Catherine of Genoa vs. Absalom Jones

Who will face Benedict the Moor for the 2021 Golden Halo? That's the question of the day as Catherine of Genoa faces Absalom Jones to determine the final matchup of our little saintly contest.

Yesterday, Benedict advanced to the Championship Round by rolling past Ives of Kermartin 69% to 31%.

To make it to the Faithful Four, Catherine took down Catherine of Bologna, Isidora the Simple, and Albert the Great, while Absalom bested Henriette Delille, Marianne Cope, and Catherine Booth.

If you missed the final in-season episode of Monday Madness, be sure to catch it here. And then, go vote!

Catherine of Genoa

One of my great joys in the last year has been discovering previously unknown, to me, stories which resonate with my own faith and life. Catherine of Genoa has been at the forefront of that list of stories.

Catherine was easy for her contemporaries to write her off. At first she was too young to be taken seriously. And then she was a woman writing about her experiences of God. She was trained neither as a priest nor as an academic. She was at one point in her life too wealthy to be taken seriously – and at another too poor.

Yet through Catherine’s powerful experiences of God and her gift for translating those experiences to the written word, she gave to the world an offering that could not be ignored. Through her hands-on ministry to the sick and dying she made clear that her powerful words offered a glimpse of a faith that makes a real difference in the daily lives of those in need.

Catherine of Genoa’s life causes me to reflect on myself. How many witnesses to God’s world-changing love have I overlooked?

Catherine’s words invite me to look honestly at my pride. Have I made myself too big, or have I “hidden myself” in the heart and love of God?

And Catherine’s actions cause me to look at my daily living. Does my experience of God’s love drive me into action, into the love of my neighbor?

Mystical and theological insight. Beautiful service to her neighbor. There is much to admire in Catherine.

As I turn over another year on the calendar, I am especially inspired by Catherine’s ability to re-invent herself – the gracefulness of her discovering a second act to her life. It was only after her unhappy years of marriage, after the overturning of her financial well-being, that Catherine discovered her joyful and fulfilling calling to work in the hospital.

It was at the ripe old age of 31, in the middle of a pandemic, that Catherine began work in the hospital. For perspective, the average life expectancy at the time was about 35 years. She then spent the next 31 years working in the hospital as a nurse, administrator, spiritual guide, and comforter.

How many of us are in need of reinvention? How many are looking for that second (or third) act in our lives?

Catherine reminds us that the greatest work is not always the work of youth. That the physical, emotional, and spiritual wisdom of age can bring with it an opportunity to make a lasting difference in our communities and the world.

This Lent I pray that – like Catherine – I may be set ablaze by the fire of Divine Love. That I may discover deeper connection to God, deeper purpose in my life, and deeper love of my neighbor.

--David Hansen

Absalom Jones

Someone said in the comments that while she understood Absalom Jones’s importance, she cast her vote for someone who had a national impact. That made me ponder: What does Absalom Jones have to do with you? 

My Episcopal priest dad, Wilson Willard, proclaims: “Despite being both enslaved and discriminated against by Christians, Jones saw through and beyond their distorted witness. He labored valiantly for the Christian ideals of universal equality, liberty, and justice for all. Recognizing the catholicity professed but in practice denied by The Episcopal Church, he became the foremost pioneer of its still-evolving movement toward full inclusion for all people. He is the best example for our country and our church as we continue the struggle for racial justice and reconciliation.”

Boom! Dad was part of the founding of our diocese’s Union of Black Episcopalians chapter, where we celebrated our 35th annual Absalom Jones Symposium and Worship this year: The Impact of Racial Inequities to Environmental Justice in America.

Byron Rushing says: “Overcoming 38 years of enslavement by Episcopal slave owners, Jones and Richard Allen organized freed and enslaved Africans in Philadelphia to establish a congregation and lead those Black Christians in sacrificial acts of service to all Philadelphians, especially during the devastating 1793 yellow fever epidemic.”

“I’m deeply impressed by his faithfulness to God despite the failings of the Church,” says Natalee Hill. “He was hurt by the Church several times and yet stayed faithful to God, finding a way into leadership in a church. As a leader, he then held power and pressure of example to pave the way for so many others.” This is what I mean by global impact. He is a model of what it’s like to face adversity and keep working selflessly.

Victoria Hoppes added, “Hearing his story and learning about his legacy has taught me about a whole section of church history that I may not otherwise have learned.” Spencer Pugh agrees: “Absalom Jones’ story is so tied up with the story of the United States - especially the history we aren’t taught and discover later in life.” The black church blesses us all. And we all have a lot more to learn.

Miguel Escobar remembers Absalom Jones “for his friendship and connection to Richard Allen, founder of AME churches. Jones is representative of our longstanding connection to the African Methodist Episcopal Church.” Absalom Jones and Richard Allen worked together to better God’s people. My daughters would call this “friendship goals.”

Absalom Jones shows us what it looks like to be a Christian, a community organizer, a faith leader, and a friend. That’s what Absalom Jones has to do with you: he shows you how to follow Jesus, no matter what.

