When you think of female saints, who are the first women that come to your mind? (Actually stop and name those five!)
When I stop to consider five female saints, I think of St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Teresa of Calcutta (aka Mother Teresa), St. Agnes, and St. Clare.
If you go back over the list that you just made, there's a good chance that the majority of the saints you picked were religious sisters. (Four out of my five were!)
Was Every Female Saint a Nun?
I think it's safe to say that the majority of women saints most familiar to us were members of religious orders, who lived in cultures and circumstances vastly different from our 21st-century lives.
Quite a few died of horrible diseases that have since been cured, fled from arranged marriage proposals (not quite so common these days), or submitted themselves to such extreme physical penances that their health was severely compromised (not recommended).
Don't misunderstand me. I dearly love the women religious saints of history and their timeless wisdom. I read their stories and ask for their intercession for various needs!
Lately, however, I've been feeling a bit frustrated and discouraged at the perceived lack of relatable role models.
As a young married woman who discerned religious life for quite some time, I have been feeling a need to seek out saintly laywomen who were truly immersed "in the world but not of it": women who could inspire me in my nine to five marketing job and encourage me in my homemaking.
This quest was much easier said than done...until I was walking through The Catholic Company warehouse just before Christmas one year and stumbled across a pretty incredible book.
Saintly Women of Modern Times by John Carroll Cruz presents the stories of seventy-five Saints, Blesseds, Venerables, and Servants of God who were not only laywomen—they also lived in the 20th century!
The women whose stories I share briefly below were truly daughters of the Kingdom. Many were wives, and often also mothers, though quite a few remained single and dedicated themselves whole-hearted to serving the church under the guidance of a spiritual director or a diocese.
Many worked desk jobs, performed manual labor, or had to balance both serving the church and building domestic churches at home. Some were surrounded by other holy people, while others had to fight to stay true to their faith amid intense persecution from their countries, or even from within their own homes and families.
Whatever their particular circumstances were, each of these saintly women loved God and everyone in her path passionately and heroically. And I can't wait to give you a taste of their inspirational and widely varied life journeys!
9 Amazing Laywomen That Will Inspire You
1. Venerable Carla Ronci
Carla (1936-1970) was a consecrated laywoman who worked as a tailor and led many youth programs and catechetical works. She suffered from both physical ailments and a “Dark Night of the Spirit.”
In the midst of all of this, she proudly rode a motorcycle!
“All the joy and serenity I can have comes from God. Men will never be able to satisfy the anxiety that is in me: Only God can."
—Ven. Carla Ronci
2. Servant of God Dorothy Day
Dorothy Day (1897-1980) began her adult life involved in Communism, love affairs, abortion, and picketing—which landed her in jail multiple times.
Later, she converted to the Catholic faith in the midst of a difficult relationship and pregnancy. She went on to found the Catholic Worker’s Movement and wrote more than four hundred articles for what is now the world-renowned publication The Catholic Worker.
Feast Day: November 29th
"If I have achieved anything in my life, it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God."
3. Servant of God Élisabeth Leseur
Élisabeth Leseur (1866-1914) was a wife and a gentle, powerful evangelist in her community. She suffered long years of countless illness, as well as severe persecution for her Catholicism from her husband, but after her death, he converted and became a Catholic priest.
Feast Day: May 3rd
(From a series of "Resolutions" recorded in Élizabeth's diary): "[I want] to reserve for God alone the depths of my soul and my interior life as a Christian. To give to others serenity, charm, kindness, useful words and deeds. To preach by prayer, sacrifice, and example."
4. Venerable Elisabetta Tasca Serena
Elisabetta (1899-1978), a dedicated wife and mother of twelve children, used both profound and humorous means to teach her children how to be practical, hardworking apostles. For example, when neighbors began bringing televisions into their homes, she instead gave her family these options for “TV channels”:
Channel 1 - Go to the first Mass; Channel 2 - Recite the Rosary; Channel 3 - Make the stockings and mend the clothes; Channel 4 - Work in the stall; Channel 5 - Teach the lessons to the children and prepare for school; Channel 6 - Prepare the food; Channel 7 - Do the laundry, to dry and stretch; Channel 8 - Sing for joy; Channel 9 - Wish well to everyone; Channel 10 - So many jobs to do and never idleness for a moment!
—Excerpt taken from Saintly Women of Modern Times
5. Blessed Eurosia Fabris Barban
Eurosia (1866-1932), known to many as “Mama Rosa,” became an apostle within her family and her parish although her religious education was mostly self-taught.
Her heroic charity and serenity, fidelity to prayer, and dedication to catechesis surely contributed to the fact that of her nine children, three entered the priesthood and another three entered the religious life.
Feast Day: January 8th
6. Servant of God Fiorella Bianchi
Fiorella (1930-1954) served as the secretary for her father’s business after her mother’s illness caused financial strain for the family.
As a young woman she founded two movements (one for girls and one for mothers) that promoted daily Mass, meditation, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. She also aided a great number of families by organizing a food drive for post-World War II evacuees in Italy.
"Let us leave everything to [God], let us abandon ourselves in his arms like eternal children who desire nothing but what he wants. There is no happier creature than one who lives in continuous spiritual childhood, and there is no place that offers greater and purer joys than the heart of God."
7. St. Gianna Beretta Molla
Gianna (1922-1962) became a medical doctor and then a pediatric specialist despite struggling with her schoolwork for most of her childhood. She assisted both the bodies and souls of her patients, and would offer her services for free if the family was too poor to afford medical help.
She then became a wife and mother. During her last pregnancy, a malignant tumor was discovered in her uterus. Fully aware of the possible consequences, she chose to have the tumor removed but continue the pregnancy with the possibility of many complications rather than aborting her child. In the end, her daughter was born safely—but a terrible infection took Gianna's life.
For the first time in Church history, a husband was able to attend his heroic wife’s canonization.
Feast Day: April 28th
"Love and sacrifice are closely linked, like the sun and the light. We cannot love without suffering and we cannot suffer without love."
—St. Gianna Molla
8. Blessed Hildegard Burjan
Hildegard (1883-1933) became the first woman to study philosophy in Zurich, Austria, and was the first to serve on the local council in Vienna. After experiencing a medical miracle and a spiritual conversion in her twenties, she founded the Catholic women’s organization Caritas Socialis, which worked to support endangered girls, unwed mothers, and exploited female workers.
She suffered with severe kidney problems for much of her life. This disease finally claimed her life at age fifty.
Feast Day: June 12th
"Dear Savior—make all men lovable so that You might love them. Enrich them with Yourself alone!"
—Bl. Hildegard Burjan (Her final words)
9. Blessed Maria Corsini Quattrocchi
Maria (1884-1965) was given an intensive classical education as a girl. As an adult, she went on to become a lecturer and writer on topics such as religion, education, family, and the spiritual formation of children.
She married and had four children, three of whom became priests or religious. During World War II, she volunteered with the Red Cross and opened her home to refugees. She also used her passion for learning to help many young people attain a Catholic university education.
A Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints paid Maria a beautiful compliment when he said that she and her husband “made their family an authentic domestic church.”
Feast Day (with her husband Luigi): November 25th
Although this gives only a brief glimpse into the lives of nine saintly women, I encourage you to take these women's examples of holiness to heart and find beautiful, daily inspiration from them as you begin this new year.
Purchase Saintly Women of Modern Times and receive inspiration from all seventy-five laywomen and their stories!
Was there a story mentioned here that particularly struck you or inspired you?
Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
This article has been updated. It was originally published on 2018 © The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.