The Church’s ‘Special Call to Women’

BOOK PICK: ‘The Supreme Vocation of Women According to St. John Paul II’

Mary is the epitome of womanhood, which Pope St. John Paul II explained in his teaching. That teaching is the subject of a new book.
Mary is the epitome of womanhood, which Pope St. John Paul II explained in his teaching. That teaching is the subject of a new book. (photo: Sophia Institute Press cropped book cover)

The Supreme Vocation of Women According to St. John Paul II

By Melissa Maleski

Sophia Institute Press, 2020

160 pages, $14.95

To order: or (800) 854-6316


Have you ever heard the accusation that the Church is misogynistic?

In her new book, Melissa Maleski not only debunks this tired old criticism but adds greatly to the treasury of “what the Church actually professes about the nature and agency of womanhood.” 

Maleski begins by briefly summarizing and then dismissing the truly “scant evidence” that supposedly indicts Catholicism for backwards, anti-woman attitudes. She deftly explains how the Catholic Church, starting with the Founder himself, has always been countercultural toward women, but not until the 20th century has the Church been explicit and voluminous in her teaching about the complementary natures and roles of the two sexes. In particular, the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the writings of Pope John Paul II “stand as a compelling counterargument to the notion that the Church is oppressively patriarchal.” 

But Maleski’s book is not a simple rehashing of John Paul II’s now-classic teachings on women and all the wonderful concepts he introduced to the modern world: the dignity of women, feminine genius, and so on. 

Instead, Maleski zeroes in on one of the most fascinating and enigmatic phrases St. John Paul II ever uttered.

In August 2004, the Pope said Mass in the grotto at Lourdes, France, where Mary had appeared to Bernadette Soubirous. In his homily he said:

“From this grotto I issue a special call to women. Appearing here, Mary entrusted her message to a young girl, as if to emphasize the special mission of women in our own time, tempted as it is by materialism and secularism: to be in today’s society a witness of those essential values which are seen only with the eyes of the heart. To you, women, falls the task of being sentinels of the Invisible!”

At the time, the words “sentinels of the Invisible” went unnoticed. 

Here, Maleski has taken firm hold of this phrase and its profound meaning. 

“‘Sentinels of the Invisible’ is a powerful phrase,” she writes. “But what does it mean? According to the [dictionary], a sentinel is a person who stands guard or watch, ‘especially a soldier standing guard at a point of passage …’ [And] who is the Invisible? God is! ... John Paul II felt that women had the special task of standing sentinel for God and the likeness of Himself that He infused in every human person … [and] that women were not just persons who stood watch over the invisible God but that they were soldiers who stood at the very passage between God and His likeness in mankind.”

The rest of Maleski’s book is a deep dive into this concept. She covers John Paul II’s teachings on personalism, theology of the body, and complementarity of the sexes; memorable women of the Old and New Testaments; the world-shaking appearance of Mary, the Theotokos; the many saintly women since the time of the early Church; why the serpent targeted Eve, rather than Adam, as the preferred method for causing mankind’s fall from grace; how competition between the sexes is unnatural at its core; and how it is more proper to regard the Church as “She” rather than “It.”

Highly recommended — for women and men!

Clare Walker writes from Westmont, Illinois.