36 Real Life Heroines

In no particular order….

Queen Esther

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Esther first appears in the story as one of the young virgins collected into the king’s harem as possible replacements for Vashti, the banished wife of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I, reigned 485—465 b.c.e.). She is identified as the daughter of Avihail (Esth 2:15) and the cousin and adopted daughter of Mordecai, from the tribe of Benjamin (Esth 2:5–7). Not much is revealed about her character, but she is described as beautiful (2:7) and obedient (2:10), and she appears to be pliant and cooperative. She quickly wins the favor of the chief eunuch, Hegai, and, when her turn comes to spend the night with the king, Ahasuerus falls in love with her and makes her his queen. All this takes place while Esther keeps her Jewish identity secret (Esth 2:10, 20).

After Esther becomes queen, her cousin Mordecai becomes involved in a power struggle with the grand vizier Haman the Agagite, a descendant of an Amalekite king who was an enemy of Israel during the time of King Saul (1 Sam 15:32). Mordecai refuses to bow before Haman, and this so infuriates Haman that he resolves not only to put Mordecai to death, but also to slaughter his entire people. He secures the king’s permission to do this, and a date is set, Adar 13 (this episode determines the date of the festival of Purim, a popular Jewish festival). When Mordecai learns of Haman’s plot, he rushes to the palace to inform Esther, weeping and clothed in sackcloth (Esth 4:1–3).

At this point in the story, Esther’s character comes to the fore. When she first learns of Haman’s plot and the threat to the Jews, her reaction is one of helplessness. She cannot approach the king without being summoned, on pain of death, and the king has not summoned her in thirty days, implying that she has fallen out of favor (Esth 4:11). However, following Mordecai’s insistent prodding, she resolves to do what she can to save her people, ending with the ringing declaration “After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish” (Esth 4:16). The pliant and obedient Esther has become a woman of action.

She appears unsummoned before King Ahasuerus, who not only does not kill her, but promises to grant her request (the text here, as throughout, does not mention God, but God’s providence is clearly in the background). In a superb moment of understatement, Esther asks the king to a dinner party (Esth 5:4)! The king, accompanied by Haman, attends Esther’s banquet and again seeks to discover her request, which she once more deflects with an invitation to another dinner party. Only at the second dinner party, when the king is sufficiently beguiled by her charms, does she reveal her true purpose: the unmasking of Haman and his plot. She reveals, for the first time, her identity as a Jew and accuses Haman of the plot to destroy her and her people. The volatile king springs to the defense of the woman to whom he was indifferent three days earlier, Haman is executed, and the Jews receive permission to defend themselves from their enemies, which they do with great success (Esther 7–9). The book ends with Mordecai elevated to the office of grand vizier and power now concentrated in the hands of Esther. (source)

  The Blessed Virgin MaryImage result for mary queen of angels

Gave birth to Jesus Christ. Is the Mother of God. Hundreds of Thousands of Miracles are attributed to her, including the victory of the Battle of Lepanto. 

Queen St. Helena

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As the savage persecution of Diocletian, enthusiastically enforced by co-Emperors Galerius and Maximin Daia, seemed to mark a low point for the status of Christianity in the Roman Empire, grace yet prevailed, and the Empire rather suddenly became a patron and protector of Christianity.

St. Helena is thought to have been of humble origin, the daughter of an inn-keeper, and born around 250 in Bithynia; what is now the Black Sea coast of Turkey. (There is a rich English tradition of her hailing from Britain, but that is perhaps a discussion for another article). She, a pagan herself, married a military officer and politician–Constantius Chlorus, bearing him a son, Constantine, around 274. Despite their seemingly happy marriage, Constantius took the opportunity to become the Caesar (junior co-Emperor) of the Western Roman Empire, and put Helena away in favor of the step-daughter of the Emperor Maximian, Augustus (senior co-Emperor) of the West.

When Constantius Chlorus died suddenly in 306, his troops stationed in England proclaimed his son, Constantine–still loyal to his mother, and now demanding that she be known as Augusta–as their Emperor. This is the very Constantine that contended with the aggressively pagan Maxentius, son of Maximian, for control of the West. Constantine rather famously instructed his troops to put Christian emblems on their shields just prior to his battle with Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber in 312–having a vision that “In hoc signo vinces,” “In this sign you will conquer.” While Constantine did not immediately accept baptism, he did legalize Christianity with the Edict of Milan in 313, and became a great patron of the Church.

For St. Helena, her son’s experience with Christianity seems to have brought about her conversion. Eusebius of Caesarea writes, “She became under his influence such a devout servant of God, that one might believe her to have been from her very childhood a disciple of the Redeemer of mankind.”

