St Angela Merici is the Patron of the Ursuline Franciscan Educational Society. She is an Italian religious educator of the Middle Ages. Born in Desenzano, a small town on the shore of Lake Garda of Brescia, Italy in 1474 Angela grew up in a society which neglected the education of the girl children both secular and religious. Having had a firm foundation of faith and charity through the religious formation given by her father and her own life of holiness she was able to rise up to the needs of the young girls who needed a right orientation for their way of life. By her example of life and spiritual instruction she opened up the wellsprings of fullness of life not only to the young women but also to all who approached her irrespective of gender and status of life.
Inspired by the Lord Jesus she founded an institute of consecrated virgins in 1535 to further devote their lives to the religious training of young girls. Angela’s charming nature and natural leadership qualities made her an effective religious educator. This institute called “the Company of St Ursula” was the first group of consecrated women to live and work outside the cloister and in the course of time became the first teaching Congregation of women in the Catholic Church. St Angela is often celebrated as a woman of foresight and courage.
In the latter years the Ursulines followed the spirit of their foundress St Angela and dedicated greater part of their time to educate the young girls and the adults in faith. A branch of the original group while taking care of the teaching of Christian doctrine also opened schools and orphanages where even the secular education was undertaken. The Ursuline pedagogy was distinct from mere instruction. It did not aim at filling the mind with facts and ideas but at the training of the child. The purpose of Ursuline pedagogy was to consider the integral growth of the child. Through religious and secular education the Ursulines worked for the emancipation of women, and it was this which made Angela’s idea so revolutionary in the context of Middle Ages. According to St Angela Merici there could be no education without love This Merician educational heritage is by and large followed by all the Ursulines who are now engaged in the education apostolate. The spirit of St Angela like sap coursing through a tree to make it live and blossom has flowed into various Ursuline institutes and rendered the church of her time and of today apostolically effective and empowered.