Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

May 1, 2010

Woman Warrior of the Month: Catherine Doherty

This month's woman warrior is a contemporary of Dorothy Day and a Russian woman who lived to witness the Russian revolution, and both World Wars. Catherine Kolyschkine Doherty was born in 1896 to a devout, Russian aristocratic family. According to her biography,
She was a pioneer among North American Catholic laity in implementing the Church’s social doctrine in the face of Communism, economic and racial injustice, secularism and apathy. At the same time she insisted that those engaged in social action be rooted in prayer and that they incarnate their faith into every aspect of ordinary life. Catherine was a bridge between the Christian East and West. Baptized Orthodox and later becoming Roman Catholic, her spiritual heritage drew upon both of these traditions.
She married quite young and fled with her husband to Canada. She had a child and suffered under tremendous poverty, which ultimately destroyed her marriage and gave her cause for an annulment. A woman warrior indeed who suffers so much.

But she allowed God's grace to envelop her life. She became wealthy once again, but sold her possessions (after providing for her son, of course) and chose to live a life of poverty with the poor, much like Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. She began an apostolate to take care of the poor called the 'Friendship House' in Canada and Harlem, where she met Dorothy Day. When that apostolate seemed to have failed, she moved with her second husband, Eddie Doherty, back to Canada. But her calling had just begun. She founded the Madonna House, a Catholic apostolate made up of lay men and women, as well as clergy, who live in community to serve the poor within the community. According to her biography:
Catherine had a faith vision for the restoration of the Church and our modern culture at a time when the de-Christianization of the Western world was already well advanced. She brought the spiritual intuitions of the Christian East to North America. Lay men and women as well as priests came to Madonna House to live the life of a Christian family: the life of Nazareth. They begged for what they needed and gave the rest away. . . . Catherine’s vision was immense, encompassing farming, carpentry, cooking and laundry, theology and philosophy, science, the fine arts, and drama. “Nothing is foreign to the Apostolate, except sin... The primary work of the Apostolate is to love one another... If we implement this law of love, if we clothe it with our flesh, we shall become a light to the world,” she said, “for the essence of our Apostolate is love—love for God poured out abundantly for others.”
Catherine also introduced many elements of Eastern Christianity's spirituality to her community at the Madonna House and may of her publications have been widely published and you can find a complete list here.

She died in 1985 and left behind a wealth of spiritual writings that I am placing high on my to-read list. I'll leave off with a quote of hers about how we should live our lives for us to meditate upon: "Stretch one hand out to God, the other to your neighbor. Be cruciform. ... Christ’s cross will be our revolution and it will be a revolution of love!"

1 comment:

Agatha Magdalene said...

I've been to Madonna House, many times. It is a remarkable place, and she was a remarkable woman. There is an open cause for her canonization.

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