Ursuline Academy, Dallas’ Oldest School, Celebrates 150 Years of Sisterhood

In the winter of 1874, six nuns from Galveston with $146 between them arrived in the frontier town of Dallas to establish a school. Their first building was a frozen, empty cottage, but they managed to open its doors to seven students just five days later.

Today, Ursuline Academy is Dallas’ oldest continuously operating school. The schoolhouse established by the Sisters of the Order of St. Ursula has transformed into a campus that spans almost 28 acres and educates more than 880 young women in grades 9-12. 

Ursuline celebrated its 150th birthday on Feb. 2 with party hats, songs, several birthday cakes, games, including family feud between the classes, and a fashion show that showcased the evolution of its uniforms from long, black dresses and bonnets to today’s button-downs, plaid skirts, and Ursuline sweatshirts. 

The school has experienced revolutionary change, moves and expansions in the past 150 years, including the relocation to its current campus at the corner of Walnut Hill Lane and Inwood Road, which the sisters went into debt to purchase. But students and faculty said that Ursuline’s core values have never shifted from those the nuns brought with them to the frontier.

“We’ve never wavered from the ultimate goal, which is the fullest possible development of these young women, development that leads to action, and action especially suffused with the spirit and presence of Jesus Christ,” Ursuline president Gretchen Kane said. “That’s who we are. That’s who the nuns have always been since they came from Galveston 150 years ago.”

“The outfits might change, but in the end our legacy is still the same,” sophomore Tula Charalambopoulos said. “We still want to serve. We still want to just be there for all of our sisters. It’s just lovely.” 

Ursuline’s sesquicentennial festivities began during a Founders Day broadcast when school head librarian and archivist Renee Chevallier revealed the contents of a time capsule which students placed inside a large, sealed PVC pipe and buried 50 years ago near a small apple tree outside the primary classrooms. 

Inside was an elementary school yearbook and handbook, student reports on the Beatles, who had recently broken up, and the energy crisis, and uniform clothing, including a romper that was worn during PE classes and signed by 1974’s seventh graders. 

“There are some items that do need a little more explanation,” Chevallier told students, holding up a Greater Dallas telephone directory and disposable camera flash cube. She also showed students audio cassettes provided by first and fifth graders, remarking “we’ll need a cassette player to play those.” 

She unsealed a letter written to today’s students by 1974 elementary school principal Betty Bourgeois, who was present at the broadcast. 

“We are glad your life is given you and are honored that you are spending some of that life at Ursuline. It is a place we know and love, a place where the Lord lives among us,” the letter read.

Ursuline students placed their own items into a time capsule to be unsealed in another 50 years. The students chose to add a Stanley water bottle, worn saddle shoes, a uniform, schedules, a copy of The Dallas Morning News, lanyards, an edition of Ursuline’s school newspaper The Bear Facts, blazer pins, and Taylor Swift posters and bracelets.

In addition to the Feb. 2 festivities, Ursuline invited the community to join in its celebration during a sesquicentennial Mass on Jan. 27. The Dallas skyline was lit red and blue that evening to kick off the school’s Founders Week.

Student body president Victoria Arce, a senior, said she plans to return to Ursuline in another 50 years, when it will celebrate its bicentennial.

“It’s been really impactful to go to a school that has such a rich history,” she said. “It’s been such a beautiful experience to get to be a part of this.”

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