Feature Image

Wilma Mankiller

I met Wilma Mankiller when I was an intern in Washington, DC, way on back in the 20th century.  We had been unsure of what to think of her name upon seeing it listed amongst the guests of the event, and I remember either she or another speaker commenting on its uniqueness as well.  I was impressed by her accomplishments and she was encouraging to us as young women leaders hoping to shatter the glass ceiling.  Championing not just women’s rights, she served as a much needed role model for minority women, particularly Native American women. She was the first female Chief of the Cherokee Nation and drastically improved social services, as well as education, for Cherokees in the US from 1985-1995.  Mankiller overcame many challenges in achieving this position having been born in poverty and experiencing racism throughout her life.  Additionally, US policies regarding Tribes, as well as criticism from other Native American Tribes for her chosen priorities as Chief proved challenging to the success she ultimately she attained.  I think that part of her significance was also her commitment to sharing her story (through publications as well as speaking tours) and educating Americans on the 20th century experience of the Cherokee.  She had significant health concerns requiring a kidney transplant, was a divorced mother of two and endured a lengthy recovery from serious injuries as a result of a car accident.  Breaking stereotypes and speaking out on racist policies and attitudes earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.

Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998 with President Clinton (AP Photo/Dennis Cook, File)

She was quoted in her 2010 obituary in the Washington Post; ” “I had supervised carpenters and engineers, and no one ever questioned me. But when I wanted to move into leadership, they couldn’t figure me out,” she told The Washington Post in 1993. “At committee meetings people would say, ‘If we elect a woman, our tribe will be the laughingstock.’ If I hadn’t been through all I’d been through, I wouldn’t have had the maturity and the calm to go on talking about the issues.”

Mother Cabrini

Since its Sunday- lets look at another inspiring woman religious.  I have a little statue of Mother Cabrini and was introduced to her by my grandfather, as she was the first Italian woman saint- Or maybe it was Italian American, Nope- just confirmed it was AMERICAN saint- she was the first American saint and she was Italian until she became American. I had the opportunity to go to the Mother Cabrini Shrine several years ago (ironically in Golden CO, where a certain brand of beer is made) and its beautiful with a statue of The Sacred Heart of Jesus on the hill overlooking the buildings and grotto- so if you’re in the area, check it out!

Mother Cabrini at the Chicago hospital she founded in 1892

Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini came to the US from Italy in 1889 with six sisters from the Order she established, Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart.  Working first with Italian Immigrants in New York, and then New Orleans, she ultimately came to establish schools and orphanages for immigrant children throughout the United States.  She became an American citizen in 1909, died in 1917 and was canonized in 1946 as the Patron Saint of Immigrants .  Though a sickly child, and weakened by illnesses, she established over 60 institutions and traveled from East to West coast in the US in a time when this was not a simple task.  Her faith in God, however, carried her through her ministry and sustained her in her work.

“”We must pray without tiring, for the salvation of mankind does not depend on material success; nor on sciences that cloud the intellect. Neither does it depend on arms and human industries, but on Jesus alone.” Mother Cabrini’s words, still so relevant today.

“When she [Mother Frances Cabrini] went to the chapel … her whole attitude … revealed that she was completely immersed in the Divine Presence. One day, during the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, a sister brought her a telegram. Observing that Mother made no response, the sister put the telegram on the prie-dieu. Then, perceiving that Mother still did not move, the sister looked into her face. She saw there a seraphic expression, the eyes openly fixed upon the Sacred Heart; but Mother was not able to see nor hear anything that was going on around her.” – Mother Saverio De Maria, MSC, on Mother Cabrini

by Sade

I remember a proverb

show me your friend and I will show you your character

Given that I’m afraid

My friends speak too highly of me

My friends create an endlessly inspiring forest

They are my favorite trees

I am only the fickle wind

Rushing past

without a thought to what i’ve touched

by Sade

On Prime Numbers by Andrea

On Prime Numbers (12/6/10)

Primes are always girl numbers,

Never boys like four and eight and twenty.

They stand there proudly refusing to divide

Any other ways.

