She Defied the Female Stereotype
What messages does the Church send to women about being a godly woman? In other words, are certain lifestyles and characteristics more “revered” than others? Would Condoleezza Rice hear the same messages as a stay-at-home mom?
The Marcella Project is named after a woman who challenged the traditional view of womanhood.
Marcella was a woman born 325 AD into a wealthy family in Rome. She became a widow seven months after her marriage. Breaking with convention, she never remarried.
Despite several wealthy suitors’ proposals. Her faith drove her to long for simplicity, perhaps even an ascetic lifestyle, yet she chose to honor her mother by living with her in her mansion until she died. She brought many young women into their home to be mentored in the Word, and she lived a life of service to the poor.
When St. Jerome, who translated the Scriptures into the Latin Vulgate, came to settle in Rome. Marcella quickly approached him to allow her to become his apprentice. He resisted; she persisted. Jerome finally gave in and Marcella became one of his most capable students and a close confidante. Marcella was known to challenge Jerome’s theology more than once. It is said he changed his writings on the words ‘amen’ and ‘alleluia’ due to Marcella’s theological challenges. When Jerome traveled, he would tell those needing instruction in the Word of God to seek out Marcella.
After her mother’s death, Marcella moved out of the mansion and gave her wealth away to those in need. When the barbarians invaded Rome, they captured Marcella and beat her in hopes of getting her to give them her money. They didn’t believe her when she explained she had none. After long beatings and no success, they released her. Shortly after, she died as a result of those beatings.
Marcella epitomizes what it means to not succumb to the world’s ideal of “what it meant to be a woman,” but instead chased after Jesus, letting his love define who she would be. She let nothing get in her way of her pursuit to know God through the Word and to live like Jesus by caring for the poor. Her story challenges us to be “Marcellas” in our world, pursuing Jesus at all costs, even if it means defying our world’s ideal of womanhood by allowing our love for Jesus to define who we will be and how we will live.