A poignant and powerful spiritual memoir about how the lives of the saints changed the life of a modern woman.
In My Sisters the Saints, author Colleen Carroll Campbell blends her personal narrative of spiritual seeking, trials, stumbles, and breakthroughs with the stories of six women saints who profoundly changed her life: Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Faustina of Poland, Edith Stein of Germany, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Mary of Nazareth. Drawing upon the rich writings and examples of these extraordinary women, the author reveals Christianity's liberating power for women and the relevance of the saints to the lives of contemporary Christians.
“A beautiful and inspiring story of a woman’s deep faith and the saints who became her sisters along the path to her answered prayers.” – Mary Higgins Clark, worldwide bestselling novelist
“Colleen Carroll Campbell has encountered most of the challenges confronting young women today—balancing dating, courtship, and marriage with a successful career, caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s, dealing with infertility—but she hasn’t faced these challenges alone. In My Sisters the Saints, Campbell introduces us to the women who helped her along the way – women like Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Edith Stein, and, of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Completely contemporary and totally timeless, My Sisters the Saints is an engaging spiritual memoir and the perfect guidebook for anyone who is looking for a companion to help her navigate life’s sometimes difficult and confusing journey.” – Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York
“In this fascinating memoir, Colleen Carroll Campbell recounts her discovery of kinship with six great women saints at crucial junctures on her journey through life. My Sisters the Saints is the story of how a thoroughly modern woman drew inspiration and strength from her spiritual ‘sisters’ while struggling with the mysteries of life, love, illness, and death in today’s world. This lovely and highly readable book will touch many lives.” - Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Harvard Law professor, and President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences
“Fully alive, authentically feminine, making a serious contribution to culture—and faithfully Catholic? In the minds of many still, an unlikely combination, at best. In My Sisters the Saints, Colleen Carroll Campbell recounts her own life’s story and the poignant struggles she encounters in fulfilling her dreams as an author, journalist, cultural commentator and woman. Campbell’s stories will resonate in the heart of every woman challenged by today’s culture and blessed with even a scintilla of faith. You won’t put this book down until you have finished the last page. And as you read, you will hold your breath in hopefulness experiencing with Colleen the grippingly real decisions in this woman’s life—both big and small—the response to which ultimately define who one is as a person. … Thank you, Colleen, for the courage to tell your own story. It makes an important and unique contribution to the lives of women by giving flesh to the beauty, meaning, and the purposes of human life and human love lived open to the mystery of God.” – Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V., Superior General, Sisters of Life
“Colleen Carroll Campbell is one of the finest writers on the American Catholic scene, and My Sisters the Saints shows her heart, her skill, and her keen intelligence at their best. This is a wonderful, engaging personal memoir and a great witness of faith.” – Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia
“This book is a powerful description of the long struggle Colleen Carroll Campbell had to undergo to go back to peace, to give God the place that belongs to Him: the first. The lesson she learned is not to be forgotten: When in need, let us remember that we have brothers and sisters in heaven whose lives and sufferings teach the way to peace.” – Alice von Hildebrand, author of The Privilege of Being a Woman and The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand
“Colleen Carroll Campbell is a genuine icon of the ‘new feminism’ called for by Blessed John Paul II. She has been on a long journey in search of the true meaning of women’s liberation and in My Sisters the Saints she tells the story of how six women mystics and her own personal trials and triumphs have helped her find that liberation at the foot of the cross. Refreshing, well written, down to earth, and a joy to read (I’d often find myself grinning as I read it), Colleen has given us a sincere gift: not only the gift of her intellect and skill as a writer, but, more importantly, she has opened her heart and given us the sincere gift of herself. Stop wondering whether you should read this book. You should!” – Christopher West, author of At The Heart of the Gospel and fellow at the Theology of the Body Institute
