Angela Merici’s early life was one filled with loss and tragedy. She was born on March 21, 1474 in Desenzano, the Lombardy region of Italy. She and her sister lost their parents when Angela was only ten years old. Angela’s tragedies continued when her sister suddenly died without the opportunity to receive the last sacraments. This caused much anguish for Angela, as she worried about the condition of her sister’s soul. It was around this time that Angela received one of her first visions and saw that her sister was in heaven with the saints.
Angela became a Third Order Franciscan when she was just twenty years old. She recognized the need for instructing young girls in the teachings of the Catholic faith in order to elevate family life through the Christian education of these future wives and mothers. In response to this conviction and mission, Angela transformed her home in Desenzano to a school where she invited girls who lived in the local community to learn about the Catholic faith.
Angela later received another vision which prompted her to establish an association of virgins devoted to teaching girls about the Christian faith. This association later became known as the Ursulines, which exists to the present day as a religious order dedicated to educating girls. The school was so successful that Angela was asked to begin a similar school in Brescia. Angela’s legacy is that she founded the first religious teaching order with the focus of teaching girls. Angela reminded the young women that attended these schools to, “Reflect that in reality you have a greater need to serve [the poor] than they have of your service.” She was also often known to say, “Disorder in society is the result of disorder in the family.”
“Disorder in society is the result of disorder in the family.”
A story associated with St. Angela relates a brief period of blindness she experienced during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1524. Despite this handicap, Angela completed the pilgrimage and her sight was restored when she was praying before a crucifix in the same place on the island of Crete where she had first lost her sight at the beginning of the trip. This story illustrates her perseverance, humility, and upbeat nature that allowed her to remain joyful and engaged during the pilgrimage, despite her inability to see.
The Ursuline sisters opened schools and orphanages and worked hard in pursuit of St. Angela’s mission to elevate family life through the Christian education of future wives and mothers. As her death approached, Angela encouraged the sisters who had dedicated their lives to this mission by saying, “I shall continue to be more alive than I was in this life, and I shall see you better and shall love more the deeds which I shall see you doing continually, and I shall be able to help you more.”
“I shall continue to be more alive than I was in this life, and I shall see you better and shall love more the deeds which I shall see you doing continually, and I shall be able to help you more.”
St. Angela Merici died on January 27, 1540 and was buried in the Church of St. Afra in Brescia. In 1544, Pope Paul III officially recognized the Ursulines as a religious community of women with the ministry of teaching. St. Angela Merici is the patron saint of sickness, disabled and physically challenged people, and those grieving the loss of parents.
Feast Day: January 27