When a twenty-something year old woman moved to Brescia Italy, she slowly began to recognize how the children of the town were uneducated in the simple truths of the Catholic religion. She knew something had to done to correct this! Through spiritual inspirations from God, she formed an association of women who started apostolates to care for and educate children, within their homes, in the faith. This association eventually grew into a religious congregation, the Ursulines.
The young woman I am referring to is St. Angela Merici, whose feast day is celebrated on January 27. Like St. Alphonsus Ligouri, who brought the Gospel to the poor of Naples, and Bl. Jeanne Jugan, who assisted the elderly, and St. Albert Chmielowski who cared for the homeless, St. Angela helped God's little children by instructing them in the Catholic faith.
Born in 1474, Angela lived with her family in Venice, Italy until the age of ten when God called her parents to their eternal reward. She was sent off to live with a wealthy uncle who loved her very much and provided her with a solid education. At the age of fifteen, she was admitted into the religious family of St. Francis by becoming a Franciscan Tertiary.
Her spiritual life was filled with intense prayer, austere practices and devotions. With a heart zeroed in on God, St. Angela was blessed with the gift of contemplative prayer. She even received a heavenly vision in which she saw herself founding a religious order dedicated to charitable works.
Through a series of events that included pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Rome, Angela discovered her true vocation while living in Brescia, Italy. It did not take Angela long to recognize how grossly ignorant the town children were in the basic tenants of the Catholic faith. To combat the ignorance she gathered around her like-minded women who supported one another in Christian living - they were dedicated to performing the spiritual works of mercy, most especially, "instructing the ignorant." Although not an official religious order at the time, the Ursulines would become the first teaching order of women as well as the first group of women religious to minister outside the cloister.
Angela was not only blessed with the gift of mystical prayer, but also the gift of wisdom. Through the movements of the Holy Spirit, Angela could see how the family was the basic cell/unit of society. She knew that if children were ignorant of their faith and did not know how to live the Christian life, both the family and society would suffer. By recognizing this fundamental truth, Angela was not only strengthening the family, but also helping society.
What can St. Angela Merici teach us? I believe her life can help us see the importance of putting our faith and talents into practice. In other words, by virtue of our Baptism, God invites us to serve Him, by serving others, especially those who are most in need.
St. Angela Merici's feast day is January 27. She is the patron saint of bodily ills, sick, people; physically challenged people, and loss of parents.
For further reading about St. Angela visit:
The Catholic Encyclopedia (NewAdvent.org) - St Angela Merici
Catholic.org - St. Angela Merici
Catholic-Forum.org - St. Angela Merici