Three is round, yellow and smiling.

Seven is slim, pink and shy.

Nineteen is strong enough to stop me in my tracks

191 was my high school bus number, all shiny and black.

I am forty-three.

You, my love, are a prime,

Made up of eleven and one.

by Andrea

Virginia Apgar- “brilliant physician and humanitarian”

Let’s stick with the Virginia theme another day and introduce Virginia Apgar, another rock star woman introduced to me by a student last week.  I’m not surprised I missed her in my women’s history studies, as she was a scientist and I abhor science.  I’m also not surprised I’ve missed her since, as she was a champion of maternal health and I have no babies.  Still- I AM surprised I didn’t take greater note of her achievements one of the several times I visited the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls; she was inducted in 1995.

So what of these achievements that earned her entry into the Hall?  In addition to training as an accomplished anesthesiologist at a time when women didn’t often enter into medical specialties, and the faculty positions she attained (again with few female colleagues), she worked tirelessly to treat not just mothers in labor,  but newborns too. Apparently this little thing called the Apgar Scale is  a BIG deal, and its not a coincidental name… This scale assesses a newborn giving it a score based on a number of conditions.  I’m not going to pretend to understand it, but my student said it had a profound impact on neo-natal practice and contributed to fewer infant deaths.  She made many improvements on the scale, including the identification of necessary interventions at different scores throughout her career.

Following her clinical career, she entered into the world of public health and teaching to prevent birth defects and  improve maternal health.  As such, she was the National Director of the March of Dimes Foundation. I also read that she was an accomplished musician in her free time and even made some instruments thereby cementing her rock star status.

Untitled- By Kathy

If I could teach you how to put
On your shirt right side out when
You’ve picked it up from the pile right side in
You would know so much more
About my unmade bed, the dishes in the
Sink, the expiration date of my milk,
All passing unnoticed and without any fanfare. The shirt
Stacks neat enough wrong side out, and I
Am on to the things that I
Need; on to the music, on to the on,
On to pondering dried up worms with the little girl next door, to
Picking up hedge apples and smelling each one; to not answering
The phone calls, but surprising someone
With a knock to the door. If I could
Teach you that I place such little value in kemptness, and that
Which side of the shirt the tag falls on tells you nothing
About the warmth of the shirt and how
It will care for you; then I would proclaim
Us both expert navigators in this place.

By Kathy

(Prompt: Write a list of things of which you would consider yourself an expert. Don’t worry about being precise in this. Choose one item and write further)

Virginia Satir- building hope through counseling

I was officially introduced to the work of Virgina Satir as a graduate student in the UW-Madison School of Social Work- she was one of a long list of family therapy pioneers and I immediately latched on to her methods and Spirit as conveyed through her work.  Unofficially, I saw a poster of her “Declaration of Self Esteem” on someone’s wall once, and loved it! (see below)

In her work, Satir focused on the growth and nurturing of family members, but recognized that family issues should be addressed not just with the individuals, but within the family system as a unit.  She approached counseling with a compassionate and empathetic persona rather than the scientifically detached methods of her contemporaries.  The core beliefs underlying her practice were that change is possible, people are good and building self esteem will help facilitate that change through recognition of the “wholeness” of individuals. Much of this is influenced by the family and therefore her techniques targeted the family system in very creative and engaging ways.

I’ve attempted to model her approach in my own practice, genuinely joining with my clients rather than just treating problems or diagnoses.  Building hope and self worth then become the focus, rather than on problems or failures. Peoplemaking is a great book not just as a resource for therapists, but each of us seeking to evolve to a more integrated way of living.  Also included are great exercises on communication and considering the impact of experiences with your family of origin on current challenges in your life.   Its helpful if you read the following aloud- with a smile-