“In My Sisters the Saints, Colleen Carroll Campbell shows how in our attentiveness to the saints we learn not only about the Lord and the way of life he imparts, but also how we discern the most important truths about who we are and the purpose for which we have been created. My Sisters the Saints brilliantly illuminates how the Christian life cannot be understood as an abstraction, but shows its radiant form in our friendship with heavenly companions who meet us in the real events and concrete circumstances of our lives.” – Father Robert Barron, author and host, Catholicism and founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries
“In My Sisters the Saints, Colleen Carroll Campbell has liberated these great historical heroines from dusty altarpieces and stone effigies and has brought them into the new millennium. Through her literary portraits, they become sure-footed guides through the modern day spiritual minefield of the ‘hook-up’ culture, the difficulties of commitment and family, and the ever-present reality of suffering and loss. By the end, one finds oneself with six new girlfriends whose wit, common sense and faith transcend any age.” – Elizabeth Lev, art historian and author of The Tigress of Forli
“From her own life’s story, Colleen Carroll Campbell has depicted a spiritual journey marked by waiting for and letting go. She learns of motherhood, both spiritual and biological, from the holy women whose lives reflect her own journey back to her. Her personal story teaches a universal lesson: living free is different from being in control. This is a moving and beautiful book.” – Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago
“The saints undo the world—for by their sheer existence, they tell us we may have gotten it wrong: all our conventions, all our agreements, all our correctnesses and easy thoughts no help when things come crashing in. In troubled times, Colleen Carroll Campbell found herself by reading the lives of the great women saints. And you might find your own self, reading Campbell’s My Sisters the Saints." – Joseph Bottum, author of The Christmas Plains and former editor of First Things
“With this intimate memoir, Colleen Carroll Campbell gives a moving witness to the ‘cloud of witnesses’ celebrated in sacred scripture.” – Dawn Eden, author of My Peace I Give You and The Thrill of the Chaste
“This is an inspiring and insightful account of one young woman’s journey through the challenges of contemporary culture, the ups and downs of life, and her encounter with the wisdom of the saints. This is the story of a journey told with refreshing honesty and great insight that will benefit many.” – Ralph Martin, author of The Fulfillment of All Desire and president of Renewal Ministries “St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Campbell (The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, 2002) relates a provocative life story centered on her experiences as a woman in the Catholic Church. Intertwined with the author’s tale is her autobiography as a reader, her experiences with books by and about various saints who have deeply influenced every aspect of her life. … Throughout the book, Campbell describes how various women saints helped her understand her situation and move ahead. … A charming and instructive communion with saintly sisters.” – Kirkus Reviews
Chapter One Party GirlI still remember the sundress I was wearing that morning; it was black and short, with little white flowers and a scooped neck. Its thin fabric hung loosely on my frame, thanks to punishing daily workouts and a scrupulously fat-free diet, but I felt uncomfortably warm. Perched on the windowsill of our fourth-floor apartment, I dangled my legs in the fresh air. I couldn’t believe it was late October. Milwaukee was usually chillier by now, already beginning its slouch toward the interminable Wisconsin winter. I felt the sun baking my face and legs, still bronze from dutiful visits to the tanning salon. The bright, hot rays made me squint and squirm. I didn’t want to be here.
I had just come home from the night before and was suffering the start of a monster hangover. My head throbbed and my itchy skin begged for a shower. Tom Petty was wailing from the stereo speakers: I’m tired of myself/Tired of this town. In the parking lot below, I spotted empty beer bottles and stray partiers trudging home from after-hours revelry and drunken couplings.
Behind me, a couple of my still-drunk college roommates were singing and dancing like banshees before the large open windows in our living room. The place stank of stale beer and cigarettes from a party we had thrown the first week of our junior year and from the many rowdy weekends that had followed. Although we were only two months into the fall semester, our brand-new apartment complex already bore vomit stains on its hallway rugs and fist-sized holes in its plaster walls—proof of how most of its student tenants spent their weekends.
I liked this vantage point, looking down from a distant perch. It made me feel removed from the chaos. I always had felt somewhat separate from the campus party scene, even as I indulged in many of its pleasures. I was a scholarship student carrying a near-perfect GPA, on track to land a prestigious summer internship in Washington, DC, and serving as editor-in-chief of the campus magazine. I had a résumé packed with honor society memberships and evidence of a properly raised social consciousness.
