I want to be a parish lady
A young woman’s admiration for those who care for the church set her ambitions as a Catholic.
I want to grow up to be a parish lady, but I have to be at least 60 for that job or my hair has to have turned white or I have to have at least four children. I’m pretty sure that’s what the job application specifies. Should I apply to be one today, they will likely turn me away, tell me I am not dressing the right way just yet, tell me to come back when I have more children, or tell me to maybe find a small group of young contemporaries to do a Bible Study.
What they don’t know is that I’ve been training long and hard for the job of parish lady, shadowing my mom for as many years as I can remember. It began on Saturday afternoons when my sister and I slowly slid down each pew, carefully rearranging the books for the Masses that weekend, with the Bible on the left and the People’s Mass Book and Glory and Praise on the right. Then on Sunday mornings, we’d leave early for the 9:00 a.m. Mass to give a few elderly women a ride. Later that day, we’d return to an area just outside of the church called the Grotto where my mom led the rosary.
The following weekday mornings were spent either in the vestibule of church where my mom organized “God’s Pantry,” ultimately delivering brown bags of food to the needy of our parish, or assisting the local nursing home patients in their weekly game of Bingo. In addition to these things, my mom led Bible Study on Monday evenings, cleaned the church, frequently laundered the priest’s garments, visited the parish school to teach my classmates and me how to pray the rosary, and in her free time, engaged the priests in deep theological discussions to keep them sharp and on track.
It’s that last one that’s really important. As a little girl, I knew I couldn’t do that part of the parish lady job, and even today I know I wouldn’t be very good at it. Like all parish ladies, my mom is smart, well read, and very protective of the church, both with a little “c” and with a big “C.”
In between opening up the church on cold winter mornings and bringing the Eucharist to the sick of our parish, my mom stays on top of the church’s goings on to make sure that the parish remains doctrinally sound. Young parishioners may come in with new ideas or a priest may suggest something that veers off from what my mom recognizes as the right path, but she and the other parish ladies are there to remind them of the traditions and roots of the church.
Is it too much to call them gatekeepers? Is that word too negative? Peter is a gatekeeper. Let’s say they’re like Peter.
As a little girl, when someone asked me what my Mom did, I told them that she didn’t work. I might have even said she was just a housewife. Maybe I didn’t say just a housewife, but what I know for sure I did not say were the words parish lady. I didn’t have that language yet.
I didn’t know how important those women were, and I was still too young to know anything about the controversy of the women’s role in the church. All I knew was these were the things my mom did. And I knew even then that the church, the priests, and her fellow parishioners could not have gotten on without her.