While reading some lives of the saints to my children recently, my older son remarked, “Most of the saints are nuns and priests.” It's true. Read through a list of saints, and the vast majority of them have had religious vocations. Another group was married at some point, but their spouses died and then the widow or widower entered or founded a religious organization. It is for their work after their marriage ended that they are recognized by the Church for their holiness. There are also those who lived out their holiness as single persons, dedicating themselves to lives of prayer and service.
Why is it that relatively few married women have been raised up as saints by the Church? Perhaps it is simply that work done within a family is hidden work, much less likely to be recognized by the world at large. There have no doubt been many holy married women throughout the centuries, but they have lived quiet lives, and in death, go equally unnoticed except by the One who knows all and sees all. We celebrate these unknown women on “All Saints' Day.”
The Saints are role models for how we are to live. They are human beings, complete with human faults, who have managed to live extraordinary lives of holiness. The path that leads to holiness is paved with love, prayer, and service. That is the same for all, but the way those elements are lived out vary considerably depending on whether one has a vocation to religious life, the single life, or to marriage. So, then, who are some role models that married women can look to as having lived saintly lives while tending to their husbands and children?
Mary, the mother of Jesus, provides the perfect role model of what it means to accept the Lord's will for one's life and to live out a holy life as a wife and mother. She is Queen of all the Saints and our Mother in heaven. She is always ready to help us on our spiritual journey.
Saint Elizabeth of Portugal (1271 – 1336) married Denis, King of Portugal, when she was twelve years old. She maintained a regular routine of prayer and mass while raising her son and daughter. She also engaged in many charitable activities, providing food, clothing and shelter for the poor, visiting the sick, founding a hospital, and one for orphans. She also helped poor women to be married by providing them with dowries. Her husband was unfaithful, but Elizabeth continued to care for, and pray for, him. She even cared for his illegitimate children. He was ultimately converted on his deathbed. She also worked to preserve peace. When her son declared war on his father, she rode right out into the middle of battlefield to keep them from fighting.
Saint Gorgonia (d. 374) was the sister of two other saints, Saint Caesarius and Saint Gregory Nazianzen. She married Vitalian and raised three children. She wanted to raise her children and grandchildren to live lives of service to God. She showed them how to do this through her own example of prayer, fasting, modesty, and charity to others. She exemplified the virtue of hospitality, welcoming all who came to her home and sharing all that she had. She was known for her wisdom and many sought her out to seek her counsel.
Saint Monica (331 – 387) is one of the best known mothers of all time. She was married to a pagan named Patricius and became the mother of three children. She had the added burden of living with her mother-in-law who did not like her and spoke against her. St. Monica always treated her with kindness and eventually won her over. Her youngest son, Augustine, caused her much trouble. He was brilliant, but fell into a life of sin and dissolution. She prayed for him constantly and was eventually rewarded by his ultimate conversion. Augustine would become a saint in his own right and a great Doctor of the Church.
Blessed Maria Corsini (1884 – 1965) was married to Blessed Luigi Beltarme Quattrocchi. They had four children, three of whom would ultimately enter religious life. Maria's fourth pregnancy was difficult. Doctors offered her only a 5% chance of survival, but she refused to abort and the child was delivered without complications. They had a devout family life centered around daily mass and the rosary. They were also active in many social ministries, served the poor, and housed refugees in their home during World War II.
These are just a few of the married women who have been formally declared “holy” by the Catholic Church. These women can be role models for those of us who strive for holiness within the confines of our own domestic churches.