Like the Roman Empire itself, St. Helena had suffered much at the hands of a pagan society, but now embraced Christianity. St. Helena, in her old age, journeyed to Palestine around 324, searching for, and finding, the relics of the True Cross. She, like her son, became a great patron of the Church, and was responsible for the construction of a number of Churches. Indeed, the site of her palace in Rome is now the location of the Church of Santa Croce in Jerusalem, where those relics she discovered in the Holy Land are now housed. She died around 330, famous for her charity to the poor. (source: https://catholichousehold.com/six-women-became-queens-saints/)

St. Queen ClotildeImage result for queen clotilde

The Roman Empire, converting to Christianity, but like the family of Constantine, enduring the theological controversies, soon found that its Western half was overwhelmed by Germanic barbarian tribes–who adhered either to paganism or Arianism. The project of the conversion of the Western Roman Empire now became a project to convert and civilize these Germanic tribes.

St. Clotilde was the daughter of the King of the Burgundians, born around 475, and actually raised a Catholic. Her solid upbringing would be crucial, as she was married to the powerful pagan king of the Franks, Clovis I. Clovis was a resolute and brutal man. The account of Clovis and the Vase of Soisson, as told by St. Gregory of Tours, gives a wonderful sense of the man’s character.

Through Clotide’s influence, Clovis allowed their firstborn son Ingomir to be baptized in 494, but the infant died soon thereafter. Nevertheless, Clovis, immediately prior to fighting the Battle of Tolbiac against the Alemanni, prayed to God that, with a victory, he would convert to Christianity. Victorious he would be, and that Christmas, 496, St. Remigius, Bishop of Reims, baptized Clovis. With Clovis, the leadership of the Franks accepted the Catholic Faith.

Clotilde, for her part, would endure family disputes and tragedy after the death of Clovis in 511. She did what she could as a peacemaker, and retired to a religious life at Tours near the tomb of St. Martin, dying in 545. (source: https://catholichousehold.com/six-women-became-queens-saints/)

St. Queen Adelaide

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The Franks would eventually unite the area of what is now France, Germany, and northern Italy under their rule. The Merovingian house of Clovis I was replaced, with papal permission, by that of the Carolingians in the 8th century. The Frankish King Charlemagne restored an imperial title to the West with his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor by Pope St. Leo III on Christmas day in 800. That title, however, rapidly fell into decay, as the Empire divided and dissolved under the Carolingian heirs. By the 10th century, the title was meaningless, and France, Germany, and Italy each had their own set of monarchs.

In the chaos that engulfed Italy in the mid-10th century, multiple nobles claimed the throne of Italy, in a bloody succession of chaotic claims and usurpations. By the 920s, Rudolph II of Burgundy had a tenuous claim to the title of King of Italy, but he soon lost it to Hugh of Provence. Hugh and Rudolph did reach an understanding in 933 that called for their children to be married when they came of age.

So it was that Lothair II, son of Hugh of Provence, and nominal King of Italy, married St. Adelaide, daughter of Rudolph II, in 947.

By 950, Lothair was dead, thought to be poisoned by Berengar of Ivrea. Berengar, who held the real power in Italy, proceeded to force the young widow, St. Adelaide, to marry his son, which she refused to do. Despite temporary escape, Adelaide would end up imprisoned by Berengar at a castle on Lake Garda; she was 19 years old. If only there was a knight in shining armor to rescue her!

There was. The King of Germany, Otto I, “the Great,” happened to invade Italy at that very time in response to calls for help from various Italian nobles oppressed by Berengar of Ivrea. Otto easily defeated Berengar; not only was St. Adelaide liberated, but on Christmas day of 951, they married! Her new husband, after securing the title of Italy, was also crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 962 by Pope John XII, restoring the title.

For Adelaide, the trials of her later life came primarily from her Byzantine daughter-in-law, Theophano, wife of her son Otto II, and mother of her grandson Otto III. (Interesting trivia: it is said that Theophano introduced the fork into Western Europe) Even going into exile over the tense relationship, St. Adelaide eventually returned to act as regent for a young Otto III after Theophano’s untimely death. St. Adelaide was dedicated to care of the poor, patronage of the Church, and the conversion of the Slavs. She died in 999, having retired to a life of prayer when her grandson came of age.

