The Ledóchowski Family herb2 Ród Ledóchowskich










Saint Urszula Ledóchowska
1865 - 1939

Saint Urszula (born Julia) Ledóchowska, nicknamed "Mother", founded the Grey Ursulines, or Congregation of Ursulines of the Agonising Heart of Jesus, who educate children and young people in orphanages and schools, and serve the needy and oppressed, in over a dozen countries.



1865: LoosdorfLoosdorf

Julia (the future Urszula), the second of seven children of Antoni Ledóchowski 1823–1885 and his second wife Józefina ("Sefina”) née Salis-Zizers, was born on 17th April 1865, in Loosdorf, Austria, about 80 kilometres West of Vienna.   The story of her family, and in particular her remarkable Swiss-Austrian mother Sefina “Mother of Saints”, is told in a separate article on her parents, who put a lot of effort into educating and instilling in their children a strong sense of duty to God, the Catholic Church and their father’s country, Poland.


Julia at 7

1873: St. Pölten

In 1873, when Julia was eight, her father lost a major investment in an Austrian bank which failed (3, p10).  He sold Loosdorf and the family moved a little closer to Vienna, to St. Pölten, where the eldest girls could go to a “school run by English Ladies” (1, p92) or the Marienfried convent (4, p55).  These were the Loreto Sisters or the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, dedicated to education, founded by an Englishwoman, Mary Ward, in 1609.  Their education was very good.  Julia was a cheerful, musical girl, with a much more easy going personality than Maria Teresa, yet she was talented and learnt well.  By the time she finished school at 17 in 1880, she had been taught excellent English, French and German, and some Italian.  (Saint Maria Teresa of Calcutta was educated by the same order.)

Urszula and Ignacy


Polish patriotism

The children grew up under a portrait of their one-legged grandfather General Ignacy in the living room (10, p10), listening to their father tell stories about the General's heroic defence of Modlin, and about their great aunt Maria Rozalia’s defence of the Catholic Church in the Russian partition, for which she was interned and eventually expelled from Russia. 

In early 1876 Julia accompanied her family to Vienna to meet her uncle (son of Maria Rozalia, and her father’s first cousin) Cardinal Mieczysław Ledóchowski.  The Cardinal was being greeted everywhere as a great hero for his defence of both the Catholic Church and Polish culture against Bismarck’s Kulturkampf.  For this he had been imprisoned for two years, expelled from the German partition, and promoted to Cardinal.  He was now on his way back to Rome. 

The Cardinal made such an impression on Julia, as well as her elder sister Maria Teresa, that this strenghened their patriotism and encouraged them to learn Polish from their father. 


1883: Lipnica Murowana, Poland

Lipnica homeIn 1879 Julia's elder sister Maria Teresa accompanied her father on a trip to Poland.  This was a dramatic time for the family, because Maria Teresa caught typhus in Wilno and barely recovered, while back at home their 12 year old younger sister Maria also caught it and died from it. However the warmth of their relatives convinced Antoni that they should consider moving to Poland.  This was strongly supported by Julia and the other children and in the end the family moved, partly financed by the Cardinal as described in the article on her parents, to Lipnica Murowana, in the Austrian partition of Poland, in 1883, when Julia was 18.  She made use of this to improve her Polish.  She continued her education and devoted a lot of time to looking after the estate and ill people from the town, where there was no doctor.  

Julia was not interested in going to social events in Kraków and gradually it became apparent to her that she did not want to marry, but had a religious vocation.

In early 1885, Julia's sister Maria Teresa caught smallpox and shortly afterwards her father Antoni caught it too.  Maria Teresa recovered, but their father Antoni died during an asthma attack on 24th February 1885.

1886: Ursuline Convent in Kraków

In 1886In October 1885, seven months after their father's death, Julia's younger brother Wladimir, left Kraków university to enter Tarnów seminary.  In November her elder sister Maria Teresa left home to become Lady-in-Waiting at the Court of Princess Alice of Tuscany in Salzburg.  

Julia's mother Józefina was devastated by her father's death and it took some time for Julia to pluck up the courage to tell her that she wanted to leave her too.  At the age of 21, on 18th August 1886, she entered the Convent of the Ursulines of the Roman Union at Starowiślna 9 in Kraków under the name Maria Urszula and from then on was known as Urszula.  Music, painting and above all education were her chief interests.  She then had an interesting 20 year career there:

● Three years later, in 1889, she took her vows.

● She completed her teaching qualifications, decorated the chapel, and painted a picture of the Holy Family for the altar.

