Angela Merici had a conscious sense of maternal leadership. Angela was not afraid to be involved in the lives of others. She was a relational person. She allowed women and men from all walks of life to interact with her on a very personal level. She was as equally comfortable with wealthy, influential men of her town as she was with poor, young girls snatched from the streets to protect them from prostitution.
When we read the writings of St. Angela as found in her Rule, Counsels and Legacies, we see a strong thread of respect for individuals. Angela tells us in her writings to,
“Love all your daughters equally; do not have any preference for one rather than another because they are all children of God…So hold them in your love and bear with them equally.” Respecting the potential that is present within every individual sets a tone in our dealings with others.
Another value consistent in Angela’s life is a concern for women and the poor. These two go together because in our particular time in history the feminization of poverty is a reality. More women are poor than men. More women are in charge of single parent families. More women are without jobs. More women are paid inadequately for the work they do.
It is obvious from Angela’s life that women were of primary concern. Her company was founded to be a leaven in society. She believed that if women were holy they would act as a leaven that would spread holiness throughout the towns and cities. She was especially concerned about young women, how she could preserve and protect them in a decadent society. She chose to minister in the church by actively changing societal problems through the betterment of women.
These two values come out of Angela’s practice of maternal leadership. Angela tells us in her own words,
“…I beg you to take care of all your daughters, having each and every one engraved on your mind and heart, not only their names but also their situation and character and every detail about them. This will not be difficult for you if you enfold them with heartfelt charity. Look at human mothers; even if they had a thousand sons and daughters they would have them all firmly fixed in their hearts, each and every one, for that is how true love works. It even seems that the more children they have, the greater is their love and caring for each one of them. With still more reason, spiritual mothers can and should do this, for spiritual love is, beyond comparison, stronger than human love. And so, my dearest Mothers, if you love our daughters with ardent and heartfelt charity, it will be impossible for you not to have every one of them firmly fixed in your memory and heart.”
It was with this attitude of heartfelt charity that Angela was a maternal leader, not only among her daughters of the company, but also in her relationships with the multitude of citizens of Brescia who sought her influence in their lives. Angela reiterates this attitude when she says,
“Be kind and compassionate towards your dear children. Endeavor to act purely out of love of God and out of zeal for souls when you admonish and advise them from evil. For you will achieve more with gentleness and kindness than by harsh and cutting rebukes which must be used only when really necessary, and even then according to the place and time and the person. But it is charity which, directing everything towards God’s honor and the good of souls, teaches such discernment and, depending on the place and time, moves the heart to be gentle or severe, now more, now less, according to need.”
As the leader of her company, Angela always acted out of motherly concern. This is how she modeled to her daughters how they were to act toward one another and how they, in turn, to act toward those served or interacted with. How wise Angela was!
Every adult is a leader in some way. Every adult should experience and practice this attitude of love and concern for others. Is this merely idealism? I don’t think so. I think all of us with conscious effort can be loving in most situations. I think we can help each other to be conscious of the need for an atmosphere of love and respect in every aspect of our lives.
In what ways do you show respect to others, especially women and children?
What characteristics of maternal leadership do you practice in your life?