No matter if you were born Catholic or embraced the faith later in life, you get to be equally part of this giant crazy family we call the Church. Just like any ancestral tree we have the good, the bad, and the crazy (it’s been 2000 years – there was going to be some crazy.)
My personal favorite stories to tell are about the women I think of as the grand-aunties. The women you would want to have in your corner. The ones who will sometimes tell you everything is going to be ok, and sometimes tell you that you need to buck up and get it in gear (*cough* St. Catherine of Siena *cough*).
Come meet some of the women in your family!
St. Hildegard of Bingen
If you ever think the idea of giving 10% in tithing to the church is intense, wait until you hear what happened to Hildegard of Bingen! As the tenth child in her family, Hildegard herself was tithed to the church (really).
She was given to an anchoress, and thus entered monastic life, at the age of eight. Although she experienced mystical visions since childhood, Hildegard did not write down any of the poetry or prose from her visions until she was 43 years old. Even when she was convinced of the divine source of her visions, she did not publish any of her writings until she had the support of St. Bernard – the most influential intellect of the day. She would eventually correspond with multiple popes, archbishops, bishops, emperors, and statesmen.
Her writings would cover more than just her visions. She has one of the largest repertoires of any medieval composer with about 80 surviving works. She created beautiful artwork, multiple scientific treatises, and didn’t say away from hard topics like sexuality.
Patroness of: So newly canonized that there is not an official list yet! Options proposed on the internet include the environment, female scientists, culinary arts, and Catholic nerds.
What I Would Talk to Her About: Having a rich inner creative life, even when circumstances do not lend themselves to showing those creative fruits to others yet. She pursued interests that some would argue she was unqualified to be addressing, but did it so well her work remains influential.
This would be the aunt I would go to about pushing my creative and intellectual boundaries. She would be the aunt who would put a new spin on my concerns and help me see the problem from a new perspective.
St. Edith Stein
Born into an observant Jewish family, Edith was a proclaimed atheist by her teens. She earned a doctoral degree in Philosophy with a focus on Phenomenology. She had an uphill battling working in a male dominated field. While she was considered a faculty member as a teaching assistant, her habilitational thesis submitted to two universities in order to secure a position as an academic chair were both rejected due to her being a woman and a Jew.
During the summer holidays in 1921 she came across the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila in her friend’s library. She stayed up through the night reading the book, and when morning dawned Edith proclaimed that, “This is the truth.” Edith was baptized into the Catholic Church just a few months later, but her spiritual advisers convinced her not to immediately join the religious life as she desired. She continued as a Philosopher and worked as a lecturer until the rise of the Nazi party forced her to resign her post.
She entered the Discalced Carmelites and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and continued her philosophical writings. But even being a Catholic nun could not protect Edith from the horrors of Nazism. In retaliation for anti-Nazi statements by the Catholic bishops in the Netherlands, all Jewish converts were ordered to be arrested. Edith was eventually sent to Auschwitz and she died in the gas chambers.
Patroness of: Europe, loss of parents, converted Jews, martyrs, World Youth Day
What I Would Talk to Her About: Edith Stein has always struck me as the woman you go to if you want a well reasoned answer. There was no great miracle, fireworks kind of conversion for her, but an openness to seeing truth where truth lives. She would be the aunt who stands by you to do the right thing, and helps you make those little every day steps to understanding why.
St. Frances of Rome
Sometimes we can’t get what we want and we have to make do. Frances of Rome was a master of making do.
She wanted to be a nun more than anything, but her father arranged a marriage for her. She did not fit well into the life of wife to a nobleman. The parties and social life was the antithesis of her introverted tendencies, and her in-laws were less than understanding of her struggles.
One day her sister-in-law found her crying, and Frances confided in her. The sister-in-law had been longing for holiness too and the two resolved to help each other. They performed acts of piety and charity together while happily serving in their vocations as wives and mothers. Frances was loyal to her husband until his death, and her example brought about the conversion of many of her family members.
Patroness of: motorists and widows
What I Would Talk to Her About: Carrying the crosses of circumstance! We all have those things in our lives that are the complete opposite of what we dreamed for or would have chosen. Frances of Rome did a beautiful job of living out the vocation she had in the circumstances given. She was not stoic about it, she suffered and struggled to accept her cross, but I love that she found ways to live her life joyfully in the end.
Sometimes you just need the lady who’s seen it all and lived to tell the tale. St. Monica knows all about the trials of life. She had an unfaithful husband with an anger problem, an antagonistic live-in mother-in-law, and Monica herself struggled with alcoholism. Her best known child, Augustine, became a heretic while away at school and fathered a child out of wedlock.
Monica’s persistence in both her own faith and in her prayers for her family is credited for the conversion of her husband and eventual bringing of Augustine back to the faith (who would eventually become a bishop, hugely important philosopher and theologian, and a Doctor of the Church.)
Patroness of: Difficult marriages, alcoholics, disappointing children, victims of adultery or unfaithfulness, victims of (verbal) abuse, and conversion of relatives
What I Would Talk to Her About: How someone gets through years of multiple situations that with just one alone would make many people grouchy and jaded.
Monica did not try to hide that many years of her life were very painful. She did not get through those years alone. As she followed Augustine she made friends and built support systems. She did not wallow in “woe is me” at all of the very real trials in her life. Monica exemplifies the small everyday sacrifices and sufferings that are necessary to make room for the big changes.
What I find attractive about all of these women is that none of them lived the life they thought they would. All of them went through trials, and experienced disappointment and heartache.
They are not the “saintly” saint who is perfect from childhood and does no wrong (in fact we’re a bit short on those). Not many people would have picked out the alcoholic mom, the atheistic philosopher, the strong-willed kid, or the unhappy wife as future saints.
As Catholic women, we have a heavenly heritage of ancestors who know what it is to struggle, to try again, and to fail. If you have a particular struggle in your life, especially one that has dogged you for years, search out a saint. I’m willing to bet there is one of your Catholic aunties who has been there, done that, and is ready to be on your team!
Who are some of your favorite Catholic “aunties”?