Holy souls, like those of St. Adelaide and her biographer, St. Odilo of Cluny, helped guide Western Europe into the period of the high medieval period–that of the Crusades, Universities, the Mendicant Orders, Gothic Architecture, and arguably the most Catholic public social order in the history of the Church. While the ideals of Catholicism may have made a definite mark on the society of Western Europe in the high medieval period, men certainly remained fallen, and the need for heroic sanctity and peacemaking was ever-present. (source: https://catholichousehold.com/six-women-became-queens-saints/)

St. Queen Elizabeth of Portugal

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St. Elizabeth of Portugal was the eldest daughter of King Peter III of Aragon–born in 1271, the era of the great poet Dante. She was actually named Elizabeth in honor of her great-aunt, St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Her brothers included future kings of Aragon but also of Sicily in Italy. She herself was married to the King of Portugal, Denis, who reigned from 1279-1325. While Denis was not a man of impressive morals and neglected his wife–he fathered a number of illegitimate children–he allowed St. Elizabeth to live out her faith and not only an impressive schedule of prayer and fasting, but also the foundation of monasteries and hospitals.

King Denis and his Queen, St. Elizabeth, had two children: Afosno, who would succeed his father as King Afonso IV of Portugal, and a daughter Constance, who would marry the King of Castile. It was as a peacemaker within her family that St. Elizabeth did, perhaps, become most famous. Twice her son Afonso rose in arms against his father, and in both cases, St. Elizabeth brought about a peaceful solution, even riding out between armies! She would also prevent at least two other conflicts in the Iberian peninsula, as well.

Despite her husband’s poor treatment of her, she was there to nurse him in his final illness, and saw him repentant before his death. She would end her days a third order Franciscan, dying on 4 July 1336. (source: https://catholichousehold.com/six-women-became-queens-saints/)

St. Queen Jadwiga of Portugal

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Even as Western Europe began to enjoy the fruits of Catholic civilization, in the northeast corner of the continent, the work of civilizing and conversion continued.

In a rather interesting piece of inheritance and history, a branch of the French Royal house of Valois acquired the throne of Hungary and Croatia in the 14th century. The Valois-Anjou King Louis I of Hungary and Croatia added Catholic Poland to his realm as well, in 1370, succeeding his uncle Casimir III. When Louis I died in 1382, his eldest daughter succeeded to the throne of Hungary and Croatia. Poland, however, after two years of negotiations, went to a younger daughter, Jadwiga (also known by the German form of her name, Hedwig). She was 10 years old when crowned rex, king, of Poland at Krakόw. She was quite the eligible young Queen, and of all suitors, would attract the attention and proposal of the Grand Duke of the Lithuanians, Jagiello.

The Lithuanians remained an unconverted pagan people at the end of the 14th century, having long resisted the military-missionary efforts of the Teutonic Knights. A proposal of marriage from the pagan Grand Duke was accompanied by a pledge to accept Catholicism as a prerequisite for the nuptials.

So it was that, in 1386, Jadwiga wed Jagiello after his baptism, he taking the name Władysław. They now jointly ruled the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania; the union of these states continued for another four hundred years. The pagan Lithuanian nobility now accepted baptism in large numbers, and the conversion of one of the last great pagan people of Europe was now largely complete. Nearly a thousand years after the conversion of the Franks, another Queen-Saint brought a people to Christ.

St. Jadwiga was renowned for her charity and died soon after giving birth to a daughter in 1399. She was only canonized in 1997 by Pope St. John Paul II. (source: https://catholichousehold.com/six-women-became-queens-saints/)

Rosa Parks

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Civil rights activist Rosa Parks (February 4, 1913 to October 24, 2005) refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a segregated Montgomery, Alabama bus, which spurred on the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott that helped launch nationwide efforts to end segregation of public facilities.

Clara Barton

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Known as the “Angel of the Battlefield,” this young nurse tended to wounded soldiers on the front lines during the grittiest Civil War battles. Her experiences led her to found the Red Cross in 1881. In addition to her nursing accomplishments, she also taught school at a time when most teachers were male.

Florence Nightengale

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She was an English social reformer and statistician, and the founder of modern nursing.  During the Crimean War, she and a team of nurses improved the unsanitary conditions at a British base hospital, reducing the death count by two-thirds. Her writings sparked worldwide health care reform. In 1860 she established St. Thomas’ Hospital and the Nightingale Training School for Nurses. She died August 13, 1910, in London.

Irene Sendler

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During World War II, Irena Sendler smuggled more than 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto, where she worked as a plumbing and sewer specialist. The Nazis eventually caught her, broke her arms and legs, and beat her severely. She had kept a record of all the children she helped and buried it in a glass bottle under a tree, which she later dug up and used to help reunite family members who had been torn apart.

