St. Angela Merici was an Italian religious educator and founder of the Ursulines. She was born on 21 March, 1474 in Desenzano, a small town on the shore of Lake Garda in Lombardy.
When Angela was only 10 years old, she and her older sister became orphans. They went to live with their uncle in Salo, where they led a quiet and devout Catholic Christian life. After her sister’s death, Angela was inspired by the Holy Spirit to dedicate herself to God and to give her life in service to the Church to help everyone grow closer to the Lord.
When Angela was 20-years-old, she returned to Desenzano. She found that around her hometown there were many young girls who had no education and no hope. Her heart was moved. She also became distressed by their ignorance and upset at the parents who had not educated them. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Angela became convinced there was great need for a better way of teaching these young girls. So, she opened her own home to them and began to teach them herself. She devotedly taught them the Catholic Christian faith. By her example and instruction, she taught them how to pray and participate in the sacramental life of the Church.
In 1535 she began the Order of the Ursulines in Brescia. This was a community of women and girls who sought to follow Christ while living among their neighbours, families and those in need. These women had little money and no power but were bound together by their dedication to education and commitment to Jesus Christ and service to His Church. The Ursulines opened both schools and orphanages and in 1537, Angela was elected "Mother and Mistress" of the group. Although it was never
recognised formally as a religious order in her lifetime, Angela's Company of Saint Ursula, or the Ursulines, became the first teaching order of women in the Catholic Church. Her Rule was officially approved by Pope Paul III in 1544 and the Ursulines became a recognized religious community of women with a teaching ministry.
St. Angela Merici died on January 27, 1540. Clothed in the habit of a Franciscan tertiary, Angela was buried in the Church of St. Afra in Brescia.
St. Angela Merici was beatified on April 30, 1768 by Pope Clement XIII and canonized May 24, 1807 by Pope Pius VII.
Angela is often attributed with a cloak and ladder.
She is the patron saint of sickness, disabled and physically challenged people, and those grieving the loss of parents. Her feast day is celebrated on January 27.
In this centenary year of change for our school community, we look to Angela Merici. In her wisdom Angela saw the need for constant change; to change as life and culture evolved. She wrote: “Hold fast to tradition but for your part lead a new life.”
In such a statement of insight, Angela revealed to us that our path is not one of either/or, but it is about choosing both. It is about seeking the interweaving of the old and the new in all that unfolds.
“As human beings and believers we live through the tension between inherited traditions and contemporary experiences. On the one hand, tradition enables us to evaluate, understand and articulate new experiences. On the other hand, new experiences can challenge and modify past experiences, in that way altering the shape of the tradition we transmit to the coming generation. Ideally, we should be at ease with the tension, neither misusing tradition to protect ourselves against new experiences nor ignoring tradition as if our human and Christian experience began yesterday.” (O’Collins, 2013)