Skip to comments.Angela Merici: A Great Saint And A Great Citizen Of Desenzano
Posted on 01/27/2003 5:15:18 PM PST by Lady In Blue
Angela was born in Desenzano del Garda, probably around 1474, although the precise year is not known. She spent her childhood in a place called "Le Grezze" in the municipality of Desenzano, the seat of a parish belonging to the Verona Diocese, a territory subject to Veneto Dominion. Angelas father, Giovanni Merici, formerly a citizen of Brescia, was to become a citizen of Desenzano, verbally, in 1475.
The family was not entirely without worldly goods. Angelas mother, Caterina, came from Salò; her brother was Ser Biancoso de Bianchi, a member for many years of the Town Council. The couple had five children: three boys and two girls and Angela was perhaps the second youngest one.
Giovanni Merici often used to read aloud to his family, about the lives of the Saints, determining, as the Saint herself was later to declare, his daughters desire to conduct a sober, spiritual and contemplative life. Angelas youth was embittered by the loss of her sister, to whom hagiographic tradition connects a vision of the Saint, and by the loss of both of her parents.
Angela, an orphan, was taken in by her aunt and uncle in Salò. Here the young woman began to attend the church of the Franciscan friars and she would in fact become a tertiary Franciscan so as to be able to better dedicate herself to devout life: prayers and good works. Angela Merici was to remain faithful to her tertiary habit for all of her life and she even wanted to be buried wearing this garment. It is not known for how long she stayed in Salò. She later returned to Desenzano, where she had inherited some property and here she conducted a silent life, spent in the home and the fields, but dedicated to prayer and charity work. In the meantime her open vocation to the spirituality of the times was slowly maturing. Her vision could be from that period: while she was in the fields in a place called Brodazzo, collected in prayer, it seemed to her that the skies opened and she saw angels and Virgins descend and heard a voice that announced her mission as founder. Since then she has been known as a Saint, thanks to her spiritual life and her capacity to understand and help people.
In 1516, on invitation, she moved to Brescia, for a consolatory mission in the house of Caterina Patengola, who had lost her husband and two children. Here she met Giovan Antonio Romano. Soon a group of people formed around her, united by the same desire for good.
In 1524 Angela embarked on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and a year later she went to Rome to the Pope for the Jubilee.
In 1529, worried that the army of Charles 5th would descend on Brescia, Angela retired to Cremona, as a guest of Agostino Gallo and his sister Ippolita. A lot of people wanted to meet her and visited her in Cremona. When she returned to Brescia she continued to be a guest of Gallo, then she moved first to San Barnaba and finally to a house near the church of Saint Afra.
On the 25th November 1535, on Saint Catherines day, she established the "Saint Ursula Society": the first 28 members consecrated themselves to God, following in the steps of Angela.
Angela died on the 27th January 1540 and was buried in the ancient church of Saint Afra (now Saint Angelas sanctuary) in Brescia, where she still rests. She was beatified by the Church in 1768 and proclaimed "Saint" in 1807.
In 1962 St. Angela Merici was proclaimed the principal patron of Desenzano by a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites.
When St. Angela was born, Desenzano belonged politically to the Venetian Republic.
In the XV-XVI centuries the town was actually a big village surrounding the castle, which dominated from above. Along the lake coast were the fishers and corn dealers houses. Further inland this slightly undulating region was covered with grazing land, fields and orchards.
At the time when Angela was in Brescia, the city was characterised by incredible wealth and in fact one still speaks about the golden age of the Brescian Renaissance.
This wealth came mainly from arm factories and the shops that processed marble. However the great wealth of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie was contrasted by the extreme misery of many people. Gastone de Foixs troops had ransacked the city in that February of 1512, which was known as "the carnival of blood and blood": ten thousand people died in just one day.
After this terrible pillaging, the French, Venetian and Spanish continued to fight over Brescia for another seven years.
Even from a religious viewpoint, the situation was not much better: the bishops came from the Venetian nobility and considered their position theirs by right; furthermore, they did not always reside in Brescia and in these cases they left a Vicar to look after the more immediate bureaucratic necessities. Many parish priests acted in the same manner. In the female monasteries the situation was pitiful: during Angelas times there were eleven of these monasteries with about three thousand nuns. Some of the monasteries were in fact hospices used by the aristocracy, who sent their daughters there when no social placement could be found for them. As a consequence of this religious degradation, heretical doctrines began to spread.
Luther published his thesis a year after Angela arrived in Brescia and there was no lack of preachers in the city to spread his ideas. However, in this desolate picture there was also no lack of mystics who illuminated the city with their faith: Stefania Quinzani, Osanna Andreasi, Laura Mignoni and next to them, Angela Merici.
