Saint Angela Merici
Saint Angela was the youngest of her virtuous parents’ five children; she was born in Italy, near Brescia, in 1474. The grace which filled her soul made her beauty a trial for her, and as a young girl she already rejected all vanities. Every evening at home the parents read to the children from the lives of the Saints, and Angela wished to imitate them. She and her sister made an oratory in their room and retired there every day to pray and sing. She added to this service of God harsh austerities, sleeping on the floor while her sister slept profoundly. We are the children of the Saints, she would say to her, and we must turn all our affection towards the One who dwells in heaven. Oh! what torments, what disgrace and privations the solitaries and virgins have endured, to win the crown of immortality! We must suffer and die to ourselves.
Saint Angela made a vow of virginity before she was ten years old and persuaded her older sister to do the same. The children soon afterwards lost both their parents. A wealthy uncle took the two little girls into his home, but soon the sister of Angela followed her parents by a sudden death. At the age of thirteen Angela still had not received Holy Communion, according to the regrettable delays of those days. She begged to be admitted to the Holy Table, and as soon as her request was granted, resolved to take this heavenly nourishment often. For that purpose she entered the Third Order of Saint Francis, and then, with her director’s permission, was able to receive her Eucharistic Lord every day.
In 1496 at the age of 22, Angela returned, after the death of her good uncle, to the paternal residence in her native village. There several others began to imitate her pious life. She was persuaded that the ills of society resulted from the scarcity of Christian mothers, and that this in turn was the effect of a lack of good education for young girls. She prayed that God would help her remedy this deficiency, and a heavenly vision assured her that before she died she would establish a Congregation of virgins. She and her companions began to assemble the little girls of the area and teach them Christian doctrine. And with them they visited the poor and the sick, and distributed most of the alms by which they themselves lived. Angela became an angel of consolation for all in the region, and though she had not studied, her mind was so clear that preachers and theologians came to consult her.
It was not until 1535 that Saint Angela was able to establish her Community; she was then 61 years old. During the intervening years, she made pilgrimages to the Holy Land and to Rome. Her devotion to the Passion of our Saviour was always increasing, and her piety inspired that of many others. One night in a vision, however, she saw a severe figure, a lash in His hand, look threateningly at her; it was Jesus, who reproached her for her delay in founding an Order which was destined to do a much-needed good. She asked pardon and immediately began to draw up plans and inform her companions of them. These co-workers were still living each in her own house, but all promised to follow the rules. They visited prisons and hospitals, instructed the poor and assisted them, and all of them brought together young girls in their various houses, for instruction. At first this was a simple association, but soon Angela gave her companions the name of Ursulines, in honor of the virgin martyr of chastity and her companions. Saint Angela encouraged her Ursulines to make a voluntary vow of chastity only. She died in January of 1540. It was in France some sixty years later that the group became a regularized Community under Madame Frances de Bermond; thereafter the Institute spread widely. The Foundress was canonized in 1807 by Pope Pius VII.
Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 6