by Delores Riley
Blessed Mary Angela, baptized as Sophia Camille, was born in Kalisz, Poland on May 16, 1825. Her parents, Joseph and Josephine Truszkowski were well educated, devout Catholics from noble families of the landed gentry. Sophia was a highly intelligent, generous, vivacious but frail child. She began her education at home under a private tutor. When the family moved to Warsaw in 1837, Sophia was enrolled in the then prestigious Academy of Madame Guerin. Because of ill health, Sophia was soon withdrawn from the Academy and continued her education at home where she availed herself of her father’s vast library. She read extensively and, with profound insight, studied the causes and effects of contemporary social problems. Her father, in sharing his experiences as judge in the juvenile courts, broadened her knowledge of the social evils of her day. He helped to shape her sense of justice in an unjust world.
From her childhood, Sophia was drawn to prayer and genuine concern for others; but it was in 1848 at the age of 23 that she experienced a great change in her spiritual life which she herself called her “conversion.” This was the beginning of a more intensive interior life which manifested itself in a growing devotion to the Holy Eucharist, a greater love of prayer and a more ascetic life. She seriously considered joining the cloistered Visitation Sisters but her confessor advised her not to leave her ailing father. Later, while traveling through Germany, Sophia was so enlightened by the Lord during her prayer in the Cathedral of Cologne that, despite her love of prayer and solitude, she was destined to go among the suffering poor and to serve Christ in them through prayer and sacrifice. She became a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. During the day she worked zealously for the cause of the poor and at night she prayed, constantly searching for God’s will for herself.
Eventually Sophia discovered her path and forged ahead independently. Acknowledging that the evils of her day were due to broken families, a licentious society and a lack of religious and moral training, she undertook the moral and religious education of poor neglected children, gradually extending her spacious heart to the downtrodden, the exploited, the aged and homeless. With her father’s financial help and her cousin Clothide’s assistance, she rented two attic rooms. This center then became the acclaimed “Institute of Sophia Truszkowska.” Here, before a Statue of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Sophia – now named Angela – together with Clothide, solemnly dedicated themselves on the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, November 21, 1855, to do the will of her Son, Jesus Christ, in all things. Hereafter, this was recorded as the official founding day of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice.
Mother Angela was not only a deeply spiritual woman but a truly enlightened woman of her day. Her community, unique to the then traditional religious life in Poland, was innovative in pioneering nontraditional leadership roles for women. Mother Angela envisioned service for God’s kingdom on earth as all-embracing. When the Church called, the Felician Sisters responded. The myriad of ministries in which they engaged ranged from social and catechetical centers to converted make-shift hospitals for the wounded guerrilla fighters, including Russian and Polish soldiers – the oppressors with the oppressed – with a charity that made no distinctions.
For three successive terms, Mother Angela was elected as superior general of the Congregation. Her desire to multiply herself a thousand times and travel to all parts of the world, to live God’s love and teach his merciful love to all living souls was realized in God’s own way. At the age of 44, at the peak of her human competency, the Foundress moved aside and placed her Congregation in the hands of another. She abandoned herself to God’s will and for 30 long years she lived in complete contemplativeness all the while suffering progressive deafness, malignant tumors, and excruciating headaches.
Despite the fact that she retired into the background, her concern for the sisters remained very much alive. As foundress and mother of the Congregation, she heartily endorsed the plan to send sisters to America and personally blessed the five pioneers as they left in 1874. Her submission to God’s will gradually brought her to a complete union with Him. Her lasting legacy of love is the childlike love and imitation of the virtues of Mary, and the Eucharistic spirituality which she bequeathed to her spiritual daughters as a way of life. To this day every Provincial House of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice has the privilege of public exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the day.
Mother Mary Angela died on October 10, 1899. Her face, ravaged by suffering, in death took on an expression of peace and quiet dignity. Victory over death shone in the gentle countenance of her face, and the sisters claimed that she was so beautiful and pleasing to look at that they could scarcely take their eyes from her. By special authorization of the municipality of Kracow, Mother Mary Angela Truszkowska was buried in the chapel adjoining the convent of the Felician Sisters.
Today, Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska remains an example of true femininity, a woman of conviction; a woman who has dared to be prophetic; a religious who has inspired and challenged many to action and contemplation.
The Felician Sisters have always sought to harmonize a deep spiritual and community life with dedication to diverse acts of mercy. In North America, the Felician Sisters have ministered primarily to Polish Americans since their arrival from Poland in 1874. Most Felician Sisters maintain the religious garb of their Foundress, Blessed Mary Angela Truszkowska, consisting of a brown habit (beige during summer months), scapular, (jacket at specified times), headdress, black veil, collar, Felician wooden crucifix suspended on tape or cord, and simple ring received at final profession. This remains a discipline in the Krakow, Przemysl and Warsaw provinces in Poland, and a treasured tradition in the Livonia, Michigan and Enfield, Connecticut provinces in North America. Their Foundress, Mother Mary Angela Truszkowska, was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1993.
Foot note: As I began the research into the life of Blessed Mary Angela, I began to think back on the fact that my mother’s family had migrated from Poland around the beginning of the 20th century and settled in St. Michael’s Parish, Est. 1906, in Lynn, Mass. My mother was baptized “Sophia” at St. Michael’s Church in Lynn, MA. She was educated by the Felician Sisters at St. Michael’s School and received all her sacraments there and was married at St. Michael’s Church. At the time of my Baptism at St. Michael’s, she gave me the middle name of Camille. My mother loved the Felician Sisters and I heard many stories over and over about the dear Sisters of St. Michaels and their foundress, Sophia Camille Truszkowski (Sister Mary Angela). On a sad note, St. Michaels Church was one of several churches closed by the Archdiocese of Boston on June 26, 2006 during a legal crisis in the Boston area when many churches were closed. On a trip to the area recently we learned that St. Michaels Church, although locked by the Archdiocese of Boston, has remained intact minus the altar and sanctuary and maintained on the outside by the devoted sons and daughters and grandchildren of the Polish immigrants, who built the Church. The Church had been freshly painted by the faithful at the time of our visit and the grounds are impeccably maintained weekly by the faithful who pray constantly that the Church will someday be an active Catholic Church once again.
Mother Mary Angela, pray for us
and for those patient and devoted people of St. Michael’s Church.