7 Quick Takes: Female Doctors of the Church

Throughout the centuries, the Church has recognized certain people for their contributions to theology and doctrine. It wasn’t until 1970 that women started being added to this list of learned saints.

We now have 4 female Doctors of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Hildegard of Bingen. In light of Women’s History Month, I think we should take a closer look at the wisdom of these women. Since it’s 7 quick takes, I’ll introduce you to two more that I’d like to see join their number. And a not-so-random video.

— 1 —


St. Teresa of Avila

Her and St. Catherine are probably the most famous of the saints on this list. As a stubborn, fiery woman, she threw herself completely into everything she did and fought hard for what she felt was right. She is known most for her writings on prayer. Perhaps in writing the following quote, she was saying what she, herself, needed to hear. I think most writers can relate to that.

“Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing make you afraid. All things are passing. God alone never changes. Patience gains all things. If you have God you will want for nothing. God alone suffices.” – St. Teresa of Avila

— 2 —


St. Catherine of Siena

Unwilling to marry and unwilling to enter a convent, she became a Third Order Dominican. It allowed her to live a life of prayer while still living out in the world. In addition to writing about her visions, she left behind many letters and prayers. She served as a mediator between feuding powerful people and was influential in getting the pope to return to Rome from Avignon. It could be said that she embodied this quote. She refused to be who other people wanted her to be. She was who God wanted her to be.

“If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire” -St. Catherine of Siena

— 3 —

St. Therese of Lisieux

St. Therese of Lisieux

She is most known for her “little way.” Her unique brand of spirituality put an emphasis on the small things in life. She did small acts of kindness. She endured small sufferings. She rejoiced in all of these small things as she felt Jesus would carry her to sanctity. In an age where things just keep getting bigger and fancier, her way still attracts due to it’s smallness and simplicity.

“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” – St. Therese of Lisieux

— 4 —


St. Hildegard of Bingen

If I had a nickle for every paper I wrote on Hildegard of Bingen in college, I might have already paid my student loans off. I was so excited when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI declared her a Doctor of the Church in 2012. Mystic, composer, scientist, abbess, medical doctor, and conlanger (yes, she made up her own language), she was a jack-of-all-trades and a genius. Also, like other women on this list, she had quite the attitude.

One of my favorite stories about her happened toward the end of her life. A man who had left the Church came back to the Church on his death-bed. He was buried in Hildegard’s monastery’s cemetery and, for political reasons, her bishop threw a fit about it. He refused to recognize that the man had returned to the Church. He stopped all Masses at the monastery and forbid her nuns from singing the Divine Office. Hildegard wrote to him basically telling him that he was going to hell for not letting her nuns sing. The bishop sent men to disinter the body in question and they couldn’t find it. It was a miracle attributed to Hildegard that the innocent man’s grave was never found. After more exchanges between her and the bishop, the bishop relented and the interdicts were lifted.

She was not always disobedient to authorities, but she would stand up for Church teachings even against Church authorities. Of all of her accomplishments, I think Hildegard was most passionate about her music. Singing was her life.

“There is the Music of Heaven in all things and we have forgotten how to hear it until we sing.”- St. Hildegard of Bingen

— 5 —


St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (aka Edith Stein)

Edith Stein is my first suggestion for the next woman to be declared a Doctor of the Church. I think she’d be a shoe-in. She did actually have a doctorate in Philosophy. Especially now, that Pope Francis is calling for a new theology of women. Edith Stein wrote a lot about women’s relationship to the Divine.

And that wasn’t all she wrote about. One of her better known works is The Science of the Cross, a study of St. John of the Cross’ work. I realize the shortest time between a saint’s death and a saint being declared a Doctor is 100 years (St. Therese of Lisieux). But I don’t think we have to wait that long for Edith Stein. Since I have been sharing a lot of her quotes about women, let me share with you one from The Science of the Cross:

The soul in which God dwells by grace is no impersonal scene of the divine life but is itself drawn into this life. The divine life is three-personal life: it is overflowing love, in which the Father generates the Son and gives him his Being, while the Son embraces this Being and returns it to the Father; it is the love in which the Father and Son are one, both breathing the Holy Spirit. By grace this Spirit is shed abroad in men’s hearts. Thus the soul lives its life of grace through the Holy Spirit, in Him it loves the Father with the love of the Son and the Son with the love of the Father. – Edith Stein

— 6 —


Blessed Julian of Norwich

The first step for her would obviously be sainthood (maybe she could be made a saint de facto when she’s made a Doctor, like Hildegard kinda was). An anchoress in England, she spent the last half of her life in a cell attached to a church. People came from all around for her advice and guidance.

When she was 30 and still living at home, she became deathly ill and started to have visions. These visions continued for the rest of her life and she wrote about them. Her writings are believed to be the earliest surviving book written in the English language by a woman.

Her message of hope and the maternal aspects of God needs to be heard even today. I will share with you her most famous quote which she claims God said to her:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well”- Blessed Julian of Norwich

— 7 —

Now, if you haven’t seen it already, you need to see this Ursuline Sister rock the judges socks off on the Italian version of The Voice. I picked the long version of the video because someone finally has added English subtitles. The Sister and the judges’ conversation afterwards is very good:

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!


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