Rorate Caeli

The Saintly Career Woman

It has come to my knowledge recently that many Catholic women (as well as those desiring to be Catholic) have the perception that there is a limited number of models for them to follow in their pursuit of holiness. In their walk with the Lord Jesus, they get the impression that, in order to be a saint, they must be home-schooling mothers of at least nine children, never leave the house, and wear nothing but oversized shirts and ankle-length skirts. Basically, their impression of the pious Catholic woman is one who is, at all times, pregnant, nursing, and cleaning the house. Although it is certainly laudable and necessary for a woman to realize and fulfill her domestic role, it is a shame that some women have the idea that the Church is telling them it is impossible to achieve sanctity while still being in the workplace, and keeping up with modern culture.

This topic comes to mind because of a conversation I had recently with a couple of female friends, one a Catholic, and the other in RCIA. I do not regularly attend the RCIA meetings at my home parish, but the friend in RCIA told me that all of the women who had spoken to class about living as a Catholic woman fit the above description. She seemed discouraged because she received the impression that, in order to live the life of a saint, a woman must be a housewife and not much of a socialite. My other friend (the Catholic) knew that that impression was false, but still expressed the same concerns that not enough is said by the Church or those in the Church about the many different ways in which women can be fervent disciples of the Lord Jesus.

I have only one thing to say to women in this situation: Trust in Jesus and do His will. Every Christian must go through periods of discernment throughout his or her life. The Lord knows our particular situations better than we ever could, and as long as a Catholic man or woman remains united to His Mystical Body, practicing the virtues, and fulfilling the duties of his or her state in life, why should there be any reason for concern?

Obviously, the duties of the Christian woman are always present. She must be modest in her dress, action, and speech. She must live chastely according to her state in life. If she is married, she must, as St. Paul says, submit to her husband, because he is her head as Christ is the head of the Church. His Holiness Pius XI explains this submission in his 1931 encyclical Casti Connubii:

"This subjection does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband's every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife... But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love."

It is for this reason that it is the natural role of the Christian woman to care for the home and to raise and educate children. It is not that a woman cannot or should not have a career or a social life, but her duties of first sanctifying herself and her husband, and then raising Catholic children, must come before all else. Otherwise, she is not living as a disciple of the Lord Jesus, and is endangering her own soul as well as those of her family.

If a woman wants a career, she must be sure that her children are receiving that Christian formation which is the bedrock of the domestic Church. They must be ready to face many challenges posed to them by modern society and popular culture that many young people fall prey to in public, private, and parochial schools. If a woman wants to remain stylish and continue in social scenes with those who do not share her values, she must use caution, lest she fall prey to the pride and self-indulgence which are the twin pillars of our culture. Most importantly, she must never be afraid to fulfill her baptismal call to preach the gospel in and out of season.

There is no need for any new official Church document concerning these issues. She has always taught that when Catholics engage the secular culture through work, school, or in any forum, they must proceed with caution for the occasion of sin, and with fortitude in being disciples of the Lord Jesus. No, it is not necessary for every Catholic woman to fit some cookie-cutter image, but there is a reason why these customs were so firmly established for so many years, and perhaps that should be kept in mind. St. Therese the Little Flower said that it is not what we do that sanctifies us, but the love with which we do it. Ultimately, as I stated previously, each person must discern the will of God in his or her life. This can be difficult at times, but that is why we have the Church and her priests for direction. To women struggling with this, I say: Be strong and realize your feminine dignity, but always be humble and ready to give up anything to follow the Lord Jesus.


  1. Magnificently said. I don't think I can add anything to this, except that it is ok to dress with style and modesty as well. After all we are women and God created us to be the best we can be. Thanks for such an encouraging post for woman

  2. "..they must be home-schooling mothers of at least nine children, never leave the house, and wear nothing but oversized shirts and ankle-length skirts."

    Is that such an ugly thing? This used to be the rule for a Catholic woman before the sexual revolution and Vatican II, were all those women wrong? I guess you regard the old ways aesthetically unpleasing, but maybe, just maybe, those women were the reason why those familes remained together.

    "...Basically, their impression of the pious Catholic woman is one who is, at all times, pregnant, nursing, and cleaning the house."

