The Ursuline Sisters were invited in 1850 by Bishop Amadeus Rappe, the first bishop of Cleveland, to come to the diocese to establish the first religious teaching community in Cleveland. Bishop Rappe, who was French, was familiar with the sisters and their ministry.
The sisters recognized the need for an institution of higher education for women and obtained a charter from the state of Ohio to establish a college “to confer, on the recommendation of the faculty, such degrees and honors as are conferred by colleges and universities in the United States.” That document made Ursuline College one of the first Catholic women’s colleges in the country organized and chartered explicitly for the purpose of college education. It also was the first chartered Catholic college for women in Ohio.
Now, 150 years later, Ursuline continues to educate women in more than 30 academic programs to prepare them for a variety of professions. There are nearly 1,200 students, with about 450 enrolled in graduate programs. The Division of Nursing of St. John College was transferred to Ursuline in 1975, when St. John College closed. Today, it is one of the college’s three academic schools: Breen School of Nursing, School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Graduate and Professional Studies.
During a recent visit to the college, Bishop Edward Malesic met Sister Christine De Vinne, OSU, college president; Paula Fitzgerald, campus minister; administrators, deans, board members and a group of students. He also had the opportunity to view the college’s original charter, which the college archivist cares for in the library.
Six students, including one graduate student working on a master’s degree in counseling and therapy, were selected to meet with the bishop. They spent nearly an hour chatting with him, asking and answering questions. The bishop found common ground with two students who are biology majors, sharing that he studied biology in college before answering his call to the priesthood.
He also was involved in campus ministry while serving in the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a time he recalls fondly.
The bishop and students talked about why they chose a Catholic women’s college and what campus life is like during the 21st century – and during a pandemic.
“Each campus has its own ‘feel,’” the bishop said, asking the students what was the “feel” of Ursuline College. Students told him it was peaceful, studious, welcoming and comforting. The spacious campus in Pepper Pike earned the students’ praise for its beauty.
They also discussed the advantages of attending a smaller school. “Generally, smaller schools have more interest in the students than some of the powerhouse schools might have,” Bishop Malesic said. The students agreed, with some noting they appreciate receiving individual attention. “I feel like the professors want me to learn. They want me to succeed,” one student said. “They know your name; you’re not just a number,” another student said.
Social media and its impact on society was another discussion topic. The bishop mentioned that young people might not have time to just be kids. He said the current generation doesn’t understand the concept of Sunday as a day of worship and rest. “We didn’t have a Saturday night Mass when I was young. We went to Mass on Sunday, then had a family meal and visited with the family. It was a day to relax. There’s a reason for a Sabbath,” he said, noting that “fasting from work” can be a good thing. “It’s also good to be unplugged (from electronic devices and social media) from time to time.”
“We are so grateful you are willing to take the time to talk to us,” Fitzgerald told the bishop.
Bishop Malesic said it’s important to “quietly place yourself behind something much bigger. In biology, you can see reality. But there is an unseen reality in this world, a spiritual side and we should look there to see God, who made all of this.”
After posing for photos with the students, Sister De Vinne guided the bishop to the library where he met with college officials at a reception before enjoying dinner with trustees.
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