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St Angela Merici


Angela was born around the year 1474, at Desenzano of Garda (Brescia), a prosperous fish-port and a rich grain-market. Her father, John Merici, was an agriculturist. Her mother, Catherine hailed from Salo. The family atmosphere was healthy and honest, Christian, uncontaminated by corruption and the worldly spirit of the times. Angela spent her childhood at Grezze in a farm-house a few kilometers away from the city if Desezano. Here the day - to-day life followed the rhythm of the hours of the day and that of the seasons, marked by work un the fields and at home, by common prayers and night vigils where her father read the books of saints and those of virgins to his family members. When Angela was around 16 years she lost her father, sister and mother, all in a short duration, perhaps due to some epidemic. Her maternal uncle took her with him at Salo’ where she found herself immersed in a city atmosphere to which she was not accustomed. This change would have taken her away from her habits of hard work, austerity and prayer, but she remained faithful to all these with a firm determination. With regard to her prayer life at Salo’ Angela was able not only to pray longer, but also to receive Holy Communion oftener by becoming a Franciscan Tertiary. Other wise she had to receive Communion some times only.

                    

It is not known when or why Angela returned to Desenzano. Once again she took up the house-hold duties and those in the fields with dedication, always being united with God. she was busy performing works of mercy, alms giving, visiting the sick, with always a good word to the faithless and a wise counsel to those in doubt. Probably she lived there for fifteen years. She lived a hidden life, during which she continued her work to strengthen her character.

Perhaps it was at this period there occurred an important event in her life. It was the time for harvesting. During the interval Angela withdrew herself to pray. Suddenly she saw that the heavens were opened to her and there came out a procession of angels and virgins. And from heaven she heard a message: "Before you die, you will found a Congregation of virgins". The significance of this event is very profound. God intervened in a supernatural manner to reveal to Angela the mission he wanted to entrust to her.

In 1516 Angela came to Brescia. Her Superiors of the Third Order of Francis had entrusted to her a mission of comforting Lady Catherine Patengola who had lost her husband and two sons. Having accomplished her mission, Angela would have returned tp Grezze; instead she remained in Brescia. Being with Patengola she came to know some great personalities and various aspects of Brescian society.

She lived in the house of John Antony Romano a young businessman who had filial affection towards her. She must have lived with him till 1529, earning her livelihood with the work apportioned to her. She continued to live a life of austerity and prayer.

In 1527 the imperial troops attacked Rome and in 1529 threatened Brescia. In the disturbed political atmosphere she took shelter in Cremona along with the family of Augustine Gallo. At Cremona Angela’s room became a meeting place for people who crowded continually seeking her spiritual assistance. One day she became very ill that it looked as if death was imminent. Jerome Patengola, a nephew of Catherine Patengola who also had accompanied them from Brescia composed an epitaph to be read at her death. At the thought of death, she was filled with so great a joy that when she recovered she spoke about the happiness of heaven.

When the political situation became better they returned to Brescia and for a few months lived in Gallo family until she could live close to the Church of St Barnabas. She lived in a small room adjacent to the Church of St Afra where she remained till her death.

During her stay at Brescia she undertook several pilgrimages to strengthen her faith and fervour. She visited Mantova to venerate the tomb of Bl. Osanna Andreasi, undertook a journey to Holy Land, went to Rome for the Jubilee year in 1525, and to Varallo to renew her spiritual experiences of Holy Land.

Angela was already gathering a group of young girls and forming them in spiritual life. Finally on November 25, 1585 she started the Company of St Ursula. The first members were 38 virgins. The patron chosen for the Company was St Ursula, a popular saint of Italy during the time of Renaissance and a martyr of primitive Christianity who had consecrated her life to the Lord and thereby brought a great procession of virgins for the Kingdom. In 1536 Angela obtained episcopal approval for her Rule, thus the Company of St Ursula was Canonically constituted. In 1537 the gathering of the entire Company was held in which she was unanimously elected Mother, Mistress and Treasurer for life.

As her end was drawing near, she dictated the Counsels for the sake of those responsible to the Congregation and Testament for the matrons - the noble widows of Brescia who in a way were the guarantee before the civil and religious authority.

It was time for the inevitable in Angela’s life to occur and that was her death which came on January 27, 1540. Angela died serenely in her little room of St Afra’s dressed in the Franciscan Tertiary habit. She was buried in the crypt of St Afra’s Church. Pope Clement XIII declared her Blessed on April 30, 1768. Pope Pius VII proclaimed her Saint on May, 24, 1807. The feast of St Angela is celebrated by the universal Church on January 27.