Leading Ladies of Christian History

Usually when we think of “leading ladies” we think glamour, fame, success, and beauty; but probably not sacrifice, spirituality, chastity, self-discipline or simplicity.  The leading ladies referred to in this article are all about leading us closer to God through their own stories of unwavering faith and courage.

Here is an introduction to a few remarkable and saintly women who’ve led the charge for God and, ultimately, left us an example to follow.  While this article is by no means comprehensive, the list will hopefully inspire you to learn more about the powerful women included herein, and to also discover additional inspirational Christian women throughout your faith journey.

Joan of Arc

One of Europe’s most famous heroines, Joan of Arc took a costly stand for conscience and followed her divine call across an international stage.  She has been demonized, canonized, analyzed, psychologized, reconstructed, deconstructed, dramatized and rhapsodized.

At thirteen, Joan had her first vision of God. Fearing ridicule, she kept these experiences secret for three years.  Mystical revelations were dangerous in the 1400’s.  If not sanctioned by the Church, these revelations were considered signs of conversing with the ‘evil one.’  Today we might consider them evidence of psychosis, but in Joan’s case there is no evidence of any mental imbalance.

In 1428, Joan’s revelations began urging her to go into action.  Joan was forced to make a hard and costly choice.  Stay as she was?  Or risk all to follow God’s call?  Joan stepped out in faith to fulfill the divine mission she had been given.  Joan’s efforts led to the dauphin being crowned as King Charles VII.

Joan was later captured and put on trial where she faced her ultimate watershed moment.  Joan elected to die for her beliefs and was martyred.

Teresa of Avila

A daring spiritual trailblazer, Teresa defied traditional roles—as a woman, as a nun, and as a spiritual seeker.  She accomplished this in turbulent times, at risk of dire punishment by the dreaded Spanish Inquisition.  At twenty, Teresa ran away from her father’s house and entered the convent of Avila.

While there, her religious vocation grew passionless.  Her religious order had grown lax.   It did not demand a simple, disciplined life but endorsed a leisurely, social pattern.  After nineteen years, Teresa faced her own interior choice: continue as a charming but lukewarm nun or completely commit to an intense and demanding spiritual life.

Despite her wisdom, Teresa was at risk.  She was a visionary in an age when personal mysticism was questioned and often punished.  She was a reformer when the traditions of the Church were fiercely guarded.  And she was a woman exercising authority when women’s roles were limited.  Enemies of her reforming work denounced her to the Spanish Inquisition.  

This inquisition ceased in 1579, and Teresa continued her work.  While she did not die a martyr, she did become a stellar guide to the interior walls of our souls…where God always awaits.

Modern Women

Corrie and Betsie ten Boom
1892—1983, 1885—1944
Haarlem, Holland

Living in Nazi-occupied Holland, the ten Boom family turned their home into a safe-haven for the Jewish community.  Corrie stayed in contact with the Dutch resistance movement and eventually began hiding resistance workers as well.  An architect from the resistance even built a hidden room in the ten Boom’s house called “the hiding place.”

By the winter of 1944, the ten Boom family had rescued around 800 people.  But in February of that year, the family was found out by the Gestapo and were deported to the Scheveningen prison.  Corrie and Betsie were sent into separate solitary confinement cells before later being sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp.  Betsie became sick and, while dying, passed on her last mission to her sister: “Love your enemies.”

Corrie’s greatest challenge was to turn from hatred to forgiveness of those who had imprisoned her and her loved ones.  After the war ended, Corrie traveled Germany with the message of God’s love, loving thy enemy, and the absolute need for forgiveness.

Maria de la Luz Camacho
Mexico City

Born on May 17, 1907 to a well-to-do businessman, Maria grew up with a strong devotion to her faith.  As she grew into adulthood, the Communist movement began its attack on the Church.  Maria joined a group called Catholic Action, a small network that tried to counter the Communists.

When a mob of “Red Shirts” began to attack her church, where hundreds of children were at Mass, Maria went to stand between the mob and the church doors.  She was joined by a small group of women.  When ordered to move from the doors, Maria replied, “We are not afraid.   If it becomes necessary, we are ready to die for Christ the King.  Those who wish to enter this church must first pass over my body.”

No one knows exactly how long the standoff continued.  The mob continued to grow until shots rang out.  Maria was struck in the chest, fatally wounded.  Meanwhile, the children had safely escaped from the church, along with the priest, and the mob’s plan to burn down the building was thwarted.

Dorothy Day
New York

Dorothy Day began as a radical who rejected religion and ended as a radical who embraced Christianity.  While reporting on a hunger march in Washington, DC, Dorothy was stirred by the protestors and agonized over a way to reconcile her political stance with her religious beliefs.  It was shortly after this event that she met Peter Maurin.

With Peter, she created the Catholic Worker Movement.  In 1931, her newspaper The Catholic Worker went on sale.  The paper urged a return to Christian hospitality for “the stranger”—the homeless, the hungry, the destitute.  This spurred the creation of Catholic Worker houses, with thirty-three springing up around the country by 1936.

Day took her calling seriously until the end of her life.  She demanded a great deal from herself and never gave up her first commitment—the poor—around her.  Her life still challenges us with questions such as, “Where were the saints to try to change the social order—not just to minister to the slaves for example, but to do away with slavery altogether?”