St. Edith Stein

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Edith Stein, saintly Carmelite, profound philosopher and brilliant writer, had a great influence on the women of her time, and is having a growing influence in the intellectual and philosophical circles of today’s Germany and of the whole world. She is an inspiration to all Christians whose heritage is the Cross, and her life was offered for her own Jewish people in their sufferings and persecutions. (source https://www.ewtn.com/faith/edith_stein.htm)

Born on October 12, 1891, of Jewish parents, Siegried Stein and Auguste Courant, in Breslau, Germany, Edith Stein from her earliest years showed a great aptitude for learning, and by the time of the outbreak of World War I, she had studied philology and philosophy at the universities of Breslau and Goettingen.

After the war, she resumed her higher studies at the University of Freiburg and was awarded her doctorate in philosophy Suma Cum Laude. She later became the assistant and collaborator of Professor Husserl, the famous founder of phenomenology, who greatly appreciated her brilliant mind.

In the midst of all her studies, Edith Stein was searching not only for the truth, but for Truth itself and she found both in the Catholic Church, after reading the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila. She was baptized on New Year’s Day, 1922.

After her conversion, Edith spent her days teaching, lecturing, writing and translating, and she soon became known as a celebrated philosopher and author, but her own great longing was for the solitude and contemplation of Carmel, in which she could offer herself to God for her people. It was not until the Nazi persecution of the Jews brought her public activities and her influence in the Catholic world to a sudden close that her Benedictine spiritual director gave his approval to her entering the Discalced Carmelie Nuns’ cloistered community at Cologne-Lindenthal on 14 October 1933. The following April, Edith received the Habit of Carmel and the religious name of “Teresia Benedicta ac Cruce,” and on Easter Sunday, 21 April 1935, she made her Profession of Vows.

When the Jewish persecution increased in violence and fanaticism, Sister Teresa Benedicta soon realized the danger that her presence was to the Cologne Carmel, and she asked and received permission to transfer to a foreign monastery. On the night of 31 December 1938, she secretly crossed the border into Holland where she was warmly received in the Carmel of Echt. There she wrote her last work, The Science of the Cross.

Her own Cross was just ahead of her, for the Nazis had invaded neutral Holland, and when the Dutch bishops issued a pastoral letter protesting the deportation of the Jews and the expulsion of Jewish children from the Catholic school system, the Nazis arrested all Catholics of Jewish extraction in Holland. Edith was taken from the Echt Carmel on 2 August 1942, and transported by cattle train to the death camp of Auschwitz, the conditions in the box cars being so inhuman that many died or went insane on the four day trip. She died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz on 9 August 1942.

We no longer seek her on earth, but with God Who accepted her sacrifice and will give its fruit to the people for whom she prayed, suffered, and died. In her own words: “Once can only learn the science of the Cross by feeling the Cross in one’s own person.” We can say that in the fullest sense of the word, Sister Teresa was “Benedicta a Cruce” — blessed by the Cross.

Pope John Paul II beatified Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on 1 May 1987, and canonizes her on 11 October 1998. (source https://m.facebook.com/quiapochurch/posts/2296444763716828)

Alice von Hildebrand

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She is a Catholic philosopher and theologian and a former professor.

She came to the U.S. in 1940 and began teaching at Hunter College in New York City in 1947. In 1959 she married the philosopher and theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889–1977), having met him at Fordham University in New York City, where she was a student and he was a professor. Dietrich von Hildebrand’s first wife had died in 1957. Alice von Hildebrand remained married to him until his death.

She retired in 1984.

Alice von Hildebrand lives in the United States and is a lecturer and an author whose works include: The Privilege of Being a Woman (2002) and The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand (2000), a biography of her husband.

In 2014, she published her autobiography, Memoirs of a Happy Failure,[1] about her escape from Nazi Europe and her teaching career at Hunter College.

She is a Dame Commander of the Order of St Gregory, a papal knighthood.

Lillian Moller Gilbreth

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Lillian and her husband with 11 of their 12 children.

She was an American psychologist and industrial engineer. She was described in the 1940s as “a genius in the art of living.” One of the first working female engineers holding a Ph.D., she is held to be the first true industrial/organizational psychologist. She and her husband Frank Bunker Gilbreth were efficiency experts who contributed to the study of industrial engineering in fields such as motion study and human factors. The books Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes (written by their children Ernestine and Frank Jr.) tell the story of their family life with their twelve children and describe how they applied their interest in time and motion study to the organization and daily activities of such a large family. Both books were later made into feature films.

St. Gianna Molla

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St_Gianna_Molla

She was an Italian Roman Catholic pediatrician. Molla refused both an abortion and a hysterectomy while pregnant with her fourth child despite knowing that continuing the refusal could result in her own death which later occurred. Molla’s medical career went in tandem with teachings of the Church which strengthened her resolve to follow her conscience while coming to the aid of others who required assistance. These views came into focus when she decided to save the life of her final child rather than think of herself. Molla also dedicated herself to charitable work amongst older people and was involved in Catholic Action; she also aided the Saint Vincent de Paul group in their outreach to the poor and less fortunate.

