Blessed is She awoke in me to the desire for female-led and supported organizations. But it felt hard to connect. I thought back to my childhood and what I saw in parish life.
I knew they were the ladies who sold baked goods frequently outside the church doors. They set out desserts. They ran raffles. We snickered with the young priest who had the gall to joke about their name, the “Young Ladies’ Institute.” They were young when it was founded, it was said.
That was all I knew until I received a check in response to our son’s diagnosis. They prayed for us. They filled my mother’s kitchen countertops with platters of fruit and crackers and cheese at my daughter’s funeral. Their energy filled the kitchen as they washed dishes while I looked at our future as a parent of a child who died.
The Young Ladies' Institute
I learned what it was about. Founded nearly 120 years ago, three women rallied together around a single woman, diagnosed but unable to support herself. Rather than go through the “system” (inexistent back then) these women turned to each other, the first Catholic women’s organization of its kind. Solidarity…subsidiarity in the flesh of the feminine genius.
Now, its monthly meetings would feel like a time-warp to the civic associations of the 1950s, if it were not for the spirited women who run them. They stick to Robert’s Rules of Order, clumsily, especially among less experienced members like myself. But the rules make it timeless, feeding its survival.
We do not realize what we have. Analogous to the Knights of Columbus, Y.L.I. is female-driven, relationship-drive,n and food-driven. The mothers of our traditions knew the first step to healing the heart was filling the stomach.
The mothers of our traditions knew the first step to healing the heart was filling the stomach. #BISblog //Click to tweet
Order and Community
In The First Society, author and theologian Scott Hahn introduces us to thoughts of Robert Nisbet. “Nisbet recognized that communities that serve important social functions in our lives, such as families and parishes and social clubs, give structure to our day-to-day living, and thus contribute to our identity.”
Y.L.I. is referred to as an “order.” Going through these historical documents, the term surprised me. Hahn shines some light on this. “In the church, then, members of an order have specific prescribed responsibilities within the larger Body of Christ in the same way civil institutions have specific responsibilities within society.”
He writes that the Catholic Church does not just minister to the spiritual needs of her people, but to the natural order, providing for material and financial needs as well. The service of the Church in these spheres is a witness that the life of faith cannot be relegated to the sidelines, Sunday service, separate from our work-life and our home-life. We are called to a radical integration, to be Catholic wherever we are, to draw our identity from our Catholicism.
We learn who we are in context, first in the family, then in community, then politically. Community and parish organizations form intermediary groups that facilitate our living and add to the sense of community. “When the functions of these communities fade or are replaced, such as by the government, their strength as identity-forming institutes fades as well.” We stop knowing who we are.
Leaving a vacuum, Hahn argues the state and—particularly in the United States—the market will readily step into the fill the gaps. As the misinterpretation and destruction of marriage in society grew, identity politics became a guiding force, along with brand loyalty. We must find identity in something, and that something must come in context. We cannot decide it on our own.
The Catholic Church does not just minister to the spiritual needs of her people, but to the natural order, providing for material and financial needs as well. #BISblog //Click to tweet
Uniting Women in Catholicism
Y.L.I. stands out as a structured, stable association that brings women together periodically for meetings, periodically for fundraisers, and periodically for prayer. They support each other through prayer, through a sense of unity, through financial protection, formally through a death benefit, materially through funeral reception support.
We need organizations like this in our lives. But, in some ways, we no longer know how to associate with them. Unlike a Facebook group which we check in from time to time, digitally and with a low commitment, groups like this demand patience and navigation among different personalities and will call on its members to give time and skill. Groups like Blessed is She rise to a whole new level with retreats and Blessed Brunches. It feels hard to commit, but the potential fruit is beyond imagination.
Founded in San Francisco, Y.L.I. exists only in four states: California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii. It is all there, the answers we need to the questions, how to keep our communities alive, to keep our Church visible, to be Catholic. Not just in on the weekends, but as a regular part of life, fully integrated within our identity.
Are you a part of the Young Ladies' Institute? Let us know in the comments!
The Church in Daily Life through the Young Ladies’ Institute #BISblog //Click to tweet
Kathryn Anne Casey is a graduate of Divine Mercy University, freelance writer, housewife, and mother of four children. Her weekly newspaper column “Here’s to the Good Life!” and blog focus on art, psychology, consumerism and the importance of local community. Find out more about her here.