Can you tell me about women who served the early church that St Paul and others mention by name?

As is true today, women played an important part in serving the early Church. Scripture itself refers to many such women by name, beginning with Luke’s Gospel which tells us about the women who served in addition to the Twelve: “Mary, called Mag’dalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,
and Joan’na, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.” (Luke 8:1-3)

St. Paul introduces us to some very interesting women who served the early Church. Priscilla, the wife of Aquila, was, along with her husband, a tent-maker (Acts 18:1-3). In his Letter to the Romans (16:3-5), Paul asks that his personal greeting be extended to Priscilla and Aquila, who took great risks by allowing the Christians to gather in their home in Rome (Romans 16:3-5). Paul clearly thinks of Priscilla as a “co-worker in Christ Jesus” (Rom 16:3) Paul also refers to Priscilla and Aquila in his First Letter to the Corinthians 16:9) and again in his Second Letter to Timothy 4:19) In his Letter to the Romans, Paul also tells us about a woman named Phoebe whom he “commends” to the Romans as a “minister of the church” (Romans 16:1). He also extends greetings to women named Mary (16:6), Tryphaena (16:12), “the beloved” Persis (16:12), and Julia (16:15), commenting that they have “worked hard in the Lord” (Rom 16:12).

The Acts of the Apostles (16:14-15) tells us about another prominent woman named Lydia. She was a wealthy woman who came to believe as a result of Paul’s preaching. It seems that Lydia also was brave enough to allow Christians to gather in her home (Acts 16:40). Another such brave woman mentioned by Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians is Chloe, the owner of a house where Christians met (1Cor 1:11). Finally, Paul makes quick mention of several other women who apparently served the early church in prominent roles: Euodia and Syntyche are mentioned in Philippians 4:2 as having struggled at Paul’s side in promoting the gospel; and Apphia is referred to as “our sister” in Paul’s Letter to Philemon (v. 2) and is considered important because she is the only woman to whom Paul addressed one of his Letters.

Joe Paprocki

Joe Paprocki, D.Min., is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. He has over 30 years of experience in pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Joe is the author of numerous books on pastoral ministry and catechesis, including The Bible Blueprint, Living the Mass, and bestsellers The Catechist's Toolbox and A Well-Built Faith (all from Loyola Press).