In March 2012, Alexian Brothers AIDS Ministry received a donation of two dozen icon paintings done by Robert Lentz, Lewis Williams and William Hart McNichols. These beautiful icons, now located in the Bonaventure House chapel, depict marginalized saints and martyrs.
Saint Angela Merici
Born on Lake Guarda in Desenzano, Italy, the young Angela grew up in a loving family. She loved to imitate the saints while she worked hard in the family vineyard and farm. She was called early to commit herself to the Third Order of St. Francis, in part to be able to receive more frequent Eucharist. After the deaths of her parents and siblings in rapid succession, she and a beloved companion decided to educate local girls in their homes, enabling the girls parents to learn along with them. They had barely begun this project when Angela’s beloved companion died.
During a harvest work break in the fields, she beheld a vision where heaven opened and angels and virgins traveled by a ladder between heaven and earth. She recognized her late companion as one of the virgins and was told by her that God wanted her to found a company of virgins in a new community where they would remain in their homes and workplaces, without habits, solemn vows or enclosure. Their call was to religiously educate poor girls. Angela moved to Brescia where she moved in with another beloved companion and began work. When several other women joined them, Angela dedicated them to St. Ursula, patroness of universities, who before her martyrdom had likewise been head of a group of young women.
In the icon, St. Angela holds an arrow, symbol of St. Ursula’s martyrdom. The grapes are symbolic of the Eucharistic blood of Christ, so important to Angela, and also of her family’s vineyard. Even more, it is symbolic of the cluster of women she drew together in this way. Lake Garda is the setting.
The rule of the Ursulines was approved about five years before Angela died on January 27, 1540. The Ursulines were the first women’s order dedicated to the education of young women. They were also the first to not live in a cloister, nor wear habits nor take vows; but that all changed after her death, when the Council of Trent decreed that all women religious were required to do so.