Mothers of the Church

To be a Mother of the Church does not necessitate being a “Mother,” in fact, very few women in this list ever had children, most remained virgins for God throughout their lives. A Mother of the Church is a woman who has displayed the love of God and helped further his kingdom on earth. Three of the women in this list are “Doctors of the Church.” To be a doctor of the Church, one must have contributed a significant piece of doctrine, theology, or spirituality to the Church and be recognized by the Pope or an ecumenical council. This list of women is very brief; I simply want to give honor to these ladies and would love to hear your thoughts regarding them. Do any of these Mothers stand out in particular to you? Who would you add to this list?

Saint Macrina the Younger. She was the sister of Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter of Sebaste. This was an amazing family! She helped contribute to her brothers’ spirituality immensely. Gregory portrayed her as the ideal Christian philosopher and teacher, he even said her philosophy was further advanced than that of Socrates! She is the virgin philosopher par excellence. She was a disciple of Gregory Thaumaturgus, of whom I have also written about in previous entries.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. (Mother Teresa, 26 August 1910 – 5 September 1997). She founded Missionaries of Charity and ministered to the poor, sick, dying, orphaned, and widowed for over 45 years. She felt the call to leave her convent in 1946, “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.” All of us today are indebted to her humanitarian work and she inspired many to follow her footsteps.

Saint Monica. (ca. 331-387) She was the mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo (Doctor of the Church). Augustine wrote extensively about his mother, speaking highly of her life in Confessions. (Wonderful book, you should read it if you have not!). Augustine humbly recalls that the tears his mother shed for his spiritual birth far outweighed the tears she shed for his physical birth (Monica’s faithfulness reminds me of my mother, Karen, to whom I am forever grateful). Had Monica not been a faithful servant of Christ, her son would not have been there to help unite the Church inNorth Africa and inspire millions of believers in later generations.

Saint Joan of Arc (ca. 1412 – 30 May 1431). Beginning life as a peasant girl, she had visions and dreams and helped leadFrance to victory many battles during the Hundred Year’s War. For various reasons, she was led to an inquisitional tribunal. One question asked her was “if she knew she was in God’s grace, she answered: ‘If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.” Had she said “yes” she would have convicted herself of heresy – for no one can know this for certain; had she said “no” she would have confessed her own guilt. The inquisitors were speechless. Days later they burned her at the stake for wearing men’s clothing when asked not to – they gave her no choice though, for they took away her maiden clothing and only gave her men’s clothing while imprisoned. They burned the 19 year old virgin of Christ at the stake, and then two more times for good measure so her bones could not be collected as relics. Thankfully, the Catholic Church later repented of this act, calling her a martyr and Saint in 1920. Her last words were “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!!!”

Mary, the Blessed Virgin and Theotokos. As a young Jewish girl, she was called to give birth to God the Word. The Catholic and Orthodox Church believe her to have remained the Ever Virgin Mary – so did Protestant Reformers; that view has only changed in the last 200 years or so. Nonetheless, she is ever blessed, most pure, and the Mother of our God. Without defilement she gave birth to God the Word.

Saint Catherine of Siena. Doctor of Unity (25 March 1347 – 29 April 1380) In 1376, she helped bring the papacy of Gregory XI back to Rome from its displacement in Avignon. “In 1378, the Great Schism began, splitting the allegiance of Christendom between two, then three, popes and putting even saints on opposing sides. Catherine spent the last two years of her life in Rome, in prayer and pleading on behalf of the cause of Urban VI and the unity of the Church. She offered herself as a victim for the Church in its agony. Just as the Spirit gave new life to the infant Church on Pentecost, Catherine sought to bring a spirit of reconciliation to the divisions of her time.” Saint Catherine is one of the blessed 82 persons known to have carried the stigmata ad she was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1970.

Saint Teresa of Ávila. Doctor of Prayer (March 28, 1515 – October 4, 1582) At age 7 she ran away from home hoping to become a martyr for Christ, her uncle stopped her. Her life was one of Christian mysticism; she was a theologian of the contemplative life through mental prayer. She was also a prolific writer during the Counter Reformation. Yes, the Catholics actually fixed the problems which the Protestant Reformers noticed and Saint Teresa helped in this effort. During the last three years of her life, Teresa founded 17 convents. Her last words were, “My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another.” She was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1970.

Saint Thérèse of LisieuxDoctor of Confidence and Missionaries (2 January 1873 – 30 September 1897) She is also known as “The Little Flower of Jesus,” one only need look at her picture to see why. She took vows and never set foot outside her Carmelite cloister after the age of seventeen. In her simplicity, she went to the essence of Christianity: God is love, suffering love, and all he asks of us is that, moment by moment, staccato second by staccato second, we purposefully open our hearts to his action within us. Her Little Way, with its radical insistence upon childlikeness and absolute love, constitutes an original and profound elaboration of gospel principles. More than 2500 churches worldwide are named in her honor. Thérèse was the most beloved patroness of the French troops in the trenches of World War I, and was declared the patroness of France, the eldest daughter of the Church, coequal with St. Joan of Arc. Therese of Lisieux is one of the patron saints of the missions, not because she ever went anywhere, but because of her special love of the missions, and the prayers and letters she gave in support of missionaries. This is reminder to all of us who feel we can do nothing, that it is the little things that keep God’s kingdom growing. She was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997.

Saint Cecilia. On her wedding day to Valerian, she sang in her heart to the Lord and she knew she was to remain a virgin; her husband consented to this request. During the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (ca. 161-180), there were persecutions and Cecilia was number among the martyrs. Officials attempted to smother her with steam, she did not die. Then they proceeded to try and cut off her head, she did not die. While she lay, she in blood she was singing praises to God. She refused to die until she received Holy Communion. She is celebrated in allMajorChristianChurcheson November 22 and is one of seven women, excluding the Theotokos, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass. She is the patron saint of Musicians and Church Music. Saint Cecilia reminds me of my wife, in that she sings in her heart constantly.

I would love to also mention by name the following: Saint Olympias, Saint Melania the Elder, Saint Marcella, Saint Paula, Saint Felicitas, Saint Perpetua, Saint Agatha, Saint Lucy, Saint Agnes, Saint Brigid of Ireland and Saint Anastasia. These ladies and many others truly are the Mothers of the Church. How blessed we are to have had all of them live their lives in full devotion to the Triune God! Who would you add to this list? Please let me know and share your thoughts as to why.

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4 thoughts on “Mothers of the Church

  1. Olga of Kiev in the 900s helped bring Orthodoxy to Rus’ (Russia). She was one of the the Russian Orthodox Church’s first saints.

    • Awesome! I did not know this. I just did a little research on her. It turns out that aside from being called Saint Olga, she is also known as Olga the Beauty. I wonder what she looked like to have been given a name like that. Because of her evangelistic efforts, the Orthodox Church calls her “honorific,” namely, “Equal to the Apostles.” Great addition to the conversation, Sara!

  2. I am ignorant of early church history beyond what the Bible records, so I sadly cannot add anyone. I found your list of important women in church history quite interesting.

    • I am glad you liked the list, but your comment actually made me realize that I only mentioned one lady from the bible, namely, Mary. I should have included: Sarah, Hannah, Ruth, etc…

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