“Act, bestir yourselves, have faith, make efforts, have hope, cry out to Him with all your heart; then without doubt you will see marvels.”
Prologue to Counsels
Her Time: 1472 -1540
Angela Merici lived in the time of the Renaissance in Italy.
This was a time of unparalleled explosion of artistic expression, moral degradation, popular piety, preaching of new religious ideas and pastoral neglect by clergy. It was also the time that new groups engaged in social and pastoral work emerged.
Angela was born in the early 1470s in the small town of Desenzano between Milan and Venice in Northern Italy.
Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Raphael, Lucrezia Borgia.
Outside of Italy
Copernicus, Erasmus, Luther, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola.
Angela lived in the beauty of Northern Italy in the towns of Desenzano and Salo, on the shores of Lake Garda, and later in the city of Brescia.
Angela's young life was nurtured by farm living, loving parents and the company of her brothers and sisters.
- Columbus discovered America
- Savonarola (the apocalyptic reformer) was burned at the stake in Florence
- Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa
- Henry VIII was King of England, and had already rid himself of three of his six wives.
Angela was concerned for the moral and personal well-being of the young women of her time who were particularly vulnerable. She had profound respect for each person, encouraging each to grow into their full humanity. Angela was fully engaged in the social aspects of life around her. An independent woman, she sought a way beyond the narrow life choices for women of the day - marriage or an enclosed convent. Faced with two alternatives - she saw and chose a third.
Her Early Life
Angela's early teen life was shattered by the death of her parents and sister.
Orphaned, she left her family home and went to live with her uncle in Salo.
It was around this time that she had a deep spiritual experience of a visionary nature which shaped and gave direction to her life.
Angela’s society was characterised by collapse and transition. Bitter power struggles led to frequent wars, devastation, disease and social misery.
It was also a time of moral bankruptcy, popular piety and preaching of new religious ideas. Her society was a sea of religious indifference and pastoral neglect by the formal clergy.
Angela's Personal Characteristics
In her adult life Angela was known as Madre Suor Angela (Mother Sister Angela) in Brescia and much of Northern Italy. She was peacemaker, compassionate consoler, wise and practical adviser, prayerful, faithful, advocate for those in need. She engaged herself in furthering charitable works, advocating for church and societal reform and regeneration.
She was known for intervening in personal and minor political disputes. Having a magnetic personality, Angela naturally gathered supporters and friends who were inspired and empowered by her. She demonstrated wisdom in politics and business.
Angela was in tune with herself, with human nature, and with the faithful graciousness of God. Angela was a holy person in the holistic sense – prayerful, faithful to the Church despite its very evident human frailities, seeking out opportunities such as pilgrimages to further her growing intimacy with God.
Her Life’s Work
In 1535, at about 65 years of age, Angela founded the Company of St Ursula. This provided an alternate vocational choice for women at this time beyond marriage or life in an enclosed convent.
The Company of St Ursula offered women the opportunity to respond to God’s call to live a life of total dedication to God while still living in their own homes.
To Ursulines now, Angela is Mother, Sister and Faithful Friend. We experience her as always with us. To us today she is not only an initiating foundress but an inspiring and sustaining spirit amongst us.
Angela died in Brescia on 27th January, 1540
Angela showed a new focussed energy in later life leaving a lasting legacy of a Company of Women dedicated to a life of holiness, lifelong fidelity, consecrated virginity and virtuous lives while maintaining an active life within society.