● In 1896-97 she studied at Beaugency and Orleans, and obtained a French language teacher's certificate.

● In 1904 she was elected Mother Superior of the Kraków convent.

● In 1906 she (a) started the first lodgings for female students in Kraków, and (b) established the first Sodality of Mary in Poland for them.

● In early 1907 she went to Rome to discuss changes to the Ursuline order's constitution.


1907: St. Petersburg, Russia

CivilianWhile in Rome, Urszula was granted an audience with Pope Pius X.  During this meeting she confirmed she would be willing to move to support the Polish community in St. Petersburg.  In March she received an official invitation from the parish priest of St. Catherine's Catholic Church at Nevsky Prospekt, and in July 1907, aged 42, she arrived there with another Ursuline sister.

● The sisters immediately started teaching, not just children of the Polish community, but also other international communities, particularly Finns.

● Urszula and others completed a course in teaching the Russian language.

● They founded a new convent, a girls' boarding school in St Petersburg and another boarding school in nearby Merentähti, Finland.

● More sisters were inspired to come and within a few years there were 24.

● Having obtained special permission from the Pope, they wore civilian clothes. The convent was secret, as Catholic religious orders were banned.

On 26th August 1914, weeks after the First World War broke out, the Tsarist authorities expelled Urszula from Russia.

1914: Scandinavia

Scandi lecturesOrphansUrszula chose to go to Sweden, to be close to her community in St. Petersburg.  There she was joined by more sisters from Russia, earned money teaching foreign languages and herself learnt Swedish.

● In March 1915 Urszula joined the Committee to Aid Polish War victims, founded by Henryk Sienkiewicz, Ignacy Paderewski and Antoni Osuchowski in Switzerland.

● For the rest of the War, Urszula toured Sweden, Denmark and Norway delivering lectures calling for support.

● In September 1915 she founded a language school for Scandinavian girls in Djursholm, near Stockholm.

● In September 1917 she founded a home
 for Polish orphans in Aalborg, Denmark.

1920: Poland

Poland achieved independence in 1918, but war against Russian invasion continued.  Urszula came in early 1919 aWith dogsnd started looking for a new home in Poland.

● In 1920, Urszula bought a property in Pniewy, near Poznań, with St. Olaf as its patron, in memory of the Norwegian Consul in Denmark, Solt-Nielsen, who paid for it.  This is the order's Polish Mother House until today.

● The first sisters and children arrived from Denmark in August 1920.

● In 1923 the Holy See approved the Constitution of the "Grey Ursulines", the new Congregation of the Ursulines of the Agonising Heart of Jesus.

● In the next few years the Congregation established more homes including community centres, orphanages, creches, primary and secondary schools, boarding schools, and homes for university students in over a dozen Polish cities including Łódź, Poznan, Sieradz, Warsaw, Wilno and Zakopane (1, p101).  

● They also established two communities in France and four in Italy.

● Urszula and her Congregation were repeatedly honoured, including the Order of Polonia Restituta awarded by President Mościcki in Pniewy in 1927, the Cross of Independence signed by Marshal Jóżef Piłsudski in 1930, and the Golden Service Cross in 1937.

● Urszula and her elder sister Maria Teresa recorded their memories of their mother Józefina née Salis-Zizers, which were then used in a book about her, Lebendiges Christentum (Living Christianity).  Urszula wrote an introduction to it (8).  Her Congregation published a Polish translation in 1983 (9) - an extremely rare, if not unique, example of daughters publishing a book in honour of their mother.


1939: Died in Rome

In PniewyUrszula died aged 74 in Rome on 29th May 1939, surrounded by sisters from the Rome convent and her brother Wladimir, Superior General of the Jesuits.  She was buried in the Ursuline cemetery in Campo Verano.

Miracles in Poland

Sister Danuta Pawlak, recognised as terminally ill and incurable, saw Urszula in her dreams and the sisters started praying to her for intervenion.  On 15th February 1946 she got up, cured, and started tidying her room and going to the chapel to pray.  She lived for another 37 years, to 1983.

Jan Kołodziejski, who was critically injured in an accident at work, and recognised as terminally ill with fever, prayed with a photograph of Urszula in his hands and recovered on 3rd June 1946.  He lived for another 41 years, to 1987, and attended the Beatification in Poznań in 1983.

Daniel Gajewski was mowing the wet lawn of the Grey Ursuline convent in Ożarów Mazowiecki on 15th November 1996.  When he tried to disconnect the extension cable he was electrocuted and fell and the mower started cutting him.  While he lay immobilised, a grey ursuline approached him, pulled the cable away, and disappeared.  The only nun at the convent had been elsewhere.  He entered the chapel to pray, and when he saw the image of Urszula he realised it was she who had saved him.



