Women and money is the motif of this issue. It is an age-old binomial that indicates the daily difficulty of poor women in squaring their family budget. At the same time it embodies the powerlessness of women in history. In fact for centuries well-to-do women were forbidden to administer their own patrimony without the intervention of their man of reference, their husband or their father. However in the West in recent centuries another figure has found room in this panorama to prove the concrete ability of women to transform money into opportunities for growth and life; and this figure emerged precisely in the history of the Church. It is here, in fact, that in the 19th century considerable female entrepreneurial skills flourished.
Thanks to the tenacity of these women, obliged to face men who were far from well disposed, their endeavours were successful. We are referring to the many foundresses of congregations of active life who, in taking a fertile path of the Christianization of society at the very moment in which it was becoming secularized, proved capable of creating an impressive network of institutions that provided social assistance (schools, hospitals, orphanages, structures dispensing help for the poor and the marginalized), demonstrating their exceptional abilities in grasping needs and identifying solutions. Moreover in doing so autonomously and creatively, coming to grips with the new social balances, these foundresses were the first women to administer considerable sums of money on their own and successfully. The new foundations were such, also if not especially, because of their financial structure. Whereas the previous women’s institutions came into being and endured in time only where they had a basic guarantee of financial security, the new congregations toppled this rule: they were born with a minimal initial capital and at times even with nothing. The religious almost never brought a dowry at the moment of their profession. Rather it was with their own work that they contributed to guaranteeing the congregation’s keep, thereby gaining the esteem of the local community. This lesson should be remembered: foundresses were in fact forced not only to procure the funds for their daily bread, but above all to manage them dynamically and productively. They had to involve themselves in authentic entrepreneurial activities, without being satisfied with the initial results but continuously expanding their projects, even at the cost of running up substantial debts. Frequently ignored or glossed over, it is nonetheless indisputable that the emancipation of women and of the Church also passed through this. And from this point it can and must start out afresh, as the articles in this issue demonstrate. (g.g.)
St. Peter’s Square
Nov. 21, 2019
Growing up too quickly
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