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How the Saints Taught Me Feminism

Meggie Gates

Jan 15, 2023

"Finding footing in a world that appears to condone worshiping men can be incredibly hard, especially when that world extends past every aspect of your being."

Catholicism is, historically, very male centric. The father, the son, and the Holy Spirit leave very little room for a female presence, and growing up, the absence was noted. I looked to male religion teachers sparking conversation over male figureheads in the church and borderline misogynistic history in the Old Testament for answers on where my place was in a religion I actively participated in. For me, women were painted as grateful, servile, or docile.

I was left with very little on where my gender fit into the bigger picture. 

I became enamored with the name Lucy around my seventh birthday. Overtaking every aspect of my life, I could not escape “Lucy,” a name whose origins are unknown in my life. I began looking into legally changing my name and was disappointed when the internet said I couldn’t until I was eighteen. I named every Barbie Lucy, wrote Lucy at the top of every test, and, embarrassingly, I asked all my classmates to call me Lucy. 

Once, I refused to answer to anything other than Lucy for an entire month. 

The obsession led me down a path to discover Saint Lucy. During my third grade religion class, we were tasked with making a collage for a saint that included their picture, background, and why we were drawn to them. The picture I found and used of Saint Lucy solidified my awe of her, a photo of Lucy looking to the heavens with wavy blonde hair falling behind her shoulders. It was only fate that I, a fellow blonde-haired comrade, would not only find a saint I looked up to because of her name, but also her looks. I convinced myself we looked alike and put her photo on my locker for every student to see, not realizing how much this woman would come to mean to me. 

Years down the line, when I was old enough to understand, her backstory sold me on the powerful place women had in Church history.

Born in 283 AD to noble descent, Lucy, also called St. Lucia, vowed her virginity to God alongside promising her dowry to the poor. After news of Lucy distributing jewels and patrimony to the town made its way to her betrothed ears, Lucy was ordered by Paschasius, the Governor of Syracuse, to burn a sacrifice to the emperor’s image. When Lucy refused, she was sentenced to be defiled in a brothel.

The day guards came to take her away; however, Lucy, strapped to oxen, could not be moved. Bundles of wood were heaped at her feet and despite their best efforts, they could not set her on fire. It seemed the power of God was so strong in her, Lucy, steadfast in her will, would not die until guards cut her throat. In the fifteenth century, news of her eye gorging gave her status as the Patron Saint of eyesight. I learned all of this at the ripe age of sixteen, seven months before my confirmation. 

This brush with one powerful woman in the Church led me to discover other women in Church history. One of the tasks our priest made us do in preparation for being confirmed was researching a number of different saints in order to pick our confirmation names. Though I was steadfast about Lucy as my confirmation saint, a path I’d never waver from, there were many other women who mirrored her tenacity and who I considered as confirmation saints to watch over me. I prayed to them every night, calling on Saint Quiteria for her patience and Saint Margaret of Antioch for her kindness. Typically, the things I was distraught over were small, a scuffle with a friend here, an unrequited love there, but the idea of a direct line to powerful women every night in prayer gave me peace in the quiet corners of my bedroom. Sharing my most vulnerable secrets with women like me felt more religious than a school-sanctioned confirmation. They understood my pain in womanhood tenfold.

Throughout the rest of high school, I focused solely on the things these women brought to the Church. My high school, named after St. Francis Xavier, expanded my understanding of saints with similar names, those sometimes overshadowed by male counterparts. St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, for example, an Italian-American Roman nun, piqued my interest while working on a senior class project about the advancements religious figures made in the Church. Devoting her time, energy, and resources to establishing schools and orphanages for Italian immigrants, St. Frances Cabrini lent a voice to the hopeless when all else was lost, a feeling that mirrored my aimlessness growing up sixteen and troublesome. I was too young to understand the word feminism, too young to know how that might look reflected in my life, but these women who came before me stoked a fire in my soul that could not be tamed. Disobedience ran through me, leveling me with my male counterparts. I challenged male teachers and wrote in the school newspaper about oppositions, questions, and concerns I had with my lessons. I pushed back against the status quo, and in that defiance, found a space where I belonged. (Editor's note: In this issue of ATM, our Crucible Challenge essay winner is a junior at Cabrini High School in New Orleans.)

Finding footing in a world that appears to condone worshiping men can be incredibly hard, especially when that world extends past every aspect of your being. I never met nuns growing up, never experienced a female teacher bearing the fruits of religion class, and the confusion it bred made me feel secondary, dismissed as someone undeserving of praise. Yet, Saint Lucy, alongside other female saints, stood for something unique, women who were passionate, confident, and fearless under the watchful eyes of the patriarchy. With them, I was more than second best. I was head fast, sincere, and strong.   

A person born to thrive, not hide, my individuality. 


Meggie Gates is a freelance writer living in Chicago, Illinois. In the past, their work has appeared in the Chicago Reader, Southside Weekly, and Vulture Magazine. You can find more of their work or what karaoke bar they're singing at this weekend here. 

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