Each Tuesday, we move the chairs and couches in the Newman Hall lounge into a giant circle so we can face each other. Our group spans multiple generations: college students and parishioners. Together, we discuss our unique experiences and insights about what it means to be a woman of the Catholic faith. The parishioners share their perspective of the 1980s work world that forced them to suppress their femininity, and the college students share their perspective of becoming a woman amidst a rapidly changing society. I imagine us gathered as St. Angela’s original company, women who challenged society’s expectations for women by actively living their faith in the world. Almost 500 years since the original company was founded, I knew that St. Angela (as she promised in her ninth counsel) was in our midst.
Our women’s group begins each session by praying the Memorare, then takes turns reading the reflections in our study booklets out loud. Whenever we come across a passage with a footnote, Emily encourages us to pause and read the footnote aloud as well. “That’s what we’re all doing anyway,” as she put it, “so rather than each of us trying to glance down, why not read it together?” I thought her suggestion captured the true spirit of our group’s purpose. Our group gathers to give voice to our unspoken challenges and joys of being Catholic women. Rather than leaving these experiences unvoiced in the margins, they become part of the main dialogue.
The possibility of conversing directly with holy men and women also reminded me of the words of a retreat master during my internship with the Ursulines this past summer. When I met with the retreat master to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he said, “When Jesus was dying on the cross, he thought of you. Even though we can’t conceive of that mystery in human terms, it is possible with God.”
Beyond the human notions of time and space, we can engage in conversation with the men and women who have walked the earth with us and who have been recognized as saints. I think of Ursuline Sister Frances Marie, who told me about the time she had a private audience with the Pope John Paul II, and she showed me a picture of them shaking hands. Looking back on the experience now, after his canonization, she recalls that she had been looking into the eyes of a saint. The words they offer allow us a similar kind of glimpse. Pope John Paul II’s letter was written in 1995, and yet, twenty years later, it reaches each of us on a personal level.
He signs the letter with his blessing.