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On Friday, March 8, the world will celebrate International Women’s Day, a day to recognize and honor the political, social, economic and personal achievements of women.

In the history of the Catholic Church, a great number of faithful women have also made great political, social and personal achievements in the Church and the world. They have been mothers and nuns, doctors and teachers, missionaries and homemakers. They have been married and unmarried, young and old, martyrs and quiet, hidden souls. They have come from every background and every corner of the earth. But one common thread unites them—they have each dedicated their lives in holy and humble obedience to God, striving to make him known and loved through their particular gifts and unique circumstances in life.  

In honor of International Women’s Day, here are six heroic and holy female saints and blesseds to inspire, motivate and challenge us in our own lives and walk with God.

Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), brilliant academic and contemplative

Born: Breslau, German Empire, 1891-1942

Born into a Jewish family in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland), Edith Stein was not particularly religious for the first two decades of her life. She worked in an infectious disease hospital during World War I and enjoyed hiking, nature and outings with her friends. She later became interested in philosophy and earned her Ph.D. from the University of Gottingen, where she studied under renowned philosopher Edmund Husserl; she went on to become his research assistant at the University of Freiburg. Stein made great contributions in her work on phenomenology and empathy and made quite a name for herself in the academic world. In 1922, she had a quick but assured conversion to Catholicism after reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. After her conversion, Stein spent ten years teaching at a Dominican girls’ school in Speyer, Germany.

In 1933, Stein entered the Carmelite monastery in Cologne, taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. In 1938, she was transferred to the Carmelite convent at Ehct in the Netherlands under the growing threat of Nazi persecution. However, in 1942, Hitler called for the arrest of all baptized Catholics of Jewish origin. Stein and her sister Rosa, also a Catholic convert, were arrested by the Gestapo on Sunday, August 2, and were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where they were murdered in the gas chambers on August 9, 1942.

Stein was canonized as a martyr in 1998 by Pope John Paul II. She is recognized as one of the six patron saints of Europe.

How she inspires us: Recognized for her brilliance in both the Catholic and secular philosophical worlds, Stein inspires us always to pursue the Truth. Her work Essays on Women explores the fundamental and beautiful vocation of women.

St. Monica, persevering mother

Born: Thagaste (present-day: Souk Ahras, Algeria, North Africa), 330-387

St. Monica is best known as the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the most influential saints in the history of the Church. Monica, a Christian, married a pagan man, Patricius, who was said to have had a violent temper. Monica and Patricius had three children: Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua. Monica prayed for years for the conversion of her family, and her husband converted a year before he died; Patricius’s mother converted as well. Their son Augustine, however, strayed very far from the Church. Nevertheless, Monica never gave up praying for the conversion of her son. It is said she went to a bishop who told her, “The child of those tears shall never perish.” When Augustine opened a school of rhetoric in Rome, Monica followed him there, still praying fervently for her son’s conversion. Finally, after many agonizing years of weeping and praying for her son, Augustine converted to Christianity and was baptized by Bishop Ambrose of Milan, who played a huge role in his conversion.

Monica died in 387 in Ostia. Her feast day is celebrated on August 27, the day before her son’s.

How she inspires us: St. Monica never gave up hoping or praying for the conversion of her loved ones. Faced with numerous difficulties in her family, she relied on her faith and trust in God. She teaches us about perseverance, courage and fortitude in prayer.

Blessed Rani Maria Vattalil, tireless advocate for the poor

Born: Kerala, India, 1954-1995

Blessed Rani Maria was born Mariam Vattalil on January 29, 1954, in Pulluvazhy, a small village in India. She was raised in the Catholic faith and was devout in prayer and catechism lessons from a young age. She felt a call to religious life and, at age 17, entered the Franciscan Clarist Congregation at Kidangoor. She made her first profession in May of 1974 and took the religious name “Rani Maria.” She felt the call to missionary life after hearing the testimony from one of the other sisters in her congregation who visited the missions in North India. She soon left for the mission field. Her work as a religious sister included teaching, serving and advocating to and for the poor in marginalized communities; she also received a degree in sociology. In 1992, Blessed Rani was sent to Udainagar, where she realized that the villagers there were being taken advantage of by greedy moneylenders, to whom many of them were in debt. Blessed Rani worked to enlighten them and spread the truth of their exploitation, advocating for them and working to transform their communities against corruption.

However, Blessed Rani’s work to inform the villagers attracted a few enemies who were not too happy with her efforts. On February 25, 1995, Blessed Rani was murdered by a man working under gang leader Jeevan Singh. She was stabbed 40 times throughout and was said to have constantly uttered the name of Jesus.

A museum was erected in her honor, and she was beatified in 2017. Her attacker was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, Rani’s family forgave him, with Rani’s mother even kissing his hands.

