Editors’ note: To mark Women’s History Month this March, we asked America’s readers to tell us about the women who have inspired and shaped their Catholic faith.
My mother had a long-term illness and was often bedridden. She had a plaque on the wall that said, “God, there is nothing that will happen today that you and I can’t handle together.” A year or two before she died, I had a daughter who was diagnosed with Down syndrome and other problems. My daughter is now 44 years old and has had many medical problems. I always remember the plaque my mother had on the wall all those years ago, and I get a surge of strength.
My Irish-born mother, a devoted Catholic of simple faith, was my first teacher. Then came a series of Sisters of Mercy in elementary and high school. These women schooled me much as my mother did. Fortunately, I met two Sisters of Mercy in my adult years who had both grown far beyond those simple, rule-based years, who had a great influence on me. These were women the Second Vatican Council touched deeply, and once those floodgates were opened, there was no going back. Their friendship with my wife and family still exists.
When we were children, my grandmother, who was ever so faithful, would remind us every time we had a stumble, a hurt, a bad day or injury to offer it up. She would teach us that pain and hurt are inevitable on this earth, but by giving it to God, our tiny suffering may serve a greater purpose and also help us to understand the sacrifice made by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Lisa Marie Hannon
I was a senior in high school. The course was appropriately titled “The Bible.” The teacher was Dr. Susan Mahan. I had never been taught by someone with a doctorate. I was immediately impressed. Here was a living breathing theologian. I knew after this course that I desired to dig deeper into my faith as an academic subject. I can remember our project on a woman of the Bible; I chose Miriam. Everything about the course and Dr. Mahan’s passion for the subject lit a fire within me. Today, I am a high school theology teacher, and I hope that I inspire my students the same way Dr. Mahan inspired me.
Catherine Mifsud Heller
I learned about the concept of God’s unconditional love in theology courses, but the concept made sense to me and was easy to believe only because my recently departed mother loved me (and everyone) unconditionally. Saying that she was loving would be less accurate than saying she was love, the embodiment in our lives of the very love of God. Her witness to the love of God is the single most important influence on my faith.
South Bend, Ind.
My dear, longtime friend kept me from leaving the church by her understanding ear and just offering a few words of direction so many times. My sister stimulates me to think about my faith at a level I would not reach without her help. My sisters in the Christ Renews His Parish program have helped me to get over my shyness and reach out to others in the church and outside and encouraged me to use my gifts. Women lift me up. And I now add Mother Mary to this list.
My mother was a person of deep faith. I have also known a number of elderly religious sisters whose kindness and love have always helped me to know the Lord. They treated me in such a way that I could not help but know, as a young adult and now as a grown person, that I am a child of God. They took the time to listen. Others had such a love for young people that into their 80s they were still motivated to offer themselves in service to others. God bless them, for they did not waste their time on their aches and pains but focused on the person in front of them and the conversation that would lead that person to faith.
Mary Beth Weichbrodt