Learn About the Female Saints Who Held Off Invaders With the Eucharist and Founded the Abbey Made Famous in ‘The Sound of Music’

BOOK PICK: ‘Women of the Church’

Clockwise from right: Sts. Clare, Jadwiga and Erentrude
Clockwise from right: Sts. Clare, Jadwiga and Erentrude (photo: Clare: godongphoto/Shutterstock; Jadwiga: DyziO/Shutterstock; Erentrude: Anastasia Petrova/Shutterstock)

The subject matter of Women of the Church: What Every Catholic Should Know is timely for Women’s History Month.

Some off-putting martyrdom details aside, readers will find some interesting facts that are likely new to them.

Take this snippet:

“Saint Erentrude, for example, was the niece of Saint Rupert of Salzburg, the bishop of Worms. Around 715, she founded Salzburg’s Nonnberg Abbey, which is famous in modern times from the film The Sound of Music as the convent where the real Maria von Trapp was a postulant before her marriage to Baron von Trapp.”

And you may or may not recall the Eucharistic boldness of St. Clare: “The routines of this simple life were sometimes interrupted by unexpected events, such as the unwelcome appearance in Assisi in 1224 of soldiers of the Holy Roman Empire. Clare helped to fend off their planned attack and protect her community by carrying the Blessed Sacrament in front of the soldiers and praying loudly to God. Afraid to offend God, the men dispersed.” 

In addition, there is this excerpt that highlights a saint dedicated to higher education — with a link to John Paul II:

“As the Polish monarch with influence over Lithuania, Jadwiga ensured that her realm would be not only more Christian but also better educated in theology and a range of other subjects. She understood the benefits of education, as she had received an exceptional one for a layperson of the era and could speak Hungarian, Latin, German, Polish, and possibly Czech. She established a college for Lithuanians in the city of Prague, and she also provided support for a major restoration of a new but struggling university in Kraków — later renamed Jagiellonian University. To support as many new students at the university as possible, Jadwiga donated all her jewelry to it. This enabled more than two hundred students to pursue their studies. Her hope was that the university would eventually rival the great University of Paris, where a brilliant theologian named Thomas Aquinas, already canonized by Jadwiga’s time, had taught a century earlier. In time, many astute scholars, such as John Cantius and Nicolaus Copernicus, would be affiliated with Jagiellonian University, which served as the intellectual heart of Catholic Poland for centuries. Indeed, it is where a young Karol Wojtyla — the future Pope John Paul II and the same pope who canonized Jadwiga — pursued his doctoral studies in theology in the 1950s.”

Page by page, readers will welcome extracts from the lives of such holy ladies as Sts. Catherine of Siena, Joan, Teresa of Avila and Thérèse (though more space could and should have been devoted to the Little Flower and others, in my opinion), plus Mothers Cabrini and Teresa.

Included too is Margaret More Roper, daughter of St. Thomas More: “Even in the face of much scrutiny by English Protestant authorities, Margaret assisted her husband in producing the first biography of Thomas More. Much of what we know today of More’s virtues, family life, love of learning, and piety is thanks to Margaret’s diligence, devotion, and care.”

And Marian mentions, of course, are included, primarily as part of the section titled “The Blessed Mother in a rapidly changing world.”

Alas, St. Gianna and Mother Angelica were only mentioned in passing. 

But, overall, it’s an interesting read about our friends the saints and other women who shaped our Church, which has an amazing legacy of the feminine genius — a worthy topic to ponder in this month dedicated to women. 

As the book notes in a beautiful line: “In the same spirit in the modern era, communities of Catholic women worldwide have ministered to the marginal and the indigent, the sick and the dying, lending credence to John Paul II’s observation that, as God entrusted Jesus to Mary, he has entrusted the human being to women in a special way.”