As for the Catholic faith that had dominated my life in elementary and high school, well, that had taken a backseat to other priorities. I still considered myself a better-than-average Catholic. Since my freshman year, I had been active in all the right social justice organizations, devoting at least one afternoon or evening each week to busing tables at a nearby homeless shelter or feeding vagrants through a campus meals-on-wheels program. I attended Mass every Sunday. When it came to sex, I abided by the letter of the law I had been taught in my Catholic home—no sex outside marriage—though not its spirit. My true zeal was reserved for more concrete concerns, like obsessing over my body to make sure I stayed thin and fit. Unlike the other party girls who devoured late-night pizzas and hid their beer guts under loose-fitting flannel, I told myself, I was in control.
But lately my pride at compartmentalizing my life so completely—being a good girl on Sunday morning and a wild one on Saturday night—had begun to give way to something new, a dawning realization that I was as immersed in the chaos as anyone. Maybe I was even worse, because I was leading a double life. At least the potbellied partiers down the hall were consistent. They were not spending their lives keeping up appearances and juggling personas, playing the role of perfectionist honor student for one crowd and reckless reveler for another.
Looking back over my shoulder into our apartment, I saw my roommates sprawled on the couch, now drowsy and listless after a long night of carousing. I realized that living with them, and living like them, no longer made me happy. Nor did my relationship with the brooding rugby player who routinely rounded up his friends to meet me at whatever bar my friends and I were patronizing that night. I could not call our random meetings dates, and I could not call him my boyfriend. There were no names for such romantic entanglements, no rules of engagement, and most of the time my friends and I had no idea what to make of the men in our lives. We were unconstrained by customs of courtship or social norms. We could do whatever we wanted. Yet the awkwardness, confusion, and disappointment that marked our encounters with men made me wonder: Was our unfettered freedom just a trap in disguise?
This was not what I had envisioned when I set off for college. I had thought I would spend my Saturday nights discussing Aquinas over coffee and dating the kind of men who send roses, open car doors, and pay for dinner. I ran into a few of those men during my college years, but I had become so inured to the anti-dating ethos of campus life by then that I quickly dropped them and rejoined my friends on the party circuit.
Returning my gaze to the bleak scene beneath my window, I realized how much things had changed—how much Ihad changed—since I first arrived at my freshman dorm that muggy August move-in day. I had lost something. I didn’t know what it was or how to get it back. I only knew that this aching emptiness in the pit of my stomach had grown unbearable.
Suddenly aware that I was shivering, I swung my legs back into the living room. I stood up, slammed the window shut, and strode past my roommates, now sleeping soundly despite the earsplitting music.
It was time to shower, to eat, to put on something warmer.
Reading Teresa’s [Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, Teresa of Ávila] story helped me understand for the first time why my parents had returned to her works so oft en and spoken of her with such affection. In Teresa, I found a woman of passion and purpose whose journey was all the more compelling for its detours.
Teresa’s spicy, messy, and meandering spiritual journey cast my own struggles in a new light. Perhaps the discontent that had dogged me for the past year was not a spiritual dead end or a signal that I needed to work harder at tidying up my life. Maybe it was the opening chapter in a love story like the one Teresa had lived, a story in which a divine protagonist pursues his beloved with reckless ardor and ultimately wins her heart. Reading about Teresa’s ecstatic prayer experiences— in which she felt Jesus consuming her with a love so sweet and piercing that she thought she might die on the spot— I felt a desire for divine intimacy kindled within me.
I also felt inspired by the discovery that Teresa’s ardent faith had not squelched her natural boldness and originality but purified and intensified both, allowing her to use her gift s for a higher good. For Teresa, faith was a source of liberation, not oppression. She surely was a product of her times; her apologies for “womanly dullness of mind” make that clear. Yet Teresa defended a woman’s calling to the same heights of mystical prayer to which God calls men and praised women for the special love and faith they showed Jesus while he was on earth. In an early draft of The Way of Perfection, she laments that the all- male ranks of judges in her day see “no virtue in women that they do not hold suspect,” and she looks forward to the day “when everyone will be known for what he is . . . these are times in which it would be wrong to undervalue virtuous and strong souls, even though they are women.”
Slapping the feminist label on Teresa may be a stretch, but this trailblazer’s single- minded focus on God’s will led her to embark on adventures and undertake risks that would have intimidated most men of her day— and most secular feminists of ours. Through it all, Teresa retained her Spanish wit and zest for life, encouraging her nuns to join her for laughter, music, and dancing during recreation periods and delivering spiritual insights in an earthy, intuitive voice that reveals a uniquely feminine spiritual perspective.
