Saints' Stories


The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene: A Celebration of Women Leaders

Reni_-_Saint_Mary_Magdalene_at_prayer,_circa_1627_-_1628In 2016, Pope Francis changed the status of the Mass celebrated in remembrance of St. Mary Magdalene from a Memorial to a Feast. This may not mean much to those who aren’t liturgy nerds, like myself, but other than Sundays and Solemnities, it is the next highest rank of importance, raising her to be equal to that of the Apostles. Mary Magdalene has had a checkered history. Her story has often been conflagrated with other women in Scripture. This shift recognizes her true role in the history of salvation.

Why is Mary Magdalene important? We might not have Christianity without her. She was the first to recognize Jesus as the risen Christ and she followed his instructions to tell the Apostles what had happened. Because of this, she has the title of Apostolorum Apostola, or “Apostle to the Apostles.”

With the exception of a few, we hear little about the women who accompanied Jesus and participated in his ministry. Even in the most well-known stories, like the Feeding of the 5,000, it is noted that there were 5,000 men present, not counting women and children[1]. It is important to note that Mary and Martha and Mary Magdalene are mentioned several times in the Gospel, along with Mary the Mother of Jesus. Their roles as friends, family and colleagues are recorded by Biblical scholars. Some scholars think that the women who accompanied Jesus could have helped to finance his ministry as well.

As we have been re-examining the history of our nation that is told, in light of both who is mentioned and who is ignored, it is important to re-examine Scripture with the same critique. Why don’t we hear about the women on a more frequent basis? It wasn’t part of the cultural norm for women to be included during the time the Gospels were written. Does that mean women weren’t there? No.

On this Feast Day, take time to recognize the women who helped you to grow in faith. They may not be mentioned in any history books, but probably included your mother, grandmother, teacher, women religious, sister or aunt. Look through the history of the Catholic Church and read about some of the forgotten women who changed the world for the better. A few to start with in the United States are Elizabeth Ann Seton,[2] who founded the first American Catholic orphanage; the communities of sisters that founded our health care system, including the Sisters of Providence, Sisters of Mercy, and Sisters of St. Joseph;[3] Anne Marie Becraft[4], who founded a school for Black children in Washington, D.C. at 15 years of age; Dolores Huerta, who helped to lead the National Farm Workers Association next to Cesar Chavez;[5] or the many Catholic women who marched for Civil Rights.[6] Or, look up Alice More, the wife of St. Thomas More, who was left caring for their affairs with little money after he was arrested and their property confiscated.[7] These holy women, with faults and gifts are also part of the legacy of women leaders in the Church. May we, like Mary Magdalene and the countless other women in history whose names are remembered or forgotten, continue to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s resurrection.

[1] Emphasis is mine.







A Mass for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene will be streamed at 1pm from Saint Thomas More Chapel at Yale on Wednesday, July 22nd.


Sr. Jenn Schaaf, O.P., D.Min.

Sr. Jenn Schaaf, O.P., D.Min.

Sr. Jenn is Assistant Chaplain at Saint Thomas More: The Catholic Chapel & Center at Yale University