Saturday, 06 February 2016 15:18

St. Angela Merici

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The Congregation of the Ursuline Sisters of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus is one of the numerous branches of the Ursuline family and it roots go back to 1535, when Angela Merici established the Company of St. Ursula.

St. Angela Merici was born circa 1474 in Desenzano on the shore of Lake Garda in Northern Italy. She was raised in religious atmosphere set in her house and therefore, Angela early began to lead a life filled with prayer and penance. However, she did not enjoy the family happiness for long as at the age of 15 she lost her sister and soon after, her parents passed away. The orphan was taken in by her uncle from Salo where she was responsible for the household chores. Meanwhile, she joined the Third Order of St. Francis. Furthermore, as a teenager Angela experienced a mystical vision that had a big impact on her spiritual growth as she had heard an inner call to establish an association of virgins devoted to God...

Angela belonged to a movement Del Divino Amore, highly developed at that time, which aimed at religious revival of its members and work for the society. The affiliated members gathered in particular days to pray, have spiritual talks and to practice Christian works of mercy such as paying visits to hospitals, funding almshouses as well as schools and workshops for poor youth. Moreover, taking care of girls raised with bad morals, without family care, was one of important tasks done by the company of Del Divino Amore. Angela became the spirit of the movement and the authority, visited by the whole elite of the town in her poor chamber near St. Afra Church.

The company in Venice offered her to take charge of all of its works of mercy. Also, Pope Clement VII proposed Angela to take care of works of mercy in the Eternal City. Angela decided to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land (1524) to ask for God’s light. Next year, she went as a pilgrim to Rome in order to get the jubilee indulgence (1525). In her lifetime, Angela made even more pilgrimages and in fact, pilgrimaging became one of her traits.

Upon her return, due to political situation (war in Brescia), Angela became a tramp as she migrated from one place into another, leading a life full of prayer and self-sacrifice. Objective observation of political and Church situation – the reformation broke the Christian unity – as well as in-depth spiritual life led her to a search of new ways of spirituality. Among the humble services that she fulfilled, Angela was able to find the possibilities of moral and religious revival of the society through the upbringing of girls so that they could form their future families.

In 1530, after the war in Brescia, women and girls from Angela’s previous apostolic work again gathered around her but this time she decided to give that group a permanent form. In 1535 she decided to establish a company with the martyr St. Ursula as its patroness. There were 28 women – Angela’s first spiritual daughters- listed in the founding document of the Company of St. Ursula. Angela was at that time 60 years old. She formulated the Rule that was accepted on August 8, 1536 by the vicar general of the diocese. The first general chapter was held on March 8, 1537 and Angela was elected the first abbess. St. Angela created a new model of apostolicity in the Church and she became the forerunner of active religious congregations as the Ursulines did not stand out from the crowd in their outfits, neither remained in their enclosures. They devoted their lives to the upbringing of girls, future mothers. Angela ordered her sisters to “go among people” and the idea of it was simple- girls and women devoted to God, while living with their families and dedicating their lives to education and teaching, were to bring about moral renewal in the community and in the Church. Regular meetings were to strengthen them in their common vocation.  

The rule of the Company of St. Ursula was approved in 1544 by Pope Paul V after the death of Angela, who died on January 27, 1540. 

Angela was buried in the church of St. Afra in Brescia where to this day her body lies in a crystal coffin on the altar devoted to her. She was beatified by Pope Clement XII (1788) and canonised by Pope Pius VII (1807).

The teaching ideas of St. Angela Merici spread rapidly. The Companies of St. Ursula based on the one founded by St. Angela in Brescia were established in various places– firstly, in Northern Italy and secondly, in France, from where the Ursulines spread around the world. 

Today, there are about 9.300 sisters in the family of St. Angela. Some Ursulines live in autonomus convents as in the 17th century and others belong to about 40 Ursuline congregations, institutes and unions based on pontifical or diocesan rights. The Ursulines of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus are one of the youngest branches “on the old venerable root of the Ursuline stem” (St. Ursula Ledóchowska, History of Congregation)

The main characteristics of the Ursuline charism - St. Angela’s spiritual daughters - are:

  • faithfulness to Christ and courage in confessing the faith

  • the teaching and educating of children and youth according to Christian spirituality

From the writings of St. Angela:

Try, with the help of God, to gain and preserve yourselves in such a good attitude of mind and heart that the only motive for your actions and orders will be the love of God and the salvation of souls. (Testament, Legacy 1)

Be active, do not waste time, believe, make efforts, trust, call loudly to Him in your heart and without a doubt you will see wonderful things, if you do everything for his honour and glory and for the good of souls. (Counsels, Counsels for the Masters of novices)

Remain in the old ways and customs of the Church and live a new life. (Counsels, Counsel 7)

 Booklet on all Ursuline Institutes 

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