Dissent by Gina Messina

71517_10200316462096891_2039548303_nI often share that what I’ve learned about strength, perseverance, and responsibility, I learned from my grandmother and namesake, Gina. In November we celebrated her life and said goodbye to the pioneering woman who overcame the greatest of obstacles to lead a life of dissent.   

Gina Sr. was born in Camaiore, Italy in 1926. She lived through WWII, was captured and escaped from Nazi soldiers three times, and walked 200 miles to find safety. Following the war she found herself on a boat filled with war brides headed to the U.S. and never saw her family again. She divorced in the early 60’s becoming a single mother and social pariah, and survived the loss of three of her children.

mom0066Through much struggle, heartache, trauma, and grief that would have left many giving up, Gina Sr. persevered. She dissented with her life choices and found that as a result, she created a path that eventually led to a better life for herself and her family. 

My grandmother was Catholic. She loved the Church. She donated her time and money to the Church. And she lived a life that would have made Jesus — also a dissenter — proud. But the Church did not love my grandmother. As a divorced woman she was rejected and in the final days of her life refused communion and last rites.

While the Church allowed us to hold a service for my grandmother, we were not allowed to offer a eulogy. I was asked to offer a reading during the service. In the spirit of Gina Sr. I thought it important to dissent. Not that I declined to participate. In fact, standing on the altar while honoring my grandmother felt like dissent in itself. But I decided to dissent further. 

My brother and I approached the altar together, we both offered a reading. We stood side by side and I opened my copy of the passage from the Book of Romans. Although there was a copy on the altar, I had made notes on mine. I decided that I would use gender neutral language throughout the reading when referring to God. It seemed a fitting tribute to the woman who taught me about feminism.

I lifted my voice, spoke directly into the microphone, and read the Book of Romans referring to God as the Divine. The priest who sat on the other side of the altar turned slowly to look at me as if to give me “the eye;” he wanted to condemn me. He was angry. His face was red. I could imagine what he was thinking:

“Who does she think she is? A woman given the privilege to stand at the altar and she dares to refer to God as other than a man?”

Yep. When the opportunity presents itself — and it is just — you must dissent. That is what Gina Sr. taught me. And so I did. 

My brother and I returned to our seats. We held hands and giggled like school children. We cried together as we sang Ave Maria. And we honored our grandmother one last time by living out her example. 

Such an act may seem small, even insignificant. But it was noticed. More so, it is what my grandmother taught me to do — to stand tall and get the job done knowing that sometimes the smallest act of dissent can deliver the blow necessary to make a crack.


Gina Messina is a Roman Catholic, a feminist, and one of the founders of the Feminism and Religion blog.

Categories: Abuse of Power, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General

Tags: , , , ,

14 replies

  1. So sorry for your loss, what a blessing she has been in your life. Shame on your priest.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. In honor and love to your Grandmother. Beautifully written.


  3. Wow im amazed of the confidence and what you chose to do for your grandmother .💜🌂


  4. You did your fellow dissenters (your grandmother and Jesus) proud. Condolences for your loss of this amazing grandmother and mentor.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Blessed be your grandmother. A lovable, wonderful post for us here today, thanks for sharing, Gina.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think your grandma Gina is very proud of her namesake as you remember and honour her life. Thank you for sharing some of her story. We need a “Women’s Lives of the Saints” more then a “Butler’s Lives of the Saints”!


  7. Your grandmother sounds wonderful. Good for you to read at the altar and use gender-neutral language in that patriarchal book that is occasionally holy but often just plain mean. Good for you! I adored both of my grandparents and miss my grandmother (who died in about 1996) to this day. Hooray for grandmothers!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Such a beautiful woman, such a courageous life! And you honor her, Gina. Bless your heart and your loss of her in your life.


  9. May she rest in eternal beauty and joy, blessed by all the lives she touched. I am sorry for your loss but so glad you and your daughter had such a strong, loving role model.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The perfect way to honor yoir beloved grandmother, to act as she taught you to! And she lives on in you & your actions.


  11. So many ways in which I identify with and love, love, love your post, Gina. And am so proud of your dissenting grandmother and her dissenting granddaughter.


  12. Thank you for sharing this, Gina. I will be sure to forward it to CSRS at UVic where we heard your presentation on Gender, Justice and Church the very day of your act of dissent at your grandmother’s funeral.

    Before reading your post this morning I received an email from a friend in the US to whom I sent “Jesus in the White House.” We are both of an age to be your mother, if not grandmother, and deeply heartened by your scholarship, your courage, your thoughtful acts of conviction. Bravo!!!


  13. My condolences, Gina. And shame on the church for not recognizing your grandmother in her hour of need!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. What a legacy your grandmother has left. Her strength runs through you, Gina.


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