Saint Angela Merici (+1540) lived and died in Italy, maturing during the tumultuous events of the early Reformation (she died five years after the erstwhile chancellor Thomas More went to the chopping block, and six years before Martin Luther went to face God). Angela’s life was externally uneventful from a broad historical viewpoint, but she did change the world, for God used the young saint to found an Order dedicated to Saint Ursula, an early virgin martyr whose life is surrounded by legend. Left an orphan in her teen years, Angela and her sister were raised by relatives. Renowned for her beauty, Angela consecrated herself to God, it being revealed to her in a vision that she was herself to lay the groundwork for an order of virgins whose work would be to educate the all-too-neglected Italian girls, so that they might take their proper role in society, especially as mothers who would in turn educate their children. These consecrated educators would live a religious life ‘within their own homes’, so they could carry out their work without being enclosed in a convent. Quite ahead of her time really, although intuitively Angela was likely well aware of the old proverb that ‘the hand that rocks the cradle, is the hand that rules the world…’
The Ursulines, as the Order is colloquially known, was widespread soon after Sister Angela’s death, and Angela’s selfless followers through the centuries have indeed taught countless young women. Alas, like many religious Orders, all too many went somewhat off the traditional rails in the latter decades of the twentieth century, but the principle ecclesia semper reformanda, (the Church always in need of reform) also applies to the various communities in the Church, and we may always hope. God has His ways of which we know little.
What we do know is that Saint Angela, whose incorrupt body lies in the northern Italian town of Brescia, is in heaven interceding for her Sisters, her students, and for all of us. We could use a few more women like her.
Saint Angela Merici, ora pro nobis!