Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Saint Angela Merici

St Angela Merici (1474-1540)
Angela Merici was born in Desenzano by Lake Garda, Italy on March 21, 1474.  As she was growing up, all around her hometown she saw poor girls with no education and no hope. She had just returned from a trip to the Holy Land and the island of Crete. On the way there she had fallen ill and become blind. Nevertheless, she insisted on continuing her pilgrimage and toured the holy sites with the devotion of her heart rather than her eyes. On the way back she stopped again in Crete and after prayers, she recovered her sight. But this must have been a reminder to her not to shut her eyes to the needs she saw around her, not to shut her heart to God's call. In the fifteenth and sixteenth century that Angela lived in, education for women was for the rich or for nuns. Angela herself had learned everything on her own. Her parents had died when she was ten and she had gone to live with an uncle. She was deeply disturbed when her sister died without receiving the sacraments. A vision reassured her that her sister was safe in God's care - and also prompted her to dedicate her life to God.
But women weren't allowed to be teachers and unmarried women were not supposed to go out by themselves - even to serve others. Nuns were the best educated women but they weren't allowed to leave their cloisters. There were no teaching orders of sisters like we have today. These girls weren't being helped by the old ways, so Angela invented a new way. She brought together a group of unmarried women, fellow Franciscan tertiaries and other friends, who went out into the streets to gather up the girls they saw and teach them. These women had little money and no power, but were bound together by their dedication to education and commitment to Christ. Living in their own homes, they met for prayer and classes. They were so successful in their service that Angela was asked to bring her innovative approach to education to other cities, and impressed many people, including the Pope. Though she turned him down, perhaps the Pope's request gave her the inspiration or the push to make her little group more formal. She officially founded the Company of St. Ursula in 1535 in Brescia, northern Italy, the first group of women religious to work outside the cloister and the first teaching order of women.
It took many years of frustration before Angela's radical ideas of education for all and unmarried women in service were accepted. They are commonplace to us now because people like Angela wanted to help others no matter what the cost. Saint Angela Merici reassured her Sisters who were afraid to lose her in death: "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." She died on January 27,  1540 at about seventy years old. Many of the Ursuline Sisters today take care of orphans, and help in schools and hospitals.

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