She gave birth to three children after marrying the love of her life, later on in her life.

Molla’s beatification was celebrated in 1994 and she was canonized as a saint a decade later in mid-2004 in Saint Peter’s Square.

Immaculee Illibagiza

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She is a Rwandan American author and motivational speaker. Her first book, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (2006), is an autobiographical work detailing how she survived during the Rwandan Genocide. She was featured on one of Wayne Dyer’s PBS programs, and also on a December 3, 2006 segment of 60 Minutes (which re-aired on July 1, 2007).

In Left to Tell, Immaculée Ilibagiza shares of her experience during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. She survived hidden for 91 days with seven other women in a small bathroom, no larger than 3 feet (0.91 m) by 4 feet (1.2 m) (an area of 12 square feet). The bathroom was concealed in a room behind a wardrobe in the home of a Hutu pastor. During the genocide, most of Ilibagiza’s family (her mother, her father, and her two brothers Damascene and Vianney) was killed by Hutu Interahamwe soldiers. Besides herself, the only other survivor in her family was her brother Aimable, who was studying out of the country in Senegal and did not know of the genocide. Ilibagiza shares how her Catholic faith guided her through her ordeal and describes her eventual forgiveness and compassion toward her family’s killers. (source https://infohub.projecttopics.org/1942432-immaculee-ilibagiza)

Sr. Blandina Segale

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Blandina Segale, S.C., more commonly known as Sister Blandina (23 May 1850 – 23 February 1941) was an Italian-born American Religious Sister and missionary, who became widely known through her service on the American frontier in the late 19th century. During her missionary work, she met, among others, Billy the Kid and the leaders of the Native American tribes of the Apache and Comanche. She served as an educator and social worker who worked in Ohio, Colorado and New Mexico, assisting Native Americans, Hispanic settlers and European immigrants.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe has opened a process to canonize Segale, for which it has received the permission of the Holy See. For this, she is honored by the Catholic Church with the title of Servant of God. She is the first individual in New Mexico’s 400-year history with the Roman Catholic Church to have a cause opened for their beatification and canonization.

Marie CurieImage result for marie curie

She was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences, and was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.

St. Mother Teresa of Kalkutta

7th Oct - 65 years since Mother Teresa founded Missionary of Charity order

Mother Teresa, known in the Catholic Church as Saint Teresa of Calcutta[6] (born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu; Albanian: [aˈɲɛzə ˈɡɔndʒɛ bɔjaˈdʒiu]; 26 August 1910 – 5 September 1997), was an Albanian-Indian, Roman Catholic nun and missionary. She was born in Skopje (now the capital of the Republic of Macedonia), then part of the Kosovo Vilayet of the Ottoman Empire. After living in Macedonia for eighteen years she moved to Ireland and then to India, where she lived for most of her life.

In 1950 Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious congregation which had over 4,500 sisters and was active in 133 countries in 2012. The congregation manages homes for people dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis; soup kitchens; dispensaries and mobile clinics; children’s- and family-counseling programmes; orphanages, and schools. Members, who take vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, also profess a fourth vow: to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor”.

Teresa received a number of honours, including the 1962 Ramon Magsaysay Peace Prize and 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. She was canonised (recognised by the church as a saint) on 4 September 2016, and the anniversary of her death (5 September) is her feast day.

A controversial figure during her life and after her death, Teresa was admired by many for her charitable work. She was praised and criticised for her opposition to abortion, and criticised for poor conditions in her houses for the dying. Her authorised biography was written by Navin Chawla and published in 1992, and she has been the subject of films and other books. On September 6, 2017, Teresa was named co-patron of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Calcutta, alongside St. Francis Xavier.

Princess Ka’iulani

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Victoria Kawēkiu Kaʻiulani Lunalilo Kalaninuiahilapalapa Cleghorn (October 16, 1875 – March 6, 1899) was heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Hawaii and held the title of Crown Princess. Kaʻiulani became known throughout the world for her intelligence and determination. After the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, she visited the United States to help restore the Kingdom; she made many speeches and public appearances denouncing the overthrow of her government and the injustice toward her people. In Washington, D.C, she paid an informal visit to U.S. President Grover Cleveland and his wife Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston, but her efforts could not prevent eventual annexation.

