The birth of the Company of St. Ursula – 25 November 1535
The Plumeria flower has a symbolic meaning. It grows on trees at graveyards as a sign of life; when God plants it, who can uproot it? In the midst of death, Angela brings life. The flowers grow together in groups: insieme. White and yellow colours symbolize consecrated virginity, and being brought into holiness; in the middle the red colour stands for happiness.
At the age of 20, Angela left Salo and returned to Desenzano. One day, when she was working in the field, she saw a vision: “Angela, you will found groups of virgins like this”.
After the vision, Angela filled her life witnessing the love of God as a Franciscan Tertiary. At the age of 42, she was sent to Brescia to comfort Catherina Patengola, who had just lost her husband and children.
Many visited her to get advice, consolation, and reconciliation.
She spoke about faith towards Most Holy God to all people (Nassino)
She would always try her best to direct souls towards heaven (Faino)
Angela’s life remained hidden for a long time, until it was time to put into reality the work God had entrusted to her: to found the Company of Saint Ursula
Why the Company of Saint Ursula?
Almost all congregations have been founded to answer the urgent needs of its time.
This was Europe in the 15th century
It was the age of discovery and conquests of faraway lands
From Europe to America, Far East, and Australia
The discovery of new lands opened minds and raised spirits.
They took gold and luxuries to Europe <– a criminal act
Artists in Angela’s time included: Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michaelangelo
Buildings… paintings… sculptures…
High class dressings, jewelry
looking for luxury
But there was also a lot of crime
Society had lost faith
There was immense physical and moral pain because of wars, mass murders, and robbery, pests, contagious diseases.
Broken homes, neglected children, red light districts
A lot! There were so many opportunities for each initiative in all areas of charity and society services.
Between Angela’s time and the beginning of 21st century there are many similarities:
In this era, men have achieved extraordinary advances in all areas, such as:
Communication technology, medicine, equipment, early detection of diseases
But are people better and happier?
All information can be accessed by under aged children
Broken homes. Permissive way of living.
State of the Church in Angela’s era.
Moral degradation entered the Church as well.
A lot of spiritual leaders only looked for profit and pleasures.
They were greedy shepherds who took care of themselves and not the flocks under their charge.
Not all who entered convents were called.
There were people who were forced to enter convents so that the rest could have a larger share of the legacy.
No wonder there were convents which resembled prostitution houses
Angela counsels her daughters:
“Protect your flock from foxes and robbers, two kinds of dangerous people:
earthly people or false spiritual people with all their dirty tricks, and heretics.” (N7,1)
Angela answered other needs which were not seen, but were urgent:
There was a longing for God in the hearts of so many young women, but that longing could not be satisfied.
Remember: A woman then could never be treated as an adult.
She would be under the supervision of her dad, her brother, or her husband.
Her marriage would be arranged or she would be put into a convent without asking her whether she liked it or not
So a woman was considered as nothing, unless she came from a notable family and there were also some who were widows
For the sake of the powerless women, Angela acted and invented something new in Church.
In principle, the Company is RELIGIOUS in nature. But also it has clear and original social dimensions.
Angela responded to the needs of her era with prophetic intuition.
She invented a structure which had not existed in the Church.
Canonically, for women there were given only two choices: family life, or convent. Angela realized that there were women who wanted to enter a convent but could not pay the dowry, or those who wanted to consecrate their life, but did not want to enter any convent.
Marry or Enter a Convent
or Live in the midst of society as women consecrated to God
It is for those women that Angela established the Company. Her daughters would stay in the midst of society and in their homes but at the same time they would consecrate themselves fully and permanently to God.
Angela went against the current.
This was a really brave initiative. Angela broke a long tradition and offered one alternative, that is: to be women consecrated to Christ in the midst of an earthly tide
Such a heavy challenge! Because the consecrated life is lived in the midst of society and work.
The candidate would have to enter voluntarily and happily
Her right to choose her own life path is respected.
Dignity of woman is raised, something opposite with the view of society at that time.
State of women in the 15th century.
Housemaids, nobility, daughters of gold craftsmen, but all daughters of Saint Angela are called to become the brides of the Son of God
This grand new status is for them all.
So, in the Company, social class is not important.
Women of nobility in Brescia acted as “matrons” to serve with all their heart young women, and most of them came from poor and simple families.
Some of them were their maids.
Most of these young women were illiterate. But they would choose their leaders.
Angela formed lay and feminine leadership. She showed society that woman could choose their own leaders.
Angela’s boldness to establish in the Church a group of consecrated women, who lived their consecration in the midst of society, and also possessed feminine leadership, faced a lot of criticism after her death.
To take this step Angela needed the grace of the Holy Spirit, especially the gift of strength, knowledge and wisdom to discern what needed to be done
The aim of the Company
Rules P4: Our Lord has given grace for you… and gathered you all together to serve the Almighty God
To serve – the service is not specified.
Saint Lucia, Saint Cecilia, and Saint Agnes
lived holy virginity in the midst of society but each in her own way.
Virgins of Saint Ursula are called together to form a Company with its own structure,
to enhance close fraternity, signed by KOMUNIO, although they do not live together in communities.
KOMUNIO is the aim of the Company.
The only aim of the Company is:
Together as virgins to become the faithful and holy spouses of the Son of God (Rules P7)
Each person and all the women together become a Company with special dignity.
The Rules of Angela are soaked by apostolic spirit, but she did not specify what kind of work her daughters would do.
The virgins were invited to live two kinds of apostolate :
To witness the love of God in their life and to spread the longing to live as consecrated virgins, spouses of the Most High.
By living consecrated virginity as spouses of the Almighty Son of God, they become Mothers, just like the Madre.
So then the Company was founded on 25th November1535 to answer the needs of the society shown to her by God.
25th November is the right choice.
That day is the feast of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a virgin martyr of 4th century, who, in witnessing as a follower of Christ, faced the death penalty by being pressed under rotating wheels. But when she touched the wheels they broke.
In Angela’s time, this saint was very popular
Angela knew the painting depicting the mystical marriage of Catherine with Jesus.
Catherine accepted a ring from the Holy Infant Jesus.
On that day 28 daughters celebrated their mystical marriage with Jesus as their Spouse.
Angela gave the Rules to the Company.
The points showed that they had been discussed with the girls gathered around her since 1532.
What a modern way! How she appreciated all persons and all suggestions
The Rule is the WAY that her daughters would need to follow to become faithful and holy spouses of Jesus
The Rule of Saint Angela is a way which demands living radically the life of virginity and living the Gospel.
Exciting way: mortification, meditation, and prayers are given apostolic dimension.
Also living in the unity with God, which at the same time asks one to be a gospel witness
COUNSELS for Colonelli, local leaders. This will guide the sisters in their spiritual life.
LEGACY is aimed at “matrons”, mothers representing them in front of civil authorities and religious authorities. They are not members of the Company.
The Company of Saint Ursula in Angela’s mind is not a Tertiary Order and even not a Religious order or Congregation.
Its members live up to the teaching of the Gospels radically while living in their own homes.
The Company is a new creation to fulfill the spiritual needs in the era, a new form of consecrated life.
Presented by Angela Merici Biblical Center, Bandung, Indonesia.