by Alikay Wood
Chiara Offreduccio was born into a noble family in Italy and was expected to marry by age 18. However, after hearing St. Francis (then known simply as Francis) she rejected the marriage her family had arranged for her and ran away to join a Benedictine monastery, where she adopted the name Clare.
She eventually created the Order of Poor Ladies and was the first woman to write the Rules of Life for an order. Clare lived the rest of her life in intentional poverty and it is believed that her prayers were so powerful they saved the city of Assisi from invasion not once, but twice.
Little is known about Julian of Norwich—including her legal name. The name “Julian” was derived from the Church of St. Julian where she served as an anchoress, a woman who chose to reject society and pursue an ascetic lifestyle.
Julian is most well-known for being the first woman to publish a book in the English language. The Revelations of Divine Love was a groundbreaking exploration of God’s love. She broke barriers by writing about motherhood as it related to God, and portraying God as a positive and loving figure.
Joan of Arc changed the course of history when, as a teenager, she declared that she had received a vision directly from God. She believed God had called her to lead the French in defeating the English and putting the rightful king on the throne.
Joan told anyone who would listen of her visions, eventually gaining enough followers to get an audience with the dauphin (the rightful heir of France), Charles. She led troops into battle and helped turn the tide of the war. The English eventually took her captive and charged her with heresy, cross dressing and witchcraft. She was burned at the stake when she was just 19 years old.
Just forty years after her death, Teresa of Ávila was canonized and was one of the first women to be named a Doctor of the Church. During her teenage years she suffered from a serious illness and claimed to experience visions from God.
She joined a convent when she was 20, but was disheartened by the laxity of spiritual devotion she encountered. Teresa founded her own order, the Discalced Carmelites, devoted to contemplative prayer, which still exists today.
Teresa’s writings on mysticism and prayer left a lasting legacy in the church and beyond—some argue that her book The Interior Castle was the primary influence for Rene Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy.
Another woman who felt God delivered a message personally to her, Jarena Lee heard God call her to preach the Gospel. She married a pastor and became a mother, but never forgot her calling. After her husband’s death, she was attending a church service where the speaker was struggling so much with his sermon that he eventually gave up. Jarena stood up and delivered a sermon of her own.
Lee began traveling as a preacher despite the dangers to her safety. She was the first woman authorized to preach in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the first African America woman to publish an autobiography in the United States.
Sojourner Truth, born was born into slavery. After she escaped, she became one of the first black women in the United States to take a white man to trial and win. In 1843, she had a spiritual awakening and adopted the name Sojourner Truth. She began traveling around the country preaching against slavery, “Ain’t I a Woman?’
She was attacked viciously by a mob after one of her speeches and had to walk with a cane. She continued to speak out against slavery and supported the women’s rights movement, and worked with the federal government to enforce desegregation.
Most people are aware of Florence Nightingale’s incredible contributions to the medical field. However, Nightingale was also a revolutionary religious thinker. When she was 17, she heard a simple command from God: serve. She devoted the rest of her life to doing just that.
The “Lady of the Lamp”, as she became known during the Crimean war, advocated for medical reform, ran a nursing school and worked for legislation to provide care for the poor. Along with her medical work, she also wrote a theological treatise. She was the first woman to receive the Order of the Merit, an award for service established by King Edward VII.
Not only was Anna Howard Shaw the first woman ordained to preach in the Methodist church in the United States, she was also a doctor and a leading supporter of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. She supported herself through college and the Boston University School of Theology, where she was the only woman in her class. Shaw was an outspoken activist for women’s rights and played a critical role in lobbying for the nineteenth amendment.
Faith is what compelled Corrie Ten Boom to risk her life by hiding Jews in her home during World War II. She also got rations cards for Jews who were being denied food
She was eventually caught by the Nazis and sent to a prison and then on to a concentration camp where she watched her sister die. After her release (due to an administrative mistake) she continued to shelter those in need.
Corrie survived the war and spent the rest of her life sharing her story and encouraging people to devote their lives to service and to God. Her bestselling book The Hiding Place was co-authored with Guideposts Editors’ John and Elizabeth Sherrill.
Before she was Mother Teresa, Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was an Albanian girl with a dream of committing herself to serving God. She fulfilled her mission by founding the Missionaries of Charity, a congregation dedicated to serving those in the slums in Calcutta. Since her death, her struggles to experience God’s presence have come to light, and revealed more about her devotion. She was canonized in 2015.