In all the world, there is no one else exactly like me
Everything that comes out of me is authentically me
Because I alone chose it – I own everything about me
My body, my feelings, my mouth, my voice, all my actions,
Whether they be to others or to myself – I own my fantasies,
My dreams, my hopes, my fears – I own all my triumphs and
Successes, all my failures and mistakes Because I own all of
Me, I can become intimately acquainted with me – by so doing
I can love me and be friendly with me in all my parts – I know
There are aspects about myself that puzzle me, and other
Aspects that I do not know – but as long as I am
Friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously
And hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles
And for ways to find out more about me – However I
Look and sound, whatever I say and do, and whatever
I think and feel at a given moment in time is authentically
Me – If later some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought
And felt turn out to be unfitting, I can discard that which is
Unfitting, keep the rest, and invent something new for that
Which I discarded – I can see, hear, feel, think, say, and do
I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be
Productive to make sense and order out of the world of
People and things outside of me – I own me, and
therefore I can engineer me – I am me and


Dorothy Day- Entering in to the Long Loneliness

I don’t remember when I first heard the story of Dorothy Day or how I came to pick up The Long Loneliness, but that seems an appropriate theme to bring us into Lent today.  Though there is much I can say on her, and her inspiration for generations of peacemakers,  I hope you will forgive me this brief synopsis and all I’ve left out. Her support of the Workers of the world also echoes the support pouring forth for Wisconsinites protesting their Governor’s policies. Day founded the Catholic Worker movement and was a tireless advocate for the poor, as well as a devout Catholic.  As a Catholic, this quest for justice was intrinsic in God’s call to her and each person following Jesus Christ. Her activism and views put forth in her prolific writings serve as a model for living the Gospel, though religious membership in the Church was not required of volunteers or guests served by the Catholic Worker communities. Today Catholic Workers across the world continue her mission to live the works of mercy with the poor in their midst, challenging the “system” that perpetuates poverty in all forms.

Of Day, Fr. Daniel Berrigan, SJ noted; “What held me in thrall was an absolute stunning consistency. No to all killing. . .  into the teeth of the murderous crosswinds went her simple word. No.”Additionally moving to him, was that her stance wasn’t limited to times of war, but that she lived it through the Works of Mercy day in and day out with those in need.

On Lent, Day said in her column in the Catholic Worker newspaper (1935);

But in general, in the first flush of Lent, the struggle is undertaken bravely.

What if during the long weeks the fervor lessens and the work of accumulating graces was continued with many lapses, but by effort of will.

That time when will has to be brought into play is perhaps the most important of all, despite failures and the total lack of a sense of accomplishment, of growth.

Fervor comes again with Holy Week, joy comes on the day of resurrection, with all nature singing exultantly God’s praises.

To keep united to God through the suffering Humanity of His son–that is the aim of Lent.

Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa in NYC 1979 (Photo by Bill Barrett)

International Women’s Day- 100th Anniversary

Google told me this morning that today was the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day- and their graphic was pretty rock-star in itself. I figured looking at 100 years of celebrating this day would be a good use of blog space…. I mean, if its that important to Google then the rest of us should know a bit more, right?

International Women’s day was born of the Socialist movement and sought to unite women around the world in their struggles for justice. Established at the International Conference of Working Women, this day involved rallies and lobbying around the world, particularly in support of the Bread and Roses campaign of American women working in deplorable factory conditions in the Northeast.  This meshes nicely with the current protests in Madison, all peaceful, all struggling against the government.  Below is a link to the Bread and Roses folk song at youtube, good stuff.

This year there are events around the world celebrating and advocating for women’s rights.  In marking this day, you can join women on the bridge, read up some more on international efforts or share with the Huffington post on who inspires you.  They have several testimonies of famous women honoring those who have been an inspiration to them- check it out!

Joan Baez and Mimi Farina sing Bread and Roses

Against Relaxing- by Andrea

Against Relaxing (1/17/11) by Andrea

Let’s face it. the moment you relax
It all goes to hell.
I’m not just talking about your muscle tone
Or clutter in the dining room. I mean everything.

Relax your body, and suddenly
You’ve acquired twenty pounds.
Relax your mind, and now even
A grocery list requires a dictionary.
Relax your heart, and you slip into love.

Consider yourself warned.

(Prompt- write two words on a piece of paper and pass them to your neighbor.  Choose one of the words, write “Against” that word)