Women’s journey in history has had trials and triumphs, setbacks and successes.
St. John Paul II wrote 20 years ago that the path to recognizing women’s contributions to society and their dignity must continue through what he called a “campaign for the promotion of women.”
“I am convinced that the secret of making speedy progress in achieving full respect for women and their identity involves more than simply the condemnation of discrimination and injustices, necessary though this may be,” the late pope wrote in his Letter to Women June 29, 1995. “Such respect must first and foremost be won through an effective and intelligent campaign for the promotion of women, concentrating on all areas of women’s life and beginning with a universal recognition of the dignity of women.”
His message continues today when women are shown admiration and respect for courageously spending their lives fighting for and witnessing for the good of society.
Here are five women the Denver Catholic highlights for their contributions and exemplary lives.
This notable woman in history will be known as the first to be canonized together with her husband, and is an example to how parents play an important role in their children’s human and spiritual upbringing.
Blessed Zélie, wife of Blessed Louis Martin, is mother to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, also known as the “The Little Flower.”
Zélie was born in Gandelain, France on Dec. 23, 1831. She studied under the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and was described as a lively woman, skilled lace maker and committed to giving her heart to Christ.
Although at first wanting to enter religious life, she later met Louis and they married in 1858. They had nine children, four of whom died in infancy. The five who survived, including St. Thérèse, entered religious life.
Their middle class lifestyle was typical at the time in France, but the Martin parents put Mass and confession at the forefront of their lives. They also exercised charity by giving alms to the poor and assisting the sick and dying. Zélie taught their children early on the morning offering to God and accepting daily difficulties in order to please him.
Zélie died of cancer in 1877 at the age of 45. She and her husband were beatified in 2008. Pope Francis will canonize them during the Synod of Bishops on the family in October.
This Italian woman has been called the “gem of Christ” for her mystic experiences, stigmata and profound writings that expressed her love of Christ.
St. Gemma was born on March 12, 1878 in Camigliano, Italy but spent her life in Lucca, Italy. She lost her mother at age 8 and father at age 19, and soon after became ill with spinal meningitis. She experienced a series of visions, encouraging her to make a novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for a cure. On the last day of the novena she was cured.
Writings share how she received inner wounds from Christ and received the stigmata. St. Gemma wrote about extreme pain and difficulty from the wounds on her hands, feet and heart. The suffering continued until 3 p.m. Friday afternoons, the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It was then she began to offer her suffering for the conversion of sinners. She also pleaded with Jesus for souls in purgatory and offered herself as a victim for sinners’ salvation. She became ill with tuberculosis and died in 1903.
St. Gemma was beatified in 1933 and canonized in 1940 for the heroic degree at which she practiced the virtues.
The German-born Jew-turned-Catholic woman Edith Stein, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD, is held as an example for her contributions to philosophy and martyrdom for the faith.
Edith was born to a Jewish family on Oct. 12, 1891 and became an atheist in her teenager years. Moved by the tragedies of World War I, she studied nursing and worked in a hospital to prevent disease outbreaks. She completed her doctoral thesis in 1916 from the University of Göttingen in Germany. At age 30, she picked up an autobiography of St. Teresa of Ávila and was forever changed. She translated St. Thomas Aquinas’ treatise “The Truth” and began to lecture on the education and role of Catholic women. She eventually entered the Church in 1922 when she was baptized.
After the Nazi’s demanded an “Aryan certificate” from residents, St. Edith was forced to quit her teaching position. Desiring to become a Carmelite nun, she entered a monastery in Cologne. She and her sister, also a convert, were sent to the Netherlands for safety but the Nazis arrested her and sent them to the Auschwitz concentration camp. She died in a gas chamber Aug. 9, 1942.
St. Edith was canonized by Pope St. John Paul II in 1998 and is one of six patron saints of Europe.
Gianna Beretta Molla
This Italian woman is exalted for her example of selflessness and balancing a life as a working mom and loving wife.
St. Gianna, born Oct. 4, 1922, was raised in Milan, Italy to devout Christian parents.
She was active among the youth of Catholic Action and charitable works as a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Gianna earned degrees in medicine and surgery and later opened a medical clinic in 1950, specializing in pediatrics.
Gianna met her husband Pietro Molla and married him in 1955. They welcomed four children.
During her fourth pregnancy she developed a fibroma on her uterus. She refused doctor’s advice to save her life by getting an abortion or hysterectomy. Rather she opted to only remove the fibroma to save her unborn baby’s life. She gave birth to a girl but died seven days later at 39 years old. St. Gianna was canonized in 2004.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, has long been venerated by Christians as the most meritorious saint and model for women.
Born under the Tribe of Judah, Mary became betrothed to Joseph. During the Jewish period of betrothal, the angel Gabriel announced she would be the mother of Christ by conceiving him through the Holy Spirit. Mary accepted his will with humility and responded, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to your word.” When Joseph learned of this, he thought of divorcing her, but an angel encouraged him to take Mary as his wife. She later gave birth to Jesus in the humble setting of a stable. She was obedient to Jewish law and presented the Christ child in the temple where he was circumcised.
Mary spent her life by Christ’s side while he performed his first miracle and died on the cross. Mary provides an example of a life of virtue and is the mother of all of God’s creation.