Phoebe, Mother of Preachers

Phoebe, Mother of Preachers, Cara Quinn, of the Know Your Mothers Project (

Barbara Pegg, a lay Dominican, shared this image and title of Phoebe with the circle of women preparing to reflect on the Word at my home parish in Durham, NC this weekend. 

It brings to mind the many women preachers I have known – Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, non-denominational, United Methodist, Pentecostal, AME – I think of their love of the Word, their love of God, their love and care for God’s people. 

I think, too, of the courage I’ve witnessed in preaching women and men.
Courage: being afraid, and doing it anyway. 

To not let the voices of doubt or diminishment cause us to quench the fire in our bones that is meant to be shared. Courage: to persist in the face of the unknown and all kinds of obstacles. 

If Phoebe, the deacon, is the Mother of Preachers, it is because she carried Paul’s letter from Cenchreae, Greece to Rome. Through what was likely a wearying and maybe even a risky journey, she was a bearer of the Word, and presumably shared it – even offered some further interpretation – with the community she was sent to in Rome. A community that was most likely on the outskirts of town, outside of the power centers – a place that would perhaps take courage to navigate and move through. 

To plan a Phoebe Day celebration many of us have initiated new synodal, listening conversations with our parishioners, our clergy, our school administrators. We have dialogued, and discerned, and made decisions in collaborative ways about what is ours to do today and throughout this month to witness the baptismal dignity of women and the call Jesus puts on our hearts to respond to the pastoral needs in our communities.  

This morning, throughout this month, and indeed, across our lifetimes – let us have the faith-filled courage to bring forth the living Word of God, to nourish the People of God.  Let us not be afraid to follow where Jesus would have us go, and, like Phoebe and Paul, to seek those partners in ministry that will send us forth and credential us to the communities we hope will receive us. 

When we wonder why the road can be so wearying at times, let us remember the first proclamation, the kerygma – which Pope Francis insists be on the lips of every catechist and disciple:

“Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” (Joy of the Gospel, 164) 

St. Phoebe be with each preacher in our midst this day. Give us the courage to bear the Word of God in our hearts, and then share its life-giving power with those around us.

St. Phoebe, pray for us.


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“I have worked alongside many lay and religious women in my ministry who have exhibited outstanding ability for ministry.  Many have taught me by their example how to be a more effective minister, and by their instruction, helped me to grow in this role…It’s time that the Church gets in step with society and recognizes the equality of women in the workplace.  Women are as capable as men in the work of ministry, and have demonstrated the same equality in scholarship, skills and education as men.”
Fr. Joseph A. Genito, O.S.A
Pastor, St. Thomas of Villanova Parish, Philadelphia, PA
“If there were women deacons in my parish, lay women would relate in a deep and meaningful way to deacons who look, act, speak and feel more like themselves…Though I am an unlikely choice to wear the alb and stole, I have a deep commitment to service in Christ’s name and I try to live it every day. Any need that arises, I am ready to shoulder it, though some needs of our sisters and brothers would be well- or better-served by a woman’s different compassion.”
Deacon Bill Zapcic
Parish Deacon and Homilist, Retired Journalist, Tinton Falls, NJ
“Not only is ordaining women as deacons a restoration of the dynamism of the early Church, it is a matter of justice!”
Fr. Stephen P Newton, CSC
Executive Director, Association of US Catholic Priests, Notre Dame, IN

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