SAINT ANGELA MERICI (1474-1540), virgin, foundress and religious – Patron saint of the sick, handicapped and disabled
Today, the Church honors Saint Angela Merici, who from an early age devoted herself to Christ in prayer, fasting and service to the poor and needy, eventually establishing the first teaching Order of women in the universal Church.
Angela was born in the small Italian town of Desenzano on the shore of Lake Garda in 1474. Early in life, she dedicated herself to Christ as His bride. After the death of her parents, she desired to live solely for God in quiet and humble solitude. She renounced her inheritance in order to observe the rule of the Third Order of Saint Francis of Assisi (now known as the Secular Franciscan Order), and lived a life of great austerity, following the example of Saint Francis to own nothing, not even a bed.
In 1516, Angela came to live in the town of Brescia, Italy, where she was appalled at the lack of education among poorer children, whose parents could not or would not teach them the basics of religion. Here, she became a friend of the wealthy nobles and a servant of the poor and suffering. Angela spent her days in prayer, fasting and service. Her reputation spread and her advice was sought by both young and old, rich and poor, religious and secular, male and female.
During a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1524, she became blind. Her friends wanted to return home, but she insisted on going on, visiting the shrines with as much devotion and enthusiasm as if she had her sight. On the way home, while praying before a crucifix, her sight was restored at the same place where it had been lost.
Back in Brescia, she gathered around her a small group of women who looked toward Angela as an inspirational leader and as a model of apostolic charity. It was these women, many of them daughters of the wealthy, including some orphans as well, who formed the Institute of Saint Ursula. Angela named her Order after Saint Ursula, because she regarded her as a model of consecrated virginity.
Angela and her original spiritual sisters worked out details of the Rule of prayer, promises, and practices by which they were to live. The Ursulines, as their Order came to be called, opened orphanages and schools. In 1535, the Institute of Saint Ursula was formally recognized by Pope Paul III, and Mother Angela (as she was now known) was accorded the title of foundress. It was the first teaching Order of women religious established in the Church.
During the five remaining years of her life, Mother Angela devoted herself to composing a number of Counsels by which her religious sisters could happily live. She encouraged them to “…live in harmony, united together in one heart and one will. Be bound to one another by the bond of charity, treating each other with respect, helping one another, bearing with one another in Christ Jesus; if you really try to live like this, there is no doubt that the Lord our God will be in your midst.”
Mother Angela Merici died on January 27, 1540, and her body lies buried in the Church of Saint Afra in Brescia. She was canonized a saint in 1807 by Pope Pius VII.
We commemorate her feastday on January 27.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Angela Merici)
“Lord, may Saint Angela commend us to Your Mercy; may her charity and wisdom help us to be faithful to Your teaching and to follow it in our lives.
“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”