Saint Angelas vocation
Angela was still very young and still lived in Desenzano when she realised how much the people needed help, comfort and education. She did all she could in good works. When she moved to Brescia she continued to give advice to those that came to her. Some people also converted under her influence.
The Holy Spirit conferred such wisdom on her that she was able to bring clarity even to preachers and theologians.
The condition of women and the improvements made by Saint Angela
While Angela was in Brescia, women who neither became nuns nor married, often because they had no dowry, had no social recognition. Angela saw that these women, especially poor girls, were reduced to servile conditions. She established the "Society of St. Ursula" and gave some dignity to these women, who were able to freely decide to consecrate themselves to God in the world, without needing a dowry and without leaving their home environment.
Her "daughters" all lived in their families but they met up now and again and were helped by a few widows of the Brescia nobility, chosen by Angela to look over the new institution. A new state of life was born with the Society; that of the Virgins consecrated in the world. Angela established a Rule for them and dictated the Memoirs and the Testament, which has a collection of her spiritual Legates. All of Angelas Rule is permeated with noteworthy spirituality and reveals her great wisdom. The Rule was approved in 1536 at diocesan level and then by the Pope in 1544.
Here are two quotations from the Saint:
"The Holy Spirit is the one who teaches us every truth" (Rule, Ch. of obedience).
"Live and behave in such a way that your daughters will mirror themselves in you. And what you want them to do, do it yourself first" (Memoirs, 6°).
Facts and social sense of Saint Angela
In a time when seclusion was promoted for women, Angela considered life consecrated to God not as one enclosed within the walls of a cloister, but rather as a life immersed in the social web so that there would be more direct contact with the worlds material and spiritual needs. Her "daughters" would continue to live in their respective families and in their work environment, and would spread their vocation in their daily lives. Theirs was an authentic testimony to Christian life: they had to give a good example in their environment and try and bring peace and harmony (see Memoirs 5).
Saint Angelas social sense led her to turn to all those people that needed her help. Even Duke Francesco Sforza wanted to meet her and be comforted by her when he passed through Brescia and he was to ask her to consider him as her spiritual son. But Angelas activities were mainly oriented towards the Society she had founded and towards its members. They, the
members, once trained, would act on their families. Today one could say that Angela had understood that in order to reform society you had to start from the family and that the woman was at the centre of the family. Hence she dedicated herself to training her "daughters", both younger and older, to make them conscious of their donation to God and consequently of their role in society. Her pedagogical intuition was innovative: in those centuries upbringing was severe and sometimes cruel but Angela cautioned the governesses, Matrons of the Brescian nobility, who looked after the "daughters" of the Society:
"Do your best to bring them up with love and a gentle and soft hand" (Legate 3).
If we learn from her to bare witness to the Gospel we will modernise society. The more our family, our schools and institutions are animated by principles of charity, dictated by the Gospel, the more guarantees of peace and justice, necessary for real progress, we will have.
Journey to the Holy Land and the Jubilee in Rome
In those times the most important pilgrimages were to Jerusalem and Rome. These journeys had a devotional and penitential purpose and were made in extremely difficult conditions because the roads were unsafe and transport slow and uncomfortable. Angela, pushed by her great devotion to Christs passion, set sail from Venice in May 1524 with some other pilgrims and accompanied by her cousin Bartolomeo de Bianchi, son of Biancoso and by Antonio Romano. But she lost her sight almost completely in Candia. She visited the holy places more with the eyes of her soul and this near blindness meant deeper recollection. She cried for a long time when she reached the spot of the Crucifixion. The return journey was ruined by storms and the dangers of pirates. They were caught in a great tempest that lasted nine days. Amidst the general fear, Angela sustained everyone with her prayers.
During the journey her sight was completely restored. Finally they arrived in Venice. Angela arrived in Brescia on the 25th of November, after six months of travelling! In 1525, the year of the Jubilee, Angela with faith and courage, despite knowing what dangers she could meet, went to Rome together with two priests. It was a privilege to be able to take advantage of the indulgence of the Jubilee; furthermore it was her great wish to visit the basilicas and catacombs where so much martyrs blood had been shed. Once in Rome she was introduced to the Pontiff Clement VII who greeted her with sympathy and even asked her to remain in Rome, in those pious places. Angela however refused the offer and returned to Brescia. There she had to establish her work; the Society.
It is impossible to understand Saint Angelas personality properly without considering her friends as well, some of whom she stayed with for long periods. Their presence certainly influenced the life of the Saint and the foundation of her "Society".
Amongst her friends: Girolamo Patengola, Caterinas nephew; during Angelas illness in Cremona, he prepared almost a whole epigraph and read it to Angela. Giovan Antonio Romano met Angela while she was still young (about 23) and remained her friend for all her life. Angela visited the Holy Land and went to Mantova to the tomb of Osanna Andreasi together with him.
