Five Women Searching for Faith
How do women answer God's summons? The uncomfortable
answer: some don't. Some succeed. Some excel. C. J. Eustace
sketches five 19th and 20th century women's lives in this gem.
Two failed, as far as we can judge—but each of them tried.
The other three were exemplary Catholic women, who suffered
much. We at Roman Catholic Books asked a Catholic woman/writer,
herself a convert from Judaism, to review the book for us,
privately, before deciding whether or not to reprint it. She
convinced us we must. Excerpts from her report:
France Pastorelli provides a perfect case study. She was a
tremendously gifted pianist whose descent into illness silenced
her art. Pastorelli turned her tragedy into an occasion for heroic
virtue in living the life of a dependent invalid, deprived of that
which she most loved, her musci. "My God, there are certain
circumstances in which it is not easy to trace thy hand. I fail to
understand why Thou hast chained me a few feet from my
piano." Author Eustace quotes liberally from her notebooks,
which reveal artistic genius, luminous intelligence, and courage.
Ultimately, France Pastorelli gave her life to God, praying only
that she would not squander 'what God has revealed to her of
the usefulness of suffering.'"
Elizabeth Leseur's story is equally moving. A cultivated, upper
middle-class Parisienne, Elizabeth was a lone Catholic living in a
skeptical, secular environment. In particular, her husband, an
atheist, dedicated his efforts to tearing down her faith. Elizabeth
bore this spiritual desolation with resignation and her worldly
duties as hostess and socialite as a secret Cross of expiation. All
the while she maintained her devotions and moved ever more deeply into the contemplative life. Finally, approaching 40 and
knowing she had a grave illness, she made a pact with God:
'Make my trials, suffering, and renunciations the path by means
of which Thou will come into this heart,
which is so dear to me,' referring to her
husband, in her journal. Following her
death, he discovered her remarkable
writings and was converted to the Faith. He
then became a Dominican priest. God had
accepted her sufferings in exchange for his
St. Therese of Lisieux is a brilliant portrait.
Eustace shows how this great saint was a paragon of loving
sacrifice, of the art of religion carried to its human zenith.
Of the women who failed, but who made some attempt, Eustace
has much to say. Helen Foley and Katherine Mansfield, one a
poet and the other an innovator in the style known as prosepoetry,
were each gifted and sensitive, alive to the beauty and
mystery of the created world. Both had intimations of a
'promised land,' a reality to which their writing pointed. But
Helen Foley apparently feared and avoided it, while Katherine
Mansfield went tragically off course, seeking, but always
believing the answer lay in herself, and spent her final days
involved in highly destructive encounter therapies that became
popular in our time."
To our own reviewer's high praise, several Catholic publications
added their endorsement. Eustace anticipated Catholic women's
crying need by half a century:
"Moving...powerful...scales heights of inspiration."
—Books on Trial
"For the mature reader...highly rewarding." - Catholic Library World, 1947
"First-rate biographical portraits.—Anne Fremantle, Commonweal
"Good especially for those seriously beginning the quest of life."