    You very phrasing is demeaning to the traditional role that a woman plays in a Catholic home.

    "If a woman wants a career"

    I see, I guess being a wife and mother is not a real job.

    Seminarista, with that kind of advice you'll further contribute to the destruction of the family, and worst, the Church.

  3. Al,

    You have completely misunderstood me. My very best Catholic friends are home-schooling families, and I love them dearly and very much encourage the way they have chosen to follow the Lord Jesus. Personally, with the experiences that kids have in even Catholic schools these days, I think home-schooling is the way to go.
    My comments describing impressions of homeschooling mothers are exactly that--impressions, stereotypes. In no way am I disparaging them. The point of the post is to encourage especially women coming into the Church, but also all women who perceive that the Church is ignoring those who are not home-schooling mothers.
    And please don't use the old "isn't being a wife and mother a real job?" line. You know what I am referring to.

  4. Some "old lines" remain because they are true.

    Your whole text rests upon the false idea that a woman who dedicates herself to her family is missing out in a career and being "stylish" (whatever that means).

    What about "if a woman WANTS a career"? Well, than maybe she should not get married!

    "...and keeping up with modern culture." Good advice, why not tell women to "get with it", join the rat race, debase themselves in the market place.

    You are perpetuating a lie, that "women can have it all". For a Catholic woman, "having it all" should not mean the constant juggling of motherhood and a career.

  5. I believe that our Catholic youth, particularly young women, need role models in their worldview besides their mothers and the mothers of their friends.

    There are faithful Catholic married women, whether childless or with children, who are active in the workplace and in their communities, who dress beautifully and modestly, and whose lives are rich examples of Catholic womanhood. The idea that only single Catholic women can have careers outside the home is also damaging to the Church and demeaning to women.

    As for debasing myself in the marketplace, I offer the anecdote of a conversation I had with the mother of one of my students the other day. This woman approached me to thank me for the example I provide her teenage daughter. She told me that it makes such an impression on her daughter and on her daughter's friends to see someone who's attempting to live her Catholic faith as best she can who is closer to their age than their parents' ages.

  6. And I recall from my own girlhood feeling discouraged as I read the lives of the saints...there were terribly few married women, even fewer who weren't martyrs, and even fewer than that who weren't mothers. Most of the models for holiness that young women are offered are celibate vowed religious, yet far more of these young women will have a vocation to the married life than to a religious calling!

  7. Who is taking care of the little Catholic children while mommy enjoys her career and servers as a role mode to OTHER people's kids? It's a vicious cicle that is destroying families, Catholic or not.

    Caveat: Catholic mothers are not supposed to drop their kids in day care.

  8. Mr. Trovato,

    Why do you keep insisting that I am bashing homeschooling families. I love them, and the Lord will reward them generously for the sacrifices they make. However, I know many mothers with children in some of our local Catholic schools who have jobs (i.e. outside the home), and who are raising very strong Catholics. I know one mother who works in a Church office while her husband stays at home and educates their four children. This may not be the norm, but it is what works for them at this point in time. They are a very strong Catholic family.
    I am concerned that the content of your rhetoric, idealistic as it may be, is not reality for most people.

    "What about "if a woman WANTS a career"? Well, than maybe she should not get married!"
    Where is the will of God in your thinking? Who are any of us to automatically decide whether a woman should not be married? That is for God to decide through the teaching of His Church and the direction of His priests.

    In no way do I advocate mothers leaving their young children at daycare. The first years of a child are the most formative. However, if, at a certain age, a mother decides to send her kids to solidly Catholic school while preserving a thoroughly Catholic home life, where is the cause for alarm?

  9. Mr Trovato,

    Where in my post did I ever contend that homeschooling mothers are "missing out" on something?

    You forget that, although Catholics should be countercultural, we are children of this culture and we are all called to spread the Gospel in whatever environment we find ourselves in.

    Listen, in no way am I advocating career life for married mothers as the safest way to go. However, I will not dare to presume the will of God for someone, the situation of whom I know nothing about. Please quote any Church or Papal document declaring it to be sinful for a woman to work outside the homw.