1983: Beatification

I was very pleased to be with my father Wladimir, his three sisters Jadwiga, Teresa and Inka, together with other family members, at the Beatification of Urszula by Pope John Paul II in Poznań, the first beatification ever on Polish soil, on 20th June 1983, the year before my marriage.



1989: Transfer to Pniewy

In 1989, 50 years after Urszula died, her exceptionally well preserved remains were transferred by way of land pilgrimage from Rome via Loosdorf, Nowy Sącz, Lipnica Murowana, Kraków and Łódź to final burial near the Mother House in Pniewy.


2003: Sanctification

On 18th May 2003 Urszula was sanctified by Pope John Paul II in Rome.  This time the generations had changed: my father and his sisters were no longer with us, but I was delighted that my wife Joanna, and my children Konrad and Krystyna, were there with me instead.


There are now about 800 Grey Ursuline sisters in almost 100 communities spread around 14 countries on 5 continents.  They do an enormous amount of good work as catechists, teachers, carers and developers of young people.  People I have met in life who were educated or cared for by Grey Ursulines remember them with great affection and love.

All my own experiences of the Grey Ursulines were extremely positive and I can still remember today the warmth and hospitality of my father's sister Józefa ("Inka") and her colleagues in the convent orphanages we visited so often in Otorowo and a different Lipnica (near Poznań) in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.  Anyone interested in Urszula's life story in more detail is encouraged to read the biography written by Inka (10).

Looking at the photographs and reading about Saint Ursula, I have no doubt that the smiles were inspired by her.  It is not strange that she is called "Mother" or "Mother of Poland's Independence"; nor that love comes up so much in sayings attributed to her, such as "My Politics is Love" and "Poland is not lost, so long as we love", a play on the words of the national anthem.


Urszula's Day

The Catholic Church today celebrates 29th May as St. Urszula Ledóchowska’s feast day.



Jan Ledóchowski, 2019




(1) „… aby pozostał nasz ślad”  („ we may leave a trace”).  Mieczysław Ledóchowski.  Published by Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Ossolineum,  Wrocław 2002.  ISBN 83-7095-051-5, pp 97-104.

(2) Catalogue of the Warsaw Historical Museum Exhibition on the Ledóchowski Family in November 2008. Ed. Barbara Hensel-Moszczyńska.  Wydawnictwo Duszpasterstwa Rolników, Włocławek.  ISBN 978-83-88477-83-6.

(3) Maria Teresa Ledóchowska, Dama Dworu – Matką Afryki.  Maria Teresa Ledóchowska, Lady-in-Waiting – Mother of Africa.   Fr. Roberto Laurita, translated into Polish by Joanna Zienko.  Editions du Signe, Strasbourg, France, 2012.  ISBN: 978-2-7468-2693-9.

(4) Matka Świętych.  Mother of Saints. Maria Marzani.  Polish edition by Zgromadzenie Sióstr Urszulanek SJK. The Congregation of the Ursulines of the Agonising Heart of Jesus.  Rome 1983

(5) Canonisation poster.  Ursulines of the Agonising Heart of Jesus.  Warsaw 2003.

(6) Wikipedia.

(7) Mother of Poland's Independence.  My Politics is Love.  Saint Urszula Ledóchowska.  Sister Małgorzata Krupecka USJK and Barbara Moszczyńska.  The Congregation of the Ursulines of the Agonising Heart of Jesus.  Warsaw 2018.

(8) Lebendiges Christentum.  Living Christianity.  Marie Marzani.   Druk und Berlag der St. Petrus Claver=Sodalität, Salzburg 1935.  Printed and Published by the The Sodality of St Peter Claver, Salzburg 1935.

(9) Matka Świętych.  Mother of Saints.  Maria Marzani.  Polish edition published by Zgromadzenie Sióstr Urszulanek SJK.  The Congregation of the Ursulines of the Agonising Heart of Jesus. Rome 1983

(10) Życie dla innych.  Urszula Ledóchowska.  A life for others.  Józefa Ledóchowska, daughter of St. Ursula's younger brother Ignacy.  Pallottinum, Poznań 1984.  ISBN 83-7014-002-5.

Detailed information on living family members will be included in this website only if submitted or approved by them. Sczegółowa informacja o żyjących członkach rodziny może zostać umieszczona na tych stronach jedynie w wypadku gdy dana osoba wyrazi zgodę. Jan Ledóchowski