A recent post in the National Catholic Reporter, “Does Christianity have a Wonder Woman”, triggered thoughts about the women in our own Vincentian tradition.
In the Reporter, Jennifer Mertens wrote:
As one of millions who have been introduced (or reintroduced) to Wonder Woman as a contemporary cultural icon, I have been surprised by my own hunger for her story, and by the extent to which this hunger is evidently shared around the world, by women and girls, and also men and boys.
This hunger has launched “Wonder Woman” into the highest-grossing domestic summer film and second highest of 2017, earning more than $800 million globally at the time of this writing. As only the second female director with a $100-million-plus budget, director Patty Jenkins has broken numerous glass ceilings; Wonder Woman earned the largest opening ever for a female-directed movie and is the most successful live-action film with a female director.
Are there “wonder women” in the Vincentian tradition? I had written in 2014 quoting Pope Francis:
Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops.” He slowly moves this agenda forward, albeit from within the patriarchal structures of our Catholic Church.
Here are two articles that demonstrate the richness of the Vincentian contribution to the role of women in the Church. Again, within the patriarchal structure of the Church, but with an audacity and creative vision that quite clearly stretched the the boundaries of what many thought possible.
Vincentian Women of Faith
This is a talk presented to the Ladies of Charity in 2000 by Sr. Betty Ann McNeill, D.C. McNeill reflects on the roles of Louise de Marillac (foundress of the Daughters of Charity), Elizabeth Ann Seton (foundress of the Sisters of Charity in the United States) and Catherine O’Regan Harkins-Drake (foundress of the Association of International Charities [AIC-Ladies of Charity] in the United States).
Too often contemporary women are tempted to be more concerned about what we do than who we are and why we do what we do. Authentic Gospel living is about being women of integrity – blending mission, spirituality, and service as lay women like Louise de Marillac, Elizabeth Bayley Seton (1774-1821), and Catherine O’Regan Harkins-Drake (1834-1911). They were women with a mission – authentically Vincentian.
Women in the Church at the time of Saint Vincent
Penned in 2008 by noted researcher Luigi Mezzadri, C.M., the article historically situates the new model of apostolic life of the Daughters of Charity. Not a revolution, but Saint Vincent, like Pope Francis, is found working within the limits of ecclesial structure to recover the then lost contribution of women in the Church,
“There is then this difference between these (The Daughters of Charity) and the religious, that the religious’ aim is their own perfection, while these Daughters are occupied, as we are, for the salvation and welfare of their neighbors. And if I say ‘as we,’ I do not say anything contrary to the Gospel, but really what was the custom of the primitive Church, because our Lord accepted the care of some women that used to follow Him and again we read in the Acts of Apostles that women administered what was necessary to the faithful and that they were considered having an apostolic function.”
Wonder women? not quite. A super hero knows no limits. Our Vincentian heroines didn’t come from a different world. They weren’t super heroes. But they captured the significance of the Gospel in important and creative ways.