--Miriam McKenney

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108 comments on “Catherine of Genoa vs. Absalom Jones”

  1. When the Methodists pushed him aside
    Sturdy Absalom Jones hit his stride.
    So a new church began,
    Ably led by this man.
    Method? Madness? I’ll let you decide.

  2. This was a tough one to decide - after much debate with myself I had to choose Absalom Jones. Although Catherine did wonderful works, I believe that we can, at this point in time, relate more to Absalom.

    1. As a woman who came to the church in my mid 50s, and discovered dedicating my life to feeding the poor as a result of listening to the Gospel preached, I, at this point, relate more to Catherine.

    2. Perhaps if you are not a woman you can relate more to Abolom. If he were up against many others perhaps, but my vote has to go to Catherine.

  3. There is no doubt that Absalom Jones was of national importance! I just wish that dual saints were possible, because he and Richard Allen were so much the dynamic duo who together wedded faith and social justice.

    David Hansen, if Catherine of Genoa wins I do not know what you will do. You have championed Catherine and Benedict so admirably and written so beautifully about both. Thank you. Really.

      1. Amen. You are a gifted writer and have brought the lives of the saints in Lent Madness into fruition. Thank you.

      1. What Kim and Kate said, David. You've brought celebrity blogging to a new height this year.

    1. David Hansen, I agree regarding your thoughtful, blessed write-ups. I debated long and hard over this choice, in part due to your beautiful writeup of Catherine. My guess is Absolom will win this year - hopefully, Catherine will return to the bracket in a future year so that you can be her champion.

    2. Fantastic sounding recipe - thank you for including it! (I didn’t see it until after siting a comment about the choices or would have consolidated my thoughts.)

    3. Agreed - I'm an Absalom for the Golden Halo fan, but your celebrity blog was fantastic, Mr. Hansen.

    4. Yes, it was David Hansen's write-up that made me vote for Catherine. Too bad she won't win. After reading that, I really wanted her to win the Golden Halo.

  4. Went with Catherine. Absalom Hones was a fine man, but hes already had a bit of recognition. Let Catherine have her moment in the sun!

  5. This was a harder choice than I expected. The write-up on Catherine was especially moving. Yet I voted for Absalom because of his leadership in times that remind me of ours in terms of racial relationships and health crises.

  6. It's always hard when we get to this round. I voted for both of these saints in earlier rounds and will be happy to see either of them advance. I want to commend both David Hansen and Miriam McKenney for their eloquent blogs today. I was very moved by both of them making it even harder to vote today.

  7. Seeing through and past the sins of Christians and their institutions and finding God is hard. Being hurt and disrespected by the Church and still following God’s call is hard. We need more of that today, and every day. Voting for Absalom Jones.

  8. Thought I personally identify with Catherine (I was ordained priest on my 65th birthday), I went for Absalom because I think his example is more relevant to more people today. Go Absalom! And thank you Catherine!

  9. Another impossible choice to make! As I have been studying the mystics over the last couple of years, and yearn to follow their path, I will vote for Catherine of Genoa.

  10. Both of these are so worthy of the Golden Halo, but David Hanson's writeup today about Catherine spoke to me. Her ability to be re-invented by God, to be transformed by difficulty rather than mired within it, inspires me.

    1. Thank you, Davis. So glad to see you back. This looks a lot like spanakopita, a dish I love. And yes, the spinach is everything.

      1. It’s one of those dishes that crop up around the Mediterranean in different forms. What distinguishes it, and makes it an Easter dish, is the addition of the eggs. I neglected to mention that it should be cut through the cooked eggs, so that each diner gets half of one.

    2. Voting for Catherine today. Faced with the task of reinventing myself late in life I am inspired by this beautiful tribute to Catherine. I am also happy to salute David - and remember my great-grandparents Hansen (with an “e”).

  11. In Catherine’s honor I humbly offer my family’s recipe for Torta Pasqualina, the traditional Genoese Easter dish. It has probably been made each Easter since my great-grandfather arrived in Brooklyn in 1868. It has varied over the years; these days we make it with spinach instead of the field greens for which Italians busily forage at this time of the year. Original recipes call for rolling out the crust into 33 tissue-paper-like layers; frozen phyllo pastry is an excellent substitute. Try it: it may become a regular part of your Easter feast.


    Heat the oven to 350 degrees and oil a baking dish. Steam 2 pounds of spinach leaves just enough to wilt them; drain them well and chop them. Slice 5 garlic cloves, or more to taste; sauté them in some olive oil in a large frying pan until they are fragrant and starting to brown. Add the spinach and sauté the mixture for a few minutes. Remove it from the heat and add salt, pepper, and marjoram to taste. Spread the mixture on the bottom of the prepared dish.

    In a medium bowl, beat 2 eggs (in all you will use six) with ½ cup of grated Parmesan cheese, 1 pound of ricotta cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread the mixture over the spinach mixture.

    Make four wells in the mixtures in the dish and break an egg into each well. Sprinkle the top with salt and pepper.

    Coat 6-8 sheets of phyllo pastry on both sides with melted butter and layer them on top of the mixtures. Trim the edges to fit the dish and cut a slit in the top.