Queen Isabella I of Spain

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Known in U.S. history for funding Christopher Columbus’ journeys, Isabella was a driving force in unifying Spain. She straightened up her inherited kingdom of Castile, instituting criminal reform and bringing down the debt left to her by her brother, the previous ruler. Part of her strategy to unite the kingdom involved compulsory Catholicism. Muslims and Jews had to convert or flee the country. In 1480, Isabella and her husband launched the Spanish Inquisition to enforce these edicts. All that, and she had six children to boot.

St. Elizabeth Anne Seton

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Engraving of Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton around the age of 22, after a 1796 portrait

Born two years before the American Revolution, Elizabeth grew up in the upper class of New York society. She was a prolific reader, and read everything from the Bible to contemporary novels.

In spite of her high society background, Elizabeth’s early life was quiet, simple, and often lonely. As she grew a little older, the Bible was to become her continual instruction, support and comfort -and she would continue to love the Scriptures for the rest of her life.

In 1794, Elizabeth married the wealthy young William Seton, with whom she was deeply in love. The first years of their marriage were happy and prosperous. Elizabeth wrote in her diary at first autumn, “My own home at twenty-the world-that and heaven too-quite impossible.”

This time of Elizabeth’s life was to be a brief moment of earthly happiness before the many deaths and partings she was to suffer. Within four years, William’s father died, leaving the young couple in charge of William’s seven half brothers and sisters, as well as the family’s importing business.

Events moved quickly from there with devastating effect. Both William’s business and health failed. He was finally forced to file a petition of bankruptcy and, in a final attempt to save William’s health, the Setons sailed for Italy, where William had business friends.

Unfortunately, William died of tuberculosis while in Italy. Elizabeth’s one consolation was that he had recently awakened to the things of God.

The many enforced separations from dear ones by death and distance served to draw Elizabeth’s heart to God and eternity. The accepting and embracing of God’s will – “The Will,” as she called it – would be a keynote in her spiritual life.

Elizabeth’s deep concern for the spiritual welfare of her family and friends eventually led her into the Catholic Church.

In Italy, Elizabeth captivated everyone by her kindness, patience, good sense, wit, and courtesy. During this time Elizabeth became interested in the Catholic Faith and, over a period of months, her Italian friends guided her in Catholic instruction.

Elizabeth’s desire for the Bread of Life was to be a strong force leading her to the Catholic Church.

Having lost her mother at an early age, Elizabeth felt great comfort in the idea that the Blessed Virgin was truly her mother. She asked the Blessed Virgin to guide her to the True Faith and officially joined the Catholic Church in 1805.

At the suggestion of the president of St. Mary’s College in Baltimore, Maryland, Elizabeth started a school in that city. The school had originally been secular but once news of her entrance to Catholicism spread, several girls were removed from her school. It was then Seton, and two other young women who helped her in her work, began plans for a Sisterhood. They established the first free Catholic school in America. When the young community adopted their rule, they made provisions for Elizabeth to continue raising her children.

On March 25, 1809, Elizabeth Seton pronounced her vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, binding for one year. From that time she was called Mother Seton.

Although Mother Seton became afflicted with tuberculosis, she continued to guide her children. The Rule of the Sisterhood was formally ratified in 1812. It was based upon the Rule St. Vincent de Paul had written for his Daughters of Charity in France. By 1818, in addition to their first school, the sisters had established two orphanages and another school. Today, six groups of sisters can trace their origins to Mother Seton’s initial foundation.

Seton’s favorite prayer was the 23rd Psalm and she developed a deep devotion to the Eucharist, Sacred Scripture, and the Virgin Mary.

For the last three years of her life, Elizabeth felt that God was getting ready to call her, and this gave her great joy. Mother Seton died in 1821 at the age of 46, only sixteen years after becoming a Catholic. She was beatified by Pope John XXIII on March 17, 1963 and was canonized on September 14, 1975 by Pope Paul VI. (source https://www.seasschool.org/site/Default.aspx?PageID=17)

Maria Von Trapp

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The real-life von Trapp family. Maria is seated in the middle holding a baby. (Library of Congress)

Though many of the details in the beloved musical The Sound of Music are wrong, one thing it gets right is Maria von Trapp’s love for the von Trapp children. In fact, she agreed to Georg von Trapp’s marriage proposal because in it he asked her to become his children’s second mother — she later admitted, “If he had only asked me to marry him I might not have said yes.” (Maria did grow to love her husband.)

It was lucky for the von Trapps that Maria married into their family in 1927. She managed to overcome their dire financial situation in the 1930s by getting them to take in boarders, cut expenses and start performing as a singing group. After the Nazi party came to power, a pregnant Maria helped her husband and their nine children — the seven von Trapp children she’d adopted, plus two youngsters she’d given birth to — leave Austria in 1938.

