Knights of Columbus   Print This Page | Close This Window
Archived Online Discussion
Topic: Joan of Arc & Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters
Date: 5-6 pm (ET)
on Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Carl A. Anderson
Supreme Knight
Nora M. Heimann
Co-curator, Joan of Arc exhibit
Sugarland, Texas
What character traits in Joan of Arc's life would you hold up to your own daughters, or would you say Knights should promote among their daughters?
Carl A. Anderson:
Joan is a remarkable example of a woman with a properly formed Catholic conscience, a woman with a high sense of honor, and she refused to compromise either. These are characteristics that have to be formed both intellectually and spiritually. This is why, as Knights of Columbus, we have always had a commitment to Catholic education and to family prayer, especially participating together as a family at Mass.

Wichita, KS
Joan's parents are depicted in Spoto's biography as very religious, going on pilgrimages, etc., and during her trial Joan said she learned her prayers from her mother. Would this have been typical of the time?
Nora M. Heimann:
Personal piety and pilgrimages were not uncommon in Joan of Arc’s day. Joan came from modest means; she was illiterate, as was her family. (In the Middle Ages, usually only the elite -- priests, noblemen, monks, and scholars -- learned to read.) Commoners learned the faith by having prayers repeated to them by their parents and their priest. At her trial, Joan was asked by her jurors how she knew the faith, and she said that her mother taught her the Pater Noster, the Ave Maria and the Credo. Pilgrimages -- both long and short ones -- were made by both the rich and the poor. They were a sign of piety and sacrifice, and not everyone could go on them, but many people did. Joan's mother's last name “Rommée” may indicate that she -- or her family -- had been on a pilgrimage to Rome.

How can the Church "reclaim" St. Joan of Arc as a model for young women? Reading the biography I found her to be a very modern young woman (take- charge attitude, determined, etc.) but also humble before God and his wishes for her.
Carl A. Anderson:
John Paul II has laid the foundation for this in his discussion of Christian feminism in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae. Certainly Joan of Arc is an example of this kind of Christian woman. She shows us that there is no weakness in following God's will, whatever path God calls you to. We also must remember that throughout history the Church "claimed" saints through popular devotion. That is, by the devotion of ordinary Catholics. The best way for the Church to reclaim St. Joan is for Catholic families to reclaim her, one family at a time.

We think of Joan of Arc as an independent spirit, but she was really very traditional: committed to her family, to her country, to her Church. How do you explain this?
Nora M. Heimann:
In many ways, Catholicism has always been counter-cultural. Think of St. Francis of Assisi, who took off the rich robes of his wealthy father and adopted the lifestyle of a mendicant preacher. Joan’s counter-cultural stance -- her “independent spirit” -- is no more radical than the early Christian's decision to follow Christ rather than the mores of imperial pagan Rome. Her life shows a commitment to something that is higher, truer and greater -- as radical as Christ’s life and example, and the example of many remarkable saints through the centuries.

How do I explain to people that Joan of Arc was burned as a heretic and then became a saint? Does that mean the Church made a mistake?
Carl A. Anderson:
It is clear from Spoto's book and the historical record that the trial of Joan was a miscarriage of justice from beginning to end. Had it not been politicized, and had Church law been followed, she would never have been convicted, let alone executed. Her quick rehabilitation shows again that the Church was aware that this trial was an aberration. We might also keep in mind that the guarantee of infallibility does not extend to every act of every Church official.

College Park, Md.
Parents today have to contend with many "contrary messages" being presented to their children, i.e., from school, friends, media, etc. How does a dad strike a balance between wanting to limit these messages and closing his kids off from contact with them?
Carl A. Anderson:
I don't think there is any hard and fast rule. You have to be involved on a daily basis and make those kind of judgment calls on a daily basis. It's not easy. But I think it is important that kids see in their parents a constant set of values and over time they can begin to rely on them and see the value in them.

Portland, Maine
What is Joan of Arc's status in France today? After reading this biography I would think they would hold her up as a model for nationalist pride, especially since that was a theme in the recent French elections.
Nora M. Heimann:
There is some late-breaking news in this area. For the last 20 years she has been embraced by an extreme right, neo-Fascist political movement. Joan has become associated with this movement, much to her detriment. She is still remembered in many areas in France with great devotion. In the last election, the Socialist female candidate -- who did not win -- left flowers at a famous statue of Joan on May 1, taking the political significance away from the neo-Fascists. This may portend a change; it implies that across the political spectrum many remember Joan with great fondness.

