The Women Behind Chatfield’s Mission: International Women’s Day

March 8, 2017

Sr. Julia Chatfield with her small, dedicated group of women

Chatfield College is celebrating International Women’s Day by honoring two incredible women, Saint Angela Merici, foundress of the Ursulines and Sr. Julia Chatfield, foundress of the Ursulines of Brown County and what was to become Chatfield College.

In 1845, a small group of Ursuline Sisters, dedicated to educating girls and teaching them gospel values, came to St. Martin from Europe at the request of Cincinnati Archbishop John Baptist Purcell.

Archbishop Purcell had moved his seminary from downtown Cincinnati to St. Martin. After five years, the seminary moved back to Cincinnati, and the property in St. Martin lay vacant. The Ursulines, led by Sr. Julia Chatfield, intended to turn it into a place to educate young girls.

Sr. Angela Merici

The Ursuline order was founded by Saint Angela Merici, who lived in northern Italy in the 16th century, a male-dominated time in which it was believed that girls were not capable of being educated. Angela believed that the values of society could be changed through the education of women. She had received a vision from God which showed her that the collective power of women could help transform society. She founded a group of women for this purpose and called it the Company of St. Ursula, in honor of the patron saint of youth.

Over the next three centuries, the Ursuline order grew throughout Europe. There were boarding schools, day schools, and schools for the poor. Everywhere, the Ursulines were regarded as educators.

With the purpose of the Ursuline order firmly imbedded into their lives, Sr. Julia and the others were determined to continue St. Angela’s vision in the United States.

Because the two small structures in St. Martin left by the seminarians were not adequate for a boarding school, the Sisters began to build a school. Within three years, a school was built with bricks fired from the clay on the St. Martin property. They had 27 pupils.

Under Julia’s direction, the school and the Ursuline community thrived. At the time of the Civil War, there were students from both the North and South, some of them daughters of colonels and generals.

Over time, the Ursulines of Brown County expanded their teaching to neighboring parishes, giving religious instruction to both boys and girls. They opened a mission in Santa Rosa, California, and a day school, Ursuline Academy, in Cincinnati. In the 1950’s, the boarding school in St. Martin also began accepting day students.

In 1958, the Ursulines established the Ursuline Teacher Training Institute to provide a liberal arts education for recruits to the Ursuline order. In 1971, that same institution opened its doors to the public, and changed from being a college for those in religious service to serving the community as a whole. It was renamed Chatfield College, in honor of Sr. Julia Chatfield.

Although Ursuline Academy in Cincinnati grew throughout the years and is now located in Blue Ash, there were not, unfortunately, enough students to maintain a day school in St. Martin. The school closed its doors in the early 1980’s. However, the Ursuline tradition of providing education to the community continues today with Chatfield College, at both its main campus in St. Martin and its Cincinnati location in historic Over-the-Rhine. The college is governed by a lay board of Trustees composed of business leaders, educators and other professionals from the community, as well as members of the Ursuline order.

The Ursuline values of compassion, justice, education of the whole person, and acceptance of diversity as the dynamic principle of unity are the foundation of Chatfield College community life. Just as St. Angela was dedicated to reaching those people who in her society were considered not capable of learning, Chatfield serves a community of under-served students who may find it difficult to get a college education in a traditional college setting.

The mission of St. Angela and the Company of St. Ursula continues in the mission of Chatfield College. Just as Sr. Julia Chatfield and the Ursulines have made a difference for countless women over the centuries, Chatfield is making a difference in the lives of its students and their families. Just as St. Angela believed that the values of society could be changed by educating young  women, Chatfield is working to change the values of the community through education. And, just as St. Angela believed that the collective power of women could transform society, Chatfield is dedicated to transforming the community and the world, by helping its students achieve a better future for themselves and their families.


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