The Institute of the Ursuline Nuns of Saint Girolamo in Somasca was founded by the Cittadini sisters, Caterina (1801-1857) and Giuditta (1803-1840), in the first half of the nineteenth century in Somasca, a hamlet of Vergurago village, now in the province of Lecco, but belonging to the Diocese of Bergamo.
Caterina and Giuditta were orphaned in early childhood and experienced an extremely precarious youth, both physically and emotionally. They were welcomed for many years in the orphanage of the Conventino in Bergamo, where they received diplomas as elementary school teachers. When they came of age, they made their home in Calolzio. Afterwards, they moved in 1826 to Somasca, where Caterina taught in the village school until 1845. At first they lived in rented houses, then in a house of their own which would become the “Motherhouse” of their educational work and of the new religious family which they initiated.
In those years their desire for consecration undoubtedly developed and became firm, taking its shape in their everyday educational work among young girls.
In fact the Cittadini sisters, whose personal experience had been so hard, understood the urgency of the human and Christian education of young girls and, little by little, carried out their life projects. In 1829 they welcomed the first girls; in 1831 they began a private school and in 1836 a boarding school for girls’ education, works run by Giuditta. In 1847 Caterina applied for official approval to include a small orphanage for outcast young girls, who were numerous in that area. In 1840, because of the early death of Giuditta, Caterina took charge of the whole work.
Caterina and Giuditta did their best with all their abilities and means for the educational benefit of the girls left in their care. They clearly manifested the ideal of their utter consecration to God in the form of motherly education. They wanted to be “real mothers in Christ” for “those souls that the Lord had redeemed with His blood and entrusted to their care as a valuable treasure”; they committed themselves to the well-rounded education of the girls, “training them in every branch of teaching concerning not only education but also needlework and knitting as well housework,” without omitting anything which could “contribute to their spiritual and physical improvement.”
The history of the foundation of the Ursulines in Somasca from 1826 to 1859 was marked by the experience of the cross. When Bergamo’s Bishop Pietro Luigi Speranza established the congregation according to the Rule on December 14, 1857, Caterina and Giuditta, the foundation stones of the new family, were already in the glory of God.
The congregation obtained diocesan approval of its Constitutions, rewritten according to the directions of the Holy See, on August 15, 1915; a Decree of Praise on August 5, 1917; papal approval on July 8, 1927; and final approval of the Constitutions on June 4, 1935.
From 1882 to 1950, many houses and apostolic activities were opened or included in the service of the educational mission in different regions of Italy.
At the beginning of the 1950s, the Institute expanded its work to the situations of emigrants, first in Switzerland and later in Belgium. In 1964 the Sisters crossed the Atlantic with their first mission ad gentes in Bolivia, cooperating with priests from the Diocese of Bergamo.
The Institute later spread to Brazil in 1975, to India in 1977, to the Philippines in 1985, and to Indonesia in 2003.
The human-spiritual-charismatic trait that marks all the communitarian-apostolic experiences of the Ursulines of Saint Gerolamo in Somasca, in Europe, and in the mission ad gentes, was undoubtedly their “vocation for the people,” the simplicity of acting with a motherly heart as educational apostles close to people, with a special care for children, girls and youth. They wanted to share the joy and the suffering of families, sick people, old people, and those who experienced insecurity and loneliness.
Still today, fidelity to their history is rooted in two women, Blessed Caterina Cittadini and her sister Giuditta. Sure of God’s fatherly and providential love, they opened their hearts, once scarred by a lack of love, to the miracle of an educational fruitfulness that could give others joy, dignity and hope.
Nursery schools, primary schools, lower secondary schools belonging to the Institute (Italy, India, Philippines); nursery schools and parish activities (Italy) and schools belonging to Catholic institutions in Bolivia; pastoral vocational work with youth; centers welcoming women and children in difficult circumstances; orphanages in the countries of the mission ad gentes; hostels for young women students and workers and houses for spiritual exercises and holidays; regional health services in retirement homes and nursing homes (Italy); health care services in out-patients clinics, pastoral ministry to women and children in the region of the mission ad gentes.
Countries where there is the Institute
Italy, Bolivia, Brazil, India, Philippines, Indonesia (The communities outside Europe are structured in four Delegations.)