The Spring Equinox, the Feast of St. Joseph, and Unruly Nuns

I am finding that one of the virtues of blogging is that it allows me to see the big picture of my day-to-day life.  What have I learned from my dearth of winter posts?  I basically hibernate from February until whenever-spring-arrives (a date not to be confused with tomorrow, the Spring Equinox, the first day of spring, and still decidedly winter in the North Country).

As much as a long winter’s nap sounds appealing, what I mean by “hibernating” is that I settle into familiar habits and rituals, and my brain goes quiet.  Inspiration and creativity are lacking.  I’m not churning out ideas.  My normally hyperactive cerebellum enters sleep mode.

Whether spring-like or not, the days leading up to the Spring Equinox seem a good time to kick myself out of my creature-of-habit haze.  In an effort to perk things up, I’ve been spending some time with my favorite old friends….


Hanging out in a university library may not strike many folks as a perky activity, but the stacks are my happy place.  They weren’t always.  When I started graduate school lo’ those many years ago, the stacks gave me major anxiety.  I got lost.  A lot.  And I couldn’t help but think of the movie Ghostbusters every time I descended into the dark, windowless aisles.  That they might be haunted seemed completely within the realm of possibility.  This specter of danger was often heightened by actual peril as the music library featured rolling stacks, the kind of shelving systems that save space by collapsing onto themselves.  The user must turn large wheels at the end of each row to move the giant, heavy shelves along the racks, thus opening the desired aisle.  Entering the aisle becomes terrifying as the danger of being squished is all too real.  There is a brake, of course, to ensure the safety of the library occupant.  But it’s oh so easy to forget to set that brake.

Since then, I’ve become adept at navigating library stacks.  And the treasures they hold have become beacons of the possible: ideas, information, and pages upon pages of prose crafted by bright minds who hung out in libraries before me.  I know.  Mine is an exciting life.  But I’m not shy to admit that I often find the companionship of books more comforting than that of other human beings.  Library books offer themselves freely, asking nothing of me except that I find them, read them, and return them.  The opportunities to encounter new friends are seemingly endless.

Lately, I found these lovelies.  It’s as if they were calling to me from the shelf…


I’m quite looking forward to reading Nuns Behaving Badly and Rebellious Nuns.  Unruly women make great research topics.  In fact, such is the focus of my next project: women in the Church, preferably those who don’t play by the rules.

Percolating this new work in my hibernating cerebellum has started to wake me up from my winter doldrums.  Writing a book on Catholic women who claim power whether or not the male hierarchy wants to give it to them?  That sounds like just the thing to get my wheels turning.  And March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, seems an auspicious day to fire up such a feminist undertaking.  St. Patrick’s feast day has so dominated March, poor old St. Joseph ends up playing second-fiddle to the green-clad, beer-drinking, beef-corning festival of his Irish confrere.  But I think St. Joseph is at least as worthy of popular celebration.  He’s the patron saint of all sorts of things: fathers, workers, house hunters.  But I like to think of him as the patron saint of feminist husbands.

“Your wife is a teacher?  That’s nice.  My wife is the Mother of God.”

Yes, he’s *that* Joseph.  Of Mary-and-Joseph.  Perhaps the most famous man in history to live in the brilliant glow of his powerhouse wife.  And did he freak out about it?  Apparently not.  Was he an emasculated mess?  History certainly doesn’t seem to think so.  Did he say, “You know, Mary, you’re calling an awful lot of attention to yourself.  You might tone it down a little.”  Nope, he didn’t.  It seems he was a standup guy, proud of his wife and perfectly able to let her be important and powerful.  He was a loving, supportive husband who was only too happy to let his wife take her place in the world (in spectacular fashion, I might add).

Joseph experienced what most married women experience: becoming an “and,” the less important half a duo.  Married women are, apparently, an addendum.  Our identity is rendered an anonymous “Mrs.” inserted into Mr.-and-Mrs. HisLastName, and the patriarchal wheel keeps turning.

Rogue feminist that I am, I kept my name when I married.  I told you I’m exciting.

And so I call Joseph my patron saint of feminist husbands, men who are not afraid of powerful women and who do not fear losing themselves in the shadow of their wives.  There is a lesson to be learned there on the place of women in the Church, I think.  So it is perhaps fitting that I spent St. Joseph’s feast day pondering a project on powerful, unruly, and otherwise misbehaved religious women.

Now, bring on the Spring!


4 thoughts on “The Spring Equinox, the Feast of St. Joseph, and Unruly Nuns

  1. Hear us roar! Great work. If you get a chance you might enjoy the story of how in honor of Saint Joseph, on March 19th Zuppa Inglese was born. One of the most famous desserts of the Neapolitan repertoire. I can send recipe.
    Love Aunt Theresa

      • The fried zeppole di San Giuseppe, , the bigne-or French crullers, you might call them-were made in honor of St. Joseph. I read that Zuppa Inglese was the fancy dessert to make to honor St. Joseph. So technically the French crullers are the true honorary dessert, but the Italians made the latter.
        10 ounces stale sponge or yellow cake, sliced 1/3 inch thick
        3 tablespoons Alchermes or red maraschino liqueur
        2 cups thick pastry cream-Well chilled
        1/2 cup (morello) cherry preserves( SMUCKERS)
        1 tablespoon rum mixes with 1 tablespoon water
        3 egg whites
        1 tablespoon sugar 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
        1. Arrange a layer of cake slices on a baking sheet to roughly form a 9- inch circle.
        2. Sprinkle the first layer of cake with Alchermes or maraschino. Spread a 1/4 inch-thick layer of cold pastry cream, then drop dots of preserves over the cream. Arrange another layer of cake on the cream, making the circle smaller than the first, then sprinkle this layer with the rum mixture. Repeat layers of pastry cream, dots of preserves, layers of cake-alternating rum mixture and red liqueur on each cake layer-and build a dome by making each successive cake layer smaller than the last. Refrigerate covered with plastic wrap for an hour or overnight.
        3. Finish the dessert on the day you will serve it. Preheat oven 400 degrees.
        4.In a clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Sprinkle on the granulated sugar and beat until stiff.
        5. Carefully spread the meringue over the dessert dome. Sift confectioners’ sugar over top.
        6. Bake for 6 minutes, or until very lightly browned.
        7. Let cool- at least 15 minutes.
        1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
        2 cups sugar 4 egg yolks- saving whites for meringue
        1 quart milk
        1/8 teaspoon salt
        1 tablespoon vanilla

        1. Mix the flour with 1 cup of the sugar. Whisk the eggs and combine. Mixture will be thick.
        2. Mix the milk and remaining cup of sugar and the salt and scald over medium heat.
        3. Stir 1 cup of the milk, a little at a time, into the flour and egg mixture. Whisk in another cup of hot milk, then pour into saucepan with remaining milk . Whisk constantly until it thickens. This will take about 5 minutes.
        4.Strain if needed. Stir in vanilla.
        5. Cover with plastic wrap and chill a few hours before assembling dessert.
        This is a Neapolitan take on English trifle.

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