The Church gives thanks for each and every woman.... The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine “genius” which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness.
—Pope John Paul II, The Dignity and Vocation of Women (1988), 31
During this women’s history month, Catholic Extension celebrates the remarkable lives and ministries of women serving the poor throughout the United States. Time and again, we witness the ways that many women—both lay and religious—undertake works of mercy on behalf of people who might otherwise be forgotten.
On a trip to Puerto Rican communities devastated by the recent earthquakes, I was reminded of how often women are at the front lines of serving the poor. We visited the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima, whose Motherhouse in the town of Guánica was badly damaged.
Sister Judith described for us how they began feeling the temblors and rushed their elderly and infirm Sisters out of the building just before much of the ceiling collapsed. These older sisters are residing temporarily in a retreat center near the diocesan offices in Ponce, while those engaged in active ministry are lodging in temporary facilities—tents and small wooden structures—on the grounds of the Motherhouse.
What is remarkable, though, is how these women have carried on their work. “We bring Christ to the family, and the family to Christ,” is their motto. The inconvenience of having to essentially live outdoors indefinitely seems to them little reason to stop doing the work of ministry. In fact, I spoke to two sisters who had just returned from Mexico City, where they had been busily planning a mission congress for representatives from Latin America and the Holy See. These women are perpetually on mission, and so a stint of homelessness was not something they perceived as getting in the way.
At a nearby technical college, we met with sisters and volunteers organizing much needed food, water, and medical supplies for distribution to the many still in need of such basics. They described how many families had been sleeping in cars or in nearby parks for fear of returning to their homes. The earthquakes stretched on for days and days, shuttering schools and businesses and casting a pall of fear over the entire population. Nevertheless, the Sisters—who have been described as the beating heart of Puerto Rico—were on the front lines of service, even as they themselves were going without.
Catholic Extension’s support of these Sisters stretches back many years, and so, through the generosity of our donors, we were able to offer immediate support when we learned of their distress.
Catholic Extension’s president Fr. Jack Wall is fond of observing that you cannot go to the poorest areas of the United States without seeing the presence of women at the heart of the Church’s ministry. We are profoundly grateful for the many women who so often are on the front lines of showing the merciful face of Christ.
The Feminine Genius: In her own words
Women like the Dominican Sisters are in many under-resourced places the very backbone of the Church, and are part of a long line of important female figures who have shaped Church history.
This month we are launching “31 Days of The Feminine Genius,” a new daily devotional series which invites people to celebrate extraordinary women in Catholic history. From doctors of the Church like St. Catherine of Sienna to modern saints like Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, to contemporary Catholic women like the Dominican Sisters, who are transforming lives across the United States, these “Feminine Geniuses” offer inspiring examples of faith.
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