Gregory A. Shemitz photos
The Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk, Belgium are celebrating 95 years of ministry in the United States in 2019. On November 3, they marked the occasion with Mass at St. William the Abbot Church, Seaford, where the Sisters opened the parish school 65 years ago.
Bishop John Dunne, was the principal celebrant. Msgr. John Tosi, pastor of St. Luke, Whitestone, preached the homily. St. William’s pastor, Father Joe Fitzgerald, concelebrated and blessed a statue of St. Angela Merici, founder of the Ursulines, that was donated to the parish in memory of all the Ursuline Sisters who taught at St. William the Abbot School since 1954.
Since 1924, when Sisters arrived in America to begin teaching at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ozone Park, Queens, Ursuline Sisters have responded to the needs of the times.
Over the past 95 years, Ursuline Sisters have helped educate many thousands of students in Catholic elementary and high schools, throughout New York and Connecticut, as teachers and school principals. Sisters from the U.S. Province have also been called to serve in Vermont, Louisiana, Virginia, Belgium and the DR Congo, in higher education as college professors, as well as in social justice ministries, in hospice, as hospital chaplains, in social work, in pastoral ministries, in holistic ministry and much more.
Ursulines worldwide are committed to education, justice, peace, and the integrity of creation. Inspired by the life and charism of St. Angela Merici and Father John Lambertz, the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk have devoted their lives to Christ and the Universal Church.
The mission of the Ursuline Sisters and Associates, to make God known and loved, continues today in their ministries and the prayerful presence of the retired Sisters. Today, 94 percent of Ursuline Sisters are above retirement age.
Ursulines throughout the world trace their roots to St. Angela Merici. In 1535, Angela Merici, a spiritual leader in Brescia, Italy, founded the Company of St. Ursula. Angela gathered a circle of 12 women who shared her vocation and dedication to helping the poor, visiting the sick and instructing young women in family values. An independent thinker, Angela created an alternative future for young women for whom a patriarchal society offered only marriage or monastic life.
Later, St. Angela’s foundation became the first teaching order of Sisters in the Church. Angela Merici died on January 27, 1540 and was canonized St. Angela in 1807.
In 1818, Father John Lambertz, the parish priest in Tildonk, Belgium, founded a new branch, the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk. From Belgium, the Ursulines of Tildonk expanded into parts of Europe and Indonesia, India, Canada, the United States, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Guyana.
In 1924, the pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ozone Park, Queens, visited the tomb of St. Angela in Brescia and prayed for Sisters to staff his school. Shortly after, four Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk and two lay women traveled from Canada to the United States. On September 8, 1924, they arrived in Ozone Park for the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Soon after, convents in New York and Connecticut began to open for the Sisters who taught in elementary and high schools. With the changes in the Church and the challenges of Vatican II, the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk expanded their ministries beyond education to social justice, social work and pastoral ministries.
In 1935, the Sisters purchased the Joseph Senger estate in Blue Point and relocated the novitiate, previously in Ozone Park, to this new site. When the original building was destroyed by fire in 1980, the Province erected a new convent. On January 3, 1983, St. Ursula Center was dedicated as a retirement home for the Sisters and a retreat center for spiritual development.
In 2016, due to financial stress, the congregation decided it was necessary to sell the St. Ursula Center. The St. Ursula Center was sold to the Bayport/Blue Point Library in February, 2019. Proceeds of the sale paid off debt obligations due to accrued operation costs, but the Ursuline Sisters still face significant financial hardship, as they struggle to pay for eldercare, basic living needs, and high out-of-pocket medical costs for their aging Sisters.
More information on the the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk, including how to assist the Sisters, is available at: www.tildonkursuline.org