Kevin Di Camillo writes regularly for The National Catholic Register and is a Lecturer in English Literature at Niagara University. His latest book is Now Chiefly Poetical, and with Rev. Lawrence Boadt he edited John Paul II in the Holy Land: In His Own Words. His work has been anthologized in Wild Dreams: The Best of Italian-Americana, and he was awarded the Foley Poetry Prize from America Magazine. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he regularly attends Yale University’s School of Management Publishing Course.
Last week we looked at ten Catholic Classic books (by men) here. Even though I ended that post with the caveat that all these books were, in fact, by men, I received not a few emails asking “Where are all the WOMEN authors?” Without further delay:
(1) The Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Truth be told, it took me years to understand the attraction of so many to “The Little Flower” and her “Little Way”. Perhaps it was my inability to read her in the original French—or simply my (in)ability to grasp the obvious: that here was an almost contemporary saint, who wished nothing more than to be a missionary—and yet was confined to a relatively obscure Carmel in France. A model of simplicity, as well as sanctity, St. Thérèse, not for nothing was declared a Doctor of the Church.
(2) The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Ávila
Another Carmelite mystic and doctor (along with St. Thérèse, above, and St. John of the Cross), St. Teresa was the indefatigable reformer of her age. However, she was also an accomplished author whose Interior Castle “is one of the most sustained and profound accounts of mystical transformation in the history of Christian theology” per Dr. Bernard McGinn’s The Doctors of the Church. For advanced readers of St. Teresa there’s also her The Way of Perfection and The Life.
(3) The Dialogues by Saint Catherine of Siena
Like Sts. Thérèse and Theresa, St. Catherine is also a Doctor of the Church. Unlike them she was a Dominican, and her prose style tended to be dense and heady, where the two Carmelites are somewhat free-flowing and reader-friendly. However, even a selection of St. Catherine’s dialogues pays off, and one can easily see why she was named the first female Doctor of the Church.
(4) The Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska
The saint who gave us the devotion to Divine Mercy, her diary is not only eminently readable, but quotable, too. A favorite saint of fellow countryman Pope St. John Paul II (who was eighteen years old when she died), her writings can help anyone through a spiritual crisis by the sheer simplicity of “Jesus, I Trust In You!”.
(5) Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of Mother Teresa of Calcutta
While there are literally dozens of biographies of the saint of our time—a woman so renowned for her holiness that her canonization was not only a foregone conclusion, but she was considered a saint while still alive—one gets a new perspective on the diminutive Albanian nun who seemed almost to be a second Saint Francis: “Mother Teresa”, whose wizened Yoda-like face (broken only by an infectious smile), suffered terribly from what mystics call “spiritual aridity” and a decades-long dark night of the soul. This is her story, from her own pen.
(6) Essential Writings of Edith Stein
St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, O.C.D., who died at Auschwitz, had much in common with Pope St. John Paul II: both were Poles, both studied phenomenology (a particularly dense branch of philosophy), and both were mystics at heart. Further, both saw the horrors of Nazi Germany up-close-and-personal in their native Poland—and this convert paid for it in the most notorious of all the death camps. Again, like St. Catherine of Siena, not the easiest book to read, but certainly among the most informed and well-researched.
(7) Letters of Spiritual Direction: St. Jane Frances de Chantal
I’ve written before about the import of St. Jane Frances (and her friend/mentor St. Francis de Sales), and it’s in her letters that we get a glimpse of the soul of this great saint who did so much not only for France, but the world in her foundation of the Congregation of the Visitation.
(8) Mary Day By Day
The Redemptorist priest Fr. Charles G. Fehrenbach, C.Ss.R. compiled this little book on a two-minute reflection a day on the Blessed Virgin Mary. Each day contains a quotation from Scripture, a short reflection from one of the saints, and a final prayer. The Blessed Virgin Mary may have left no written testament, but this book is a good way to spend a year with her, a couple minutes at a time.
(9) Meditations On Silence by Sister Wendy Beckett
Part of a series of books “…on Love”, “…on Joy”, and “…on Peace”, Sr. Wendy Beckett, she of PBS-TV fame, brings us some much needed silent meditation by short musings on some of the great works of art of all time like Jan Vanmeer’s “Young Woman With A Jug”, Botticelli’s “Fortitude”, Raphael’s “St. Catharine of Alexandria”, along with more contemporary artists such as Piet Mondrian’s “Still Life With A Ginger Pot, II” and Robert Natkin’s 1990 “Epiphany”. Makes even the most abstruse art accessible, enjoyable, and in terms of silence, utile.
(10) Egeria: Diary of a Pilgrimage
To end at the beginning: the first woman pilgrim to the Holy Land whom we can actually document (in Latin at least), Egeria gives us “the first major witness to the pilgrimage devotion that developed in connection with the places established by Constantine in Jerusalem and Palestine.” (Dopp and Geerlings’s Dictionary of Early Christian Literature). For linguists, Egeria gave us an example of how Latin was developing as a language, but for the general reader the import of Egeria is that she shows how difficult a pilgrimage to the Holy Land actually was in the 4th century. After all, as Kenneth Clark notes in his Civilisation, “it’s no use pretending that pilgrimages of old were like cruises of today: they were long, arduous journeys which often took the lives of many of those who undertook them.” Mercifully, Egeria lived to tell—and write—the tale.