Meeting Teresa marked a significant step in my nascent spiritual journey, though I did not understand its full significance until years later. Teresa was the first woman saint I discovered as an adult; she was the first to model a mixture of faith, femininity, and freedom that I could admire and appropriate for my own life. I had no plans to join the cloistered Carmelites and no illusions that my mumbled daily prayers would morph into ecstasies anytime soon. It did not cross my mind that I should forgo plunging necklines or an extra beer on my girls’ nights out, much less don a hair shirt or maintain monastic silence.
For all the differences between Teresa’s life and mine, though, I could see strong parallels: an aching hunger for meaning, boredom with worldly pleasures and success, a passionate and often prideful intensity that could be used for great good or great folly. In Teresa, I saw the kind of woman I might become if I ever took God seriously enough to try. And I found a friend to whom I could turn in prayer, someone who could give Jesus an extra nudge on my behalf when I needed help overcoming the temptations of superficiality and sensuality that Teresa knew well.
In this chapter, Colleen discusses her feelings of emptiness and taking her first steps to “open the door to God.” What was your first step? What could your next step be toward God?
In the anecdote featuring her boyfriend, Colleen realizes that their relationship is actually a “placeholder” for something more satisfying. Have you ever had a placeholder in your life where God should have been? Do you have one now that needs to be surrendered to Him?
Both Saint Teresa of Ávila and Colleen speak of leading a double life. Neither was living in a conspicuously sinful way, yet they each confessed to the torturous feeling of “living in two worlds.” Do you ever feel as though you’re living in two worlds, caught between cultural norms and your faith?
We’re pleased to announce the launch of a virtual book tour for My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell.
Every day from March 5-15 one of ten participating blogs will post unique content relating to the book.
As you follow along on this virtual book tour you’ll have a chance to read excerpts from My Sisters the Saints as well as interviews with author Colleen Carroll Campbell. Along the way you’ll get honest reviews from our top-notch list of bloggers and have a chance to win a copy of the book at different stops on the tour.
A BIG thank you to all the incredible bloggers who will be hosting stops on the tour. Please support them by visiting their sites!
In My Sisters the Saints, author Colleen Carroll Campbell blends her personal narrative of spiritual seeking, trials, stumbles, and breakthroughs with the stories of six women saints who profoundly changed her life: Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Faustina of Poland, Edith Stein of Germany, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Mary of Nazareth. Drawing upon the rich writings and examples of these extraordinary women, the author reveals Christianity’s liberating power for women and the relevance of the saints to the lives of contemporary Christians.
About Colleen Carroll Campbell
Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, print and broadcast journalist, and former presidential speechwriter. She writes an op-ed column on religion, politics, and women’s issues for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, blogs on those subjects for The New York Times and The Washington Post, comments about them on such networks as FOX News, CNN, and PBS; and discusses them as host of Faith & Culture, a weekly television and radio show that airs internationally on EWTN, the world’s largest religious network, and on Sirius Satellite and Relevant Radio. A former speechwriter to President George W. Bush and the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, Campbell contributes to national publications and speaks to audiences across America. In June, Colleen will begin hosting a nightly news program for EWTN called “EWTN Daily News with Colleen Carroll Campbell.” Her website is colleen-campbell.com.
Colleen Carroll Campbell’s new book, My Sisters the Saints, is the spiritual memoir of her fifteen-year journey and search for God through these six saints. Check out the trailer here, and don’t forget to order your copy of My Sisters the Saints. The book will be available on October 30, 2012!
COLLEEN CARROLL CAMPBELL is an author, print and broadcast journalist, and former presidential speechwriter. She writes an op-ed column on religion, politics, and women's issues for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, blogs on those subjects for TheNew York Times and The Washington Post; comments about them on such networks as FOX News, CNN, and PBS; and discusses them as host of Faith & Culture, a weekly television and radio show that airs internationally on EWTN, the world's largest religious network, and on Sirius Satellite and Relevant Radio. A former speechwriter to President George W. Bush and the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, Campbell contributes frequently to national publications and speaks to audiences across America. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com.