Single mothers often end up ignored on Mother’s Day, but these women are surely interceding for them from heaven.
This Mother’s Day, many women are being honored by their husbands, who have (hopefully) spent some of their quarantine encouraging their children to make cards or gifts for mom. Single mothers, on the other hand, often end up ignored on Mother’s Day, especially if their children are all young. Sometimes within the Church, single mothers can feel forgotten, even invisible. But there are many saints who were single mothers, whether widowed, divorced, or never married.
St. Margaret of Cortona (1247-1297) was the mistress of a rich man and the mother of his child. When their son was still quite young, his father was murdered. Margaret might have attempted to stay in his home in the hopes that her paramour’s heir would honor the son of the deceased. She could certainly have retained the many gifts she had been given and sold them to provide for herself and her son. But Margaret had been transformed by the sight of the corpse of the man she loved, a man she knew had died in sin. She repented of her sins and took her child, leaving behind all the riches she was entitled to. She attempted to return home, but was turned away by her stepmother. After that, Margaret sought asylum at a Franciscan friary, where she was told she was too young and pretty to live with the friars. She found a home in town with two other women and there she raised her son, who later became a friar. Margaret became a third order Franciscan and a spiritual advisor to many, but continued to endure slanderous accusations because of her past.
Bl. Columba Kang Wan-suk (1761-1801) was a Korean convert to Christianity who brought her stepson and mother-in-law to Christ. Her husband, on the other hand, ridiculed her faith and ultimately left her for a concubine. Columba then raised her stepson (Bl. Philip Hong Pil-ju) and her daughter, surrounding them with holy Catholics as her home became the center of the Church in Korea. Columba spent the rest of her life an evangelist and a catechist, the protector of Korea’s one (hunted) priest, and the heart of her community, before being arrested (with her stepson) and martyred at age 40.
St. Cecilia Yu So-sa (1761-1839) lost her husband (Bl. Augustine Chong) to martyrdom in 1801, when her son St. Paul Chong Ha-sang was 7 and her daughter St. Elizabeth Jeong Jeong-rye only 5. She raised the two on her own, in spite of persecution from some family members who knew of their faith. The three remained faithful through poverty and struggle and were martyred during the persecutions of 1839. Paul Chong Ha-sang is one of the most important of the Korean martyrs; it was through his entreaties that missionaries were finally sent to Korea after the Church there spent decades without priests.
Bl. Concepcion Cabrera de Armida (1862-1937) was known as Conchita all her life. The mother of nine, Conchita was widowed when she was only 39 and her youngest child was just two years old. Unlike many widowed saints, Conchita didn’t then enter religious life but raised her children alone, while also founding a religious order for women and another for priests along with several different groups to encourage the laity to grow in holiness. She was also a mystic who wrote 60,000 pages about her interior life, all while homeschooling her children.
Servant of God Dorothy Day (1897-1980) was a Communist and lived a lifestyle typical of her peers, including a series of sexual partners, an abortion, and a suicide attempt. She later saw all this as evidence of her heart’s frustrated longing for God, a longing that wasn’t muted by the happiness she ultimately found in a common law marriage and the birth of her daughter. She began attending Mass and decided to have her child baptized, decisions that her partner reviled and which ultimately led to their separation. After her conversion, Dorothy founded the Catholic Worker movement, a movement of solidarity with the poor in which she raised her daughter Tamar. A powerful activist who was several times arrested and even shot at for her work against racism, Dorothy found her strength in daily Mass and a commitment to contemplative prayer.
Servant of God Catherine Doherty (1896-1985) was a Russian noblewoman who married her first cousin and served as a nurse in World War I before fleeing Russia during the Russian Revolution. The couple made their way to Canada where Catherine gave birth to a son. Not long after, Catherine left her abusive and adulterous husband, later becoming a Catholic and obtaining an annulment. She and her son moved to New York where Catherine worked with the poor and fought for interracial justice. She married at 47 (after her son was grown) and, with her husband, founded a community called Madonna House that is still active today.