Looking back. Short stories from the Archives
House of St. Angela Merici – history in pictures
In the small town of Desenzano in Italy, the family house of St. Angela Merici, ‘Le Grezze’, still stands. There she spent her childhood and then returned there for a period of her life in which her holiness matured in prayer and ordinary work in the fields to take on the task that God had set her.
Sr Letizia Usai OSU has prepared a snapshot of the recent history of St Angela's house in Desenzano, which eventually led to a small international community of sisters living there. Today ‘Le Grezze’ belongs to the Italian Province of the Ursulines of the Roman Union.
‘Le Grezze’, 1922.
♦ 1918: M. Marie de Chantal Thibault, general secretary, travelled to Brescia and Desenzano while writing her book on St Angela. ‘Le Grezze’ was not inhabited by members of the Merici family; however several descendants of the Saint’s nieces and nephews, named Merici, still lived in Desenzano. Mother Marie noted the state of degradation of ‘Le Grezze’ and expressed her wish that this sacred place for the Ursulines would not fall into ruin.
♦ 1920: M. Angela of Our Lady Lorenzutti, second General Superior, presented to the Chapter members a project for the purchase of the little house of ‘Le Grezze’. The report of the Chapter reads: "...We would like to buy it, restore it and perhaps give it into the care of a small community of Ursulines, who would work in the very places where Angela began her apostolate...".
♦ 1935: The General Council decides to buy ‘Le Grezze’.
♦ Mother Urszula Ledóchowska (now canonised) wrote a letter dated 18.V.1935, kept in the Generalate Archives: "...I am happy to know that the Roman Union is buying Desenzano. Dear Mother Maria of Berlin had told me about it - I would have liked to buy it myself without money, because I have nothing - I have no money and one does not buy anything without money! But it is the Roman Union that has the right and I am glad to know that you are thinking about it..."
St. Urszula Ledóchowska.
♦ 1936: Purchase deed. The little house of S. Angela becomes the property of the Ursulines of the Roman Union. (You can see an old elm tree - which is said to remember St. Angela).
‘Le Grezze’, 1935.
♦ 1956: The parish priest of Desenzano, Licinio Ferro, in agreement with the Bishop of Verona, would like to buy Le Grezze to open a chapel in honour of Saint Angela and writes to the Ursulines of the Roman Union.
♦ 1957: The General Council decides to donate ‘Le Grezze’ and the adjacent land to the parish of Desenzano to build a new parish church.
♦ 1959: The Ursulines of the Roman Union sign the deed of donation of ‘Le Grezze’ to the parish of Desenzano, with all the land that constitutes the property. The condition of the donation was that the little house of Saint Angela was to be used as a spiritual meeting place for the people, in view of the construction of a new parish named after the Saint and as a place of veneration.
(In addition to the part of the house that we know today, there was also one on the left, which seems to have been removed in 1960/1961 during the renovation of the premises for the new parish. It’s interesting that the staircase is no longer on the left, but has been reconstructed on the right.)
♦ 1975: The Parish of St Angela Merici is created in ‘Le Grezze’. The parish priest Fr Luigi Limina moves into the premises on the 1st and 2nd floors. On the ground floor a chapel dedicated to Saint Angela is opened for the worship of the parish, in accordance with one of the clauses of the deed of gift.
♦ 28 October 1975, in spite of the good intentions to preserve this sacred place, a collapse occurred while the municipal workers were working on the road that runs along the west side of the cottage. One of them testified: "It was not even enough time to consider what was happening and part of the wall and rubble was already on the road".
♦ The reconstruction was carried out by creating two small rooms one on top of the other, the kitchen and the Saint's room, joined by an external staircase from the access portico. These rooms are still in the area of Saint Angela's house, but they no longer correspond to those that had been the Saint's home. For us Ursulines, however, ‘Le Grezze’ remains an historical reference point and a sacred place in the memory of our Foundress.
♦ 1987 – 1989: Some land in ‘Le Grezze’ is sold, in order to complete the construction of the new parish church about 500 metres away.
♦ 1988: The parish priest moves into his new building and ‘Le Grezze’ remains only a place of devotion for the inhabitants of Desenzano and for possible pilgrims. With the passing of time, the little house became somewhat neglected, until it was no longer welcoming and expressive of the veneration that our Holy Foundress deserved.
♦ 1990: The C.I.M. (Conferenza Italiana Mericiana), to which all the Ursulines of Italy, secular and religious, including the Roman Union - Province of Italy, belong, deplores the state of decay of ‘Le Grezze’ and considers giving new life to the little house of St. Angela.
♦ Years of study, research and not always easy dialogue followed, between the various Ursuline Congregations, the parish priest of Desenzano and the Bishop of Verona.
♦ A project for the restoration of the building and the rebuilding of the chapel is reached.
♦ 2003: The Province of Italy, Ursulines of the Roman Union takes responsibility for the work, with the financial participation of the Generalate and other Ursuline religious and secular institutes.
