The Women Who Came Before Us

This past weekend I gave a women’s retreat day in my parish, St. Hubert’s in Chanhassen. We spent the day walking with Women of the Bible, Women Mystics of the Church, and Latter-Day Women “Saints.” (I put “Saints” in quotes to signify my broad use of the term to include women who have not been formally canonized as well as those who have been.) These women who both came before us and walk beside us, demonstrated great faith, courage, determination and strength, and are a wonderful source of encouragement and inspiration for women of today.

Part of the challenge for me in preparing this retreat day was selecting which women to include in each of the three sessions. The most difficult for me was deciding which “Latter-Day Women Saints” to talk about. How to choose several from among all of the amazing women who have paved our way? Ultimately, I decided on four women for this segment: Edith Stein, Dorothy Day, Sr. Thea Bowman and Elizabeth Ann Seton.

There are many striking things about each of these women. One of the things that I found interesting is learning the different circumstances that helped form their spiritual development. For Edith, depression led her to pick up the autobiography of Teresa of Avala, a book that was life-changing for her and that ultimately led her to convert from Judaism to Catholicism. For Thea, who ultimately became a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, the poor quality of public schools in Mississippi in the 1940s (especially for blacks) led her parents to enroll her in a Catholic school staffed by these Franciscan Sisters, who were sent from Wisconsin to Mississippi. For Elizabeth Ann Seton spending time with a Catholic family in Italy following the death of her husband led to her conversion from the Episcopal faith in which she was raised to Catholicism.

Dorothy Day is interesting in a different way. Many people who have turned away from God find their way back to God because of some tragedy in their lives. For Day, it was a joyful event that turned her to God – the birth of her daughter, Tamar. Day wrote:

No human creature would receive or contain so vast a flood of love and joy as I often felt after the birth of my child. With this came the need to worship and adore…It was because of this, through a whole love, both physical and spiritual, I came to know God.

Whatever their story, these women and so many more, model for us ways of working with God to provide change in the world. We walk in all of their footsteps.