Agostino Gallo met the Saint through his sister Ippolita who had become Angelas friend. In 1568 he was to declare to the notary Giovanni Battista Nazari that Angela possessed more of the divine than the human (....) it is to be believed that most nights she prepared orations, contemplating, speculating about divine things that are conceded to few people.
Giacomo Chizzola, together with Agostino Gallo dedicated some time to the Hospitable for Incurables in 1535. As Angela was dying he took up the teachings addressed to Tommaso Gavardo who had accompanied him on his visit to the sick woman:
"Do in life what you wish to have done by the time you die".
Gabriele Cozzano was the chancellor, that is the secretary of Saint Angela and Protector of the Society. Angela dictated to him her most profound messages of the Rule, of the Memoirs, of the Testament. He explains the life of Angela and that of the Society in the following way: "So active yet always with her mind in the sky ".
Stefano Bertazzoli owed his vocation as a priest to Angela. He was then to become member of the Confraternity of Charity, created in Salò in 1542 and actively worked together with the local charity institutions.
The Society established by Saint Angela, today
Very soon after Angelas death, her "daughters" started working in the Sunday schools of Christian doctrine where later reading and writing were also taught. While in Italy various Bishops started instituting Saint Ursuline Societies, in France in particular these were transformed into religious communities, which then spread to all the continents. Their aim was to educate women and they provided teachers and external free schools. Many other congregations of religious Ursulines were created in the following centuries that always considered Angela as their Mother.
In 1810 Napoleon suppressed religious orders. If the Society continued to live on in devout people and in some places really as a Society, in general the Societies too interrupted their activities. In 1866 the Bishop Girolamo Verzeri gave his approval for resuming the Society in Brescia and put two noble Brescian ladies at its head: Elisabetta and Maddalena Girelli with a Rule that imitated Angelas, in the prologue and the first ten chapters. People joined from all parishes of the Brescian diocese and they were contacted from outside dioceses too for resuming and up-dating the Society. Today the Saints spirit - apart from the Societies spread over Italy and the world, which do a lot of good in direct contact with the people - lives on in various institutions of Ursuline sisters. It is to them in particular that we owe the honour of the spreading of Saint Angelas sapience and her pedagogical intuitions.
Saint Angela: the gift of the teacher
Iconography has often represented Angela surrounded by young girls and attributed to her that work which her followers carried out; they had actually learnt this art from the writings left by Angela herself. Her writings "The Testament" and "Memoirs" in fact can be referred to young people to be educated because in them a splendid formation programme can be discovered. Here are in practise some of the upholding structures of pedagogy, which comes from Angela Mericis intuitions.
You outdid yourself, LIB. Bravo!
Thanks for the lovely thread!
Isn't that something? I'm going back to the 50's when I was in entering high school and first heard about the Ursulines! WOW! It's amazing that it could still be there!
BTTT on January 27, 2005!
January 27, 2005
St. Angela Merici
Angela has the double distinction of founding the first teaching congregation of women in the Church and what is now called a secular institute of religious women.
As a young woman she became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis (now known as the Secular Franciscan Order), and lived a life of great austerity, wishing, like St. Francis, to own nothing, not even a bed. Early in life she was appalled at the ignorance among poorer children, whose parents could not or would not teach them the elements of religion. Angelas charming manner and good looks complemented her natural qualities of leadership. Others joined her in giving regular instruction to the little girls of their neighborhood.
She was invited to live with a family in Brescia (where, she had been told in a vision, she would one day found a religious community). Her work continued and became well known. She became the center of a group of people with similar ideals.
She eagerly took the opportunity for a trip to the Holy Land. When they had gotten as far as Crete, she was struck with blindness. Her friends wanted to return home, but she insisted on going through with the pilgrimage, and visited the sacred shrines with as much devotion and enthusiasm as if she had her sight. On the way back, while praying before a crucifix, her sight was restored at the same place where it had been lost.
At 57, she organized a group of 12 girls to help her in catechetical work. Four years later the group had increased to 28. She formed them into the Company of St. Ursula (patroness of medieval universities and venerated as a leader of women) for the purpose of re-Christianizing family life through solid Christian education of future wives and mothers. The members continued to live at home, had no special habit and took no formal vows, though the early Rule prescribed the practice of virginity, poverty and obedience. The idea of a teaching congregation of women was new and took time to develop. The community thus existed as a secular institute until some years after Angelas death.
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BTTT on the Optional Memorial of St. Angela Merici, January 27, 2006!
BTTT on the Optional Memorial of St. Angela Merici, January 27, 2007!
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