Inspirational Catholics to cheer us this January

Lemaitre – a giant of science

We are at that time of year when we may be already regretting making that New Year’s resolution and thinking of cancelling the gym membership or returning to that habit which we have just relinquished. The tedium of January can also leave us in the spiritual doldrums after the excitement and anticipation of Christmas.

While Lent may be more the time for fixing spiritual resolutions, January is also a good opportunity to take stock of our faith. Here are three outstanding figures from the areas of Religious Life, Science and Campaigning who may provide inspiration to our intentions. Their stories deserve to be more widely remembered.

Phyllis Bowman
As one of the most important figures in the pro-life movement, Phyllis Bowman deserves to be remembered more widely. She was constantly aware of the need for a wide constituency and was always wary of pro-life campaigns which became too sectarian or based around one religious viewpoint. She was committed to a secular and evidence based approach, which was rare in pro-life circles at the time. Her approach ensured that when she founded the Right to Life Foundation it had a strong basis of support and a national voice.

Phyllis’s desire for wide support should not be confused with the idea that faith wasn’t important in the formation of her views and passion. Each day, usually at 3pm, she prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet for all those unborn children who would lose their lives during abortions. She was a committed Catholic, converting from Judaism and her faith and hard work were recognised when John Paul II made her a Dame of St Gregory the Great. It was this faith that animated her to be the inspiration that she was.

Today Phyllis Bowman’s life continues to influence those who campaign for the rights of the unborn child and those at the end of life.

Sister Catherine Mulligan
Sister Catherine was a brave visionary whose determination has brought hope to many older women who feel that they have a vocation to the religious life. The vast majority of religious communities and congregations to this day have an upper age limit, which excludes woman who are older than 35 from entering.

It was in the early 1980s that Sister Catherine, who had been a sister of Marie Repatrice since the age of 23, felt called to help older woman to live out their vocation. She was aware of many capable women who desired to explore the religious life but who were prevented from doing so because of age. Many of these woman brought gifts, talents and abilities that were developed through professional careers and motherhood. Sister Catherine saw that these qualities could be put to use in the Church.

Sister Catherine had known Cardinal Hume since his childhood and they had remained very close friends. She decided to contact the Cardinal to seek his advice and support. To her surprise he was very positive and this spurred Sister Catherine on, although she had no money, no convent and no sisters.

A great devotion to St Joseph had always been one of the pillars of her spiritual life. It was therefore natural that she should ask for his intercession over this desire of her heart. Following an advert for a house, Sister Catherine received a reply on St Joseph’s Day 1980, offering the use of an empty convent in Monks Kirby within the eastern reaches of the Archdiocese of Birmingham. The convent was dedicated to St Joseph. Another advert, this time for woman to explore their vocation, received 80 applicants. Whilst many women came and went, a faithful core remained and made their profession in due course.

This fledgling gathering of woman became the Community of Mary Mother of the Church (now known as Mater Ecclesiae). The early days were tough and life was very much hand to mouth. The sisters were reliant on the generosity of the local community. Sister Catherine and her sisters became much loved figures in the area, not just among other Catholics. Houses were established in Cork, Tranmore, Stroud, and Southam.

Sister Catherine died in 1992 but her legacy lives on today at Mater Ecclesiae Covent, near Rugby. The sisters worship in their beautiful chapel and offer hospitality in the adjoining retreat centre. They have a strong sense of being ‘mothers of the Church’ and this is reflected in their prayers and care for visitors and the local community. Woman still answer that same call which would not have been possible had Sister Catherine not been so determined to see this vision brought to life. Her unique vision really has transformed lives and continues to do so.

Monsignor Georges Lemaitre
The idea of the Big Bang was a massively significant departure from scientific orthodoxy when the concept was first published in the 1930s. It was all the more startling as this theory was first voiced by a Catholic Priest.

Often referred to as the Father of Modern Cosmology, Fr Lemaitre’s idea that universe is constantly expanding met with scepticism initially. His theory became more widely held following the translation of his work and its publication in monthly instalments in the notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Fr George Lemaitre was a Jesuit and was ordained to the priesthood in 1923. He gained a doctorate from Cambridge in 1920 and then undertook further studies at Harvard and MIT. From 1925 until his death, Fr Lemaitre was a lecture and later professor of the Catholic University of Leuven. Another significant achievement was the discovery of cosmic background radiation.

Today part of Fr Lemaitre’s legacy is that he challenges the inadequate dichotomy proposed by New Atheism. Science does not present a problem to religion, which is something that Fr George Lemaitre proved a long time ago.

The list could be endless. Within the Church each generation builds up men and woman to carry the light of faith through their creativity, learning and hard work. Many people could be added to these inspirational characters. Who would you place on the list?