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Book reviewDrawing from Wisdom’s Well: Stories, Celebrations, and Explorations of Courageous Women of Faith

By Gloria Ulterino (Ave Maria Press, 2002. 223 pp.)

Reviewed by Dorothy Valerian

More than a dozen years ago, liturgist Gloria Ulterino wrote a paper on Prisca, Junia and Phoebe for a course she was taking on “Women in Pauline Literature.” She says these women captured her imagination, her heart and her mind and she vowed to “get the word out” to the church about its own rich tradition of women of faith. Gloria went on to create a role play based on the trio, then formed a storytelling group in Rochester, New York called “Women of the Well,” with an expanded repertoire inspired by the work of contemporary feminist scripture scholars. Drawing from Wisdom’s Well is the fulfillment of her pledge.

Ulterino has created thirteen themed worship services with a storytelling component or drama in the first-person voices of the faithful women: Prisca and her sisters in ministry; the Samaritan woman; Sarah and Hagar; the persistent widow; Mary, the mother of Jesus; a woman who anointed Jesus; Martha; Ruth and Naomi; Hildegard of Bingen; Julian of Norwich; the Madres of the Plaza de Mayo; and Mary of Magdala. Striking black and white illustrations by Jane Pitz introduce each section, and on their own invite reflection.

We see the author’s flair for storytelling and dramatic presentation in the original scripts and prayers, environment and staging directions, lists of required materials, and suggested music for the imaginative liturgies. Most of the celebrations call for a leader,
readers, storyteller, cantor and musicians, in addition to the role of the featured woman/women. Some indicate liturgical dancers. All would need advance planning and rehearsal.

The book’s origin in feminist scholarship is apparent in the commentary and biographical information drawn from well-researched scriptural and historical background. Each section ends with a bibliography and often extensive endnotes.
These services are intended to be used by parish and community groups for education, reflection and celebration. On a practical note, I wish the layout were more user-friendly for the presiding ministers and participants. Making programs would be a real challenge for the copier.

Drawing from Wisdom’s Well is both an innovative liturgical resource and an academic work. Gloria Ulterino’s powerful message is clear -- from Prisca’s opening invitation, “We are called to step out in faith” to the final exhortation from Mary of Magdala, “The truth of our lives must be heard!”

Other excellent resources that would be of interest:

  • Celebrating Women Witnesses I & II: Rediscovering Women Leaders in the Church. Developed by FutureChurch with Call to Action.
  • The Friendship of Women: A Spiritual Tradition by Joan Chittister, OSB (Benetvision 2001).
  • Remembering the Women: Women’s Stories from Scripture for Sundays and Festivals. Compiled by J. Frank Henderson, Essays by Jean Campbell, OSU, Ruth Fox, OSB and Eileen Schuller, OSU. (Liturgy Training Publications, 1999).
  • Soul Sisters: Women in Scripture Speak to Women Today by Edwina Gateley (Orbis Books, 2002).

Dorothy Valerian wrote the brochure on Angela Merici for “Celebrating Women Witnesses” and served as editor on the CWW projects.

Focus on FutureChurch

Summer 2003





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