Angela was born in Lombardy, Italy, on March 21, 1470. At the age of 10 she was orphaned and went with her sister to live with an uncle. While living there her sister died, leaving Angela saddened by the fact that she died without first receiving the sacraments.
Angela received no formal education. After the death of her uncle she returned to her hometown and was distressed to see so many poor girls with no opportunity to receive an education. In those years, schooling was only available for wealthy women and nuns. The nuns were cloistered so they could not go out and teach, nor could poor women come to them. So Angela brought together some Franciscan tertiaries she knew (fellow unmarried women associated with the Franciscan order secular group), and together they endeavored to reach out to young women and teach them themselves. Angela headed a group that was so successful that she was asked to do the same thing in other cities.
Even the pope heard about what Angela was doing. Clement VII was so impressed with all she had accomplished in educating women that he asked her to take charge of a religious order of nursing sisters. Not feeling this was God’s will for her, Angela declined the offer. However, she did decide to formalize her group into the Company of Saint Ursula, or the Ursulines, as they came to be known. They dedicated themselves to the service of God under the protection of St. Ursula. They were the first group of women religious who were not cloistered nuns, and became the first teaching order of women.
Angela experienced many visions throughout her life and one foretold that she would found the Ursulines. She died in 1540 and was canonized in 1807.
It took years of frustration and a great many challenges to bring about formal education for all women, but Angela was patient and persevered. She once said, “Beware of trying to accomplish anything by force, for God has given every single person free will and desires to constrain none; He merely shows them the way, invites them and counsels them.” On her deathbed she reassured her sisters by telling them, “I shall continue to be more alive than I was in this life, and I shall see you better and shall love more the good deeds which I shall see you doing continually, and I shall be able to help you more.”
From Johnnette Benkovic’s Graceful Living: Meditations to Help You Grow Closer to God Day by Day
Mothers and sisters most dear to me in Christ: in the first place strive with all your power and zeal to be open. With the help of God, try to receive such good counsel that, led solely by the love of God and an eagerness to save souls, you may fulfill your charge. Only if the responsibilities committed to you are rooted in this twofold charity will they bear beneficial and saving fruit.
— St. Angela Merici, Spiritual Testament
To what extent are the responsibilities committed to me rooted in the twofold charity St. Angela Merici recommends? How can I help these roots to grow?
St. Angela, we pray for many teachers, especially in our Catholic faith. We need good catechesis today in the Church and it is apparent that the Lord is calling many to this mission. Please pray, Saint Angela, that many will answer and that through education, many will come to better know, love and serve our Lord. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. John Chrysostom (407), Bishop, Doctor, Patron of orators
image: Pietro Calzavacca (1855-1890), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons