Growing up in the Catholic Church, I saw mostly men in leadership roles. I have learned so much from these men. But I was always wanting for positive and healthy, feminine and truly Catholic, influences in my life. I had many female Catholic peers but I wanted women older than me, wiser through experience than me, to look up to and learn from.
As I started working for the Church, I was blessed to have a more universal experience where I, for the first time, discovered female leaders with the same ecclesiology and theology I aligned with. I felt comfortable seeking the guidance and support of like-hearted women in the Church.
To all my younger readers, if you find it hard as a young woman to enter into the Church workforce serving with women who are your seniors, be patient with yourselves and with us. I have had experiences where older women aren’t so welcoming of young women on their turf, too. I can tell you though, this won’t always be your experience. There are many women your senior who want your good, want to see you thrive, want to help the Church draw out in you the gifts God has given uniquely to you and put them to work for the good of the People of God.
At different seasons of my life, these are the women I have looked to for guidance and encouragement, spiritual and intellectual formation. You may find one or all to be the right guide and mentor for you, but I hope you are just as inspired by all of them as I have been. When you look at their accomplishments, may you be more excited than intimidated; for each one is a faithfully answered call God placed on their life. And God is calling you to be just as faithful to what he’s asking of you!
Mary Ann Glendon
I remember having my photo taken with Professor Glendon and a friend of mine after a lecture Mary Ann gave in Rome. There were many other Pontifical students waiting in line, but I could have stood by her for the rest of the evening if I had been permitted. I was star struck! Mary Ann was always like Babe Ruth of the Catholic world to me. I would hear about her as this incredible woman serving at the Vatican.
If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought maybe she was the only woman working for the Holy See. It didn’t matter to me either way. I knew that Mary Ann was the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and that she had been given a voice on the significant social justice issues of the time.
Just knowing that, I knew it was possible for other women, to have a voice, too, and to live out their Catholic faith in a significant way. If you want to jump into some of her writings, consider starting with Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse.
Sr. Bethany Madonna S.V.
Sister Bethany for me is kind of like the Mother Theresa of the Sisters of Life. She seems like this faithful giant in our present day; but a down to earth, hilarious and faithful giant. Have you heard the woman speak?? I don’t know if I have ever met someone as hilarious and eloquent as her. She could be the female version of Father Mike Schmitz!
Sister Bethany draws you into her testimonies and teaching with her funny stories, and then she captures your heart. Did you hear her keynote at SLS20? What an amazing tool she has to pull us in and present the Lord to us!
She has taught me to lean into what is singularly unique about how God has made me, and to use that to share God and seek the good of others.
The first time I met Joan was in Rome. She was sitting at a table by herself at the famous Roman restaurant La Vittoria’s. I was enjoying dinner with my parish priest. Father leaned in and said, “That’s Joan Lewis sitting over there.” My 22-year-old self said: “Who?” He replied: “Don’t you know “Joan’s Rome”?! No, but I was about to find out: we introduced ourselves.
She had been smiling at us; she told us she was enjoying the sight of a young woman enjoying a meal with a priest. I was grateful for her encouragement and affirmation of the male-female dynamic especially in the climate of the Church at the time.
Joan always has a refreshing, mature, and insightful perspective. Her vast knowledge of the Church, Catholic Europe, the Vatican, journalism, and the United Nations doesn’t even do Joan justice in stating the many ways she has gifted herself to the Church and the world of journalism. You’ll know what I mean when you read her full biography.
Also, she’s lived in Rome for 40 years; I lived in Rome myself and I can say it isn’t an easy place to live. Joan even baked chocolate chip cookies for John Paul II! Which you’ll be able to read about in the book she is currently writing titled, I Baked Cookies for a Saint. What a delightful read it will be!
I have always been 110% pro-life. But when I heard Stephanie speak at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, Canada I really began to appreciate the work of our pro-life speakers and organizations. I attended this presentation with the encouragement of Natalie Sonnen (another Catholic pro-life advocate serving faithfully).
Stephanie gave us tips on how to speak on the overall issue, she spoke to the pro-life position, she showed images of aborted babies, and she gave her own testimony of working in the pro-life field.
After seeing those photos, I understood more fully the battle individuals like Stephanie experience day-in and day-out and how greatly she and others like her (my friend Natalie, Abby Johnson, and Lila Rose) need my support and your support too!
I wish we could all sit down with Theresa and have coffee. Oh, the experiences she has had serving the Church at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)! Theresa is the Assistant Director for the USCCB’s Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life.
