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Research on Saint Angela

Research on Saint Angela

I must confess that I began to appreciate Angela, only at the age of 50! Before that, she did not mean anything to me. I found her writings insipid and uninteresting. I used to pray her, saying: “Dear Angela, I am a bad daughter of yours. I do not pray you, I do not appreciate you, and your writings are meaningless to me. If you really want me to know and love you, you have to do something about it”. And she did! It all began when in 1976 I was sent to join the Generalate community in Rome. There, I met Sr Luciana Mariani, who was radiant with her love of Angela. I asked to follow her commentaries on St Angela’s Writings given to the Tertians. Her enthusiasm struck me. Then I was requested to do some simultaneous translations during Sr Luciana’s talks. While translating, I had in front of me the original texts, together with the French and English versions. What was my surprise to see how these translations modified the original documents! I spoke about this to Mother Judith Mietzelfeld, then Prioress General; she finally decided that we would do some research to clarify Angela’s real personality and mission, and that of the first Ursulines. This led us to the Vatican’s Library and Archives, to the Archives in Brescia, Desenzano, Salò, Milan and Venice.

Since 1981, we were trying to focus on the original documents on Saint Angela. “We”, because I alone could never have been able to undertake this enormous work. Thanks to Sr Luciana Mariani, OSU, archivist in our Generalate, who devoted herself relentlessly to searching, gathering together and translating documents; thanks to Elisa Tarolli, a member of the Secular Institute of Saint Angela living in Brescia, thanks to two experts we consulted in Brescia, Doctor Presa, a scholar specialized in 16th century Italian language and culture, and Doctor Mazzoldi, state archivist who studied specifically the manuscripts of the first half of the 16th century pertaining to the Luoghi Pii in Brescia – thanks to all these friends who collaborated with us, our work finally took a definite shape.

Our scope was mainly to search for the real Angela, according to those who were direct witnesses of her life, that is, Angela without the pious and edifying theories and interpretations added in later centuries. There are several of these direct witnesses:

  • Antonio Romano, in whose house she dwelt during 14 years;
  • Agostino Gallo, who brought her with him to Cremona and later welcomed her within his house during two years;
  • Giacomo Chizzola, a well-known diplomat, named by Angela “protector” of the Company;
  • Bertolino Boscoli, a neighboring carpenter;
  • Giacomo Tribesco, a Canon of Saint Augustin at Saint Afra’s;
  • Gabriele Cozzano, her faithful secretary.

Next, there are indirect witnesses, more or less contemporary to Saint Angela, who knew her through those who had lived close to her:

  • Pandolfo Nassino, the Brescian chronicler, who wrote up a short notice after her death, but who seems to have known her indirectly;
  • Francesco Landini, confessor of the first members of the Company, informed by them about Angela;
  • Mattéo Bellintani, a Capuchin from Salò, who knew Angela’s family and friends and relied on their information.

There are also some later authors, who consulted the Company’s official documents:

  • Ottavio Gondi, SJ, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the first to have published a life of Angela;
  • Bernardino Faino and Carlo Doneda who both consulted the first documents belonging to the Company of Saint Ursula; these disappeared unfortunately during Italy’s invasion by Napoleon’s troops in the beginning of the nineteenth century.

We therefore can count on thirteen direct or indirect witnesses who relate what they know about Angela.

It is striking to notice that they all agree on the way they perceived Angela. They describe her as a mortified woman of prayer, whose words were extraordinarily deep and efficacious, and who, at the end of her life, founded the Company of Saint Ursula. They also describe the way of life and the apostolate undertaken by the first Ursulines. Did they ever work in Brescia’s hospitals? Did Angela do so? The documents we consulted give an answer to these questions.

Angela’s life style

Research on Saint Angela

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