Nurtured by Faith
Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska, baptized as Sophia Camille, was born in Kalisz, Poland, on May 16, 1825. Members of noble families, her parents were well-educated. Her mother, a devout Catholic, had a great influence on her faith.
As a child, Sophia was highly intelligent and generous. However, because of her fragile health, most of her education was completed at home under the supervision of private tutors. Her days as a young student were characterized by schoolwork and reading, as well as daily Mass, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and nightly prayer. Her compassion for the underprivileged grew as she gained invaluable insight into the social ills and issues of her time from her father, a juvenile court judge.
Inspired to an Active Calling
In 1850, Sophia traveled with her ailing father to Germany, where he could visit the spas to restore his health. Following the example of her devout Catholic mother, Sophia was deeply faithful and had felt a calling to religious life. When they returned to Warsaw, she planned, despite her father’s objections, to join a cloistered order of nuns. She looked forward to dedicating herself to a quiet routine of daily devotion.
Before returning home, she and her father visited the Cologne Cathedral, a towering Gothic structure with openwork stone spires and stunningly beautiful 14th-century stained glass. In this renowned sacred space, the product of centuries of human labor, Sophia experienced a conversion. From that moment, she knew that instead of joining a cloister, she would commit herself to working for those suffering at the margins of society.
Back in Warsaw, Sophia joined the Society of St. Vincent DePaul. With her father’s financial support and the assistance of her cousin, Clothilde, Sophia spent her days working zealously for those in need as she continued to pray for God’s guidance in her vocation.
Political unrest in Poland meant that society’s most vulnerable people lacked access to food, shelter, or education. With a desire to confront these issues, and at the suggestion of her spiritual director, Fr. Honorat Kozminski, a Capuchin priest, Sophia also joined the Secular Franciscan Order, taking the name Angela as a symbol of her new life. She rented two attic rooms where she provided aid and comfort for abandoned women and orphaned children.
As Sophia’s ministry grew, her good work and unmistakable devotion attracted public attention, almsgiving, and volunteerism. Each morning, Sophia would visit the Franciscans with the orphans in her care, stopping to pray at the altar of St. Felix of Cantalice, a Capuchin friar known for his joy. The people of Warsaw began to refer fondly to her group as “the children of St. Felix.”
The Sisters of St. Felix
On November 21, 1855, Sophia consecrated herself totally to God, forging a new religious community steeped in the values and ideals of St. Francis of Assisi. She was inspired by the lives and spirituality of Saint Francis, Saint Clare, and Saint Felix of Cantalice. Each of them turned away from worldly comforts, at times even defying the wishes of their families, to follow God’s call to a life of simplicity, prayer and service to all in need. Their ministries were nourished by time spent in prayer, providing the model for the contemplative-active community life. In recognition of the importance of St. Felix, this new community came to be called the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice, or the Felician Sisters.
Mother Angela, as Sophia came to be known, was elected to three successive terms as superior general. Her congregation had a clear mission: the Felician Sisters would work to ensure that “in all and by all, God may be known, loved and glorified.” Even when she stepped down from her role because of failing health, she continued to watch over and guide her spiritual daughters. She heartily endorsed the plan to send Felician Sisters to North America, and she personally blessed the five pioneer sisters as they left Poland in 1874.
She died in Warsaw, Poland on October 10, 1899.
Yet her influence continued to grow. The work of this one woman inspired a sisterhood of thousands across the globe committed to live in compassionate service wherever there is a need.
The Path to Canonization
Beatification is the first step on the path to official sainthood, giving a person the title “Blessed.”
One miracle, researched and certified by the Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, has been attributed to Mother Angela and led to her beatification.
Lillian Halasinski, who suffered from the excruciating pain of incurable diabetic neuropathy, prayed to Mother Angela every day for relief. While praying on January 4, 1984, her pain disappeared, and she was instantly cured.
On April 18, 1993, Pope John Paul II beatified Mother Mary Angela, saying:
“Blessed Mary Angela’s life was marked with love. She was concerned about all people: those hungry for bread, the heartbroken, the homeless, and those hungering for the truth of the Gospel.”
For Blessed Mary Angela to be canonized, another miracle must be attributed to her. The Felician Sisters promote this cause by making her better known around the world, by spreading devotion to her during prayer gatherings, writing and sharing prayers and seeking out and investigating alleged miraculous cures attributed to her.
On Earth as in Heaven is the life story of Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska, who walked with the people of 19th century Poland with courage and faith, bestowing a legacy of innate graciousness, humble strength and boundless compassion that spanned class distinctions, rigid systems and time itself.
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