Today is the feast day of Saint Angela de Merici. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Angela was born 21 March, 1474, at Desenzano, a small town on the southwestern shore of Lake Garda in Lombardy. She was the youngest of her virtuous parents’ five children. She was left an orphan at the age of ten and together with her elder sister came to the home of her uncle at the neighbouring town of Salo where they led an angelic life. When her sister met with a sudden death, without being able to receive the last sacraments, young Angela was much distressed. She became a tertiary of St. Francis and greatly increased her prayers and mortifications for the repose of her sister’s soul. In her anguish and pious simplicity she prayed God to reveal to her the condition of her deceased sister. It is said that by a vision she was satisfied her sister was in the company of the saints in heaven. (5)
by Dom Prosper Gueranger 1870
This last day of May, which is honoured by the virginal triumph of Aurelia Petronilla, in the first Age of the Church, is also fragrant with the lilies that wreathe the brow of Angela de Merici. The 16th Century, which, a few days back, offered to our Risen Lord the seraphic Magdalene de Pazzi, now presents him with this second fruit of heroic Sanctity. Angela realized the whole meaning of her beautiful name. In a mortal body, she possessed the purity of the blessed Spirits, and imitated their celestial energy by the vigorous practice of every virtue. This heroine of grace trampled beneath her feet everything that could impede her heavenward march. Gifted at an early age, with the highest contemplation, she bravely travelled to Palestine, there to venerate the footsteps of her Divine Spouse Jesus. After this, she visited the new Jerusalem, Rome, and offered up her fervent prayers at the Confession of Saint Peter. She then entered into her rest, and founded a Religious Order, which is, and will be to the end of time, one of the glories and aids of Holy Church.
The thought of the great St. Ursula and her virginal Legion made a deep impression on Angela’s soul, and she, too, would form to our Lord an army of valiant women. Ursula confronted the barbarian host; Angela would give battle to the world and to its seductions, which are so dangerous to young girls. God blessed her with victory. As a trophy of her combats, she can point to the countless generations of young people, whom her Order has saved during the last three Centuries, by giving them a solid Christian education.
The Liturgy thus speaks of the virtues and actions of St. Angela.
Angela de Merici was born of virtuous parents at Decenzano, a town in the diocese of Verona, near lake Benago, in the Venetian territory. From her earliest years, she kept the strictest guard over the lily of her virginity, which she had resolved should never be taken from her. She had a thorough contempt for those outward deckings on which so many women set their hearts. She purposely disfigured the beauty of her features and hair, that she might find no favour save with the Spouse of our souls. Whilst yet in the bloom of youth, she lost her parents ; whereupon, she sought to retire into a desert, that she might lead a life of penance ; but being prevented by an uncle, she fulfilled at home what she was not permitted to do in a wilderness. She frequently wore a hairshirt, and took the discipline. She never eat flesh-meat, except in case of sickness ; she never tasted wine, except on the feasts of our Lord’s Nativity and Resurrection ; and, at times, would pass whole days without taking any food.
She spent much time in prayer, and exceedingly little in sleep, and that little on the ground. The devil having once appeared to her in the form of an angel of light, she at once detected his craft, and put him to flight. At length, having resigned her right to the fortune left her by her parents, she embraced the rule of the Third Order of St. Francis, received the habit, and united evangelical poverty to the merit of virginity.
She showed her neighbour every kind office in her power; and gave to the poor a portion of her own food, which she procured by begging. She gladly served the sick. She gained the reputation of great sanctity in several places, which she visited either that she might comfort the afflicted, or obtain pardon for criminals, or reconcile them that were at variance, or reclaim sinners from the sink of crime. She had a singular hungering after the Bread of Angels, which she frequently received; and such was the vehemence of her love of God, that she was often in a state of ecstacy. She visited the Holy Places of Palestine with extraordinary devotion. During her pilgrimage, she lost her sight on landing on the isle of Candia, but recovered it when leaving. She also miraculously escaped shipwreck and falling into the hands of barbarians. She went to Rome, during the Pontificate of Pope Clement the Seventh, in order to venerate the firm Rock of the Church and to gain the great Jubilee Indulgence. The Pope having had an interview with her, he at once discovered her sanctity and spoke of her to others in terms of highest praise: nor would he have allowed her to leave the City, had he not been convinced that heaven called her elsewhere.
Having returned to Brescia, she took a house near the Church of Saint Afra. There, by God’s command, which was made known to her by a voice from heaven and by a vision, she instituted a new society of Virgins under a special discipline, and holy rules, which she herself drew up. She put her Institute under the title and patronage of Saint Ursula, the brave leader of the army of virgins: she also foretold, shortly before her death, that this Institute would last to the end of the world. At length, being close upon seventy years of age, laden with merit, she took her flight to heaven, and in the year 1540, on the sixth of the Calends of February (January 27). Her corpse was kept thirty days before being put in the grave, and preserved the flexibility and appearance of a living body. It was laid in the Church of Saint Afra, amidst the many other Relics wherewith that Church is enriched. Many miracles were wrought at her tomb. The rumour of these miracles spread not only through Brescia and Decenzano, but also in other places. The name of Blessed was soon given to Angela, and her image used to be put on the Altars. St. Charles Borromeo, a few years after Angela’s death, affirmed, whilst preaching at Brescia, that she was worthy of Canonization. Clement the Thirteenth ratified and confirmed the devotion thus paid her by the Faithful, which had already received the approbation of several Bishops, and the encouragement of several Indults of Sovereign Pontiffs. Finally, after several new miracles had been juridically proved, Pius the Seventh enroled Angela in the list of holy Virgins, in the solemn Canonization celebrated in the Vatican Basilica, on the 24th of May, in the year 1807. (2)
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. (4) 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. (4)
When Angela reached the age of 70, the day and hour of her death were revealed to her. While on her deathbed she counseled:
“Whatever you would wish at your dying hour to have done in health, that do now while you may.” (3)
Image: Sainte Angèle Mérici. Peintre Anonyme 17ème siècle (6)