“If any person, because of her state in life, cannot live without riches and position, let her at least keep her heart empty of the love of these,” she said.
Upon the death of her uncle when she was 20 years old, St. Angela returned to her native land, Desenzano, where she dedicated herself to assisting the poor and catechizing young girls. She turned her home into a sort of school, convinced that education was the best help for those who had little or nothing, that it was the most suitable tool for a happy life, to help the Church, and, of course, to obtain eternal life.
Angela was not a religious at that time, as befits every member of a third order, but she had found a way of total surrender to the Lord and of service to his most needy children. Undoubtedly a wonderful precedent, as Pope Benedict XVI would later point out.
In 1516, the Franciscans asked the saint to go to Brescia to accompany a woman who had lost her husband and children in the war and was going through an experience of unspeakable sadness. Angela stayed with her for two years, helping her materially and spiritually. She decided to remain in that city until 1524, when she left for Jerusalem with a group of pilgrims who felt called by her witness of holiness. While passing through Crete, she suffered a temporary blindness, which forced her to be guided to the Holy Land. Miraculously, during the return trip, she recovered her sight.
In 1525, she left for Rome and met Pope Clement VII, who invited her to take charge of a group of nurses; Angela refused the offer: “It is in Brescia that God wants me.”
The saint confessed to the pope that she had had a vision of maidens ascending to heaven on a ladder of light. In the vision, the holy virgins were accompanied by angels playing sweet melodies. They all wore crowns with precious stones. Suddenly, the music stopped, and Jesus called her by name and asked her to create a society of women. Thus, the Holy Father granted her permission to form a community of consecrated life.
In a new vision, St. Ursula, her greatest inspiration, appeared to her and named her patroness of the foundation.
The great day
On Nov. 25, 1535, in the Church of St. Aphra in Brescia, Angela and 28 companions consecrated their lives to the service of educating girls. The name of the new spiritual family was the Company of St. Ursula, which in time would eventually bring together various institutes of active and contemplative life.
St. Angela died on Jan. 27, 1540. The Ursulines received pontifical recognition in 1544 by the will of Pope Paul III. They were subsequently established as a congregation in 1565. Three years later, in 1568, St. Charles Borromeo summoned the Ursulines to Milan, persuading them to form a cloistered branch, following the inspiration of the Council of Trent (1545–1563).
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Over the centuries, heirs of St. Angela Merici, her spiritual daughters, have dedicated themselves to the formation and education of young women.