St Ursula Ledóchowska

Virgin, Foundress of the Ursuline Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Agony (entered heaven on this day, 1939)

Dear Sue,

You have no small task ahead of you.  To make your way into politics by advanced studies in government and foreign policy will put you in a seething, competitive hotbed where everyone has an ax to grind is looking for someone to grind it on.  Your intelligence and previous formation will serve you well, and I have no doubt that you will excel.  I’m not worried about that in the least.  I am, however, worried about something else: the degeneration of your moral criteria.

Aristotle said that the most difficult virtue to acquire is political prudence.  You can argue about whether he was right or not, but if you look at the history of diplomacy, and the trial of tragedy and corruption accompanying it, it’s hard not to give him credit.  You are well-prepared, I know.  Your faith is strong; your motives are right.  But even so… Well, I am going to ask today’s saint to be your special protector, and I suggest you stay close to her, especially at the start of your new studies.

Ursula joined the Ursuline Convent in Krakow, Poland when she was 24 years old, after growing up in an aristocratic European family that combined social graces and solid piety (one of her sisters is a Blessed, and one of her brothers became an influential Jesuit priest).  She spent 21 years in that convent, dedicating herself to prayer, work, and teaching.  She had a special gift as a teacher, and she wasn’t afraid to try new things in order to solve new problems and take advantages of new opportunities.

For instance, when women were first allowed to study at the famous university in Krakow, she started a boarding house for women students, in order to provide them with a safe and formative environment while they ventured for the first time into a man’s world.  Her heart was bigger than Krakow, however, and she soon took the initiative (and received the Pope’s blessing to do it) to go as an undercover missionary into Russia, where the Church was being suppressed at the time.  She and another sister headed out in civilian dress to Petersburg, where, having to baffle constant surveillance by the secret police, she formed an autonomous community of Ursuline nuns who secretly carried out a powerful apostolate of education and religious formation among girls.

In 1914, with the outbreak of war, she and her secret community had to flee Russia.  She took them into Scandinavia, where they spent the next six years.  Like a traveling convent, they went from city to city starting up works of education, vocational training, and religious instruction for girls of all classes.  Finally, in 1920, her community and a huge band of orphans returned to Poland, where she formally established her Ursuline Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Agony.  From then on the Order grew quickly, and she worked even faster, spreading to other countries, establishing an international headquarters in Rome, and constantly expanding the reach of their apostolic and charitable projects until the day of her death, on May 29, 1939 – three short months before the outbreak of World War II.

I consider her a good patroness for your future in diplomacy and politics because she herself was a miraculous diplomat.  Her traveling convent had members from diverse and antagonistic countries and cultures, and she always worked to build bridges between peoples.  She had a deep love for her country, and that overflowed in a genuine respect for other nations and cultures.  Once she was asked about her political orientation.  In an era when all of Europe was smoldering over just such questions, she gave the most prescient and brilliant answer given by anyone: “My policy is love.”

For her that motto wasn’t just pretty words.  I hope and pray that you adopt the same motto, and that it won’t just be pretty words for you either.

Your devoted uncle,


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