Women of Liberty: Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc
Religion & Liberty Online

Women of Liberty: Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc

(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

According to the religious liberties established under article 24, educational services shall be secular and, therefore, free of any religious orientation.

The educational services shall be based on scientific progress and shall fight against ignorance, ignorance’s effects, servitudes, fanaticism and prejudice.

All religious associations organized according to article 130 and its derived legislation, shall be authorized to acquire, possess or manage just the necessary assets to achieve their objectives.

The rules established at this article are guided by the historical principle according to which the State and the churches are separated entities from each other. Churches and religious congregations shall be organized under the law.

Mexico, 1917. The government under Benito Juarez constitutionalized an increasingly secular way of life, in order to “reform” Mexico and create a more modern state. A largely Catholic country, Mexico’s population found itself officially devoid of religion. The new constitution was used to criminalize religious gatherings, close churches and religious schools, arrest priests and religious for performing their duties, and essentially drove religion underground. Undeniably, the government set out to destroy the Catholic Church.

Civil war erupted. Men who believed that religious freedom was literally worth fighting for took up arms against the government, taking the names “Cristeros”, denoting their allegiance to Christ. It was not only men that fought for their faith; women and children were an essential part of the rebellion. The women, who eventually took on a more formal structure, became known as the Feminine Brigades of St. Joan of Arc.

Kathryn Jean Lopez, in 2012, interviewed a man whose parents were part of the rebellion. Now the Catholic bishop of Lubbock, Texas, Plácido Rodriguez spoke of his mother:

I remember is my mother, Maria Concepción Rosiles de Rodríguez, telling me of her participation with the Feminine Brigades, and passing through the tough security of the Mexican army, without suspecting that these valiant women were carrying ammunition.

My mother in the year 1927 was 22 years old … 25 years later she would share with me how scared she was when they crossed the enemy line of government forces. Once they crossed this critical point, they felt more secure and delivered the ammunition to the Cristero

My mother contributed and participated in the Feminine Brigades; she maintained the family together and supported my father in his underground mission of protecting and hiding both priests and bishops during the persecution.

Women who joined the Brigades swore oaths of faith and secrecy, as they were often used not only in traditionally feminine roles of nursing and feeding troops, but running ammunition, carrying messages and hiding soldiers and religious. It’s estimated that there were 56 squadrons of women at the height of the uprising, comprised of some 25,000 women.

Bishop Rodriquez says there are parallels between the Mexican war on religion and current events:

[W]e can also learn lessons for our present struggles and threats to our religious freedom here in our country. Our constitutional right of conscience, our First Amendment right of religious freedom are being eroded, and we are losing ground. We are threatened to become an “underclass” in our society, and every religious group and church is equally being threatened, not just Catholics.


Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.