    Bake the pie for 45 minutes.

    1. Oh, yum! Looks wonderful, Davis; I’m going to try it.

      I vote for Catherine, knowing Absalom Jones will win this round and likely, the Golden Halo. But Catherine has my heart today.

      1. Yes, I'm sure that Absalom Jones will "win" today. But I have been reinvented several times during my life and am in the process of a new even now and so Catherine got my vote. I'm sure she'll be back for another Lent Madness go round.

    2. In the spirit of "gathering field greens" I will gather some of the arugula that has popped up in my lawn from a prior year. 🙂

  12. Abolve us of our prior sin of racism, Absalom. Help us find the path to Jesus, who loves and forgives all, for all time.

  13. Though I voted for Absalom, I love today's writeup of Catherine. It's moving and inspiring. Thank you David Hansen.

  14. Thank you, David and Miriam for your reflections on these two great saints. I was greatly moved by David's words on Catherine and, while I obviously did not know Absalom Jones, Wilson Willard was a mentor of mine years ago and a saint in his own right!

  15. Where's the kitsch? Where was it yesterday? Have the antikitschers taken over? Or is it the woke police e!

    1. The kitsch round ended last week. The Final Four leaves foolishness aside and gives the bloggers one last shot at explaining what makes their sanit special.

  16. Two wonderful and deserving people to consider. I fully expected to vote for Absalom today and tomorrow. David Hansen’s beautiful prayer is resonating today though, and I will gratefully keep a copy of it with me going forward. So today, I’m voting for Catherine and tomorrow (surely?) Absalom. He is indeed a saint for our times.

  17. So much about Catherine resonated with me. I admire her contemplative nature, which led of course (as it so frequently does) to her committing herself to helping her fellow people. I loved the thoughts regarding her coming to her calling relatively late in life, as I feel I have come to mine also late in life. It is apparent that Fr. Jones is definitely moving on to the final, deservedly so, but I am happy to cast my vote to someone I just learned about, who I find myself identifying with strongly. I was wondering how this year's Lent Madness was going to turn out, so many fractious comments early on, but we seem to have come to a blissful end, once again. Thank you, SEC and celebrity bloggers, you have done it again!

    Happy Lent, everyone!

  18. I love this round because of the wonderful writings about these saints. Ives was my Golden Halo, but any one of these saints are golden. This round is very difficult. Non violent, patient, examples of God in so many ways are part of the lives of these two saints. Absalom gets my vote.

  19. in honor of my dear friend Wilson Willard, an Episcopal priest with whom I worked for almost a decade on the diocesan staff of Southern Ohio under an African-American bishop and who is the father mentioned by today's celebrity blogger, I cast my vote proudly for Absalom Jones.

  20. Serving as Music Director at Absalom Jones Chapel in Atlanta, GA is one of the highlights of my 40-year career. Absalom has had such an impact on the entire church in ways many other congregations are unaware of. Absalom has been my inspiration to keep going no matter what challenges I have faced. COVID would not frighten Absalom. I am keeping the music program alive in a streaming way in his honor.

  21. I voted with my heart not my head. Jesus’s message is for about love and for me that is Catherine’s act of daily living. Oh to be set ablaze by Divine Love.

  22. While I personally identify more with Catherine of Genoa, and want to learn more about her going forward, I felt pulled to vote for Absalom Jones today. Having done my master's thesis about an early-20th-century African American Congregational minister born shortly after the Civil War to formerly enslaved parents, I must honor his memory by voting for someone who I'm sure inspired him.

  23. Dear St. Catherine,
    I want you to know how mightily David Hansen has championed for you this Lenten Madness season. Like the Apostle Paul, he has Almost Persuaded me to vote for you.
    Especially today with his excellent essay on re-invention & Divine Fire & you are the only woman to make it to the Final Four, however, I, too re-invented my spiritual life by becoming an Episcopalian so Absalom Jones receives my vote today & tomorrow.

    1. JoJo, your comment is so moving and so generous. I love Lent Madness - it has enriched my life as well as increased my knowledge of saints I never, ever heard of but enjoyed meeting. But most of all, in this still fragile world pandemic situation, still trying to recalibrate, so to speak, I give thanks for David Hansen and his life-affirming writing and his real sense of hope. I am so grateful to him and to you for your note about him. Thank you both. I am sure St. Catherine blesses him too.

  24. I’m with Donice. I have both Catherine and Absalom in my bracket for today, and Absalom for the Golden Halo. However, I realize that I have the opportunity to honor both of my occupational vocations. Since I was a nurse in my first previous life, I’m voting for Catherine today. Tomorrow I’ll support the priest.

    1. That will/would indeed be a difficult choice! I'm going with Absalom, partly because I think his life and service to the underserved is inspiring as well as admirable, and partly because he was in Lent Madness 2016 and I think it's his turn.
      I'll make a note to remind me to recommend Catherine another year.

  25. I cast my vote today for Catherine, fully expecting Absalom Jones to progress. The celebrity bloggers have been wonderful this year, thank you all. Today's write up for Catherine was particularly moving.