The Ursuline family around the world celebrates the feast of our foundress, St. Angela Merici, on Monday, January 27. We thank God for the gift she is to our church and world and for the blessings of belonging to this 2020 global community!
Sunday, November 25, is the 483rd anniversary of the foundation of the Ursulines by St. Angela Merici. This gentle, holy, Italian woman had the courage and “Spirit” to begin a new way for women to give their lives to God while remaining engaged with the people and needs of their day.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday and Foundation Day shortly after, I am mindful of the many Ursulines I’ve encountered in recent months—only a “sampling” of the wonderful sisters who live out Angela’s charism today. Added to this group are the many, many committed colleagues who share Angela’s legacy and spirit with us: co-workers in ministry, associates, alums and friends. We are blessed! Thank you, God, for our long history. Thank you, for the sisterhood we share with so many today!
In less than a week, young women from New York and New Orleans will join me in San Antonio, Texas, for a week of service at Haven for Hope, a center of care for persons experiencing homelessness. San Antonio is well known for its River Walk, Tex-Mex food, beautiful Missions, the Alamo, hot weather and friendly people. There are other, more ominous, things happening now to immigrants along the border in Texas. We, Ursuline Volunteers, are deeply aware that it will be our privilege to bring compassion and friendship to other “home-less” people. What a gift it is–to be present to brothers and sisters in need–as we bring them Serviam hearts, open and ready to serve.
What we will do is fully in line with centuries of Ursuline spirit. Seven Ursuline Sisters came to San Antonio in 1851 at the invitation of the local Bishop. Upon their arrival, they found a building with nothing more than walls and a leaky roof. However, within 2 months, they opened their school. By 1887, Ursuline Academy there drew students from all parts of western Texas and Mexico. During the Mexican Revolution, the convent was a refuge for bishops, priests and nuns fleeing persecution. The Ursuline community fed dozens of people daily during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. And during World War II, the sisters provided day care for preschool age children whose mothers were obliged to work. Please join us in prayer as we, 21st century women, continue the long legacy of Serviam in this beautiful city by the river!
How often have we longed for assurance that loved ones who have died are still with us? We need their presence. I sometimes “talk” to family and friends who I believe live on in a new way after death. Relationships with them are still real and very meaningful, though I can no longer see them.
Understand that now I am more alive than I was when I lived on earth. . . . and now, even more, I want and am able to help you. (Angela Merici)
When St. Angela, foundress of the Ursulines, said in the 1500’s that she would be “more alive” after her death, she certainly already knew God intimately. It’s this faith and complete trust, her kindness and pleasantness (“piacevolezza” in Italian), her passion and courage to respond to God and lead other women in the process, that makes me love her and believe she is with us today. For her feast which is Saturday, January 27, talk to her a bit about how you’d like her help. She’s alive and wants to do good for us.
Ursulines speak often of St. Angela, our foundress, and her charism. For almost 500 years, this charism—those special graces and gifts of a person that influence and inspire— has been shared with Ursuline sisters, collaborators, students and friends. When Angela said in her final testimony, “I am more alive now than while I was on earth,” she really meant it. We feel stirred all the time by that which made her life glow.
Central to Angela’s charism is her contemplative spirit. Over the next few weeks, Backlit With Joy will focus on this facet of Angela’s life. To start the discussion, I posed a few questions to some of Angela’s descendants today. I’m happy to share a sampling of responses now. More will come in the weeks ahead.
What does “contemplative spirit” mean to you?
“To me, having a ‘contemplative spirit’ means that I live in constant awareness of the Presence of Holy Mystery in me, in those around me, and in every aspect of creation. This is not only when I sit in quiet with that Presence, but as I move through the activities of my day insofar as this is possible for me. It isn’t about struggle to hang on to that awareness, but more about ALLOWING it to be a part of me wherever I am and whatever I do.” —Sr. Chabanel Mathison, osu
What nourishes your contemplative spirit?
“As a volunteer pastoral care worker at a nearby hospital, my service involves visiting with patients and their families, often praying with them, giving them communion or simply listening to them. Frequently, when we talk and pray together, I believe we sense the presence of the Holy Spirit leading us while we really do not know how to pray or even what to say about their most difficult situations. These times nurture my desire to continue seeking the presence of God in myself and everyone I encounter.”—Russ Weil
What is one challenge you experience in trying to live a contemplative spirit?
“When I was thinking about a response, it was obvious that my biggest challenge to a contemplative spirit is cancer. Yet, when I was looking at the other two questions, the word ‘cancer’ came up as the answer to both of them. Why? When I have been able to pray, cancer drew me deeper into prayer. It nourished me in a way I never thought it would. Yes, anger, frustration, sadness, hurt, but I was also swaddled in God’s arms and held closely.” —Sr. Ann Dumas, osu