I first met Theresa when I was serving a Diocese in northern Minnesota. Our local Bishop had declared a Year of Marriage. We were looking to form and educate the faithful on the gift of Natural Family Planning (NFP) during NFP Awareness Week and throughout this yearlong effort.
Theresa supported our efforts every step of the way and she even traveled to the Diocese to speak to groups as small as five. (That’s the reality of a mission diocese.) To me, this showed incredible humility on her part and the importance of reaching one soul when the opportunity presents itself. (And on a very girly level, I love Theresa’s hair!)
Further, Theresa did an excellent interview for us at Covenant Eyes that appears in the eBook I co-authored with Catholic Gentleman’s Sam Guzman titled: Transformed by Beauty.
If there was one woman I could pick to mentor me day in and day out on how to lead as a woman with a truly Catholic worldview it would be Professor Helen Alvaré. The first time I heard her speak in person was at the 2015 World Meeting of Families (32 to 1:11:27) in Philadelphia, followed by the 2016 GIVEN Forum in Washington D.C. and more recently at the 2020 SLS20 (21 to 44:26) in Phoenix. She may or may not have captured my heart when she proudly told the college students at SLS20 that she got a tattoo (timestamp: 33:47)! What realness this showed. Yes, you can have a tattoo (or dreadlocks, like I hope to have one day!) and be a powerhouse worker for the Lord and his Church! To jump into Professor Alvare’s writings, consider starting with Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves.
Before the Sisters of Life were popular, and several years before the incredible community of Blessed is She, there was Maura Preszler. In September 2011 she launched her ministry Made in His Image, inspired by her own story, with the purpose of reaching women recovering from eating disorders and abuse.
Though I have not experienced an eating disorder or abuse, her writing was so clear and relatable. It was Maura, through her website and social media presence, who first taught me the great beauty of my femininity; that I was made in God’s image, unique and unrepeatable.
To establish a missionary organization, you have to be a saint, or close to it, right? That’s what I have experienced in Angèle (and her husband André). They founded Catholic Christian Outreach™ (CCO™) in Saskatoon, Canada in 1988.
I first met Angèle at the Caritas in Veritate International Forum in Rome. We went out for gelato and she shared all about CCO with me. My heart was captured as I have always had a charism for missionary life. CCO brings Jesus Christ to a different vulnerable and marginalized people though: college students. CCO also supports the work of parish renewal through the same methods and materials they have seen success with on campus.
The great beauty of Angèle and her ministry is that it isn’t just her. Her husband André and their whole family (daughter-in-laws included) have a role to play in this organization. Angèle has shown me how far marriage and family life can go in bringing the Lord to the world. To get to know Angèle and some of her own story, consider reading her book Forgiveness is Key.
Ashley is passionate about sharing the Catholic faith and using all methods and means to do it! She has served as the Rome Correspondent for the Relevant Radio Network since 2012. Her two most interesting bosses … were Popes! She was formerly a Vatican Official at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in the Holy See and worked under Pope Benedict XVI and then Pope Francis. Over the years she’s been featured on various global TV news networks as an expert on Vatican issues.
I had the privilege of having Ashley as a teacher. She has always supported me with my communication questions and even more recently formally training me in Crisis Communications and Media.
She and her husband John have shown me how important it is to be an informed Catholic, able to speak to the Church’s teachings, and to use various communication tools. Ashley has shown me that the “Benedict Option” is not an option. In 2017 Ashley and John founded the non-profit Truth and Beauty Project to help people come to Rome to understand the roots of their faith and Christian identity, using art and beauty to teach what it means to live an authentic Christian life. They will welcome you to bella Roma with open arms!
Sister Miriam James, SOLT
Sister Miriam is a religious sister, former athlete, and podcaster extraordinaire on Abiding Together. She isn’t afraid to speak to hard topics like sexual healing, even when she’s face to face with young and old alike, including Church leadership. Sr. Miriam captures the heart and attention of people of all ages, at conferences like Franciscan’s Steubenville conference, FOCUS’ SEEK, the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC), the USCCB Convocation, and various retreats and conferences both nationally and internationally.
Sister Miriam speaks often on the topics of: Authentic Love and Conversion, Forgiveness and Mercy, The Healing Power of Christ, and The Dignity and Beauty of Woman.
I have cried every time I have heard Sister Miriam speak. She has taught me to use my own conversion stories and personal experiences of the love and mercy of the Father to share God with authenticity and passion. All you need is your own story and the teachings of the Church to bring souls to the Father. He does the rest!
Sister Miriam holds a Master’s degree in Theology from the Augustine Institute and is the author of the book, Loved As I Am.