  10. Al,
    I beg you to explain to everyone why the
    "home-schooling mothers of at least nine children..."
    is the model to follow. As of right now you have only made false conclusions that are not contained within the article. To promote understanding there has to be some premises to argue about. Why is your particular model of married women the perfect model? Please say more than: “because the Church says so.”
    To throw out lines about “rules” for women with no explainable reason only fuels the feminist’s fire.

  11. Seminarista Romano,

    Well, if a woman has to work, she has to work. How's that an argument? Of course particular situations may force a mother to leave her children in daycare.

    But, as a rule, women should stay home and raise the children, and what a noble role that is!

    The problem is that you seem to be saying that working outside or staying home are -- on average -- just as good, and that is simply false.

    As to God's will, it seems that one of the ways that He chooses to express it is through nature, and nature seems to require that human children be cared for longer than, say, fish.

    As to being "children of this culture", I'll stick with Chesterton every time:

    "The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man
    from the degrading slavery of being a CHILD OF HIS AGE."

  12. Al,
    No one has yet to say that staying home and raising children is a lesser or equal role to working. On the contrary, it has been said that women staying home is the prefered role. My question is this: Is this rule a universal rule? Is this the perfect model for feminity?

  13. 11. Thus amongst the blessings of marriage, the child holds the first place. And indeed the Creator of the human race Himself, Who in His goodness wishes to use men as His helpers in the propagation of life, taught this when, instituting marriage in Paradise, He said to our first parents, and through them to all future spouses: "Increase and multiply, and fill the earth."[12] As St. Augustine admirably deduces from the words of the holy Apostle Saint Paul to Timothy[13] when he says: "The Apostle himself is therefore a witness that marriage is for the sake of generation: 'I wish,' he says, 'young girls to marry.' And, as if someone said to him, 'Why?,' he immediately adds: 'To bear children, to be mothers of families'."


    If both parents work, who will care for the children?

    In a hypothetical, if one can find a truly Catholic school, AND if ALL the children are not home during school hours, then the parents would be "free" to do what they'd like.

    Outside of that, while children are home, who will raise them?

    So, I guess to your questions: "Is this rule a universal rule? Is this the perfect model for femininity?" I answer: yes.

    "why?", because Our Lord and that Church "wish young girls to marry, to bear children, to be mothers of families'."

  14. So, is it what mothers do that defines them?

  15. al trovato,

    I'm endeavoring not to take your comments personally, but it's difficult not to do so.

    I am married and childless and I work outside the home. If it is in God's plan, perhaps someday my husband and I will have children. Until and unless that happens, I will continue to work outside the home and continue to model Catholic womanhood as best I can.

    I have nothing but admiration for the women who devote their lives to raising their children in wisdom and fear of the Lord; I was raised by such a woman myself. But although such a life is sanctified and worthy of special recognition, it is by no means the only sanctified lifestyle option for married women.

  16. Dear Mrs. Scherza,

    I am sorry you and your husband cannot have children, as I said above:

    "In a hypothetical, if one can find a truly Catholic school, AND if ALL the children are not home during school hours, then the parents would be "free" to do what they'd like."

    Mutatis mutandi, the rule is the same for the childless.

    (Now, I do not wish to personalize, and I am not refering to you when I say what I am going to say next)

    Therefore, I'd say that childless women may, perhaps, pursue a career outside the home.

    But the natural calling of the woman is the home. In CASTI CONNUBII, Pius XII talks of the tragedy of the wife having to leave home to find work:

    "120. (...)if the husband cannot find employment and means of livelihood; if the necessities of life cannot be purchased except at exorbitant prices; if even the mother of the family to the great harm of the home, is compelled to go forth and seek a living by her own labor; if she, too, in the ordinary or even extraordinary labors of childbirth, is deprived of proper food, medicine, and the assistance of a skilled physician, it is patent to all to what an extent married people may lose heart, and how home life and the observance of God's commands are rendered difficult for them (...)"

    As you can see, that very holy and wise Pope thought it HARMFUL TO THE HOME that a woman had to work. Maybe you are right and he is wrong. I don't think so.

