Church Communication Hero: Juana Inés De La Cruz

Church Communication Hero: Juana Inés De La Cruz

October 31, 2018 by

“I don’t study to know more, but to ignore less.” -Juana Inés De La Cruz (1651-1695)

This may be the strangest opening sentence I’ve ever written, but here it is: I kinda wish I were a nun.

Now, I have to admit I don’t know any nuns personally, having attended public schools and decidedly Protestant churches my whole life. But every time I encounter a nun’s story, I’m astounded by their devotion to Jesus and their no-nonsense approach to living out the gospel.

Mother Teresa’s an obvious example, but there are many others:

C’mon. There’s just nothing “lukewarm” about nuns’ faith. I wish I were so thoroughly invested in my relationship with Christ.

Do not let the naysayers silence you.

Recently, I learned of yet another totally remarkable nun, Sor Juana Inés De La Cruz (Sister Joan Agnes of the Cross). Born in Mexico in 1651, Sor Juana was a brilliant thinker and writer. As a woman, she wasn’t permitted to attend university, and because her mother forbade her from dressing as a man to participate in classes, she took matters into her own hands. She became a nun so she could study and write whatever she pleased. Who does that? Sor Juana, that’s who.

Sure, Sor Juana’s motivation to enter the sisterhood may not have been super spiritual, but she nevertheless did gospel-y things. And church communicators have a lot to learn from this 17th century, Mexican, feminist nun.

Lesson 1: It Doesn’t Matter Where You Started

Sor Juana is renowned for her scholarship and now appears on Mexican currency. Given her unusual pedigree, or lack thereof, those are impressive accomplishments. In addition to her inconvenient (at the time) gender, Sor Juana’s mother wasn’t married to her father and her father was completely absent from her life. Not exactly the makings of a national icon, right?

Well, church communicators, it doesn’t matter where you came from either. You’re in your position for a reason, and you shouldn’t let your lack of “pedigree” determine your worth in that position.

No theology degree? Who cares.

Woman in a male-dominated office? So what.

Sort of making it up as you go along? Be confident anyway.

Get after it. You’re probably not going to end up on any currency, but you have a contribution to make. It doesn’t matter where you started.

If you’re letting other people determine your worth, just quit.

Lesson 2: Do What You Gotta Do So You Can Do What You’re Supposed to Do

So, listen: I fancy myself the tough-talking, truth-to-power type, but I’m honestly a bit conflict-averse, and I need to be liked. Maybe that’s you, too. Well, buttercup? It’s time to channel your inner Sor Juana and toughen up a bit.

As a 17-year-old, Sor Juana went up against a panel of experts in science and literature—no doubt male—and won them over. She left her first convent because it was too restrictive and joined a more relaxed order where she would “have no fixed occupation which might curtail [her] freedom to study.” This woman wasn’t playing around; she knew what she was supposed to do, and she did what she had to, to do that thing.

So, what about you?

  • Do you have some tough conversations ahead?
  • Do you need to shift some tasks around to make room for the good stuff?
  • Do you need to let some things go entirely so you can move forward “uncurtailed”?
  • Is it time to pull yourself together and talk to your boss about a meaningful idea you’ve been too afraid to share?

Borrow some of Sor Juana’s courage. Do it. Speak up!

Lesson 3: Women’s Contributions Matter

Sor Juana could’ve just said, “OK. I won’t study anymore,” when she encountered all of that “but you’re a girl” nonsense. But she knew she had something important to offer, so she kept going. If you identify as a woman leader in the church world, chances are you’ve met some of that resistance, too. Do not let the naysayers silence you.

If you identify as a man, help a sister out, would you? Listen, Sor Juana battled tirelessly not only for her own right to share her knowledge, but also for all women’s right to an education.  When she came under fire for criticizing the writing of a Jesuit priest and her bishop tried to silence her, she clapped back.

But three years later, under threat of official censure, she stopped writing and sold all of her books. What a tragedy. I can’t help but wonder how things might’ve been different had a male colleague stepped up to her defense.

Be Like Sor Juana

OK, maybe I don’t really want to be a nun. I’m guessing you don’t either. But I sure would like to be like one. Devoted. Fearless. Determined. Fierce.

Church communicators, if you’re holding back, knock it off. If you’re letting other people determine your worth, just quit. Be like Sor Juana Inés De La Cruz. You’ve got this.

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Kelley Hartnett


Kelley Hartnett spent more than a decade working in established churches and helping to launch new ones. She recently launched Tall Tree Collective, which helps nonprofits craft messages that inspire people to get behind their cause. Kelley formerly served as the membership director for our Courageous Storytellers Membership Site and is the author of You've Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators.
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