Company of St. Ursula
The Company of St. Ursula, commonly called the Angelines, is an organization of consecrated women in the Catholic Church which was founded in 1535 in Brescia, Italy, by St. Angela Merici (ca. 1474-1540), dedicated to the service of God. Soon the education of women and girls and the care of the sick and needy became their primary focus. Their patron saint is Saint Ursula. They follow the original form of life established by their foundress in that they live independently, responsible for their own well-being, for which they often have secular jobs, but they formally dedicate their lives to the service of the Church. The monastic Order of St. Ursula, called the Ursulines (among whom the largest organization are the Ursulines of the Roman Union), developed from this group.
Merici was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. According to the account of the history of the Company, she experienced a call from God to found a community to share this way of life. Among the group of men and women who formed around her due to her spiritual leadership, she soon selected 28 women who wished to commit their lives in this endeavor.
These women, along with Merici, made a commitment of their lives on 25 November 1535, the feast day of St. Catherine of Alexandria, a major female spiritual figure in the Middle Ages. They called themselves the Company of St. Ursula, taking as their patroness the medieval patron saint of education. Continuing to live in their family homes, they would meet regularly for conferences and prayer in common. Merici drew up a Rule of Life for them. Merici's vision was that they were to live among the people they served without any distinguishing feature, such as a religious habit.
Notable features of the Company were that it was unusual for women to be consecrated but to live outside the cloister. The women did not dress in a special habit. They met periodically and assisted at mass monthly. Although observing evangelical counsels they did not take vows.
The Company grew rapidly, being joined by women from throughout the city. The increasing number of members came to be organized in groups, according to the parish in which they lived, each of them called a Company. The group then spread throughout the Diocese of Brescia. One of the early works of the new Company was to give religious instruction to the girls of the town at the parish church each Sunday, which was an innovation for the period, having traditionally been left to the local parish priest. Companies soon developed in other dioceses in the region.
In 1538 the Company had grown to such an extent that they held their first General Chapter. At this gathering, Merici was elected "Mother" of the Company for life. The following year, as her health began to fail, she dictated her Testament and a book of Counsels to regulate the life of the group. She died in 1540.
The Company was formally recognized in 1546 by Pope Paul III. Merici's death, however, had left the Company without a clear leader. Organized loosely, questions about their future began to surface. Additionally, pressure began to come from the officials of the Church, who were uncomfortable with a group of consecrated women living independently, not under the direct authority of the clergy.
In 1572 in Milan, at the insistence of St. Charles Borromeo, the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, the members of the Company there agreed to become an enclosed religious order. Pope Gregory XIII approved this step, putting them under the Rule of St. Augustine, in place of that of Merici. Especially in France, groups of the Company begin to re-shape themselves into communities of cloistered nuns, under solemn vows, and dedicated to the education of girls within the walls of their monasteries.
Communities of the Company continued to exist and flourish, especially in Italy. In 1810, however, like other religious groups, they were suppressed after the invasion of Italy by the forces of the Napoleonic Empire. Two sisters who had belonged to the Company, Elisabetta and Maddalena Girelli, reconstituted the Company in Brescia in 1866. Once again, Companies began to spread throughout Italy. Legally independent from one another, discussions took place which led to the creation of a Federation of Companies.
By the 20th century, Companies again began to be established outside of Italy. In 1947 the Catholic Church, under Pope Pius XII, recognized the growing strength of lay Catholic spirituality and created a category of secular institute in canon law to provide committed groups of lay people some formal status. The Angelines were established by the Holy See on 25 May 1958 as the Secular Institute of St. Angelia Merici.
Further expansion of the Company has continued until today Companies of Angelines are present in 23 countries worldwide. Among the most recent foundations has been one in the United States in 2000, whose members were mentored by the Angelines of Canada and were officially incorporated into the Federation in 2006. Since 2010 a Company has been established in Australia under the guidance of the Company in France, which is also mentoring Companies in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Singapore.
- "The Company of St. Ursula". Ursulines of the Roman Union. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
- "Our History". The Company of St. Ursula in the United States. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
- Marocchi, Massimo (1988). "Religious Women in the World in Italy and France During the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries". Vincentian Heritage Journal 9 (2): 192–209. Retrieved 17 January 2013.
- "Our History". Istituto Secolare di Sant'Angela Merici. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
- "St Angela Merici". Company of St Ursula Australia. 25 February 2012. Retrieved 19 January 2013.