The real-life Maria was determined enough that she probably could’ve shepherded her family over the Alps, but the von Trapps didn’t follow the route depicted in the movie. Instead, using the excuse of a vacation, Maria and her family took a train to Italy.

St. Zelie Martin

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Zélie was the second child of French middle-class parents, couched between an older sister who became a nun and a younger brother who was the pet of the family. Her mother indulged the youngest, but was very harsh with her middle child. Zélie described her childhood as “sad as a shroud”, but she didn’t let her mother’s severity crush her personality.

Zélie tried to enter religious life, but was rejected, and so became a lace-maker, specialising in the famous Point d’Alençon. In her early twenties, she set up her own business, which relied on outworkers. She was always very fair with her staff, helping them to get work with other lacemakers when she didn’t have enough orders and visiting them when they were sick.

Zélie married her husband, a watchmaker, for love. In one of her letters to Louis, she writes, “your wife who loves you more than her life”. Zélie continued to work as a lacemaker after their marriage. When they first married, they decided to practice continual continence, but abandoned this plan, and Zélie would bear nine children, and the five girls who survived childhood would all enter religious life. Zélie, in contrast to her own mother, was very loving to her daughters, and combined her roles in a busy routine of homemaker, businesswoman and tender mother. Then tragedy struck and breast cancer claimed her life when she was in her 40s.

She may have perished young, but Zélie Martin’s example for young women today is very much that of “yes you can”. You can develop your talents to become a master of your trade, you can raise five children and maintain your business at the same time. Perhaps most strikingly is that Zélie did not allow commerce to harden her heart, and she was considerate to her staff as well as prioritising her children over her lace-making.  (source)

St. Joan of Arc

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The “Maid of Orleans,” St. Joan of Arc is a legendary French saint who led her people to victory during the Hundred Years’ War. Controversially, she claimed to receive visions from St. Michael the Archangel, St. Margaret, and St. Catherine of Alexandria, which led her to approach the throne of King Charles VII with the concept of leading the French Army into battle with the English. She became quite a laughingstock and was unjustly tried as a sorceress or witch (essentially as a heretic) by a pro-English tribunal of Catholic clerics, who sentenced her to be burned at the stake. While she was undergoing trial and spent time in prison, she was severely tempted to apostasize in order to be freed, but she overcame it with grace. A true and timeless heroine – both spiritually and militarily – St. Joan of Arc exemplified courage and fortitude in the gravest of circumstances. (sourec https://www.coraevans.com/blog/article/20-most-inspiring-woman-saints-to-know-and-love)

 St. Katherine Drexel

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St. Katharine was born into high society and wealth. Her estate would have been worth about $400 million in today’s standards, but after a surprise suggestion that she become a sister from the Pope, Katharine reconsidered her marriage proposals and discerned that the religious life was, indeed, for her. She gave everything to God, including her entire inheritance, and dedicated the remainder of her life to educating and caring for the Native Americans and Black Americans. By the time she died, she and her religious sisters had established about 50 Indian missions in the United States. As women, we are often tempted toward materialism and the security that marriage affords. Katharine’s heart was so full of charity that she renounced everything in order to give her all to others. (source https://www.coraevans.com/blog/article/20-most-inspiring-woman-saints-to-know-and-love)

St. Maria Goretti

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St. Maria is the epitomized role model of chastity and upholding virginity. As an 11-year-old, she almost fell victim to the sexual advances of a teenaged boy named Alessandro. When she refused him, he stabbed her fourteen times, eventually killing her. Before she died, she freely and wholeheartedly forgave him, and Alessandro experienced a true conversion of heart while he was imprisoned. He ultimately became a lay brother in a monastery and died in peace. St. Maria is an example of costly faith. She understood at her young age what a gift her purity was and was willing to sacrifice her life in order to preserve it. More so, her example of total forgiveness to her perpetrator is a true act of love. (source https://www.coraevans.com/blog/article/20-most-inspiring-woman-saints-to-know-and-love)

St. Bernadette

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St. Bernadette famously received Marian apparition at the site of Lourdes, France on a weekly basis for several months. Uneducated and extremely poor, she was dismissed as ludicrous and even blasphemous. Yet St. Bernadette explained that Our Lady came as “The Immaculate Conception,” a dogma that had not yet been publicly declared by the Church at that time. This was quite possibly the first step toward achieving true believers of the apparitions. Lourdes is, of course, a popular pilgrimage site even today, as many miracles of healing have been attributed to those who bathe in the water there. She is an example of simplicity, poverty of spirit, and fidelity to God. (source https://www.coraevans.com/blog/article/20-most-inspiring-woman-saints-to-know-and-love)

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

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A woman of incredible humility and integrity, St. Rose was born in France in 1769, became a religious sister, and eventually was sent to the United States when she was 49 years old. Shortly thereafter, St. Rose made the western part of the country her mission field, founding schools for Native Americans, orphanages, and generally serving the then undeveloped and comparatively uncatechized portion of the nation.

