Saint Angela Merici was born on March 21st, 1474, in the town of Desenzano del Garda, Lombardy Italy. Tragedy struck her and her sister Giana early in life, leaving the pair as orphans when she was only ten years old. They two moved in with their uncle, only to have tragedy strike again when Saint Angela's sister died a short time later. The death profoundly troubled Saint Angela, as her sister did not receive her Last Rites before dying. Saint Angela prayed day and night to God, inquiring the condition of her sister's soul. Late one night, her prayers were answered when in a vision from God, she saw her sister in Heaven surrounded by Saints. Saint Angela doubled her devotion to Christ and her piety after receiving this vision.
She soon joined the Third Order of Saint Francis and began living a life of extremely strict austerity, wishing to own no possessions (reportedly even a bed). Her uncle passed away at 20 and Saint Angela moved back home to the farmstead she had grown up on with her now deceased uncle, continuing her life of piety. She increasingly became concerned and disturbed by the lack of Christian knowledge the children around the farm had, realizing that the lack of knowledge was feeding into a lack of hope. As she taught the children, she was overcome with another vision - one telling her that she would one day be the founder of an association of women who would devote their lives to the religious training of young girls.
Saint Angela moved in with a family in the nearby town of Brescia and continuing to teach young girls the Sacraments and other important parts of the Faith. In 1524, Saint Angela was able to take part in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. When the journey stopped at Crete, she prayed before a Crucifix and was suddenly struck blind. Her companions begged her to return home but she pressed on in her journey. On the way home, she stopped again at Crete and prayed before the same Crucifix. Miraculously, her vision completely returned.
On November 25th, 1535, Saint Angela gathered a group of 12 women together at Brescia near the Church of Saint Afra and founded the Company of Saint Urusula (the patroness of Medieval Universities). This group, dedicated to elevating family life through the Christian education of future wives and mothers, was the very first teaching order of religious women. Saint Angela soon wrote a Rule of Life for the group, specifying celibacy, poverty and obedience which was approved in 1544 by Pope Paul III.
Saint Angela passed away on January 27th, 1540. At the time of her death, there were 24 communities of the Company of Saint Ursula. Shortly before her passing, Saint Angela told her sisters (who had come to her, afraid of losing her)
"I shall continue to be more alive than I was in this life, and I shall see you better and shall love more the good deeds which I shall see you doing continually, and I shall be able to help you more."
Saint Angela was buried in the habit of a Franciscan tertiary and initially interred in the Church of Saint Afra, close to the remains of the Brescian martyrs she had often visited. The church and buildings attached to it was rebuilt on April 10th, 1954 (after receiving terrible damage from bombing runs in the second World War). Saint Angela Merici was beatified by Pope Clement XIII in Rome on April 30th, 1768 and canonized by Pope Pius VII on May 24th, 1807. Her feast day was originally set for May 31st (introduced in 1861), then moved to June 1st when it conflicted with the new Queenship of Mary feast, and finally set for January 27th in the 1969 revision of the Roman Calendar.