The Big Book of Women Saints
by Sarah Gallick
So completely do the saints correspond to God's grace that- for a millennium and more after their bodies have lain lifeless- their very bones remain a channel of grace. -Scott Hahn
There are few things as inspiring to us women as the stories of women who have gone before us, and few things more inspiring to Catholics in general than the Saints. Some of my favourite Saints are men (Saint Pope John Paul II, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Edmund Campion [holla holla, Peregrin], Saint Joseph the Guardian of Jesus and Mary, etcetera), but some of my closest friends are female saints- and I was introduced to several through this book.
A compendium of the 'greatest Catholic women of all time' may seem a little daunting, but this book is anything but dull. With a woman-Saint or Blessed for every day of the year, many of whom you've probably never heard of, one's knowledge of canonized women can expand to high Heavens (pun intended)!
The introduction includes a few pages that briefly describe the process of becoming a Saint, a few lies debunked, and a little blurb on Saint Pope John Paul II (who canonized 482 Saints, making the Pope to elevate the most people to beatification and canonization than any other Pope in history!). We then start on the First of January with the Solemnity of Mary.
Each piece is about a page long, and includes the Saint's name (as well as modern or alternate names), dates/approximations of birth and death, biography, 'The Genius of Saint _______', and a reflection (usually in the form of a quote or Bible verse). What I like about this system is that we are given facts, should we ever need to alternate names so that someone else will recognize the Saint, as well as the general idea of the time we lived, which explains some of what the woman in today's age might call outlandish, unholy, or even cruel behaviour (Henry the Good once made his wife, Cunegunda, walk over red-hot plowshares to prove her faithfulness, and they were considered a very happy couple- as you can imagine, that would not fly in this day and age). The 'Genius' and the 'Reflection', on the other hand, rather than providing fact, are more heart-food than mind-food. The biography tends to be a little bit of both; Ms Gallick's approach is well-written, and extremely personal. This bothered me a bit at first; it seemed almost irreverent to refer to Saints by their first-names only, or to give descriptions of women who had died hundreds of years before the author was even born, but I saw this as a valuable trait as time went by. By making her accounts of the lives of the saints so very personal, Ms Gallick succeeded in making them real- what would, with only pure fact, be insufficient for one to develop a proper awe of the Saints or to foster any hope that such holiness was achievable with God's grace, became inspiring when the women were made to seem like humans- which, of course, they are- rather than a separate race that we lowly twenty-first century Catholics can never join. It was this woman-to-woman study that pulled me into learning more about the Saints I admired, and to grow in friendship with them, as well- it was, in fact, the book that caused my liking for Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, that finally taught me who Saint Teresa of Avila was, that introduced me to such courageous and God-loving women as Saint Edith Stein and Saint Margaret Clitherow; it was the first real study of the life of Saint Lucy of Syracuse, who is my Confirmation Saint, that I read. It was like reading a grand guest-book which makes you want to meet all the guests; the signatures were their lives that left an immovable imprint on even a tiny corner of the world, a thumbprint of history that will inspire generations to come.
Kind of makes you want to make your own thumbprint, eh?
~This book sometimes presented one vocation as being superior to the others, which always annoys me. People, the best vocation is the one you're called to follow.
~The names. Some of the Saints had, literally, the weirdest (and/or most awesome) names ever. If you're looking for baby-names, pick it up some time and flip through. Wiborada. Frideswide. Elfleda. Ethelburga. How can you go wrong?
~No, this book is not at all Tumblr Feminist. I suppose you could call it Catholic Feminist; I can't recall any whacko mumble-jumble about women's ordination or 'reproductive freedom'. Everything is within the boundaries set by God for His life-giving Church, so there shouldn't be anything icky you have to sift through.
~One of the things I learned in the reading, and that I may have mentioned before, is that Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies is actually Lacock Abbey, built by Blessed Ela Fitzpatrick! Such wonderful Catholic Nerddom. And such quotes!
An altogether informative and inspiring volume that I would not, however, recommend to anyone who isn't really into the lives of saints. If you are trying to learn about new Saints, and/or find a patron for Confirmation, I'd say that you should check this book out.
Strive for sainthood. Read books.