Bellarmine University and the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville dedicated a new reminder of the university’s enduring Ursuline roots on November 27, 2018. The terrace’s naming as Ursuline Terrace is part of a yearlong commemoration of Ursuline College’s merger with Bellarmine College 50 years ago, forming a co-educational college that is now Bellarmine University. The following are Sister Janet M. Peterworth’s remarks at the dedication of Ursuline Terrace.
Over the 50 years since each of our institutions came together much has happened. The Ursulines were teachers here at Bellarmine from the time of the merger until not too many years ago when Sr. Patricia Lowman retired. And, of course, many Ursuline Sisters graduated from Bellarmine and some from Bellarmine-Ursuline College. Ursulines have served (and still serve) on the Board of Trustees. So our lives have been intertwined over these 50 years.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the 50th anniversary committee for the work and creativity they have put into this celebration year. It has and will continue to be exciting and heartwarming for the Ursulines. And what a creative and fitting idea to name the terrace outside here Ursuline Terrace!
You may or may not know that Saint Ursula, who is not our foundress, but after whom Saint Angela named her group, was very popular in the medieval period. A great legend grew up around her in the fourth century. She was to be given in marriage by her father to a rich prince. She, however, had made a private vow of celibacy. As the story goes, she had a dream of a pilgrimage that would help her get out of the mess she found herself in.
Through the aid of this dream, she negotiated the following conditions with her father: a three-year delay of the marriage and a pilgrimage to Rome! Ten women of noble descent were to join her (according to the legend, each one was to be accompanied by one thousand virgins – hence the later reference to “Saint Ursula with her Companions”; there would have been approximately eleven thousand of them). And, each of these noblewomen’s fathers was to supply ships for the young women from their territory. Now, Ursula thought that this would NEVER ever happen and she wouldn’t have to marry. But her father called her bluff and said,” OK, I’ll do it. Watch me.” He got his fellow noblemen to send the maidens and the ships!
According to the legend, they all came together and sailed off. For three years while they sailed around the world, Ursula taught them the principles of the Christian faith. On their way back from the pilgrimage, however, they were attacked in the area of Cologne by Huns, who were laying siege to the city. Ursula and her companions were murdered.
There are notations in medieval liturgical texts and in hagiographic literature, in works of painters and sculptures that Ursula and her cult were still highly regarded in Saint Angela’s time. Already Saint Ursula was seen as the patron of parishes, chapels, the Sorbonne in Paris. as well as universities in Vienna and Coimbra. Another interesting fact is that in 1493 Christopher Columbus named the newly discovered islands on the Caribbean Sea the Virgin Islands after Saint Ursula and her 11,000 companions because these little islands dot the sea and reminded him of Saint Ursula and her troupe. I tell you this to point out how fitting it is to have a terrace at a university bearing the name Ursuline. (Just a thought, but it might be interesting to add a plaque to the terrace someday giving the high points of that legend to show why it is so fitting.)
So even though Ursula has been demoted from the official book of saints, she is no little saint! She belongs in a university setting! She belongs here at Bellarmine and as I said earlier, it is fitting that this terrace is named after her…and, of course, the Louisville Ursulines as well.
Sr. Janet Peterworth OSU