I have more rosaries than I know what to do with. I have a glow-in-the-dark rosary from Sunday school, a rope rosary with knots instead of beads, and plastic rosaries in every color of the rainbow. My younger self saw these rosaries as little more than beautiful beads until my grandma taught me to pray the rosary. She guided me through each Hail Mary, laughing good-naturedly when I skipped a bead or fumbled through an unfamiliar prayer. When my grandma introduced me to the beauty of the rosary, she unlocked a new realm of spirituality and became the first in a long line of women who have guided me along my faith journey.
Women like my grandma are a powerful testament to the Catholic Church in the world today. They serve the needy, welcome the stranger and act as Christ’s hands and feet through their care for those around them. Although many women embody this spirit of charity and service that is fundamental to the Catholic faith, the church does not permit the ordination of women to the diaconate — an office directly responsible for leading the parish.
Despite their exclusion from the church hierarchy, women serve as essential faith leaders whose spirituality inspires a deeper faith in Catholics like me. The Catholic Church should recognize and elevate women’s indispensable leadership by ordaining them to the diaconate.
Throughout my life, women have continually shown me what it means to live in faith, and their examples of feminine spirituality are the reason I continue to see God in a patriarchal church. As she cooked hearty meals for people in our parish experiencing the loss of a loved one, my mom quietly showed me how to love my neighbor.
Similarly, in high school, I worked under two female directors to teach religious education classes at our church. Together these two women coordinated the religious education of hundreds of children, trained teachers and volunteers, and pacified anxious parents. Though their commitment to faith formation amazed me, I was most struck by their limitless supply of smiles and warmth amidst this stressful undertaking. They radiated the joy that comes from faith in God and inspired me to seek the same divine peace for myself.
I could share countless stories about the women of faith who have influenced me along my own spiritual journey. I’ve had female friends who showed me Christ’s forgiveness after an explosive fight and a neighbor who taught me to care for God’s creation in her backyard vegetable garden. At every step of my faith journey, there has been a woman walking alongside me, sharing her spirituality with me and teaching me what it means to be Catholic.
Despite the strong female leaders who serve an essential role in Catholic faith formation, the church currently does not allow women to be priests or deacons. In the early church, both men and women served as deacons. Though deacons rank below priests and cannot perform certain sacraments, they function as important preachers to congregations and teachers of the Gospel. When the church reorganized its clerical structure in the Middle Ages, it excluded women from the diaconate, depriving women of the opportunity to lead the faithful in a hierarchically recognized role. The diaconate became tied to the priesthood rather than functioning as a permanent office in its own right, and women lost the opportunity to hold a respected position of authority in the church.
Today the church has no recognized female deacons. I hope and pray the church will look to its own history and again allow women to serve in the diaconate. Just as a deacon shares God’s word with parishioners during Mass, the women in my life have shared God’s word with me by example. For me and for millions of other Catholics, women already act as faith leaders, and the church should officially recognize their liturgical value by reopening the diaconate to them.
From the moment my grandma prayed the rosary with me, my faith has flourished because of women. Despite their exclusion from the church hierarchy, women powerfully influence my day-to-day experience of faith, using what power they have to shine God’s light into my life. I hope the Catholic Church will recognize the value of the female perspective on faith and give women the structural power to lead the faithful as deacons.
When I imagine the uniquely feminine spirituality that women deacons could provide the church, my heart fills with gratitude and grief. I am endlessly thankful for the women who showed me God’s love and painfully disappointed in the church, which does itself an immeasurable disservice by excluding women from ministerial and clerical roles.
Lydia Franz is a sophomore in the College. Into the Feminine Genius appears online every other Monday.