‘Doctor of the Church’ is as title given by the Catholic Church to a very few saints. Thirty-six saints are considered doctors, their lives and writings being of particular importance to Catholic Church theology and doctrine.
In 1970, the Catholic Church gave two women saints the title of ‘Doctor of the Church’. Since then, two more women have joined the ranks of doctors. Although the number of women who have been named doctors seems small, it helps to put the number into perspective. After all, only two popes are included in the list of thirty-six saints given the title of ‘Doctor of the Church’.
Here’s a quick look at the four women the Church has honored as doctors. You may recognize a few of them!
1. Saint Catherine of Siena
Catherine of Siena was one of two women who were given the title ‘Doctor of the Church’ in 1970. At a young age, she rebelled against her parents’ wish for her to marry. Instead, she took a vow of virginity. She couldn’t read or write, but later in her life she was given that ability thanks to the grace of God.
She is credited with persuading the pope to return to Rome from Avignon, France. Catherine was born in 1347 and entered into Heaven in 1380. Pope Pius II declared her a saint in 1461, and the Church now celebrates her feast day on April 29.
2. Saint Teresa of Avila
Declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970, Teresa of Avila was the founder of the Disclased Carmelites and a reformer of the Carmelite order. Her writings on the interior life, particularly The Interior Castle, were highly influential in the life of the Church. She played a formidable role in the work of the Counter-Reformation.
She was born in 1515 and died in 1582. She was canonized by Pope Paul V on April 24, 1614. The Church celebrates her feast day on October 15.
3. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
The youngest woman Doctor of the Church, Thérèse of Lisieux was the third woman to be added to the list of doctors. Although she’s the patron saint of missionaries, Thérèse wasn’t a missionary herself. Instead, she spent her short life within the walls of the Carmelite convent. She is most well known for her “little way” to Heaven – offering every task to Our Lord. The writings she left us here on earth have been praised by popes.
Thérèse was born in 1873, and passed away at the young age of 24. She was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925, and the Church celebrates her feast day on October 3.
4. Saint Hildegard of Bingen
In October 2012, Pope Benedict XVI named Hildegard of Bingen the fourth woman Doctor of the Church. She was an immensely well cultured medieval abbess. Her abilities as a musician, illuminator, philosopher, visionary, and theologian were impressive. An inspiration to women today, she is also considered to be the founder of German scientific natural history.
Her work Ordo Virtutum is arguably the oldest surviving play about human mortality. Her other well known work in the arts is the Symphonia armoniae celestium revelationum, a collection of her liturgical songs. Click here to listen to one of her compositions, O Frodens Virga.
She was born in 1098, and passed away on September 17, 1179. The Catholic Church celebrates her feast day on September 17.