Women's History Month Courageous Environmental Saints graphic

Women’s History Month Part 2: Courageous environmental saints

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

–Joshua 1:9

This Women’s History Month, we’re shining the spotlight on women who have made a difference in their parishes, communities, and dioceses by caring for God’s creation. 

In this blog, we’re shining the spotlight on female saints who cared for God’s creation and the world around them. Many of them were often criticized and oppressed, but they stood by their cause and kept their faith. 

Read more about environmentalist saints who have made our work at Catholic Climate Covenant possible, and learn more about how you can support our work, too!

St. Hildegard of Bingen
Depiction of Hildegard of Bingen in the St. Foy Church. (Ralph Hammann (CC BY-SA))

St. Hildegard of Bingen

St. Hildegard of Bingen was born in 1098 in Bermersheim vor der Höhe, Germany, into a noble family. At the age of eight, she was entrusted to the care of Jutta of Sponheim, an anchoress, where she received her education and early spiritual formation. St. Hildegard had mystical visions from a young age, often writing about them in her monastery. Often, these visions included striking encounters with nature and animals. 

There’s not much St. Hildegard couldn’t do — she was an author, composer, poet, mystic, and artist, amongst other things. But one of the most notable things about St. Hildegard is her love for the environment. St. Hildegard was a skilled herbalist and healer, advocating for the use of natural remedies and holistic approaches to health. 

One of the most notable aspects of St. Hildegard’s environmental ethic was her belief in the “viriditas,” or “greenness,” of God’s creation. She saw the vibrant, verdant hues of the natural world as symbolic of God’s abundant life-giving energy, flowing through all living things. For St. Hildegard, the “greening” power of God was not merely a metaphor but a tangible reality that permeated the Earth and sustained its vitality. 

St. Hildegard advocated for responsible stewardship of the environment, emphasizing humanity’s role as caretakers of God’s creation. She condemned actions that harmed the Earth or disrupted its delicate balance, urging people to live in harmony with nature and cultivate a respectful relationship with the land. Her feast day is Sept. 17. 

St. Kateri Tekakwitha
Depiction of St. Kateri Tekakwitha at Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the courtyard approaching the entrance to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi (Santa Fe). Photo by milomingo.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha

St. Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 and is the first Native American to be declared a saint. St. Kateri Tekakwitha grew up in northern New York State, raised by an uncle after her Mohawk father, Algonquin mother, and only brother were killed in by smallpox. St. Kateri Tekakwitha lived, but was left blind and disfigured. This visual impairment made her appreciate even more deeply the other sensations of the world around her, from the sounds of the birds and animals, to the feeling of the gentle breeze, and the smell of the long grass.

She was taught by her family to respect the world around her, and to be thankful for the natural resources that were available to her and her community. After she became Catholic at the age of 19, St. Kateri Tekakwitha searched for secluded sections of the forest where she could pray and connect with nature. She took a vow of chastity and refused to marry. She is considered to be the patroness of the environment and ecology. Her feast day is July 14. 

Saint Mother Theodore Guerin
Oil painting of Saint Mother Théodore Guérin. Courtesy picryl.

St. Mother Théodore Guérin

Saint Mother Théodore Guérin was born in Étables, France, in 1798. As a child, she would walk along the beach and admire God’s creation. As an adult, she became a Sister of Providence and a teacher. She was also a talented herbalist, using plants and herbs in her town to help the sick. When she moved from France to the U.S., she settled in Indiana and continued to use wild herbs to care for the sick. She eventually opened a pharmacy, where she took care of the poor for no cost. Today, her shrine is located at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in Indiana, where the stained glass windows showcase three herbs in particular that Saint Mother Théodore Guérin used most often — American Coneflower, dandelion, and linden leaves. Her feast day is Oct. 3. 

St. Gertrude of Nivelles 1
The collegiate church of Saint Gertrude is a Romanesque church located in the town of Nivelles in Belgium. It was consecrated in the presence of Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor in 1046 and the Bishop of Liège Wazon. Photo by melina1965.

St. Gertrude of Nivelles

Much like St. Hildegard of Bingen and St. Mother Théodore Guérin, St. Gertrude of Nivelles is known for her love of plants, herbs, and gardening. Born into a noble family in Belgium, St. Gertrude declared at the age of 10 that not only would she not be marrying the duke her family presented, but she would not be marrying at all — she would take Christ as her bridegroom. After her father’s death, St. Gertrude’s mother, Itta, shaved their heads in the “tonsure” style often worn by medieval monks. Together, St. Gertrude and Itta traveled to Nivelles and established an abbey for both nuns and Irish monks. As the head of the abbey, St. Gertrude loved tending to her gardens just as much as abbey visitors. Even today, gardeners often ask for St. Gertrude to protect and help their gardens and crops. St. Gertrude’s love for creation extended beyond plants — she loved animals too, especially cats. St. Gertrude’s name is so synonymous with nature that on her feast day — March 17 — gardeners often use the weather to determine whether or not to begin their spring planting. 

St. Clare of Assisi
This statue of the saint is in the Poor Clares convent in Tonopah, AZ. Photo by Lawrence OP

St. Clare of Assisi

St. Clare of Assisi was born in 1194 in Assisi, Italy, to an affluent family. At 18, St. Clare left her wealthy family to join her close friend and well-known environmentalist, St. Francis of Assisi, in his endeavors to help the poor and care for the environment. 

She took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, founding the Order of Poor Ladies alongside St. Francis. The order, focused on a life of austerity, prayer, and service to the marginalized, quickly grew in popularity.

