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Here’s how to really understand the feminine genius

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Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 06/12/21

A gorgeous new book from Pauline Media, 'A Place to Belong,' honors and celebrates modern Catholic women.

The “feminine genius” has become a popular buzzword for Catholic writers, especially since St. John Paul II focused on it in his 1995 Letter to Women. But what does it actually mean?

A new book, A Place to Belong: Letters from Catholic Women, unpacks the meaning of “feminine genius” and reveals what it looks like in action.

The book is a collection of moving and fascinating letters from 25 modern Catholic women. It’s utterly gorgeous, another gem from Pauline Media. If you’ve ever wondered what the feminine genius looks like in today’s world, look no further than A Place to Belong.

Each woman’s story is not only relatable and captivating but spiritually profound. Together, the work of these very diverse writers—including religious sisters, mothers, entrepreneurs, activists, artists, and single women—is an incredible snapshot of 21st-century Catholic womanhood. 

An added bonus is that A Place to Belong is lovely both inside and out (which is not a coincidence, given its subject matter!). It’s really beautiful for displaying on a desk or coffee table (and looks dreamy in an Instagram flat lay, just saying).

What’s the story behind this devotional anthology? It’s the inspiration of Corynne Staresinic, founder and executive director of The Catholic Woman, which celebrates the stories and experiences of modern Catholic women. 

Staresinic is passionate about cultivating a culture among Catholics that is more welcoming and valuing of millennial women, especially those who are devout in their faith but feel like they don’t fit the typical mold for a Catholic woman, and have doubted their place in the Church. In an interview with GIVEN Institute, she said,

Before I became Catholic, I believed that “the Catholic woman” was a judgmental and legalistic woman. She believed that women were called to be either strict nuns or stay-at-home mothers with handfuls of children … It wasn’t until after I converted and fell in love with Catholic theology, philosophy, and Catholic feminism, that this vision I had for womanhood started to unravel. I began to see that being a Catholic woman isn’t about fitting “the mold,” whatever that mold may be. It’s about becoming truly ourselves—the women God created us to be.

Each woman lives her Catholic faith and her womanhood in an utterly distinct way. This idea was a catalyst for Staresinic launching The Catholic Woman, and is why she continues to devote time and energy to it.

A Place to Belong emerged from her experiences running The Catholic Woman. “Since we first started The Catholic Woman, we have wanted to create a book of letters to allow our mission to be accessible beyond the online sphere,” Staresinic said in an interview with Aleteia. A Place to Belong is a fulfillment of that dream.

It’s certainly the case that stereotypes about Christian women can be less than flattering. As a young millennial woman, Staresinic wanted to create something that reflected both the great diversity of women in the Church and the Church’s expansive vision on femininity more accurately. 

During and after her conversion, Staresinic delved into studying Church teaching. This journey inspired her to share the beauty of what she learned. “When I came into the Church, and began to study theology on sex/gender from writers like St. John Paul II, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and Sr. Prudence Allen, my understanding of femininity began to change and expand,” she said. 

I learned that femininity is not something to be achieved. It is the essence of who we are as women, and it’s rooted in our experiences as embodied female persons. It is a gift. And out of our femininity, a sort of “genius” tends to arise—a disposition to be attentive to the person. So embracing and living out that feminine genius as a woman is simply opening your arms to the other, as Mary did to Jesus, and as God does to each of us.

A Place to Belong exists to highlight the diversity of ways in which Catholic women today are living out their particular “genius,” in stories from an artist, a pilot, a single mother, an activist, the founder of a nonprofit, and many others.

The feminine genius became manifest in the very process of creating A Place to Belong. Spiritual motherhood is a hallmark of femininity, and Staresinic found it in the loving mentorship of her publishers, the Daughters of St. Paul.

“My editor, Sr. Theresa Aletheia, helped me in more ways than I can list,” she said. “She has mothered me in many ways that I hope to emulate one day.”

The example of feminine genius par excellence is Our Lady, of course. So it’s no wonder that creating A Place to Belong even helped Staresinic grow closer to Mary. 

“When I first converted to Catholicism, I struggled to understand Mary, but I trusted that the understanding would come one day,” she said. Working on A Place to Belong, and especially writing Mary’s brief biography for the final set of letters, marked a change for her. 

Mary had seemed to Staresinic like a perfect, elusive figure whom women are supposed to be exactly like. But through learning and writing about her, Staresinic began to understand Our Lady as the perfect model of the Christian life, for both women and men. 

“Mary reminds all of us of what it means to be human, which is to receive God with open hands, ready to welcome him into our lives entirely,” she said. “I think every woman featured in this book is a testament to that—to the many different ways women receive God and bring God to others—nurturing, protecting, and leading them all along the way.”

It’s refreshing to read a book that honors the strength, dignity, and wisdom of Catholic women. A Place to Belong celebrates the goodness of Catholic teaching on femininity and the women who live it out every day. Every Catholic woman should have it in her library, to read and re-read, bring to prayer, and share with friends and family.

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