January 26, 2017

Optional Memorial of St. Angela Merici, Foundress

Saint Angela Merici
January 27th, is the optional memorial of Saint Angela Merici (1474 – 1540), the 16th century virgin, religious educator and foundress, who established the Order of Ursulines, the first teaching order for women recognized by the Catholic Church. From this Order would later emerge the monastic Order of Ursulines, whose nuns founded convents of prayer and study throughout the world, including North America. From her earliest moments, Angela dedicated herself to fasting, self-sacrifice and prayer; practices she maintained throughout her life.

Angela was born in the town of Desenzano del Garda in Lombardy, Italy, the second child of a pious middle class family.  At 15, her parents died, leaving her and her older sister orphans. A short time later, her sister would also die. At some point during this period, Angela dedicated herself to Christ as His bride and became a member of the Third Order of Saint Francis. She lived simply, sleeping only a few hours a night and spending much of her waking hours in prayer. With every passing day, Angela’s deep love for Christ and devotion to God's will grew.

When Angela was 40, her order sent to Rome to assist an impoverished widow. There she met up with a religious movement that catered to the needs of the destitute. They established infirmaries for those suffering from syphilis, cared for widows and their families, and founded an orphanage and a shelter for former prostitutes. Angela resolved to establish an order of women likewise dedicated. In 1 535, Angela gathered 12 young women to join her in her work. On March 18, 1537, the nascent Ursuline Order elected her "Mother and Mistress". In 1544 Pope Paul III extended formal recognition. The congregation would grow rapidly.

Saint Angela was nearly 70 when she died on January 1540. Her body remained incorrupt for some thirty days. Numerous miracles attended her death and burial in the Church of St. Afra. Her fortitude and complete trust in God is evident in the following advice she gave to postulants: "Do not lose heart, even if you should discover that you lack qualities necessary for the work to which you are called. He who called you will not desert you, but the moment you are in need he will stretch out his saving hand." May the Virgin Saint Angela never fail to lead us to your compassion, O Lord, we pray, that, following the lessons of her charity and prudence, and express it in what we do. We this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever.

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