Women in Church Leadership
Celebrating Women Witnesses
MORE! Celebrating Women Witnesses

Women Witnesses Sequel

Back by popular demand, a sequel to the highly successful Celebrating Women Witnesses project is now completed. The new resource contains essays and prayer services about seventeen additional women witnesses suggested by the women and men who loved the first packet. Subtitled A Project to Redisover Women Leaders in the Catholic Church the essays provide a fresh look at women of faith both contemporary and ancient, including: Phoebe, Brigid of Kildare, Henriette de Lille, Hildegard of Bingen, Joan of Arc, Mary Ward, Penny Lernoux, Perpetua and Felicity, Mary Ward, Edith Stein, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the four North American churchwomen martyred in El Salvador and a new category Anonymous Women. Original art by Eileen Cantlin Verbus accompanies each essay and FutureChurch is pleased once again
to partner the project with Call to Action and its 41 regional affiliates.

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More! Celebrating Women Witnesses At A Glance

Anonymous Women
Women's perspectives, values, stories and contributions have not been included in the historical record because they had no power and were considered to have limited value and importance. Who are the anonymous ones? They are women who see the fissure between Gospel justice and the failing solutions of the day who, through these small openings, see not only the possibility but also the means for making change happen. And then, they do it! Who are these anonymous ones? They are your mother, your grandmother, your ancestor long ago, your sister, your friend, your sister in solidarity halfway across the world, your neighbor across the way. What is herstory? Herstory is your story.

Joan of Arc
Joan was not only young and female, she was also a peasant and illiterate. Still, none of these "limitations" ever stopped her from following her call, as crazy as it might have seemed to the rest of the world. She has been described as strong-willed and purposeful, bordering on stubborn. Those qualities are highly prized by independent young women today, and the fact that they are held up in a young woman from our history is encouraging. But the hierarchical church is hardly known for its love of defiant young women who speak their minds and contradict church authorities. It's more than a little ironic that a woman burned for insisting on the primacy of her own experience has been held up as a model of loyalty to the institutional church. It certainly didn't escape the notice of the devil's advocates who argued against her canonization. And it hasn't gone unnoticed by contemporary women who see her as a role model for trusting one's inner voice.

Hildegard of Bingen
Between 1158 and 1163, Hildegard journeyed throughout Germany on three major preaching tours. Such unusual activity for a medieval woman points to the prestige Hildegard had gained as a visionary, seer and healer. She was genuinely dismayed by what she viewed as the corruption of her own time. Hildegard summed up her prophetic vocation by repeating what is stated many times over in her writings: "This time is a womanish time, because the dispensation of God's justice is weak. But the strength of God's justice is exerting itself, a female warrior battling against injustice, so that it might fall defeated" (Letter 23). Hildegard doubtless understood herself as this female warrior, the personification of God's justice. She was a woman of incredible strength, courage and brilliance in whom injustice met a most formidable enemy.

Brigit of Kildare
As Ireland's preeminent advocate of women's roles, Brigit was a courageous and energetic risk taker, healer, abbess with wonderworking powers, administrator, and missionary. Saint Mel, bishop of Ardagh, is said to have ordained her a bishop. Irish bishops customarily sat at the feet of her successors until the Synod of Kells ended this custom in 1152. The office of monastic bishop was peculiar to Irish law, and indicates the powerful positions held by abbots and abbesses of the great monasteries in the Irish Church. Brigit's Celtic soul is a rich lodestone of the Celtic feminine which continues to challenge each new generation.

Our Lady of Guadalupe
By identifying herself as "Mother of the true God through whom one lives," Guadalupe connects herself with the supreme creative power, that is, the creative and creating presence. She is a symbol of a new creation, a new people. The drama of Guadalupe addresses a deep need for dignity and restoration of self- a self that reflects the image and likeness of the Creator. The Guadalupe encounter speaks of unconditional love and a people's place in salvific history. Perhaps most significantly, it affirms a need to experience the maternal face of God. Wherever there are crucified peoples and pharaohs standing on the necks of the oppressed, there will be a need to hear the significant message of Guadalupe. Her encounter is a moment in which God, who is both father and mother, addresses us directly and invites us to let our hearts be moved toward healing, reconciling, sustaining, and loving.

Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel
The destinies of these four women were joined together in just the last months of their lives. Murdered together by National Guardsmen in El Salvador in 1980, their deaths became a martyrdom for the church of the poor in El Salvador and for thousands of Christians in the United States. The women did what Jesus of Nazareth did, and what he told us we should do - they loved the poor, and laid down their lives for them. They became martyrs, which also means "witnesses." Their stories, their names recited together now as a litany, speak to us on the most profound levels of faith - the meaning of the Christian journey, the meaning of discipleship, cross, and resurrection.

Penny Lernoux
For 27 years, Penny Lernoux worked as a journalist in Latin America. She sent her stories back to the United States, writing of corruption and violence, torture and oppression. It was not a pretty world. Those she visited were filthy from poverty and gaunt from hunger. Yet she found beauty in the faces of the poor, saw how they imaged Christ perhaps more than anyone she had met. And she knew their stories must be told, particularly to the wealthy and powerful of North America. A change must come, and she did her best to bring it about. Her factual and statistical accounting of human loss and suffering in the 500-page Cry of the People book is simply overwhelming. Penny exposed the corruption of U.S. financial institutions in her book In Banks We Trust, (1986) and examined the struggle of the Catholic Church in Latin America and the world in People of God: The Struggle for World Catholicism (1989).