Christopher Paul Michael
East Norwalk, Conn.
St. Joan, like St. Juan Diego, was deeply loved by the poor. Do you see any other notable similarities in the lives of these two popular saints? What can Catholics learn from their lives, of religious or perhaps even political significance?
Carl A. Anderson:
First of all, I think a deep concern for the poor is an abiding concern of almost every saint. We see time and again in the action of providence, how the least likely person is chosen to demonstrate God's intervention, so there is no confusion as to whether this is the intervention of providence, or somehow the skill of the highly educated and powerful. Catherine of Sienna and Mother Theresa could be other examples. Both St. Juan Diego and St. Joan also carried a supernatural message effectively to the betterment of their respective countries. Their commitment to fulfilling a divine mandate had a profound impact on history, and should be an example for each of us.

Bill Briere, father of two daughters
Laramie, Wyoming, USA
"Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters" shows that chivalry is still relevant, while "Joan" suggests that men don't necessarily have a monopoly on it! Moms might want to order these asap, so they can enjoy them before giving them away on Father's Day.
Carl A. Anderson:
Sounds good to me. The book can be purchased on our website at

Brooklyn, NY
Joan's biographer says that people during her time were more attuned to the role of God in their lives. Pope Benedict made the same claim for his childhood -- faith and family being the focus. How can we re-establish that primacy?
Carl A. Anderson:
I think the start of this is daily prayer and understanding that one's life and vocation as a Christian is lived out day to day. Therefore this requires an openness to live out one's vocation each day. This is why the example of the saints is so important, because these were individuals for whom this was a constant reality.

Nora M. Heimann:
Joan of Arc lived at a time when church attendance was more pervasive; but it was also a time of crisis. Faith in America is still very much alive today; and in this post-9-11 era, we are in many ways, living in another time of crisis. Faith can provide solace and inspiration at such times. In installing this exhibition, I got to know many Knights, and I was very moved by how much the Catholic faith is still alive in our world and in organizations like the Knights and at Catholic University, where I teach.

Jay P.
New Haven
I saw the museum exhibit and was surprised that Mark Twain considered his book about Joan of Arc his best. How does Twain portray Joan -- is she a religious figure or a feminist icon that may have appealed to the suffragettes of Twain's era?
Nora M. Heimann:
I don't think he sees her as either. He sees her as a plucky girl -- a young woman of great courage. One of his beloved children, his daughter, died. After her death, Twain's interest in Joan deepened. He was looking for an image of virtue, and a person whose brief life and tragic death meant something. He was writing during a time when Joan of Arc was adapted by the suffragettes, but he saw in her an image of really wonderful virtue and inspiration. Another popular writer from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries -- G. K. Chesterton -- also saw Joan as an image of blazing virtue. The illustrated editions of Twain's book offer wonderful depictions of Joan as figure of inspirational faith and goodness.

Tony Genco, Deputy Grand Knight
Woodbridge, Ontario Canada Council 13630
What is the secret to have a life long relationship with your daughter that allows them to be free to make good choices and keeps you properly connected to them no matter what stage they are in in their cycle?
Carl A. Anderson:
I think that Dr. Meeker lays out the keys to success in that relationship. Two principal ones are 1) that a girl's father is the most important man in her life, and 2) since most daughters will be married, that a father be the kind of man that you would want her to marry.

Milford, Conn.
My family and I saw the exhibit at the Museum and it was very interesting. Can you explain why you were drawn to study Joan of Arc and to work on this exhibition?
Nora M. Heimann:
I’ve always been interested in a number of themes in art -- especially the ways in which art can be seen to portray changes in history, religion, and culture. In studying the many paintings, plays, prints, sculptures, and popular artifacts made in Joan's memory over the ages, I have often thought that she offers us a luminous, radiant image, like a mirror -- shiny and brilliant -- reflecting not only the distant face of one young woman from history, but also a reflection of ourselves and our times, and the changing face of past times and values too.

Orlando, Florida
Spoto's biography notes that Joan of Arc could be considered in the line of other women in Church history - like St. Catherine of Siena - who took a decisive stand and made a difference in history. Are there others from more recent history?
Carl A. Anderson:
Here we are seeing the example of a woman who led an army. We could say that Mother Theresa created an army by founding the Missionaries of Charity. But there are many women who have had a profound effect by the lives they lived in private. St. Therese of Liseaux, St. Edith Stein, St. Faustine, and St. Gianna B. Molla all had a profound effect despite being less well known. So the important lesson is to be true to one's vocation as a Catholic in the circumstances of one's life.

San Francisco
Why did the Knights of Columbus feature St. Joan of Arc? She does not seem like your traditional Catholic female saint.
Carl A. Anderson:
Very good question. First, she has had a tremendous influence in history, and has been seen by many generations as a role model. The point of the exhibit at the museum, as well as in the book club, is to explore how she is like a typical saint in many ways: the formation of her conscience, her commitment to her conscience, and also to understand how there is diversity in the company of saints. And from time to time we should reexamine the stereotypes we all carry.

