The Charism of Angela Merici

It was November 25th, 1535 when Angela Merici and her 28 companions formed the Company of St. Ursula in Brescia, Italy. Political and moral corruption was rampant in Europe at this time. In a society ruled and defined by men, where women were permanently governed by fathers, husbands or pastors, Angela and her Company offered a distinctively new form of dedicated life.

Unlike nuns of that era, the Company members did not live in monasteries. Instead, they stayed in their families, continued in their workplaces and were actively involved in works that raised the dignity of women, children and the marginalized of society.

The Rule Angela developed, after many conversations with experienced people, described an revolutionary form of dedicated life. It was the first Rule written by a woman for women and reflected the spirituality the Company embraced.

Following Angela's death in 1540, her vision of the Company was argued and questioned. The Company endured. But in an amazing way, her spirit took root in communities of women called Ursulines, monastic communities. They followed a revised Rule, not Angela's, and, as communities of women were obliged, they chose to adopt the Rule of St. Augustine.

As the first teaching order of women, the Ursulines were involved in the education of girls and women in Italy, France and other parts of Europe. They made a major impact on the religious education and upbringing of young people in Europe and eventually in the Americas.

Our Foundation, The Ursulines of the Chatham Union, was established by Mother Xavier LeBihan who emigrated from LaFaouet, in Brittany France and established the Chatham Foundation in 1860. This foundation, one of the many families of Ursulines worldwide is an outgrowth of French Ursuline monasticism and a new embodiment of the charism of St. Angela. It is interesting that "The Pines", our first Motherhouse was, in the early years, a monastery.

After The Vatican II Ecumenical Council in the early 1960's, we embraced one more evolution of dedicated life - an apostolic orientation - an evolution that had been taking shape for many years. In making this choice, we relinquished some monastic forms and began the long journey of change towards a way of life that, in some ways, resembled Angela's original vision.

What marks this apostolic life we embrace is: the contemplative spirit, a reading and response in ministry to the "signs of the times", solidarity with the poor and marginalized, and a lifestyle that is required by these commitments.