Saint Angela Merici
“I want to become a Saint, because I love Jesus.”
One chilly damp Spring morning, March 21, 1474, to be exact, a child was born, a girl to a farmer named Giovanni, and his wife Signora Merici, who was of the noble family - the Biancosi of Salo. From the very beginning, the child Angela was wrapped in a robe of piety and holiness, her parents having one focus, to bring her up to love and serve Jesus. And they did, first by who they were, then by word and deed. Angela asked her father to read to her, so that she could learn about the Saints and Virgin Martyrs of the past. Together they delved into the Bible, and other spiritual books pouring over stories of those who shaped the Church. Each evening after chores were over, they would sit by the fire and travel with those who lived and died for Mother Church.
Soon this child, all of five years old, began living a contemplative life, fasting and performing acts of mortification. She was not, however a sad, somber girl; everyone in the village loved her and looked forward to this little bundle of energy and joy stopping to say hello to them. They would always send a little something home with her which she would share with her family. When the bells would toll from the parish church nearby, summoning them to pray the Angelus, and her family was in the middle of feeding the chickens, her parents would instruct their children to kneel down and tell the Lord they were heartily sorry they could not come to His altar at that time, but that they were offering all their work, feeding His little creatures, to Him; then they should end by pleading with the Lord to accept this labor as their prayer. Her parents were honest, pious people who, although poor in the eyes of the world, were rich with super abundant graces from Heaven.
Angela has a vision; she is to found a school in Brescia!
Italy is again in dire times, the Italians divided, the French and Spaniards collaborating to pick off village after village, sharing the spoil; Angela was asked to go to Brescia. Remembering her vision in Bruduzzo, she agreed! Arriving in Brescia, Angela was soon offered a place to live. There was a noble family in Brescia whom she had once helped. Catherine Patengola had lost her two sons. All the joy that had formerly filled her sumptuous home was gone; and she, day by day, lost all desire to live. The Franciscan friars feeling helpless, turned to Angela; they asked if she would console her. Angela visited the grieving mother; she spoke softly and lovingly; she listened patiently while Catherine vented all her anger against God. Then Angela shared how desolate she had felt when she lost father, then mother, then sister, and how she did not know why God took them when He did; but one thing she knew - He loved her and He loves Catherine.
As days passed into weeks, Catherine became stronger and stronger. And so when Angela came to Brescia, Catherine not only offered her a home, through her Angela met Catherine’s nephew Jerome, and through him Augustine Gallo and James Chizzola. he would found the Hospital for the Incurable in Brescia
A friendship began which would last a lifetime. As she spoke of the need, and possibility of bringing about change, she found them growing more and more eager to help. They contributed ideas on how she might go about forming her company, and put Angela in contact with the wealthy men and women of Brescia.
After a few months, Catherine fully recovered, and able to stand on her own two feet, Angela left her home; and with her tertiaries, moved into the home donated by Anthony Romano on the Via S. Agata10 to better achieve her mission. The home was close to the church so the women could receive the Sacraments and attend Mass frequently, and with this central location make their ministry known to other young women.
Angela - Pilgrim on a Journey of Faith
From time to time, Angela, the contemplative, sought the quiet voice of the Lord, by making a pilgrimage to a holy Shrine. These journeys of faith influenced her life, and reinforced her conviction that she was doing the Will of God. On one occasion, she journeyed to the town of Mantua to visit the tomb of Blessed Osanna of Mantua,11a mystic whom Angela most admired. She returned to Brescia so inspired, she began to seek out young men, counselling them on seeking the Will of God. She spoke so powerfully, many decided to become priests. When she visited the place of her birth, Desenzano, then Salo, and finally Brescia she was more than ever determined to educate the children of the poor.
When the opportunity to visit the Holy Land presented itself, she joyfully accepted. From her youngest years, her life had been filled with the awe and wonder of God’s love that she had discovered through reading Sacred Scripture. She had meditated on Jesus’ life and death on the Cross. To think, now she would walk where her Lord walked, look upon the Sea of Galilee where He walked on water, climb the Mount of the Beatitudes where He multiplied the loaves and fishes feeding more than 5,000, stand in the Garden of Brescia
But her voyage was not to go exactly as planned. When they reached Crete, Angela lost her sight; she was totally blind! When her companions begged they all turn back, she insisted they continue with the Pilgrimage. As she walked along the Via Dolorosa where Jesus walked the Way of the Cross, she saw her Lord, bleeding, stumbling, falling under the weight of her sins and getting up to fall another time, out of love for her; but it was with the eyes of her heart, as she did not regain her eyesight until her boat landed in Crete, once again, at the very spot where she had first lost her eyesight. She had been praying before her Lord crucified on the Cross, tears pouring down her face, meditating on having been on the very spot where He offered up His Life to the Father for the redemption of our sins. She could not stop crying; and then it happened, her eyes opened and she could see!
She went to many holy places, but next to the Holy Land, her audience with Pope Clement VII was the highlight of her pilgrimages. In 1525, the Church was once again bleeding, with attacks being leveled at her now from Germany, through one of her own - Fr. Martin Luther. If ever there was time for a Holy Year to be proclaimed it was in the Sixteenth Century, in 1525. The Pope invited all the faithful to pilgrimage to Rome to celebrate the Holy Year and receive an indulgence. Angela was so excited, not only with the possibility of seeing the Pope, but to visit the Basilicas of Rome, the Catacombs where the Martyrs were laid to rest, the Coliseum where the blood of the Martyrs sanctified that monstrous theater of death.
To show the high regard, the Pope had for St. Angela Merici and her work, he granted her a private audience. She knelt before him, and he blessed her. He was so enchanted by her, her enthusiasm, her knowledge, her love for the poor and most of all for Mother Church, he asked her to remain in Rome, and continue her work there. Which she did; but then Brescia and the needs of the poor there, called to her, and she was on her way back home.