Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Angela Merici: Franciscan Tertiary, Visionary, and Saint

Angela Merici (born 21 March 1474)

Born in a small town in the Lombard region of Italy, Angela Merici dedicated herself to a religious life as a young woman. Orphaned at the age of ten, and devastated by the untimely loss of her sister, who died so suddenly she could not receive the last sacraments, Merici became a tertiary of St. Francis--that is, she became a member of a "third order" of the Franciscans, someone who, for a variety of reasons, may not take formal vows to join a religious order but who, as a lay person, lives outside the convent according to the ways of life of those who live inside. Her prayers to God about the fate of her sister were answered by a vision assuring her that the soul of her sister was at peace.

A seventeenth-century painting
of Angela Merici
Another visionary experience, when she was fifteen, led to her commitment to found an institution dedicated to the religious instruction of girls. When she was twenty, Merici established a school for young girls with the aim of instructing them in the precepts of their faith. She also received a revelation that it was her duty to found a religious organization devoted to the religious training of girls.

Despite her efforts, it wasn't until 1535 that the Company of St. Ursula, the Ursulines, was formally established. (St. Ursula was a woman living in Roman Britain.) The Ursulines were the first Catholic religious order dedicated to teaching girls.

Merici died on 27 January 1540. She was beatified in 1768 and canonized in 1807. Her feast day has been moved several times, but she is now memorialized on the day of her death, 27 January. 

For an introduction to Merici and the Ursulines, see Querciolo Mazzonis's Spirituality, Gender, and the Self in Renaissance Italy: Angela Merici and the Company of St. Ursula (1474-1540)