The “Company of Ursula” was founded in Italy by St. Angela Merici in the late 15th/early 16th century. From Italy, the order went on to establish convents in France and Germany. Their North American presence began in Quebec in 1639, followed by a second location in New Orleans.
The company grew when Bishop John Martin Spalding sent a parish priest to Germany to find sisters to teach the children of German immigrant families in America. Three Ursuline Sisters came to Louisville in 1858, establishing a school and convent. By their centennial anniversary, the Sisters were teaching in 23 schools in the Louisville area and across the United States, including a newly-founded school in the hills of West Virginia.
In 1915, four Ursuline sisters arrived by train in Morgantown to start St. Francis School, where Father Peter Flynn was the pastor of St. Francis Church. The original location of the school was a residence on McLane Avenue. In 1918, the school was moved to a new building on Beechurst Avenue before classes were made available to high school students in an annex of that structure in 1922. In 1954, under the direction of Principal, and Ursuline, Sister Carmel and Father Flynn, a new high school was built on what is now the Evansdale Campus of West Virginia University, where it remained until it closed its doors in 1990. The Ursuline Sisters were instrumental in the realization of Father Flynn’s vision of providing a Catholic education to the families of Morgantown.
Residing in the convent located next to the grade school on Beechurst Avenue, the Ursuline Sisters taught as many as 50 children in a classroom at a time. A few served as principals but most were in the classroom educating in all subjects, with a foundation based on Catholic principles. Their presence and devotion resulted in one of the most highly regarded 12 years of education in West Virginia.
Although they no longer serve in the Morgantown area, the legacy of the Ursuline Sisters continues in the lives of those who received their education and guidance during their 85 years in the Mountain State. Sixteen surviving St. Francis teachers now reside in Kentucky and South Carolina. The Company of Ursuline Sisters do continue to serve in nine states, as well as South America.
To the present day, the symbol on chains and lapel pins worn by the Sisters states,“Soli Deo Gloria” or “Be Glory to God,” a phrase that headed the papers of many St. Francis students during the Ursuline presence in Morgantown.