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From Wealthy Socialite to Third Order Franciscan: The Life of St. Angela of Foligno

Most men and women who have been canonized as saints in recent centuries have gone through an extensive juridical process. That process involves an examination of the man or woman's life to determine if he or she lived a life of heroic virtue and, of course, the Church finding that through the intercession of the candidate for canonization that miracles have occurred. (You can learn the details of the beatification and canonization process in the free email course on the saints.) The process has been modified over the past several centuries, but these essential parts have always been in place.

However, on occasion, someone is canonized with what is termed an equivalent canonization. An equivalent canonization or equipollent canonization, as it is also called, requires three criteria according to what was laid out by Pope Benedict XIV in the eighteenth century. First, there must exist a longstanding devotion (cultus) for the person. Second, there must be a confirmation that the constant historical witness of the person points to his or her virtue or martyrdom. Third, there must be a consistent testimony over time to the person being an intercessor for miracles.
Compared to the number of saints who go through the juridical process, the number of equivalent canonizations is fairly small. Yes there are some well known saints who have received their canonization in this manner. These include St. Margaret of Hungary, St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher, St. Cyril and St. Methodius, and St. Albert the Great. Another one is St. Angela of Foglino. She was canonized in 2013. Here is a little bit of her story.

The Life of a Wealthy Socialite

St. Angela (1248 - 1309) was born in Foglino in the province of Umbria in the modern day country of Italy. Her family was wealthy and, as far is known, not particularly pious. Angela was a beautiful young woman, and she had many suitors. As was typical in that day because life expectancy was must less than it is today, she married at a young age, probably in her mid teens. Not much is known about her husband other than he was a young wealthy landowner and that he was not overly concerned about how his wife conducted herself.
Angela, herself, later recounted how in her married life she spent her time on frivolous pursuits, empty pleasures, fashionable clothes, and superficial society gatherings and conversation. Moreover, she was neglectful of her children's upbringing and education. And, she also was not faithful to her husband. In her autobiography, she describes herself as living the life of a young, beautiful, wealthy socialite without concern for her spiritual life or indeed the lives of those around her.

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Conversion

Then, at the age of 37 Angela experienced a dramatic change. She became completely disgusted with her shallow lifestyle and very cognizant of her sins. Nonetheless, Angela became so ashamed of her sins that she could not bring herself to go to confession. Instead, she continued to receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin which only drove her into greater despair. Her conscience was constantly in a state of unrest, and she did not know what to do.
In a flash of inspiration she prayed to St. Francis of Assisi to help her find a holy priest who would understand the state of her soul and to whom she might give a worthy confession. The saint answered her prayer as Angela soon became aware of Brother Arnold who was a Franciscan priest who actually was distant relation of hers. The troubled woman went to Brother Arnold and made a complete confession and felt the relief that she had longed to have since she began her conversion.
Despite the sense of relief, Angela felt remorse for the effects of her sins, and she began to make various penances in reparation for the damage she had done. In the midst of this, God allowed her to go through a trial of fire that tested her new found relationship with Him. Over a very short period of time, her mother, her husband, and all of her children died. Despite these devastating losses, she remained faithful to the Lord. In fact, these very sufferings drew her even closer to the Lord and helped her grow in her prayer life.

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Third Order Franciscan

After a period of mourning, Angela decided to become a third order Franciscan and put herself under the direction of Brother Arnold. The wealthy widow also designated that her money be distributed to the poor and the ill of Foglino. The, she placed herself in a small cell with only the basic necessities. Angela continued to live the life of a penitent.
The Lord blessed her with extraordinary graces that allowed her to see Him crucified. And through Brother Arnold she recorded this and other mystical experiences she had which the Lord favored her with through the remainder of her life. Not wanting to keep what she learned to herself, under guidance from Brother Arnold, she shared from the wisdom she received with other Franciscan tertiaries.
The rest of her life was marked by her special devotion to the crucified Lord and His Sacred Heart, teaching others, and recording what she learned about prayer and union with Christ. She became well-known for her holiness, and a number of third order Franciscans looked to her for spiritual guidance. For the women, Angela created a community of Franciscan tertiaries which she led for the remainder of her life. Angela died of natural causes in 1305 at the age of 56.

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