St. Clare’s deep spirituality and commitment to simplicity and poverty fostered a profound reverence for the natural world, positioning her as a steward of creation in her own right.

At the heart of St. Clare’s environmental ethic was her embrace of poverty as a means of living in harmony with God’s creation. By renouncing material possessions and embracing a life of simplicity, St. Clare demonstrated a deep respect for the Earth’s resources and a desire to minimize human impact on the environment. Her rejection of consumerism and excess consumption resonates with modern environmental movements advocating for sustainable living and reduced consumption.

St. Clare’s connection to nature is also evident in her spiritual writings and experiences. Like her mentor, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare saw God’s presence reflected in the natural world, viewing creation as a sacred manifestation of divine beauty and wisdom. Her contemplation of the natural world inspired awe and wonder, fostering a sense of kinship with all living beings. Her feast day is Aug. 11. 

St. Brigid
A stained glass window depicting Saint Brigid of Kildare. Courtesy Europeana.

St. Brigid of Ireland

St. Brigid of Ireland was born around 451 in Faughart, and is one of Ireland’s patron saints. Much of St. Brigid’s life is shrouded in legend and Celtic folklore, but one thing is for certain — her dedication to the poor and marginalized. 

One of the most famous stories about St. Brigid recounts her founding of the monastery of Kildare, which became a center of learning, spirituality, and hospitality. It is said that she erected a church on the site of an oak tree, symbolizing her deep connection to nature and her reverence for the Earth.

St. Brigid is also associated with the protection of animals and the natural world. She is often depicted with a cow, which is said to have miraculously supplied milk to feed the poor. This is just one of many examples of St. Brigid’s compassion for all living beings and her belief in the interconnectedness of creation. Her feast day is Feb. 1.

St. Elizabeth of Portugal
This painting of St. Elizabeth of Portugal is in the Franciscan church (Eglise des Cordeliers) in Fribourg Switzerland. Photo by Lawrence OP.

St. Elizabeth of Portugal

St. Elizabeth of Portugal was born 1271 into royalty as the daughter of King Peter III of Aragon. She was married to King Denis of Portugal as part of a political alliance between kingdoms. Despite her royal commitments, St. Elizabeth of Portugal was steadfast in her Catholic faith and her determination to serve others. St. Elizabeth of Portugal often used her position of power and influence to promote peace, establishing hospitals, orphanages, and other charitable institutions. She often personally attending to the needs of the sick and suffering.

But St. Elizabeth of Portugal’s concern for the vulnerable didn’t end there. Her love for the environment and nature is evidenced in her advocacy for responsible stewardship of God’s creation. She was known for her efforts to protect forests and wildlife, recognizing the importance of preserving the natural world for future generations.

One notable aspect of St. Elizabeth of Portugal’s environmentalism was her promotion of sustainable land management practices. She understood the interconnectedness of human well-being and environmental health, advocating for policies that balanced human needs with the preservation of ecosystems. St. Elizabeth of Portugal’s efforts to protect forests and wildlife reflect her understanding of the vital role they play in maintaining ecological balance and supporting biodiversity. Her feast day is July 4. 

St. Teresa of Avila
This statue of St. Teresa of Avila is in St Catherine of Siena’s church in New York. Photo by Lawrence OP.

St. Teresa of Ávila

St. Teresa of Ávila was born in 1515 in Ávila, Spain. She was a mystic, writer, and reformer who played a significant role in the Catholic Counter-Reformation. St. Teresa of Ávila often grappled with her spirituality, even while living in the convent and serving others. She founded several convents and wrote extensively about her encounters with God and her mystical experiences. She often faced opposition inside and outside of the Church, but remained steadfast in her faith. 

St. Teresa of Ávila’s spirituality was deeply rooted in a profound reverence for God’s creation. She often spoke of the Earth as a manifestation of divine beauty and wisdom, viewing the natural world as a reflection of God’s presence and glory. St. Teresa of Ávila’s writings reveal a sensitivity to the interconnectedness of all living beings and the importance of nurturing a harmonious relationship with the Earth.

St. Teresa of Ávila’s emphasis on simplicity and detachment from worldly possessions aligns with principles of environmental stewardship. She advocated for a life of poverty and humility, recognizing the detrimental effects of excessive consumption and materialism on both individuals and the environment. By prioritizing spiritual wealth over material wealth, St. Teresa of Ávila promoted a lifestyle that values sustainability and responsible use of resources.

Today, St. Teresa of Ávila is recognized as a Doctor of the Church. Her feast day is Oct. 15

Dorothy Day icon
An icon of Dorothy Day. Photo by Di.

Honorable mention: Dorothy Day

Although she is not canonized as a saint, Dorothy Day is a contemporary example of Catholic women concerned about the environment. Day was a well-known social worker and reformer who lived in some of the largest cities in the U.S. and saw firsthand the impact of pollution and factories on the poor and vulnerable. Born in 1897 in Chicago, Day left college to pursue journalism in New York City, where she lived close to the beach in Staten Island. The ocean waves and birds and beach life often made her ponder her own life’s trajectory, and the value of God in it. After she became Catholic, she created a religious retreat on a farm called the Catholic Worker, realizing that the simplicity of nature could draw people closer to Christ. The Catholic Worker community grew their own food and became self-sustaining, even feeding the vulnerable who came to her soup kitchen every day. Day died on Nov. 29, 1980, and her work in social reform and public service is still recognized as a template for nonprofits and social centers today. 

The saints featured in this Women’s History Month blog have paved the way for Catholic Climate Covenant’s work. You can support Catholic Climate Covenant’s work, too, by joining our movement or making a donation.

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