  17. Al,

    i don't know is St. Jeanne D'Arc would've been a saint had she fit the mold for your cookie cutter version of what it is to be a pious woman. She didn't just leave the house, she went to war at the head of the French Army...and I would gather that, in your mind, war should be the last place any decent Catholic woman should be...and what's worse the hussy cut her hair short like a man...

  18. Al,

    Your missing the point of the whole article. This isn't a debate on what choice of life for a woman is better or putting down stay-at-home mothers. All the post says is that there is no cookie cutter version of what it means to be a woman of God. Period.

    St. Jeanne D'Arc would not have been a saint had she fit the mold you would've had for her. You would be the last person to support a woman at the head of an Army. Yet she fulfilled God's will for her on the battlefield when you would've had her married and nursing. She wore armour and wielded a sword. She even cut her hair short like a man in order to not stand out so much. Your attitude would've had her where she ended up: at the stake.

  19. My bad, my computer messed up and i thought the first comment was deleted but it was posted...i wrote the second not knowing that the first was posted

  20. Brendon,

    St. Joan of Arc was a single woman, and I was talking about married women.

    It's not my "cookie cutter", it's the Church's. It does not matter what I, you or anyone else thinks.

    what matters is what Our Lord teaches us through His beloved Wife, Holy Mother Church.

  21. Al,
    Sorry, I forgot to mention that my last question was asked for you:
    So, is it what mothers do that defines them?

    As for your "rule" being the perfect model of motherhood, I must say that I disagree. There has only been one perfect mother, The Blessed Virgin Mary. There is no model that can fit any mother perfectly when there is still sin in the world. This is why the Church leaves room for individual cases.

    I still do not see any conflict with what has been said by Seminarista Romano or myself, and the quotes you found. We both have continually said that mothers should stay at home with her children if possible. Your quotes do not say that a mother must stay at home. Pius XII, in the quote, leaves room for extenuating conditions and so does our Holy Mother the Church. It may very well be a tragedy that a mother must leave her home, but as long as "the child holds the first place" is she being less of a mother? Is the essence of motherhood centered on her completing the task of raising the children? Or is there something more to it? As of right now, by your description of motherhood short of child bearing, a man could complete these tasks you call motherhood. And then we go back to the question at the top.

  22. Al,

    First my name is Bredon not Brendon...a small mistake but an annoying one.

    You're right that it does only matter what the Church teaches and not just what we think independantly. Fortunately, this dicussion is a debate on what the Church does teach so our thoughts do matter here.

    Please provide evidence that the Church has ever said that married women must conform to this "cookie cutter" version of motherhood that you have defined. I do not believe you can and your thoughts so far seem not to take into account the vast amount of writing the late Pope John Paul II had on the role of women.

    No one on this blog has said anything against women staying home to raise the children. No one has said that homelife isn't a part or even a major part of a mother's vocation. The only thing that has been said is that no woman should feel pressure to conform to this image of a Catholic mother that many girls and women do have.

    I will ask you if you think that these women should feel the pressure to fulfil that image of a woman and a mother?

  23. Bredon,

    I've already provided the quotations. Pius XII said that it is harmful to the family if the woman HAS TO leave the home to work.

    Again, as that holy Pope explained, of course that if she HAS to go to work, she has to work, but always for the sake of the family, and not because she WANTS a "career".

    As for Our Blessed Mother, she is the model to be followed, did she work outside the home? Yes, she is the "cookie cutter", the model for every Catholic woman.

    Lastly, do you really believe that the real problem that young Catholic women face today is that they feel "the pressure to fulfil that image of a woman and a mother" ?

    It is obviously the opposite. The whole world is telling them: dress like a whore, live like a whore, get pregnant, get an abortion, but if you choose to have the baby, dump your kid in daycare, and GET A JOB.

    The Catholic Church, its true Magisterium, tells women to choose a good Catholic husband, get married and raise a family.

    P.S. You can quote JPII if you want to. I don't care much for the fluff that he usually wrote, but if suits you, go right ahead. As far as I can tell, his greatest contribution to the Church was the appointment of hundreds of sexually perverted bishops.

  24. Well, I guess that about says it all for you, Al...

  25. Bredon,

    At least we can agree on that.

  26. You disappoint me Al. I'm sure there is a local SSPX parish waiting on you to join.

  27. John Paul The Great, pray for us.


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