• Church of the Immaculate Conception

    Office Hours Mon-Fri 9am-4pm, lunch 1-2
    Mass Mon-Wed 9am, Thur-Fri 7am,
    Saturday 5pm (confessions at 4pm)
    Sunday 8am and 11am
  • Our Immaculate Conception Window

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,308 other followers

  • My Catholic Social Media Motto from Blessed John XXIII

    "In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, freedom; in all things, charity" - St. Augustine, as quoted by Blessed John XXIII in his first enclyclical, Ad Petri Cathedram ( To the Chair of Peter)
  • Live Your Faith – Get Engaged, Get Active, Get Involved

    Visit the New York State Catholic Conference, and the USCCB Conscience page for more information on political and social issues.
  • My other blogs…

    Personal reflections on faith and life at There Will Be Bread.

    And the blog from my home parish, The Parish Blog of St. Edward the Confessor.

  • Advertisements

The last of a long line of women

(This post was originally published at the blog, Catholic Sensibility, as part of the Two Weeks of Worthy Women series.)

A group of Beguines.

A group of Beguines.

During the 12th century, groups of women began to form for common life; they were called The Beguines. At this time, when single women entered religious life because they were single, and not necessarily because they were called, the Beguines stood out. These women did not enter the same kind of enclosure, they did not take vows, they did not renounce wealth if they had it, nor were they denied entrance if they lacked wealth. What they did do was to form communities of women, dedicated to God and to one another, but in a way that was very different from monastic life at that time.

Living in groups of small houses, that together was called a Beguinage, they did go through a novitiate of sorts. They went through a period of formation and then lived alone in small dwellings in the enclosure. Apparently there was no one foundress, constitution, or rule. These women broke every boundary of propriety by their very being, yet they simply carried on. At a time when woman had no social currency, the various Beguinages that sprung up were markedly different than any other thing at the time. The women were engaged in charitable work, and did have lives of prayer. Mechthild of Magdeburg was a Beguine and mystic, whose legacy lives on today. (I mentioned Mechtild in one of my Worthy Women posts last year.) Beguines created a life where they could live freely – not under the power of marriage or of a monastery. It was an independence otherwise unknown to women of that time.

So what does all this have to do with Two Weeks of Worthy Women today?

On April 14, at the age of 92, Marcella Pattyn died; she was the last Beguine in Europe, at the end of a line that extended for over 800 years. How did she come to this?

Mont-Saint-Amand-lez-GandIn 1941 she entered the Beguinage in Ghent. Pattyn had been born in the Belgian Congo in 1920. The one thing that stood between her and her call to religious life was her eyesight; she was essentially blind, and that precluded her from entering a convent or monastery. She was able to gain entry to the Beguines at age 20, and there she stayed for her life.

It was from all accounts a simple life. She had a loom and would weave cloth; she knitted and sewed. There are some people in the world who hold something special relating to Marcella Pattyn – the Beguine dolls that she created from fabric and thread that she sold. Gifted with some musical acumen, she played the organ, as well as some other instruments. And she enjoyed making others feel loved and comforted; she often visited the sick and infirm, entertaining them with music. With all of this there was a life of foundational prayer and faith.

20130427_OBP002_0If this all sounds a little idyllic, perhaps it is. When I see this image of Marcella Pattyn, decked out in her full Beguine regalia, and I see that smile, I am reminded of the kind of freedom that cannot be bought or earned. This is the freedom


2 Responses

  1. Fran- I actually visited the Catholic Sensibility blog to read the end of this post. I liked it. Marcella reminds me of Sister Betty Hunter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: