Denver, Colo., Dec 10, 2015 / 00:01 am
Maria Johnson has a scar behind her ear, a small memento from that time she leaped off her dresser, aiming for her bed – and missed, grazing the corner of her nightstand with the back of her head.
She'd always had a rambunctious spirit and a proclivity for chaos, earning her the Spanish nickname "Tremenda," bestowed by her Cuban mother.
"It does mean tremendous, sometimes," she writes. "It also means terrific, and terrible. It translates as bold. Daring. Fearless. Stalwart. Smart. Courageous. In a lot of cases, it can be used as a modifier to express both judge-y disdain and profound admiration."
"But mostly, it means badass."
As a born-and-raised Catholic, though, Johnson struggled to find saints who were sometimes reckless and stubborn like her; she thought she'd never achieve the level of saccharine holiness she read about on the backs of holy cards.
Or if she did discover a true story of courage and bravery, there was always the temptation to think: "They don't make women like that anymore," Johnson told CNA.
"But no, God does, he makes women like that all the time."
Johnson compiles the stories of some of her favorite badass, saintly women in her new book, "My Badass Book of Saints."
It all started after she posted a blog about Sr. Blandina Segale, a gun-toting Italian nun who faced down outlaws in the American Wild West.
"It really engaged a conversation about some really fascinating women who really were doing some remarkable things," she said.
She started compiling the stories of the formidable, dresser-jumping-type, and, well, badass women to whom she felt especially drawn.
"This book is really speaking to an audience that might not pick up a regular history of saints," she said. "But it uses this word that's in the culture and I think can get the attention of some people who would be interested in picking it up."
"(We thought) we can take the risk with that title because it'll inspire maybe a chuckle or some curiosity in people," she said.
Each chapter explores a pair of women – one a Saint in the traditional sense, and one not.
The "gun-toting nun" Sr. Blandina makes her appearance again alongside St. Teresa of Avila, the formidable reformer of the Carmelite order and Johnson's patron saint.
Audrey Hepburn, glamorous movie star and fashion icon of Hollywood's Golden age, graces the same chapter as St. Rose of Lima, under the title "Passionate beauties who made the world a better place."
"So you've got these extremely powerful women, but I also wanted to show that there's some power and bravery and courage in this other, gentler side of our feminine genius," she said.
When asked why she picked some of the historical figures that she did, some of whom aren't Catholic, Johnson said she simply selected virtuous women with inspiring stories.
"I think that we all have the same essential dignity as women, and we all have the same capacity for love, and the same capacity for service," she said. "And so it's not that I didn't want to make it a uniquely Catholic thing, but it's a uniquely woman thing. These are people who were exceptional because of their virtue as women."
Each chapter also includes a few discussion questions at the end, and Johnson hopes the book can spark further discussion about inspiring women in the Church and the world.
"We have examples of leadership and strength and of perseverance of beauty, and all the values that I bring up in the book, and we just have to look for them and embrace them and own them, because its who we are," she said.
"We are badass, that's how we're made."