How she inspires us: Blessed Rani’s selfless and tireless work for the poor and the marginalized calls us on to live more fully the call of the Gospel—to care for our neighbor, spread the Good News, and never turn a blind eye to the sufferings many endure in our world. Her family’s mercy toward her murderer is a powerful witness to the gift of forgiveness.

Blessed Sandra Sabattini, college student

Born: Riccione, Italy, 1961 – 1984

Sandra Sabattini was born in Riccione, Italy, on August 19, 1961. Her family lived in a parish rectory where her brother was a priest. Sandra was raised in a devout Catholic family and began keeping a journal at the age of 10 to document her spiritual reflections. Sandra met Servant of God Oreste Benzi, founder of the Pope John XXII Community, in her early teens; she soon became involved with the Community and volunteered in a program caring for individuals with severe disabilities. Sandra hoped to one day become a missionary doctor in Africa, and after high school, she enrolled in the University of Bologna. She continued to spend her free time volunteering and caring for others, including volunteering at a drug rehabilitation center. During college, Sandra met another student, Guido Rossi, who was also a part of the Pope John XXIII Community. The two eventually fell in love and were engaged.

On April 29, 1984, Sandra was hit by a car and died of her injuries on May 2, 1984, at just 22 years old. She was beatified in October 2021 and is the first fiance to be considered for sainthood.

How she inspires us: Blessed Sandra teaches us that sainthood is for everyone — young and old, laity and consecrated religious alike. A college student and fiance, Bld. Sandra lived a relatively ‘normal’ life, but her love for Jesus and the poor proves that holiness is found in the ordinary, extraordinary circumstances of our lives.

St. Anna Wang, heroic teenage martyr

Born: Machiazhuang, Hebei, China, 1886 – 1900

St. Anna Wang is one of the 120 “Martyr Saints of China,” a group of Catholics who gave their lives for the faith between 1648 and 1930. Anna herself was murdered during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. Born in 1886, Anna was a strong Catholic all her life. Despite losing her mother at a young age, Anna continued to live a pious life of prayer. Anna lived during a time of intense religious and social turmoil. In the late 1800s, a Chinese secret society known as the Righteous and Harmonious Fists, or the Boxers, arose as an anti-foreign, anti-Western, and anti-Christian group in Northern China. Their goal was to drive out all foreigners and foreign influences from China; Christians were included in the latter. In June 1900, the Boxers arrived in Beijing and killed thousands of Chinese Christians and missionaries. As the Boxers approached Anna’s village, she took shelter in a school alongside other Catholic women, leading them in prayer. When the Boxers arrived at the school, they implored the women to renounce their faith or die. Anna refused to renounce her Catholic faith and was subsequently executed.

Anna died at just 14 years old. She was canonized by St. John Paul II on October 1, 2000.

How she inspires us: Even in the face of death, St. Anna Wang never gave up her faith or love for Jesus, eventually laying down her life as a martyr. As Christians in the 21st century, we may not experience a literal martyrdom like Anna’s, but may experience little ‘martyrdoms’ such as pressures from family, comments from friends and influences from society that question or ridicule our faith. St. Anna Wang teaches us how to persevere in the face of these trials, holding steadfast to the message of Jesus and never wavering in our devotion.

St. Mary of Egypt, desert mother and radical convert

Born: Egypt, 344 – 421

St. Mary of Egypt is known as the patron saint of penitents. From the age of 12, she lived a notoriously scandalous life as a prostitute in the city of Alexandria, Egypt. She lived this lifestyle for seventeen years. One day, St. Mary traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, but her intentions were not those of a pilgrimage; she had hoped to seduce as many men on the pilgrimage as possible. In Jerusalem, Mary tried to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre but was mysteriously unable to enter; it seemed she was held back by an unknown force. Immediately, she was struck with great remorse, realizing the extent of her sinful life. She saw an icon of the Theotokos and prayed, vowing to renounce her former way of life. She attempted to enter the church again and was able to do so. From that moment on, St. Mary lived a life of penance and prayer. For 47 years, St. Mary lived as a recluse in the desert, eating nothing but herbs she found out in the wild.

A year before she died, she told her life testimony to St. Zosimas, a Palestinian monk who had met her out in the desert. She had asked him to meet her on Holy Thursday at the Jordan River and to bring her the Eucharist. She walked on the surface of the water and received Communion, asking him to meet her again that following Lent. A year later, St. Zosimas returned but found St. Mary dead. A note was written in the sand next to her head, recounting that she had died on the same night the previous year after receiving Communion. Her body was miraculously transported to that same spot and was found to be incorrupt.

St. Mary’s feast day is celebrated on April 1.

How she inspires us: St. Mary of Egypt proves that no matter how sinful or painful our pasts can be, we are never too far removed from God’s grace. We may be overwhelmed with our shame or sin, but St. Mary teaches us of the power of repentance and forgiveness; it is not about where we start but where we end up. Like the story of the Prodigal Son, the mercy of God is always ready to welcome us back with open arms.

All you holy women, pray for us!