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St Angela Merici
Virgin (entered heaven this day in 1540)
Happy saint’s day, my petite niece! To my mind, it has always been a pleasing irony to see that you take after your namesake by being small of stature. And it has always been my sincere conviction that God has a great work of some kind for you to do in the Church, just as he had for St Angela Merici. Angela lost her parents when she was only a girl, and she grew up with a well-to-do uncle in her native country of Lombardy (northern Italy). God graced her with a vision after she had lost her older sister (who also happened to be her closest friend), in which he assured her that her sister was with him in heaven. So delighted was she with God’s goodness, that she became a third order Franciscan and began dedicating herself more to prayer and self-discipline. As a young woman, she returned to the town of her parents, and she was struck by the religious ignorance of the many poor children there. Moved to remedy the situation, she spoke to her friends about what they could do to help. They, like her, were young women with little money and little social influence, but they were willing to follow her lead (in addition to being intelligent and faith-filled, she was charming and quite good-looking, a natural leader). They began a regular and systematic instruction of the neighborhood girls.
Soon their group became a regular school, so successful that she was invited to the important city of Brescia to begin a similar project. A noble couple put her up in their house, and she continued her teaching apostolate, all the while winning friends among her hosts’ acquaintances. She not only won their friendship, but also their devotion to her cause of educating girls, especially poor girls. Her work slowly grew, and she was able to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, as well as take a trip to Rome, and gradually she formulated an idea of creating a religious order of women to carry on and expand her work of education. This was the seed of the first teaching order of women the Church had ever known, and it took time to take root. She named the group after the Medieval patroness of universities, considered a great leader of women, St Ursula. For the last five years of her life (she died when she was about 70) she served as prioress of the Company of St Ursula (also known as the Ursulines), which is still active throughout the world even today.
Such humble beginnings to so great an endeavor – the teaching order of women that started a flood of such orders! Perhaps your call will take you down a very different path, or one similar, but in either case, if you trust in God as much as St Angela did, you two will have an awful lot to talk about when you meet someday in heaven.
Your affectionate uncle, Eddy
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