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St. Angela Merici

St. Angela Merici by Brenda Nippert

Artist Narrative:

Angela Merici lived in a time when most girls were not educated unless they were in a convent. Angela's goal was to strengthen Christian families by educating the girls who would later be wives and mothers. She founded the Company of Saint Ursula. The women who joined her were instructed to practice a rule of life which included celibacy, poverty and obedience from their own homes while teaching the girls in their own neighborhoods. The Ursulines, as they were called, were a huge success, numbering 24 communities in the region by the time Angela died in 1540.

After her death, her new order spread rapidly with the help and encouragement of Bishop Charles Borromeo (also a Saint). He encouraged the sisters to live in community instead of in their own homes. Communities were soon established in France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Canada and the United States. Today, thousands of Ursulines serve God on six continents.

Her feast day is January 27.

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The Founder of The Ursulines

Angela Merici was born in Northern Italy and lived on Lake Garda with her parents and sister, her closest companions. Angela diligently worked on her father’s farm and was also encouraged by her family to develop habits of prayer and fasting — which she continued to practice her whole life.

After the untimely death of her entire family, Angela went to stay with her uncle in a neighboring town. Angela, obviously quite distraught over this loss, prayed day and night to God for some sign that her family was in heaven. One mid-day during harvest Angela was alone in the fields when she experienced a life-changing vision: the heaven’s opened and angels and young women came toward her singing a melody, surrounded by light. One of the young girl’s was Angela’s sister. From this experience, Angela knew it was her purpose to establish a community of religious and dedicated young women — thus the foundation of the Sisters of Ursuline Order was laid.

Angela spent her early life helping others as a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis. She led a simple life, with only a few hours of sleep a night — much of her waking hours were spent praying.

When Angela was 40 years old she was asked by the Order to travel to the aid of Caterina Patengola, who had just lost her husband and two sons. On her way to Brescia, Angela came to meet up with a religious reform movement, Divino Amore, that catered to the needs of the time.

They established infirmaries for those suffering from syphilis, cared for widows and their families, and founded an orphanage and a shelter for former prostitutes. Here, Angela encountered people and experiences that proved to be especially significant in her later life. In only a few short years, a group of men and women gathered around Angela as their spiritual center.

By 1532, Angela has assembled a small group of women who were her followers and together they embarked on the formation of Angela’s community. By 1536, Angela had won approval from the Diocese for the first Rule written by a woman for a community of women. On November 25, Angela assembled her 28 companions and followers for a founding ceremony.

On January 27, 1540, Angela died in her small room close by the Church of Saint Afra. There was nothing extraordinary about her death, she went quietly home. Although, she did leave behind an extraordinary legacy in her life’s work and to the millions of women who have served God as an Ursuline Sister.

Born: March 21, 1474 at Desenzano, Lake Garda, Italy

Died: January 24, 1540 at Brescia, Italy; relics in the church of Saint Afra, Brescia, Italy; body incorrupt.

Beatified: 1768 by Pope Clement XIII

Canonized: 1807 by Pope Pius VII

Name Meaning: angel; messenger (=Angela)