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Catholic Teacher blog: Telling womens' history

Fr Andrew Hamilton  |  26 February 2019

One of the great gifts the past 50 years has brought is the number of women who have described the world from a woman’s perspective. They have made the experiences and concerns of women central, have told the stories of previously neglected women and have encouraged other women to tell and treasure their stories.

For that reason, that March is a month dedicated to women’s history is something to be celebrated, not only by women, but by everyone because it represents a much richer picture than history told only by men. Our human world is really a network of interlocking relationships connecting people with one another and with the world, our home. Those relationships link us to past and future generations as well as to the present.

The infinite network of relationships we call our world and our history can be seen from as many different perspectives as there are people. Our experiences and connections colour the stories that we tell. Historians gather stories and try to find larger patterns in them.

Seen from this perspective it is odd that history has been for so long told from the perspective of mainly powerful men. It is important for a society to remember stories told from different perspectives, and particularly from those of women who form half the world’s population. But also from those of women, men, immigrants, widows, farmers, bankers, Muslims, Catholics, atheists and people in other groups. Together they represent our society and enrich our connection to it. Women’s history is especially important because it has so long been neglected.

So too have the stories of vulnerable young people and those on the margins have been neglected. When they tell their stories, they put a human face on things often described from the perspective of people securely employed and advantaged in many ways.

Women’s history is especially important in the Catholic Church. There men have made most of the decisions about building churches, shaping parish life and dealing with crises. Histories have generally focused on men’s roles. Women’s history, of course, has been kept and told within female religious congregations.

If history is built of stories that represent all the relationships that make up the church, however, too many stories have been neglected. We need only to think of the place that housekeepers and parish secretaries have played in making for harmonious parishes, the way in which female sacristans, organists and cleaners have enabled encouraging liturgy to take place, the mothers who have accompanied their children as they prepared for sacraments, the elderly women who keep weekday Masses alive, and all the women who feel excluded from the church.

The preparations for the Plenary Council have involved much story telling. It is to be hoped that these stories will be reflected in the submissions made, and will find expression later in the gathering of stories into histories of the Catholic Church stories written by women and including women’s experience.


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