The history of the Ursulines begins in Italy during the Renaissance with a woman called Angela Merici.
Angela was born in Desenzano, around 1474, to Caterina Bianchi and Giovanni Merici. Her childhood, spent in a rural setting with her four brothers and sisters, was marked by her parents’ modest condition and strong faith. Like most women of her time, Angela had little instruction, but she evidently knew how to read. Every evening, the father, Mr. Merici, would read to his children from books treating of the lives of saints.
When she was approximately 15 years old, Angela lost her parents and was taken in by her uncle in Salò, where she became a Tertiary of St. Francis because of her deep desire to receive Holy Communion more frequently.
After some time, she returned to the family farm where she applied herself to the daily chores and developed her inclination for prayer. In a vision of light coming from Heaven, she saw a procession of angels and young women ascending and descending a ladder, as she would later attempt to describe it.
In her early forties, Angela went to Brescia on a charitable mission, after which she made pilgrimages to different Italian sanctuaries. In 1524 she went to the Holy Land and, in 1525, to Rome for the Holy Year Jubilee. On meeting with Pope Clement VII, His Holiness asked her if she would remain in Rome in order to bring her experience to the works of charity of the Holy City. But another mission awaited Angela in Brescia.
Indeed, Angela’s presence and action gradually attracted the attention of the people of Brescia. In a country disfigured by war and its effects, Angela was increasingly regarded as a sure mainstay. She was constantly solicited for her wisdom and discernment, for her gift for reconciling people and interpreting the Scriptures. She became the “Madre Suor Angela” who welcomed and advised people from all walks of life.
But the inner call perceived long ago became more and more insistent. Angela was 60 years old when she carried out the project that God had entrusted to her many years ago. On November 25th, 1535, she founded the Company of St. Ursula. The 28 founding members made a formal commitment to a state of life that was totally novel at the time. They consecrated themselves to God while continuing to live in the world. They were neither cloistered nor married.
Angela died on January 27th, 1540, at the approximate age of 65. She left her daughters an original Rule and a few concise writings to assist the people who would replace her at the head of the Company of St. Ursula. Angela Merici’s novel foundation would spread throughout the world and take on multiple forms according to time and circumstance.
Beatified in 1768 and canonized on May 24th, 1807, Angela left the firm assurance of her presence to her followers, for she was certain that if God planted her Company, nothing nor no one could ever uproot it.