I was very impressed by how concerned Joan was about having priests being with the troops to minister to them -- making sure they had access to regular Communion and confession. Can you talk a little about how Knights work with military chaplains?
Carl A. Anderson:
Well, one of the lessons from Joan of Arc, is that even in warfare there must be rule. What sets apart the Christian in these contexts is the fact that he still has a spiritual life. Therefore, the Knights of Columbus, an organization that has had so many members serve in the armed services, is particularly concerned that we develop the moral and spiritual life of those engaged in combat. More than anyone else, they face death on a daily basis, and thus we have developed and distributed with the Archdiocese for Military Services more than 300,000 copies of “Armed with the Faith: A Catholic Handbook for Military Personnel”. This is why we also work so hard to support the families of our troops.

Clay Howe
Durham, CT
To what do you attribute the remarkable influence of Joan of Arc on many rough and warlike men, men like Gilles de Rais, General and Marshal of France, who years after the death of Joan of Arc, confessed to crimes of horrible brutality?
Carl A. Anderson:
What I think you are seeing is the affect of the life of a saint on those around her.

Nora M. Heimann:
Most of the men who surrounded Joan were rough and became gentled in her presence. Gilles de Rais was the exact opposite; he was really an aberration. It may be why she was so inspirational. She didn't tolerate bad language or habits. Joan said we will win if we are right and we are good. She insisted on it and the army started having victories.

Santa Clarita
The title of Spoto's book - from Heretic to Saint, is very provocative. How is it that the ecclesiastical courts could have been so misused in her case?
Carl A. Anderson:
Any court can be misused in the hands of unscrupulous people. The problem with an ecclesiastical court in such a case is that the contrast is all the more glaring, but consider the civil courts at the time and even later. Take for example the trial of Thomas More, which was also a terrible miscarriage of justice. Whatever faults we see in ecclesiastical courts, those courts were, in many instances, more reliable than the civil courts.

Nora M. Heimann:
Hers was one of a long history of “inquisitions.” The “Church militant” is a human organization that sometimes comes close to the “Church triumphant.” Its feet of clay are very clear in this trial. Power can be corrupting; it appears to have corrupted the judgment of some of her jurors. I was just at a medieval conference and the justice -- or rather injustice -- of Joan’s trial was part of the scholarly debate. It seems clear that the trial was not correct; there were many violations of canonical practice. For example, she should have been allowed to petition the pope in appealing the charges brought against her.

Tony Genco, Deputy Grand Knight
Woodbridge, Ontario Canada Council 13630
How do we create our modern day Joan of Arcs? How can fathers encourage their daughters to make a difference in the world?
Carl A. Anderson:
By demonstrating first that an individual can make a difference, and that occurs most frequently in the family, in the everyday interactions that we have.

Nora M. Heimann:
Joan came from the simplest and most humble of circumstances. She made up her mind to do what she believed God was telling her. That’s a witness that is relevant to this day.

What accounts for Joan's enduring legacy as a military heroine? Her image has been used by armies the world over. Is it just her military success, or is there something more to it?
Carl A. Anderson:
I think Joan epitomizes the Knightly ideal of the warrior who in the midst of defeat raises the standard and is the rallying point which turns the tide of the battle, or in her case, the tide of the war. Classical culture often represented justice, honor, and virtue as a woman. These ideals also become unified in the image of Joan of Arc as the saintly warrior and become part of that tradition.

Des Moines
Why is Joan of Arc important to Knights? What virtues are we to see in her for an example?
Carl A. Anderson:
We have spoken about how Joan reflected so many characteristics contained in the knightly image of virtue. What she represents uniquely is that to a knight, the odds of battle or the length of battle were irrelevant to the knight's mission. In other words, it was part of the knightly code that the odds one faced did not matter, and that one would stand firm regardless. Especially today, when we confront the culture of death in so many different disguises, this is something we must keep in mind as Knights of Columbus.

Springield, Mass.
How is it that Joan had little or no defense during her trial, yet a short time later many were calling for a re-trial and presenting testimony on her behalf?
Nora M. Heimann:
Basically, what she is credited with - besides living a life of heroic virtue - was changing the face of history. She turned the 100 Years War around. Her military victories and decisive strategic decisions gave legitimacy to the French side. Twenty years after her death, when the English were driven out of most of France, Paris (the French capital) and Rouen (where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake) were returned to French control; when this happened, it was possible for Joan's trial transcripts to be accessed. This made it possible for Joan's family, friends, and allies to ask for a retrial vindicating the memory and legacy of their heroine.

Copyright © Knights of Columbus. All rights reserved.