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After all, it was a young woman, a girl, really, whose “yes” to God set the Incarnation in motion, making Mary not only the Mother of God but Jesus’ first disciple and a role model for men and women through the ages.

Walking in Mary’s footsteps are countless other Christian women who have taken the Gospel call to heart, who have said, “Yes,” without hesitation and have poured out their lives on behalf of others, on behalf of us. Before we even leave the pages of the New Testament, we witness the faith of the holy women who were among Jesus’ closest friends: Martha and Mary, who often hosted Jesus at their home in Bethany, and had faith enough to know that if He but said the word, Jesus could raise their brother, Lazarus, from the dead—and Mary Magdalene, who followed Jesus to the foot of the cross and was the first to witness His Resurrection.

These women and so many others who came after them have given generation after generation atemplate for deep faith, a roadmap to heaven, a pathway to Christian love and charity lived out in the world. Think of the schools and hospitals that had their beginnings in the work of great women like Mother Cabrini. Look at the compassion and selflessness that flowed out of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, and Catherine de Hueck Doherty, founder of Madonna House.

Although these women may feel far removed from our busy modern lives, they can provide for us not only examples of what it means to believe, but of how to put those beliefs into practice through prayer and service. And, of course, they offer inspiration, consolation, and comfort as we walk—and sometimes stumble—along the path of faith.

Compassionate Trailblazers
Though today we are used to women rising to professional heights in the fields of business, education,politics and more, blogger Elizabeth Scalia notes, “This is a phenomenon of the last 100-plus years. Prior to that, the great majority of educated and accomplished women in history were Catholic Religious who conceived completely original ideas and ran with them.”

Scalia continues, “Think of Elizabeth Ann Seton, a widow with five children…conceiving of Catholic education, and essentially inventing a means for the children of poor immigrants to become educated and competitive in the new world. Think of Henriette Delille, the daughter of freed slaves, and Katherine Drexel, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, both founding individual orders of women who spent their time and energy building schools and hospitals for Native Americans and blacks in the deep south…And Rose Hawthorne founded an order of nuns who take care of cancer patients, free of charge.…[Other than the Church] there has been no institution in history which has given women such free reign to create, explore, discover, serve, manage, build, expand.”

One of the most recent examples is St. Marianne Cope, who was canonized on Oct. 21, 2012. Born in 1838, she became a Franciscan nun who helped open two new hospitals in New York. As explained by writer Kathy Schiffer, “Unlike other hospitals of the time, the Franciscan hospitals stipulated in their Charter that medical care was to be provided to all, regardless of race or creed…Sister Marianne was often criticized for accepting into treatment ‘outcast’ patients such as alcoholics, who were spurned by hospitals at the time; but she was wellknown and loved among New Yorkers for her kindness, wisdom and down-to-earth practicality.”

When St. Marianne was asked to help run hospitals and schools for lepers in Hawaii in 1883, she gladly left New York for this new mission. With a compassionate heart and positive attitude, she cared for adults and children abandoned by the world because of their disease until her death of natural causes in 1918.

Spiritual Companions
For Maria de Lourdes Ruiz Scaperlanda—author, wife, mother of four, and “abuela” to little Elena— two names come to mind when she thinks of inspirational women in Church history: St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Edith Stein.

St. Thérèse, popularly known as the “Little Flower,” wrote the classic The Story of a Soul and is known for her spirituality of the “Little Way,” doing small things as acts of love. Although she died in 1897 at age 24, the Carmelite sister remains one of the most popular female figures in Catholic spirituality and is a Doctor of the Church. Edith Stein, known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was also a Carmelite nun, as well as a gifted writer and philosopher. A convert to Catholicism from Judaism, the German nun died in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942.

“For me, reading their stories is…about connecting to how they found God, and how that can help me in my journey to and with God,” says Scaperlanda. “Thérèse of Lisieux inspires and challenges me because of her emphasis on making the small, everyday things holy.” As an example, Scaperlanda recalls sitting by the window with her little granddaughter Elena, who blew kisses to everyone she saw. “She was making her world holy with her love!” Scaperlanda says.

Regarding Edith Stein, about whom she has written a biography, Scaperlanda says she was at first intimidated by the saint’s brilliance, but soon discovered the generous heart underneath. That is what we must do when we’re attempting to take spiritual cues from saints who can seem so far above us. It’s easy to dismiss some of the great women saints because they seem far too holy for the average person, but they were real people with real struggles.


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