♦ 24 May 2003: Inauguration of the renovated ‘Le Grezze'. We read in the chronicle: 'It's celebration! The sun from the sky envelops everything. The rose-coloured marble sun in the courtyard spreads its rays and draws the eye to the inscription: TOGETHER - SECULAR AND RELIGIOUS SISTERS - A FAMILY AROUND THE MOTHER. Engraved on the rays are the names of the continents and sixty nations, in which the daughters of Saint Angela belonging to over forty branches, Congregations and groups of the Secular Institute live. Angela's 'one heart and one soul' is made tangible in the songs, in the choral prayer, in all approaching the one table, in being there as one big FAMILY AT OUR MOTHER'S PIAZZA.
♦ From the homily of the Bishop of Verona, Flavio Roberto Carraro – Capucin Father, he quotes these words: "...there are places, environments, moments in which the presence of the Lord is very strong, they favour the willingness of the person to welcome the Word of God. There are sanctuaries, spiritual clinics, places of reference to think back to the moment of first falling in love, when the Lord touched our heart. ‘Le Grezze’ is one of these places, it is the Mother House of all the Ursulines in the world...".
♦ On that occasion, the Bishop pronounced a sentence that caused all the Ursulines to gasp with astonishment: “Le Grezze will become the property of the Ursulines of the Roman Union, Province of Italy”.
♦ There followed difficult years of dialogue between the Ursuline Congregations and the parish, which was ready to sell ‘Le Grezze’.
♦ 2 June 2003: The Province of Italy bought a flat in a block of flats in Via Montesuello No. 5, near the large parish of S. Angela.
♦ 2005-2006: Sr. Carla Tamborini and Sr. Grazia Montani live in the flat on via Montesuello, and begin to frequent the parish and get to know the people. Their presence becomes familiar and several people look to them with affection and gratitude.
♦ 2006: The Ursuline Institutes belonging to the C.I.M. are asked if they are ready to join together to buy St Angela's little house and carry out a project together. They all answer NO, giving their reasons. A process of discernment was then initiated in the individual communities of the Ursulines of the Roman Union, Province of Italy, and during the Provincial Chapter, whether or not to purchase ‘Le Grezze’. The whole Province came out in favour of buying St Angela's House "for a presence at the service of vocations, ongoing formation and communion among all the Ursulines at the school of St Angela".
♦ 2007: Jubilee year: 200 years since the canonisation of Saint Angela is celebrated.
♦ 19 April 2007: The Province of Italy buys ‘Le Grezze’.
♦ 19 May 2007: The casket containing the body of Saint Angela is solemnly brought to Desenzano from Brescia. A month ago we did not know this. The initiative was taken by the Municipality of Desenzano, of which Saint Angela is Patron Saint, and the Municipality of Brescia, which this year elevated Saint Angela to Co-Patron Saint of the city, together with Saints Faustino and Giovita. Coincidence? In the perspective of faith nothing happens by chance. For us Ursulines it is a sign of great hope. At other times the casket of the Saint had been brought to Desenzano, but never to ‘Le Grezze’.
♦ This time, the Saint's casket's first stop is at ‘Le Grezze’. It arrives in the courtyard at 9 pm sharp. A large banner welcomes her: BENTORNATA A CASA - WELCOME HOME. A crowd of Ursulines, parishioners and devotees welcome her. The remains of the Saint stay in Desenzano for a whole week of celebrations.
♦ But whom to send to ‘Le Grezze’ to open a small Community? During the 2007 General Chapter, a group interested in our presence in Desenzano met and shared their hopes; a light came from Poland.
♦ 23 November 2007: Sr. Ewa Dziura, Provincial of Poland writes to Sr. Maria Letizia Usai, Provincial of Italy: "I presented the issue of ‘Le Grezze’ to our Provincial Council. The Councillors accepted it with openness and a desire to be associated with this work. After the Council meeting, we had a Provincial Conference (70 Sisters were present). When I asked whether to commit to this new challenge, yes or no, I was answered with applause".
♦ 28 March 2008: Sr. Janina Olchawa after spending many years as a missionary in Senegal, arrived in Italy from Poland and was welcomed for a few days in the Capriolo Community.
♦ 2 April 2008: ‘Le Grezze’ in Desenzano is officially opened with Sr. Janina Olkawa and Sr. Carla Tamborini. The ceremony begins in the chapel, in front of the icon of the crucifixion with St Angela, and continues in six stages to the courtyard, where a young olive tree, symbolising new life, is planted in the garden.
♦ 11 April 2008: Solemn Mass is held in the chapel of ‘Le Grezze’ and it is packed with Sisters and friends: Jesus takes possession of his House. The parish priest, Fr Paolo Permugnan, blesses all the rooms. The Ursuline Sisters of St. Charles welcome all present to the Mericianum for lunch. It is a great family feast.
♦ At the end of the summer, Sr. Janina is replaced at ‘Le Grezze’ by Sr. Patrycja Wielgus, who continues her mission to this day.
♦ Other Sisters have taken turns to live in St. Angela's little house: Sr. Alessandra Pallavisini, Sr. Katarína Šimalčíková, Sr. Annunziata Gardinetti, Sr. Bénédicte Moyrand and Sr. Armida Veglio.
♦ Several Sisters from other provinces have stayed for longer or shorter periods in the flat on via Montesuello.
♦ “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” ― Mother Theresa of Calcutta