try to integrate into my own teaching.”

“The mission of Ursuline College is founded on the mission and legacy of the Ursuline Sisters, and we are fortunate to have so many Sisters on campus. Their ministry here is a living expression of commitment and dedication,” said Sister Christine De Vinne OSU, President of Ursuline College.

Over the years Ursuline College has continued to meet the evolving needs of the time. Though they now admit men (making up 9% of the undergraduate population), they continue their mission rooted in the tradition of women-centered learning with a values based curricula.