by Catherine Michaud CSJ
In March (2016) Pope Francis announced the qualification of a married couple for canonization: Louis and Zelie Martin, St. Therese of Lisieux’s parents. He opened our imaginations to the myriad mystics and saints who have not been named, much less celebrated by the Church. During their lifetimes they were exemplars of prayerfulness, deep faith, transforming love, and courageous action, in a word: holiness.
On May 7 Loyola Spirituality Center’s Taste and See Series came to a close with a day-long workshop celebrating “Unsung Women Saints and Mystics.” The workshop’s theme arose at last year’s event on “Women Saints and Mystics” with the question: “Why are most of these saints and mystics celibate, vowed religious women?” Indeed, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, Mechthild of Magdeburg, and Therese of Lisieux are among the best known and most celebrated saints and mystics in Christianity, perhaps in part because they left behind a treasury of spiritual writings that extend their teachings on prayer and holiness into the present.
Therese of Lisieux, a Carmelite nun, even though she died very young, produced a significant theological treatise that no doubt made her parents proud—but they themselves left no such legacy. They are remembered mostly for rearing a family of daughters who all dedicated their lives to the Church; the youngest shone most brightly as the model of holiness achieved by her exquisite attention to the little, seemingly most insignificant, acts of love and spiritual generosity. Louis and Zelie were her teachers.
The officially beatified or canonized saints of the Catholic Church are recognized for their “heroic virtues,” not for the mystical gifts they may have received, or for extraordinary spiritual gifts such as heavenly messages, visions, stigmata, or prophesies that helped their faith to grow. The Church is concerned, rather, with the “heroic virtues” by which the saints have contributed to the transformation of the world. The criterion for sainthood is a lifetime of extraordinary faith and love.
Who are some of the unsung saints and mystics whom we met in the Taste and See workshop? These are but a few of the “heroically virtuous” women we celebrated: Edel Quinn (1907-1944) from Ireland’s County Cork, founder of the Legion of Mary; Eleanor Josaitis (1931–2011), busy mother and social activist who, with Fr. William Cunningham, co-founded Focus: HOPE in 1968 to fund and run practical programs that immediately benefited women and minorities; Laura Bassi (1711-1778), mother of 12 children, a very educated and cultivated woman who loved the sciences, who devoted her life to teaching and scientific research, and was the first woman of the world named Professor and Chair at the University of Bologna (the first University founded by the Catholic Church in the 12th century)(Wikipedia); Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe (1919-2001),a convert to Catholicism at 21, a celebrated, influential moral philosopher of the 20th century and founder of the contemporary school of Philosophy of Action.
Only these few can be mentioned here for want of space, but Maria Morera Johnson has produced a delightful book of “courageous women who,” she says, “showed her how to live.” She discusses twenty-four of her mentors who lived their spirituality with “bravery, integrity, selflessness, perseverance, and hope” in her book entitled My Awesome, Beautiful, Badass Book of Saints. All of the saints and mystics share the virtue of courage in the face of formidable obstacles that makes them “heroic,” and usually “troublesome” for the status quo!
Catherine is a spiritual director at Loyola Read her bio here