Angela Merici was born in 1474 in Desenzano on Lake Garda in the north of Italy. As a child, she enjoyed looking after the animals with her brothers and sisters on the family farm, in the Le Grezze locality of Desenzano. In the evening Angela’s father would read stories of the saints to Angela and her siblings.
When Angela was a young teenager, her sister and both of her parents died. Together with her younger brother, Angela then went to live with her mother’s relatives in Salo in 1490. There she met the Franciscans and became a member of the Third Order of St Francis. During this time in Salo, Angela became quite certain that she did not wish to marry but rather dedicate her life to Christ. Yet, she did not wish to enter a monastery.
Although it must have been difficult to convince her aunt and uncle of her intentions, Angela did finally succeed in doing so and in 1496 returned to Desenzano to her own property, given to her in lieu of the dowry that would otherwise have been hers had she married. Like St Ursula, Angela did not lack the courage to be different. Nor did she allow herself to be restricted to known possibilities. In Desenzano, she tended her vineyard, helped her neighbours and was constant in her prayer. Through prayer she became convinced that she was to gather together young women who would dedicate their lives to Christ.
In 1516, Angela was invited by the Franciscans to accompany a grieving widow back to her home in Brescia and to stay with her for some months. Angela found Brescia to be a city ravaged by war with all the social aftermath of war. There she met other young people struggling to find ways to deal with all the social consequences surrounding them. Angela’s life slowly evolved into one of listening, giving spiritual guidance and effecting reconciliation between individuals. She particularly felt the need to rekindle values through the family and to protect young women in very vulnerable situations. And so her Desenzano dreams and the reality in which she found herself immersed in Brescia slowly came together.
On 25th November, in 1535, Angela gathered her first group of twenty-eight companions. They went to Mass together, then returned to the little room made available by one of the women of Brescia. There, round the kitchen table, they signed their names in the Book of Life and called themselves the Company of St Ursula. Over the next few years, Angela dictated the Rule for her Company to her secretary, Gabriel Cozzano. In 1540 Angela died on the 27 January. There were by this time one hundred and fifty members in the Company of St Ursula. The Company was formally approved by Pope Paul III in 1544 and the Rule in 1546. Angela Merici was canonized in May 1807.