Robert Orsi’s work resurfaces a long fought battle among women universally—finding their own voice and then finding a space that allows their voices to be heard. The Voice of St. Jude, a widely popular American Catholic magazine that began circulating within the U.S. in the 1930s, provided that specific public space for immigrant daughters who wrestled with balancing the life in between dual cultures of Americanism and Catholicism. Letters were sent to this magazine by young immigrant daughters of the Catholic faith who desperately pleaded for help by praying to St. Jude asking him to intercede to Jesus on behalf of them. Part of this desperate longing for external help arose because traditional support networks through ethnic enclaves (once available to the older first-generation immigrant community) were no longer useful as young, second-generation, Catholic daughters were forced to work outside of their homes and neighborhoods to help the family make ends meet. The majority of the men in these women’s lives were unemployed, unmotivated and often depressed. These burdensome circumstances recurrently led this specific group of women to fall deeper into hopelessness. What these women needed and desperately desired was their own community and network of support—in other words a space to speak, be embraced and heal.
Reading this text through the lens of Virginia Woolf’s essay, A Room of One’s Owngives an opportunity for another layer of analysis. Woolf initially uses the backdrop of the fiction writing industry as a way to construct her argument about the lack of physical and figurative space for women in the workplace, but this critique also allows a way for others to use her text to speak about the larger reality of the lack of women’s space in the world of patriarchy. Woolf confidently states, “So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.” She understood that often the act of writing (then secondly the publication of that text) unleashes, releases and rescues individuals from feeling suffocated, imprisoned and insignificant about their lives. Writing is self-voicing. Having a voice that is heard reinforces significance and a certain amount of power. This power affirms the potential to influence others with the words that one writes or says regardless of who it actually affects. Writing used as an outlet can also heal.
Interestingly, their loyalty and trust depended on a mortal, mediator saint whom they believed would petition on behalf of them to Jesus Christ (the ultimate Savior in the Catholic faith). Unlike Jesus, Jude’s mortality and unknown identity provided the perfect foundation while the magazine provided the perfect platform for these women to imaginatively reform and renegotiate their own understandings of womanhood for their generation. It was women affecting other women’s lives under the label of a man. Much like women writers in the past who used pseudonyms to publish their works for others to read. If looked at simply, St. Jude’s voice was actually a literary vocal team of women who molded The Voice of St. Jude to continue to provide the women a vehicle that could be used to form and shape their voices—because speaking and being heard was enough to give them hope to continue living just a while longer. All in all, regardless of the limits that existed in their society, the space existed—constantly growing, transforming and encouraging women to enter into a greater abundant life filled with gratitude and hope.
So, a few closing questions arise. How would their religious experience and understanding of womanhood have been different if St. Jude had been a woman? If the person whom the magazine was dedicated to had been someone other than St. Jude, would the women have been as devoted to him/her? How much of their devotion to St. Jude was due to the supernatural religious hope and how much of it was due to the alternative enclave community it provided? At large, has the Internet (especially blogging) replaced magazines, radio and other older forms of communication to be used as modern places of expression, healing and community? Which community has blogging benefited the most and which has it hurt the most? Has the Internet further restricted or expanded spaces for Catholic women and other women of faith rooted in patriarchy?