As one of the early Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Rose (along with Madeleine-Sophie Barat) founded a branch of their congregation in the United States after their arrival. Her life was one of relentless service and dedication, and she is well known for her selflessness, compassion, and quiet zeal.

The end of her life was fraught with suffering and interior fears, as St. Rose became blind and was bereft of companionship or spiritual consolations. She died at the age of 83 in 1852. When her remains were exhumed, they were found incorrupt, which opened her cause for canonization. When we are experiencing spiritual darkness, we can remember St. Rose and her self-acceptance and self-resignation to the Divine Will for her life, knowing that God is with us as much as He was with her throughout her life and her suffering. (source: https://www.coraevans.com/blog/article/6-inspiring-american-women-saints)

St. Marianne Cope

St. Marianne Cope, Pray for Us!

Born in Germany in 1838, St. Marianne Cope spent the majority of her life serving lepers in Hawaii and is best known today as the patron saint of lepers, outcasts, and those with HIV/AIDS. As a Third Order Religious Sister of Saint Francis, she began her novitiate educating and advising immigrant children in New York, but once she became the Superior General of her congregation, she received a plea from King Kalakaua in Hawaii. He sent her a letter of desperation, since many Hawaiian natives were dying from leprosy in droves.

Moved with compassion, St. Marianne could not deny entering the mission field of Hawaii, though she was well aware of the risks and exposure to leprosy she would encounter. Since over fifty religious orders had previously denied the king his request, St. Marianne knew that charity was drawing her sisters to care for the people of Hawaii and bring Jesus to them through their works of mercy.

While in Hawaii, St. Marianne oversaw a hospital specifically provisioned for those suffering from the most severe cases of leprosy. Miraculously, she never contracted leprosy herself but instead died in 1918 due to complications from frailty and old age. Her intercession has been sought for those with incurable diseases and illnesses. We can learn from St. Marianne’s example of heroic charity that, when God calls us to impossible things, we can trust Him with confidence, knowing that He will accomplish amazing things through our yes. (source: https://www.coraevans.com/blog/article/6-inspiring-american-women-saints)

 Carla Ronci

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Carla was a young 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 (vespa)! (Source: https://www.catholiccompany.com/magazine/9-saintly-modern-lay-women-to-inspire-you-throughout-the-new-year-6191)

Elisabetta Tasca Serena

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Elisabetta, 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!

(Source: https://www.catholiccompany.com/magazine/9-saintly-modern-lay-women-to-inspire-you-throughout-the-new-year-6191)

Fiorella Bianchi

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Fiorella 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.

Blessed Maria Corsini Quattrocchi

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Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi (source)

Maria 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 WWII 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.”

(Source: https://www.catholiccompany.com/magazine/9-saintly-modern-lay-women-to-inspire-you-throughout-the-new-year-6191)

Blessed Hildegard Burjan

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Born Hildegard Lea Freund – was a German Roman Catholic convert from Judaism and the founder of the Sisterhood of Caritas Socialis. Burjan set up several organizations for the promotion of women’s rights and for the rights of all workers and their families and this even saw her elected to the Austrian Parliament where she served until her retirement due to ill health.

The beatification process commenced under Pope John Paul II in 1982 and Pope Benedict XVI named her as Venerable in 2007; that same pope beatified Burjan in 2012 though Cardinal Angelo Amato presided over the celebration on the pope’s behalf.


This is by far a tiny percentage of the many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women who, most recognized by the Catholic Church as Saintly & holy people, led heroic lives of all sorts.

If you are truly a feminist, then you should look into the wide variety of women the Catholic Church has called Saints, Blessed, Venerables, & Servants of God; Women who were nurses, scientists, mothers, wives, soldiers, spies, martyrs, resistance fighters, social workers, activists, nuns, teachers, doctors, and so on who led holy, and pious lives!

For starters take a look at these books, click on them to visit shop:

Saintly Women of Modern Times

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5 comments

  1. Hello, please note that the sections on Carla Ronci, Elisabetta Tasca Serena, Fiorella Bianchi, and Maria Corsini Quattrocchi were copied from an article originally published January 16, 2018: https://www.catholiccompany.com/magazine/9-saintly-modern-lay-women-to-inspire-you-throughout-the-new-year-6191
    From one blogger to another, while I’m glad you found my information helpful, it’s not considered good taste to copy complete sections of original text with no quotations and credit given to the original writer.
    God bless,
    Ashley

    Liked by 1 person

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