While many Catholics are aware of great female saints such as Catherine of Siena and Thérèse of Lisieux, a view persists that, over the centuries, women played a limited role in the development of Catholic traditions and institutions. In this innovative survey of Church history, Bronwen McShea demonstrates instead that faithful women have always been at the heart of the Church's common life, shaping it and the course of entire civilizations. 

In Women of the Church, McShea presents a wide array of well known and lesser known canonized and beatified women, others awaiting beatification, and still more figures not meriting canonization but whom every Catholic should know. She situates Catholic women from diverse social, ethnic, and national origins in their historical contexts, examining specific challenges they faced in settings such as imperial Rome, Reformation Europe, colonial Latin America and Africa, and the USA and Soviet Union during the Cold War. In the process, she shows that, in every age, women inspired by God with creativity, courage, and fidelity have helped save the church from corruption, disunity, and destruction.

In short, McShea clarifies that the history of Catholic women is the history of the Church—as much as the history of Catholic men is. 


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“There is a myth—widely believed even by Catholics—that the Catholic Church is an institution of, by, and for men. The brilliant Bronwen McShea explodes that myth by telling the stories of countless strong, intelligent, and influential churchwomen, from Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene in Jesus’s time on earth to Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa of Calcutta in our own time. Readers will learn about extraordinary female thinkers, writers, artists, philanthropists, soldiers, rulers, healers, visionaries, servants of the poor, and campaigners for justice, whose faith-inspired lives helped to shape the Church herself as well as the world.”

—Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University


“Christianity has done more to elevate the role of women than any other world religion, and Christian civilization since ancient times has provided a stage on which women could enact their roles in powerful and inspiring ways.  Bronwen McShea, the finest Catholic historian of her generation, tells the story of Christian women through the ages with verve, yet in a simple, approachable style. Her book is not a collection of hagiographies but the story of living, breathing women who lived extraordinary lives, putting their faith into action as educators, missionaries, writers, scholars, mystics, abbesses, founders of religious orders, and even rulers of great Christian nations.”

—James Hankins, Professor of History, Harvard University


“As Catholics, we need heroes and examples, to light our path to God. McShea’s book is a beautiful treasury of inspiring stories of women whose incredible strength and courage show us how to put our love of God before all things. If you want to grow in your faith, this book is required reading.”

—Margaret Kelly, former CEO of RE/MAX


“Bronwen McShea has given us a delightful, easy to read history of great Catholic women who have served God and His Church with outstanding fidelity and love.  McShea is a talented historian who makes these great women truly come alive in short biographical sketches.  A fascinating book.”

—Fr. Gerald E. Murray, Pastor of Holy Family Church in New York City and member of EWTN’s The Papal Posse


“Bronwen McShea is a formidable historian, and her latest book combines her scholarly historical acumen with a penchant for bringing history alive in succinct and engaging prose.  It furnishes brief but incisive accounts of a vast range of holy women, some very familiar, others largely unknown.  It is a marvelous and genuinely impressive tour through the history of the Church––which is to say, it is a tour of the history of grace and holiness in the Body of Christ, as it has been lived by women through the vicissitudes of our world and all its drama, suffering, and joys.”

—Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P., Director, The Thomistic Institute


Women of the Church is a much-needed gift to the Church universal and will hopefully spark the imagination of women, young and old, for generations to come to help restore our understanding of the beautiful and essential role women have in the Body of Christ and beyond.”

—Carrie Gress, Author, Theology of Home and The Anti-Mary Exposed


“Women lost from the pages of history find a home in Women of the Church alongside familiar Saints, Blesseds, Scholars, and Workers.  One is keenly aware that while we were deprived of their brilliance, their light was not diminished by the forgoing.  Dr. McShea has given us an inspiring historical compendium of faith-filled, faithful, courageous women who said ‘yes’ in diverse ways, at ordinary and crucial moments, and in so doing profoundly influenced the Church, culture, and society.  A serious homage to the feminine genius, it is sure to inspire women today to do the same.”

—Marion Boteju, Chief of Staff, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York


“Brilliant and concise, Women of the Church should become the standard introduction to the topic. By restoring the women who often go missing from the narratives of Church history, McShea shows that the cooperation and complementarity of the sexes is no mere ideal, but the lived reality of Christianity from its inception.”

—Fr. Sam Zeno Conedera, SJ, Assistant Professor of History, Saint Louis University

Reviews (3)

  • Women of the Church

    Mary Grace Apr 2nd 2024

    Facinating book, definitetly a must read. covers so many saints, nuns, lay women & groups,through the centuries, important work they did, their suffering & sacrifices, prayers & knowledge. easy to read, just a few pages on each woman/group. Bought it for my granddaughter in college, but I read it first in a week and loved it. I plan to buy another copy to pass it on to everyone. Thank you!!

    Mary Grace Apr 2nd 2024

  • Women of the Church

    Marianne Sylvester Mar 30th 2024

    I'm not half way through the book but I am enjoying the historical look at women's role in the church. So much is not included in what we know of church history. And it is refreshing to see the quiet connection of their contributions and what the famous men and saints accomplished.

    Marianne Sylvester Mar 30th 2024

  • Book

    Fr. Stephen Lattner osb Mar 29th 2024

    After having perused the book, I gave three of them to people I work with in the parish. They were most appreciative for the gift. I believe they were positive and appreciative for the information in the book.

    Fr. Stephen Lattner osb Mar 29th 2024

Women of the Church: What Every Catholic Should Know

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  • An innovative survey of Church history.
  • In every age, women inspired by God with creativity, courage, and fidelity have helped save the Church from corruption, disunity, and destruction.
  • The history of Catholic women is the history of the Church—as much as the history of Catholic men is.
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