Saints - then and now - in and outside of the church

9 years ago

The idea of sainthood has been on my mind all week. I remember sitting in the back of our Polish Roman Catholic church as a kid, reading my St Joseph's Daily Missal. This was pre-Vatican II, when the masses were still in Latin, the incense was heavy, the nuns were tyrants who must be obeyed and the priests could do no wrong.

Even as a little girl I noticed that the church was a male place, unless you wanted to be a nun or join the Altar Guild, or cook pierogis for the fund raisers or join the Rosary Sodality. But in the back of my St Joseph's Daily Missal, there was a section called "Proper of the Saints" that had a few sentences about every saint listed under a given name-day (a day on the calendar during which that saint, or one named for him/her would be specially revered.)

So I would read about women saints.

I loved reading about the saints as the incense swirled overhead and the chanting in Latin filled the background with a soft blurry sound, punctuated by the occasional tinkling of bells.

In retrospect, some of this was pretty grisly reading -- women who were killed because they would not surrender their virginity (having pledged their purity forever to God) like St Agnes, or women who were killed for being Christian like St Barbara who was beheaded by her own father. But then there was also St Teresa of Avila who founded her own convent, the Discalced (shoeless) Carmelites after attracting much attention for her writings about inward prayer, and the belief that the only good prayer was one which leads to good action. Or St Gertrude, the patron saint of gardeners.

They were women who had made some sort of inspiring statement, who had not been frightened to stand out from the crowd. They had the courage of their convictions. They were true to their faith, their vision, their principles. They were women making noise in the silence of women's history. I may not have seen women at the altar, but there in the buzz of summer's heat, in the back of an un-air-conditioned church in the 1950's, I would lose myself in the readings about women who had done inspiring things and been honored for it.

Now, lets expand the borders of what a saint can be beyond the boundaries of a church. Let's look at Women Who Inspire Our Spirits.

Who are your spiritual or inspirational foremothers? I am not talking about people related to you, but women outside of your daily life who inspired and shaped you? Who are the women in history who lifted your eyes to new possibilities, whose life inspired you? If you could invite five of them over for brunch, who would they be? (Living or dead is fine, but it cannot be a woman from fiction..) Here is my invitation list:

1. Dorothy Day -- the journalist turned activist in the Great Depression in NYC. She began the Catholic Worker movement and published a pacifist newsletter of the same name. She was also an advocate of women's rights.

2. Marie Curie She was Polish, raised without priviledge and a genius. She was denied a place on the faculty of Krakov University because she was a woman. So, she returned to Paris where she had studied and within a few years received the first of her Nobel prizes.

3.Sojourner Truth a former slave who fought all the systems of the day to locate and retrieve her son from slavery. She wrote her memoirs. became a traveling preacher and public speaker advocating freedom for all. At the conclusion of the Civil War, she was a tireless advocate for the rights of all newly freed slaves. Her words, "ain't I a woman?" electrified me.

4. Leontyne Price whose recording of Aida sung at the Metropolitan Opera awoke something in me that I may not ever be able to define. She was the first African-American opera star, and she was noble and gentle at the same time. Born in the segregated South, she became a success at home and abroad.

5. Lucille Ball, because she made me laugh. And she made the world laugh without having to denigrate anyone. Although she was a comedic genius and business genius, her teachers told her that she had no future at all as a performer.

As I look back at my list, they are all rebellious women. If my mother were here, she'd say-- "and what about that surprises you?" Then she'd laugh and laugh.

Who is on your list?


Noorjehaan in South Africa, lightheartedly says that Marie Antoinette is the famous person in history that she most resembles.

Kicklighters mentions several games that her group played involving famous women - she describes the first one:

Everyone got a sticker on their back when they arrived. The sticker had a famous woman's name on it. You know the drill: you ask yes or no questions and guess who you are - hopefully introducing yourself to others as you go along. It was hilarious and was our way of breaking the women up into teams for the evening. Teams ended up being: Famous Woman from History; Women Movie Stars; Bad Girls of the Bible

Sarah Conner is an intern for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International in Rwanda, her blog speaks of Dian Fossey and her work, and the position of women in Rwanda.

Mata H is a CE for Religion and Spirituality. her home blog Time's Fool is where her soul shakes itself out and stretches.

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