Guest Post: Shattering The Image Of Religious Life by Lauren DeSmit

I was scrolling through Instagram the other day (does that show that I’m a millennial since it wasn’t TikTok?), and I came across an account @the_modern_saints_by_ gracie.  I was completely captivated by the depiction of Saints in a youthful, unique, real way.  Gracie’s artwork makes sainthood feel tangible in a way I’ve never seen before.  I found myself thinking of women I know who look like these portraits, and I was struck by the wide variety of ages and ethnicities.   In Gracie’s bio, she writes that her paintings are in a “modern style to show how human they were: how amazing, and how just like us.” Disclaimer: I don’t know Gracie, but I highly recommend you follow her account.  I’m seriously such a fangirl!

As a youngin’ in southwest Virginia, I was raised in a Catholic home in a not-so-Catholic town.  I was one of maybe five kids in my religious education classes, and we shared our priest with other churches in the surrounding small towns.  Without many examples, I had a made-up image of what a super religious woman must look like.  I pictured habited, quiet, and constantly praying.

After working with middle schoolers, in college campus ministry, and now with young adults – I can safely say that I’m not alone creating these unrealistic standards.  I often thought I had to act, look, or be a certain way to be deemed “holy” by others.  Oh, how I wish I could go back and show little Lauren the beautiful, inclusive art Gracie creates!  Saints with cool clothing and long, braided hair with full, adventurous lives and big personalities.  

My boyfriend (now hubby) invited me to a retreat hosted by the Sisters of Bon Secours in college.  I thought it was a tad weird since he was a guy but eagerly attended.  Having little-to-no experience with religious sisters, I was blown away by our first encounter.  Eh, not true.  I actually spent multiple hours talking with these fun ladies who weren’t young adults, so I didn’t actually know why they were there.   It wasn’t until the second day that someone called them “sisters,” which blew my mind.  They didn’t wear any funny headdresses, they stayed up late to play games, and they were drinking beer! *Insert shock sound*

These women shattered every image I had of religious life.  They were kind and welcoming but not in the unrealistic way I had imagined all sisters would be.  They made jokes and had personalities.  They were outspoken about big issues in the world and cared for the marginalized and vulnerable.  They held jobs, traveled the world, and some lived in inner-city neighborhoods!  They demonstrated accompaniment and showed my naive heart something it longed for – the ability to be a faithful Catholic woman AND ______.  I think every person, especially women, have about 30 things they could include in that blank.  Ways we feel we have to sacrifice and change ourselves to fit into society or the church. 

Fast-forward six years, and I am now lucky enough to call these women my bosses, coworkers, and dear friends.  

To this day, they still break every box I try to place them in.  And maybe that’s because I still try to put them all in the same box.  Each sister’s story is unique.  Their lived experiences, passions, and strengths all differ.  What I’ve come to realize is that femininity can’t be boiled down to a simple stereotype.  I don’t need to list examples; I think we’ve all heard them before!  I look at our Sisters and how they live their lives, tell their stories, and experience God’s love.  All in vastly different and beautiful ways!

Their example has helped me to be a better ministry leader and friend.  They’ve helped me to understand my own misconceptions and to make a place for all women at the table.  They’ve taught me that being a woman in ministry means bringing my unique God-given gifts and loving others the way I do it best.  Not compromising to fit the perfect mold. 

If anything I have shared resonates, if you’re currently trying to navigate ministry as a woman or realize you might want some awesome Sisters in your life – please reach out.  My email address is, and I would love to talk! 

Lauren DeSmit serves as the Young Adult Program Coordinator for the Sisters of Bon Secours. She works with young adults across the country and in collaboration with multiple diocese and young adult ministries.  Originally from Virginia, Lauren and her husband Zach live in San Diego, CA with their one-eyed pup Odin.

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