By Sister Maryanne Stevens, President, College of Saint Mary
As we celebrate Women’s History Month this March, we recall the many women who have inspired us through their courage. At College of Saint Mary, the women’s college where I work, our conference rooms are named after Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Florence Nightingale, Francis Warde and Mother Teresa, and our plan this year is to name an additional one after Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
In each room, there are sayings from these giants of social change, along with their pictures. These women and many like them have done amazing things throughout history against significant odds, and they are doing it still despite ongoing, sometimes immense, global gender inequity. Think Angela Merkel, Kamala Harris, Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, among others.
So it may come as a surprise that the women I want to focus on this month are not necessarily famous, but they, too, have inspired us because of their courage. They accomplished and are accomplishing tremendous things. They are our mothers. Just the sheer act of giving birth takes courage, as does adopting a child into one’s home. For some of us, these relationships have been tender and loving, while for others, fraught and challenging, but it is my hope that there was a women in each of our lives who, with great heart, carried the burden of helping us become the people we are today.
These are the ones who did both great and small things to call us forth. They hugged us when we thought all was lost, picked up toys, did the dishes and the laundry, organized and, in most cases, cooked the meals and planned the schedule. Some carried their children to safety in refugee camps or across borders. Others worried about where the next meal was coming from and worked several jobs to provide. It’s quite incredible when you stop to think about it.
And all of this says nothing about the tears and frustrations we caused as we groaned our way into adulthood.
Courageous comes from the Latin “heart”; moms are motivated by the heart to do something—many things—courageous. Talk about women’s history: Whoever that mom is, she loved us into being, loved us through childhood trauma, in some cases loved her children through the pain of death. Such bravery!
My mother had eight children in 15 years. I was the oldest girl but never learned to cook, nor did I wash the dishes. The kitchen was mom’s sacred space where she found a few moments of quiet. As I became familiar with Scripture, I often wondered if what she was doing in that space was “taking a new grip with tired hands and strengthening her weak knees” (Hebrews 12:12). Two of her children, a son of 17 and a daughter of 52, died before she did. The weak knees almost collapsed. But there were six other children and many grandchildren, even great-grandchildren by then, to be loved. Always more to be loved. Always more courage to model for us.
Who was or is the mother who raised you? How do you think she sustained herself? What might mercy have meant for her, and what might mercy do for mothers today?