Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
Angela Merici, Religious and Virgin, 1470-1540
Angela Merici was orphaned at the age of ten and, together with an older sister and a younger brother, was raised by an uncle. As a teenager, Angela became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis and lived a life of great austerity. She gave up all her possessions and lived almost entirely on bread and water.
When Angela was twenty-two, her uncle died and she returned to her home town of Desenzano, in Lombardy (Italy). Appalled at the ignorance among poorer children, she recognized a greater calling than the quiet contemplative life. With other members of the Third Order, she began bringing the little girls of her neighborhood together on a regular basis for instruction in religion and in the basic skills of running a household. This proved to be so successful that Angela was asked to open a school in Brescia where she gained a reputation for her charity and saintliness.
In 1533, Angela brought together a number of the young women who had been helping in her schools and began an informal novitiate. Two years later, she founded the first teaching order of women in the church, called the Company of St. Ursula, who was the patroness of medieval universities and venerated as a leader among women. This order is today called the Ursuline order.
The sisters met together for classes and for worship. Because the idea of a teaching order of nuns was so novel, this group did not live in a community or seclude themselves as did most other orders of nuns. Though the early rule prescribed poverty, chastity, and obedience, the members continued to live at home, wore no special habit, and took no formal vows.
The Ursuline order was dedicated to re-Christianizing family life by giving future wives and mothers a solid Christian education. Even today, the work of the Ursuline nuns stresses religious education for girls, especially the poor.
An Optional Memorial is celebrated in honor of St. Angela on January 27.
Angela's message today: Angela recognized and met a need in the Church of her time—that of educating young girls in their faith as well as in running a household. Today, Catholic schools and parish Faith Formation programs provide an opportunity for all children (as well as their parents) to be educated in the faith.