March is Women’s History Month and so I thought it might be a good idea to give some history on four women who hold the distinct title of Doctor of the Church. They are the only four women to hold the title, three being well-known, and one perhaps not so well-known. A Doctor of the Church is someone who has influenced the life of the Church by their writings in theology and philosophy and is a title given posthumously. The four women Doctors of the Church are St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Hildegard of Bingen. These four women deserve to be highlighted because they are part of a class that is instrumental in the teachings of the Catholic Church and its moral and philosophical framework, which in turn influences every member in their life of faith.
· St. Teresa of Avila was a Spanish Carmelite nun who reformed the Order and founded the Discalced Carmelites. A prominent mystic, her books include such classics as The Interior Castle and Way of Perfection. She is a great example of perseverance and the fact that it is never too late to repent and turn back to God, as she was in her 40s when she finally began to take her spiritual life seriously and turn away from the things that were keeping her from God, despite being in a Carmelite convent all her life. She died in 1582 and was canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622. In 1970, Pope Paul VI made her the first female Doctor of the Church.
· St. Therese of Lisieux was a French Carmelite nun known for her “Little Way” of doing small things with great love. She was called the “Little Flower” because she always thought of herself as a little flower in God’s garden. Her autobiography, Story of a Soul, is considered a classic and it shows us how to increase our trust in God and live in simplicity and humility. She died in 1897 and was canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. She was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997 by Pope St. John Paul II.
· St. Catherine of Siena was a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic. She was a mystic and activist whose writings include her Dialogue, a collection of spiritual treatises dictated to her secretaries by St. Catherine which took place as part of a dialogue with God. She was also involved with politics and kept city states loyal to the pope, and was also instrumental in convincing the pope to return to Rome from Avignon. She died in 1380 and was canonized in 1461 by Pope Pius II. Pope Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church in 1970.
· St. Hildegard of Bingen is probably the least well-known in this list. She was a German Benedictine abbess known for her philosophical and medical writings. She was also a composer who wrote one of the first musical plays. St. Hildegard was known for her many visions and she recorded them in writing, creating a book called Scivias. She died in 1179 and was canonized in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. Later that year, he declared her a Doctor of the Church.
The history behind these four women is important to point out because they did indeed pave the way for others by showing that greatness in the eyes of God is attainable for even the smallest or weakest in the world, both men and women. It is also important to note that these are four women who show us the value of humility and simplicity, two virtues that help us get close to God so that we can be counted among the greatest in His Kingdom, as opposed to the modern view of women wanting to show that they can be the greatest here on earth, doing the same things that men can do.