The Ursulines, an order founded in Italy by St. Angela Merici in 1535, was the first group of Catholic teachers to come to North America; they established schools in Quebec in 1639. The sisters, who had been in New Orleans since 1727, were the first order to volunteer for service in the new state of Texas. In January 1847 seven Ursulines, headed by Josephine (Sister St. Arsene) Blin, arrived in Galveston, and on February 8, at Bishop Jean M. Odin's request, they opened the Ursuline Academy, Galveston, a Catholic day and boarding school for girls, the first institution of its kind in Texas. The group, increased by volunteers from Canada, served as nurses during the Galveston yellow fever epidemics in 1848, 1853, and 1858, turned their newly built school into a hospital during the Civil War for casualties from both sides, worked during the disastrous hurricanes of 1875 and 1900 (see GALVESTON HURRICANE OF 1900), and assisted in the care of survivors of the Galveston fires of 1854 and 1882.
In 1851 three nuns of the Galveston community joined with a group from New Orleans, headed by Sister St. Marie Trouard, to open the Ursuline Academy, San Antonio, the first girls' school in that city. Their original convent on the San Antonio River, which was made a recorded Texas historic landmark in 1971, is the largest known pisé de terre structure in Texas. At the request of Bishop Claude Dubuis, Sister Mary Joseph Aubert went in May 1868 to Laredo, where she and an Ursuline from Galveston, Sister Teresa Pereda, opened an academy for girls. Mother Mary Joseph also founded an Ursuline house in Puebla, Mexico, in 1892. Six of the Galveston sisters under Mother Joseph Holly established the Ursuline Academy, Dallas, the first Catholic school in what is now the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, on February 2, 1874. This school, now the oldest continuously existing Catholic school in Dallas, is a distinguished preparatory school. A small group of Ursulines who went to Pecos in 1930 to regain their health served that community until 1973. Sister Francis Johnston (1893–1970), who became a Catholic and then an Ursuline after spending a summer in the convent, is the best known of the Pecos Ursulines. Author of a dozen books and numerous poems, stories, and magazine articles, she was widely known in the Pecos and Fort Davis area as a teacher and a tireless helper to anyone in need.
When the Ursulines joined their Generalate in Rome, Italy, in 1906, the headquarters for the Southern Province of the United States was located first in Dallas, then in San Antonio. Kirkwood, Missouri, then Crystal City, Missouri, later became the provincial house of the Central Province. The Ursulines of the Roman Union now maintain an academy in Dallas and teach in several elementary schools in Laredo. They are also involoved in other ministries in Houston and San Antonio.