This past November I began using the book Women Saints: 365 Daily Readings as part of my daily spiritual practice. It’s an amazing collection of holy women, not all saints in the official Catholic sense (and some not Catholic at all), but all saints in the universal sense.
There are so many women that I have never heard of in this book. When I first began, it was so exciting to learn about their unique stories. Lately, though, it’s been a sad exercise. I find myself picking up the book and thinking, “hm, I wonder what overlooked woman I’m going to learn about today.”
Being raised Catholic meant that saints were a regular part of our faith practice. Catholic school, studying theology in undergrad… I look back now and see how much I learned about the men we now call saints. The men had fascinating hagiographies with lots of details about their lives and the great things they did. Many women saints would simply be given the title “virgin and martyr,” and the details of their lives were sparse. Sure, there were the occasional women like Teresa of Avila or Claire of Assisi who gained some greater recognition, but so many times these women saints were only spoken of due to their association with a male saint.
Take St. Paula of Rome. The most I had ever read of her was in relation to St. Jerome, who is credited with the first definitive translation of the Bible into Latin (called the Vulgate) and is considered one of the great “Fathers” of the early church. Paula would only be mentioned in passing as the wealthy widowed patron who financially supported him. It wasn’t until I read about her on her feast day (January 26) that I found out she was a scholar in her own right. It turns out she was very well educated, and it is quite probable that her skill at Greek translation was equal to Jerome’s. It’s not a stretch to say that this work that went on to be accepted as the official Bible of the Catholic Church would not have been completed had it not been for Paula of Rome.
It’s sad to think of how many other detailed stories of the saints have been lost along the way, how many examples of faith we don’t have to guide us, because those lives were led by women. It continues to this day.
In spite of the sadness it might bring, I continue the daily readings. I need these women, I need their inspiration and guidance. I need their comforting presence as I continue to heal from the deep hurts I felt as a woman in the Catholic Church.