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The Early Years

Our founding story is one of intrigue and “girl power.”

It involves a fire and great determination.   

Mother Irene Gill was one of several Ursulines helping to establish Catholic schools in the Bronx in the 1890’s. She had a vision of opening a school for young women at Leland Castle, here in New Rochelle.

The owner of Leland Castle told Mother Irene that the castle was already occupied by another school. So, she quietly pursued her vision and she established a school in a family’s home in September of 1896, deciding the education of the neighboring children could not wait.

In January 1987, there was a fire in Leland Castle.

The original school left, and Mother Irene again approached the owner. Mother Gill made it clear to the owners she would buy the property, not rent it. At a time when women had few economic holdings and little legal power, this was quite an accomplishment!

The homeschooled students graduated in the spring of 1897.  In fall 1897, Mother Irene officially opened our school at Leland Castle in New Rochelle with 60 day students and 10 boarders. 

Merici School at Leland Castle, 1897


Mother Irene followed St. Angela’s footsteps as a “spiritual entrepreneur.” Though they had no money and little power of their own in society at that time, they realized the Ursulines could have tremendous influence through the education of children and their commitment to Serviam.

Mother Irene’s devotion and vocation to education was so strong, she founded The College of New Rochelle less than ten years later.

How blessed are we that scores of Ursuline sisters followed those early educators here! They helped propel the school and its mission and shaped the direction of the lives of countless students – some over multiple generations. They also served and contributed to the New Rochelle community in a myriad of ways.

Watch short videos related to this chapter of our story

Mother Irene Gill. 1925

Mother Irene Gill 1925

Deborah Costello '68 describes the founding of the Ursulines by St. Angela and the traditional habit.

Watch the video HERE.

Ursula Laurus, the crest

Sofia '24 describes the Ursula Laurus, a crest adopted by the Ursulines of the Eastern Province.

Watch the video HERE.

Ring Day ceremony. 1941

Francesca Faustini LaGumina '78 tells of the Ring Day tradition which began in 1940.

Watch the video HERE.

1940s and before, the Early Years