A Beginning Like Many Others
On November 24, 1844, Adam and Franziska Horhammer Streitel rejoiced at the birth of their first-born daughter Amalia. She was born in Mellrichstadt, Germany, a picturesque town lying in the foothills of the Rhon Mountains and the Thuringian forest. According to the custom of her time, she was baptized on the day of her birth in her parent’s home and named Amalia Frances Rose.
Her parents, who lived a life based on the principles of the Catholic faith, had three other children: Adam, Hermann and Hedwig. The Streitel family manifested their sincere love of God and neighbor through their loving concern for the poor, the sick and the needy. Together they made their home an ideal Catholic family where daily prayer, attendance at Mass and celebration of the feasts of the Church, especially those of the Blessed Virgin Mary, were of fundamental importance.
Although a lively and strong-willed girl, Amalia soon learned self-control and self-discipline through the guidance of her mother, who demanded obedience, punctuality and orderliness in daily living. At an early age, she was taught to perform household tasks and to become skillful in needlework. She was also carefully trained in the manners of her social class. As she grew up, more social obligations were placed upon her, including the prospect of marriage.
Yet as she matured a great hunger began to grow within her–to seek more than social expectations of even marriage. The more she desired was to seek God in a life of service and solitude.
A Heart for God
Amalia’s religious formation began at an early age. When she was two, her mother taught her to make the Sign of the Cross and say little prayers. Amalia was bright and quick to learn, but she was also known for her love of the poorer children around her. There grew within her a deep and true love for God’s people. This led her to believe she was called to a religious life.
She recalled that at the age of nine, she struggled to understand the meaning of Christ’s words, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”
The reception of her First Holy Communion, on April 19, 1857, strengthened her bonding, along with her devotion to the Virgin Mary, which was fostered by her family. In her hometown, Mellrichstadt, of several shrines were dedicated to Mary as Mother of Sorrows.
Her Youth: A Time for Saying “Yes”
After completing her elementary education, Amalia was sent to Augsburg, Germany, to the Franciscan Institute known as Maria Stern. Here she obtained a diploma in French and music.
On September 24, 1857, she received the Sacrament of Confirmation, which confirmed her intuition that she was being called to the religious life. She herself tells us it came to her in a special manner when she reached the age of seventeen. Her notebook merely records: “August 1862, call to convent.”
Though very religious, her parents strongly opposed her desire to enter religious life. They wanted her to marry. A painful conflict continued for four years. It came to a climax when she refused to be introduced to a law student as a possible suitor. She hid in the attic as words had failed to alter her parents’ determination. In this way, Amalia’s intent to respond to God’s call was to devote her life to God alone.
Her Wish Comes True
At last, on September 25, 1866, Amalia entered religious life at the Franciscan Institute of Maria Stern where she was educated in her youth. Her parents had given their consent, provided the convent would not have strict enclosure nor which would engage in the care of the sick. Early on, Amalia told the Superior of her desire to care for the sick. Instead of being granted this preference, she was asked to continue her study of French and music so she could be a teacher.
She entered the novitiate on June 3, 1867, receiving the name of Sr. Angela. A year later she made her profession of religious vows.
Her wish to live a consecrated life had come true, yet she was still struggling with the daily expression of her commitment. In the name of obedience, she asked to teach. She was later appointed superior. After a while, Sr. Angela herself realized that she would need to relinquish her initial zeal and began to live an easier, less ascetical way of life. Like many of the saints, she suffered a long illness, and during that time, reflection and conversion began to shape her future.
She realized she desired to be poor like St. Francis of Assisi, not just in her own life, but to help bring about conversion in the Church and in society. The witness of loving austerity began to guide her and her love for the Crucified Jesus. She strongly perceived a call to live St. Francis’ vision: of both material and spiritual poverty, and love of the Crucified One for the sake of the Church and the entire world. This changed her life.
The Carmelite Convent
In prayer, Sr. Angela clearly became aware that she wanted to have a deeper spiritual union with God. It was through prayer that she understood that God was calling her to a new experience. Therefore, she asked to leave the Institute of Maria Stern and enter the Carmelite convent of Himmelspforten in Wurzburg. This decision to leave Maria Stern and enter the Carmelite convent on January 25, 1882, was made amidst an indescribable interior struggle.
Soon after her entrance into the Carmelite cloister, she received the habit of a novice and the name of “Sr. Petra.” In Carmel, she began a new phase of her life, and peace was restored in her soul.
In one of her letters, she wrote: “I had found in Carmel through prayer and sacrifice what I had sought for years. I had a novitiate. I could be obedient. Often I had occasion to divest myself of the ten years’ superiorship. I became childlike again and came close to the God of my heart.“
Sr. Petra once again gave her all to God; yet, here she soon found herself led into an inner desert where God’s voice became clearer. The journey was not over. A new vision emerged.