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Lives of Saints

Saint Angela Merici

Born: March 21st, 1474     Died: January 27th, 1540
Feast Day: January 27th

What she said

"Reflect that in reality you have a greater need to serve the poor than they have of your service."

What the world was like

Angela Merici lived during a time when the rich lived lavishly, spending their wealth on art, exploration and wars. By contrast, many other people lived in poverty, lacking the basic necessities of life. Education for women was only for the rich and for nuns. Women were not allowed to be teachers. Women who did not marry were not allowed to serve others or to go out by themselves.

Angela Merici lived at the time of the Renaissance. During this time there was a resurgence of learning, affecting philosophical thought, science and art. Leonardo da Vinci painted the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa; Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and sculpted the Pieta. Angela lived during a time of great exploration of the world. Vasco de Gama discovered a sea route to India; Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and discovered the Americas; Magellan's expedition circumnavigated the world. Horses were brought to America. Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation. Henry VIII renounced the Catholic Church and began the Anglican Church of England. Gutenberg perfected the printing press.

Who she was

The youngest of five children, Angela Merici was born in Italy, near Brescia. When she was very young, her parents read stories about the lives of the saints to her and her siblings. Angela loved these stories and wanted to imitate these saints. When she was ten, her parents died and she went to live with her wealthy uncle.

Angela was small in stature and possessed great beauty and charm. She could remember everything she read and spoke Latin very well. She understood some of the hardest passages of Scripture. As a young child, she dedicated her life to God and wished to have no possessions.

While Angela was in her early twenties, her uncle died. After his death she began teaching and sharing her Christian faith with poor girls in her hometown. Angela was shocked by their lack of education and what little knowledge they had about their faith. She eventually turned her home into a school to educate young girls in the fundamentals of the Christian religion. Several of her friends joined her in teaching these young girls. These friends were not married and had little money or power. Their common bond was a commitment to educating others and devoting their lives to Christ. Angela encouraged these women to go out into the streets and invite girls into their homes to be educated. This innovative approach to educating women was very successful.

Angela established a religious association of women, which she named in honor of Saint Ursula, the patroness of medieval universities and heralded as a leader of women. This was the first teaching order of women and the first order of women to live and work outside of a cloister.

Throughout her life, Angela was known for her patience, her kindness and for her many acts of mercy to the sick, the poor, and the uneducated. After directing this uncloistered, flexible society of women for four years, Angela died in Brescia.

What this saint means to us today

Angela Merici was aware of and responded to the needs of people around her. She was willing to effect changes in her world, ignoring stereotypes and traditions. The Ursuline Sisters are still active today and are of service in the fields of education, care of the sick, and improvement of social conditions. Offering a gospel response to the needs of society continues to be an important part of their service. Ursulines live all over the world and continue to follow the example of Angela Merici.

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