Perpetua and Felicity
Perpetua and Felicity were memorialized in the Roman canon of the Mass as two of the most important early Christian martyrs, their courage and devotion to their faith being held up as exemplary for imitation. Taking into consideration Perpetua's female leadership, and her partnering with the slave Felicity in their imprisonment and martyrdom, we know that certain groups in the church of the early third century continued to give credence to Paul's famous injunction in his letter to the Galatians: "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:27-28).

Phoebe
Sister, deacon, benefactor. Missionary, evangelist, fund-raiser. There can be no doubt about Phoebe's leadership in the church. Phoebe's emergence as a leader from the midst of a community struggling with division and liturgical turmoil makes her an especially significant model in our day. Into the midst of the Romans' infighting and disputes over dietary laws, Phoebe brought the message of Christ's liberating self-sacrifice. Her own presence and her delivery of Paul's astounding epistle urged the community toward unity, patience, mutual respect, and trust in the loving providence of God. As she came from the Cenchreae, the eastern port of Corinth, she most likely had endured a similar struggle in her own community. She carried in her experience and ministry a living message of the "more excellent way," the way of love (1 Cor 13:31). And what is more necessary in our day, or in any day, than love? Especially Phoebe's kind of love. Not the love of empty sentiment, but the love of courageous deeds, generous aid, and servant-leadership.

Edith Stein
Edith Stein was an internationally celebrated philosopher, author, lecturer and women's advocate. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family, she converted to Catholicism and eventually became a Carmelite nun. She raised a loud voice against injustice, especially when directed toward women and the Jewish people, yet she herself was the victim of discrimination and ultimately, extermination. While never labeling herself as a feminist, Edith s goal was to correct and improve upon the progress made by the feminist movement that had begun thirty years earlier. She presented her philosophical perspectives, lobbying especially for an educational system that would reflect and enhance women's unique, loving nature and quest for wholeness, rather than a mostly male-dominated intellectual curriculum taught only by men. After the first world war, most women in Germany were forced to work outside the home. Edith fully supported this, in opposition to the encyclicals of Pope Pius XI. She states that ordination to the priesthood for women cannot be forbidden by dogma, and declares in present canon law equality between man and woman is out of the question.

Mary Ward
In 1631 the Vatican Inquisition called her "a heretic, a schismatic, a rebel against holy Church" and had her thrown into prison. 320 year later, Pope Pius XII called her "that incomparable woman given…to the Church in one of the darkest, most blood-stained periods of history." She might well be the model and patron saint of every woman or man who dares in good faith to dissent on particular declarations of official Church policy. Ward's dissent was deliberate, quite public and increasingly controversial for more than 21 years. It was also extraordinarily effective. Mary Ward dissented not out of pride or malice but of concern for the pastoral needs of Catholics that were not being met at the time.

Original Women Witnesses Effort Thriving

In the meantime the original Celebrating Women Witness project continues to have a life of its own, with over 4000 enthusiastic participants hailing from as far away as Cork, Ireland and as nearby as Farmington Hills, Michigan. This project contains essays and prayer services about Mary of Nazareth, Clare of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Dorothy Day, Prisca, the Beguines, Angela Merici, Julian of Norwich, Thea Bowman, Sor Juana, Mary of Magdala and Therese of Lisieux.

Parishes, small faith communities, spirituality groups, Catholic teachers and retreat centers are sponsoring Women Witnesses prayer services, discussion groups, feminist liturgies and education days. Many publish essay excerpts each month in parish bulletins and newsletters. Others have used the resource for Black History Month, Womens History Month and Mary of Magdala celebrations. Teachers and parents find materials especially helpful in programs for girls and young women at school and diocesan education days. In Farmington Hills, Michigan one group made posters with reflections for each of the women as a walk around for a community meeting.

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Packet contents:

Essays and prayer services

Anonymous Women

Karen Flotte

Joan of Arc

Heidi Schlumpf

Brigid of Kildare

Bridget Mary Meehan, sfcc

Henriette Delille

Christine Schenk csj

Hildegard of Bingen

Joan Nuth

Our Lady of Guadelupe

Jeannette Rodriguez

Penny Lernoux

Tara Dix

Perpetua and Felicity

Joan Nuth

Phoebe

Claire Noonan

Edith Stein

Nancy Flaherty

Mary Ward

Robert McClory

Jean Donovan and Dorothy Kazel

Religious Task Force on Central America

Ita Ford and Maura Clark

Religious Task Force on Central America

 

Brochures

 

What's the Good Word on Lay Preaching

Barbara Ballenger

Women in the Lectionary

Christine Schenk, csj

(includes Holy Week prayer service for celebrating Jesus' women disciples)

 

 
Other materials


How to use this packet


Scripture Readings that Subordinate Women… Make Sure they Don’t happen in your Parish