We don’t celebrate the memory of the saints over a weekend since Sunday Mass takes
precedence. But this weekend there are two saints worthy of being remembered, and so they are
the topic of this essay.
27 January is the Optional Memorial of St Angela Merici, who was (in spite of what you might
think from their name) was the founder of the Ursuline Sisters. They were dedicated to
charitable works, especially education. The Ursuline Academy in New Orleans is a great
example of this outreach. Angela’s life spanned the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th
centuries: a time of turmoil in which the Church was in great need of reform. And what was the
purpose of the Ursulines? It was simply to be a “federation” of lay women, living at home, vowed
to celibacy, and committed to charity. Many secular institutes of men and woman follow this
formula (to greater or lesser extent) today, but then it was progressive in the extreme. In fact,
after Angela’s death, habit and Divine Office and cloister were imposed on the group. The same
thing happened, decades later, to the Visitation Sisters of St Jane de Chantal. Sometimes
beaurocrats in the Church cannot see beyond the ends of their noses…
28 January is the Memorial of St Thomas Aquinas. His life was short (only about 50 years in the
middle of the 13th century), but the impact he had on Catholic theology was immense! With all of
his writings (people have at least heard of the Summa Theologica, even if they have not dipped
into it), he is also known for devotional hymns. We sing them every year: Pange, Lingua is our
official chant for Holy Thursday, and its last two verses are known by everyone attending
Benediction as Tantum Ergo. Listening carefully to the text of this hymn, it is clear the depth of
the humility of St Thomas in the face of the incredible miracle of the Eucharistic Presence.
Thomas desperately wanted to become a Dominican; his family opposed it as being beneath
him—far better to choose a more “respectable” clerical career. But he persisted, and he won out.
But how many know that his great intellectual achievement and gift to the Church—the synthesis
of the philosophy of Aristotle and the doctrines of Catholicism—was accomplished while the idea
of teaching Aristotle was formally forbidden by Rome? “Don’t go forward,” they were saying;
“We must go forward or we shall slip-slide away,” Thomas responded (not quite in those words!).
So Angela and Thomas were both, in many ways, ahead of their times, and they persevered in
spite of narrow-minded opposition. And they give us hope: that by perseverance in the true
tradition of the Church, in spite of the self-referential attitude of others, authentic practice of the
Faith will both survive and thrive.