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.
|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.18(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.52(d)|
About the Author
Susan Hanfield was a 2017 Audie Award finalist in the Young Adult category for The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough. Her work has also been recognized with a Voice Arts Awards nomination in 2016 and as an Audie Award finalist in 2015 and 2014.
Read an Excerpt
I 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 I had 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.
It was time for a change.
What People are Saying About This
“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
Reading Group Guide
1. Chapter 1: Party Girl
1. 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?
2. 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?
3. 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?
2. Chapter 2: A Child Again
1. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux wrote about her “little way” which consisted of small, everyday acts of love. These included befriending a particularly cranky nun and not losing patience with others. What are some specific things you could do to better the lives of those around you, as offerings to God in the “little way?”
2. When Thérèse heard of her father’s passing, her reaction was strangely peaceful. How can you find the good—and God’s will—in bad tidings?
3. Just as Alzheimer’s made Colleen’s father more like a child in his faith, Thérèse also strove for childlike faith in God. Why? What qualities do children possess that are essential to your faith?
3. Chapter 3: Trust Fall
1. Colleen describes accepting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work as a speechwriter for the President. But this job couldn’t fill the ache in her soul for marriage. Have you ever felt the call to sacrifice something important to you for something better? How have you seen the faithfulness of God in that sacrifice?
2. Colleen describes the atmosphere surrounding the speechwriting staff as a “boys’ club.” Have you ever felt out of place somewhere that you believed God had called you to be? Write out quotes from the saints or Bible verses that remind you of your value to God.
3. Colleen writes that Saint Faustina seemed to embody the verse, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and do not lean on your own understanding (Prov. 3:5).” At the end of this chapter, Colleen realizes that it is not enough to say she trusts in God; she must act as though she does, whether or not she feels it. What’s the difference? Are actions or words more important? Why?
4. Chapter 4: A Mother at Heart
1. Saint Edith Stein believed that each woman has a maternal spirit. What does that maternal spirit look like in you?
2. Colleen writes about the dark side of a woman’s maternal inclinations, when those inclinations are distorted by sin. These negative traits and habits include nagging, manipulation, domineering behavior and gossip. What are some ways you have seen these weaknesses in yourself? What safeguards can you put in place to curb them?
3. Saint Edith also wrote that “objective work” and daily quiet prayer are twin ways to combat these weaknesses. What are a few concrete ways in which you can apply this doctrine to your own life?
5. Chapter 5: Into the Darkness
1. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote about the overwhelming darkness she experienced, even though her entire life was dedicated to God. Despite her depression, though, she never faltered in her good work. Is this frightening or reassuring? Why?
2. When speaking of her infertility and waiting to know whether she would ever be a mother, Colleen’s mother told her that the waiting itself was her cross to bear. What crosses have you had to bear? Which are you currently bearing? How is God seeing you through?
3. When has God made you wait for something you really wanted? How did the waiting stretch your faith?
6. Chapter 6: Triumph of the Cross
1. Colleen writes about how her esteem for Mary grew gradually, and the more she turned to Mary, the more she felt drawn to loving, serving and imitating her Son, Jesus. In what ways has devotion to Mary led you closer to Christ? In what ways has following Mary’s example helped you grow in virtue?
2. Colleen’s yearning for motherhood was her own cross to carry, but it also made her dependence on God that much stronger. What trials are you most thankful for? How have they deepened your faith?
3. After having read of Colleen’s closeness to six saints, which saints would you like to learn more about, both in reading works and through prayer?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is well written and inspirational. On the surface it appears the author and I have nothing in common, ie. I'm not from the midwest, having problems with fertility or losing a loved one to a disease. We are not even from the same generation! But we both share similar values. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.
Colleen Carroll Campbell shows what love really means. Meaningful, thought-provoking; a great book for a discussion group.
My Sisters The Saints~ Once I began this book, I couldn't set it down any longer than was necessary. Colleen Carroll Campbell writes like she's talking to friends- she gives us the gift of her story and she tells it with intensity. She asks a lot of questions- what does it mean to be a woman? What do I do about work and goals and choices? And how do I live through waiting and suffering and falling in love? Colleen begins with the day she realized that she wanted- needed- something more. She was a bright young college student with a promising future. And on that October morning all she felt was an ache. Something was lost and needed finding, or dislocated and needed healing, and she wasn't sure what it all meant. She never imagined that a dead saint, encountered through a old book, would speak words that soothed the ache. Theresa of Avila's life in the 16th century helped made sense of Colleen's 21st century experience. One may think that career ambitions, relationship struggles, and personal identity questions would have no reference in the life of a saint. Yet they do. And over the next decade of Colleen's life- when she publishes a book and becomes a White House speech writer, and lives with her dad's Alzheimer's diagnosis, and meets the man she one day marries, and then copes with infertility- she keeps finding strength and solace in the words of saints. One by one, various female saints come into her life in the season she most needed them. Somehow these women address her reality, and point to their Jesus who redeemed them and guided them, offering Him to her. Therese of Lisieux- one of her father's favorite saints- lived the "Little Way" of completely trusting faith. That seems too simple in our intellectual age, but it was just what Colleen needed as she watched her father's faith become more childlike. Therese reminded her that great love in ordinary actions would sustain them. Edith Stein's writing came along when Colleen wondered why God would give her the longing for children *and* the burden of infertility. Edith affirmed these desires as holy and good, saying that every woman is called to nurture and bring forth life, whether or not she ever bears children. This spiritual maternity is not a second-place prize after biological motherhood, rather it's the heart of all motherhood. Theresa of Calcutta's private letters, published posthumously, met Colleen in the darkness after her father's death. The fact that this saint who lived with a "smile for Jesus" could feel absolutely bereft of God was a revelation. Her vulnerability taught Colleen "the promise of joy." This is a really good read, very much worth the time it takes. (And I also think you'll want to find some of the saints original writing when you're done.) Thank you to Image Books and Blogging for Books for my review copy.
This book was very inspiring and a great way to meet saints that I have always meant to become closer to. The author has inspired me to discover more about each of the saints who she has found so helpful. A wonderful book that I have already recommended to several people, including my chronically ill mother. Full of hope.
This is a book that will stay with you after you close the back cover. I enjoyed how the saints inspired, guided and helped Colleen in her journey and how they can inspire us as well. Colleen is very open about her circumstances (without graphic detail) and choices that come her way. By the end of the book I felt as though I knew her and would enjoy being around a table with her and others sharing our stories.
a great journey in faith told in a great way. excellent
wonderfully written true story of FAITH.
This is a book I would recommend to women who are suffering from infertility and all that it brings. It also touches on the pain of losing someone to Alzheimer's. Campbell shares personal experiences in a very open and vulnerable way. The saints she chose for inspiration are my favorites also and I was surprised to recognize some of the places she visited in Wisconsin and to learn it is her home state.