PORTRAIT OF A FOUNDRESS: ST ANGELA MERICI
ANGELA MERICI was born in the year 1474 to a prosperous farming family living in Desenzano,
Italy, on the shores of Lake Garda. Her parents were imbued with the deeply rooted piety of
country people and this they passed on to their children.
But the serene, happy family setting of the Mericis did not last beyond Angela's childhood.
While still young, Angela lost first her sister, then both her father and mother. Her maternal
uncle, Biancosi, took pity on the orphaned child and brought her into his own home at Salo.
As time went by, it became apparent that Angela, grown into an attractive, fair-haired young
woman, had made up her mind to live for God alone. While taking her full share in the household
chores, she spent more and more time in prayer, eventually being admitted into the Third Order
of St. Francis whose members assisted at Mass and received the Eucharist every day.
Perhaps, the easygoing ways of her uncle's household eventually convinced Angela
that she should return to Desenzano. Back in her childhood haunts, she had a
remarkable experience. One afternoon, praying alone in a wooded spot, she saw
a procession of angels and saints, among them her sister, who told her that one
day she would gather around her other young women who would give their lives to
God. The memory of this heavenly intervention in her life was to remain with her
until its realisation some half a century later.
“WHAT YOU DO TO THE LEAST”
Meanwhile, in the nearby city of Brescia, invasion by French troops and an
outbreak of plague were wreaking havoc. Among the victims of the plague were
the two grown up sons of Catherine Patengola, a widow left alone to bring up her tiny granddaughter. The Franciscans
begged Angela to go to the aid of the heartbroken woman and this was the beginning of an almost uninterrupted
residence and career of service to others in Brescia. Its citizens were not slow to notice this kind and gentle stranger in
their midst. Her special gift was the power to attract and convince others by her words. Many of her contemporaries told
of the help they had received from conversations with her - help in living better lives or in resolving personal doubts or in
settling family problems.
The Sea of Galilee from the Mount of the Beatitudes
Angela was already fifty years old when she achieved a
lifelong ambition to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The journey went according to plan until Angela and her
fellow pilgrims reached Crete. Suddenly and inexplicably,
Angela lost her sight almost completely. She continued on
her way undaunted, relying on her companions to describe
all that they saw and entering wholeheartedly into each
spiritual experience as she followed in the footsteps of Jesus.
The blindness left her on her return journey and just as well,
since fearful storms and threats of kidnap from the crews of
Turkish ships dogged the travellers.