An interdenominational, honest and thought-provoking panel consisting of prestigious women theologians and academic scholars was held at The Mary Louis Academy (TMLA) March 10 as part of National Catholic Sisters Week.
National Catholic Sisters Week started March 2014 and was created to highlight women religious through series of events across the country that would help to instruct, enlighten and bring greater focus to the lives of the sisters. The project is headquartered at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minn., held in conjunction with Women’s History Month.
Renowned theologians Sisters Mary Boys, S.N.J.M.; Maria Pascuzzi, CSJ; and Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, shared their experiences being some of the first women to pursue professional advancements when it comes to studying the fields of feminist theology, scripture, faith development and spirituality. They were joined with two graduate students studying for their Masters of Divinity degrees as well as one PhD candidate.
“It was incredible to see them break the stereotype that every religious person, especially every religious woman, lives their life this way and believes the same thing,” said TMLA alumna Shannon Curan. The sophomore college student at St. John’s University in Jamaica said her theology professor, Sister Peggy Fanning, CSJ, encouraged her to attend.
“I think that applies to all of us as well. We don’t all have to fit that same one religious role and in regards to women religious, absolutely what we’ve been talking about the whole time was the lack of addressing women’s influence in religion and my question specifically about young people not being influenced in the ways that they’re looking for.”
Nearly 100 attendees gathered at the Jamaica Estates auditorium as seven women on stage with a combined resume of more than 50 years of academic achievements, including one sister who celebrated 50 years of her religious vows with the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. At least half of the panelists had or were in pursuit of PhD degrees within their given fields. Together the panelists entered into unfiltered dialogue with one another about doctrine, theology scripture, religion and the Church.
By definition, the word “theology” comes from the Greek words theos, meaning “God” and logos meaning “word.” In its essence, it is the study of the nature of God.
Two of the three panelist graduate students, Allison Connelly and Logan McLean, shared their desire and struggle to know God and be of service to their neighbors while fully embracing their identity not only within the church, but also within themselves.
McLean is seeking ordination with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She completed a year of service with the St. Joseph Worker Program with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and said she’s a huge fan of the Catholic volunteer network because of how the community allows women to explore their spirituality without judgment.
“I needed to be in the program for a short time because I didn’t know how to love myself really because I had been in spaces where I was being told how to be and it just wasn’t fitting me,” said McLean. “Having the sisters as an example but also them providing a nourishing space allowed me to say ‘actually the person that I am is good’ and I can build on my certain gifts and accept my weaknesses and all of it is good even if it is messy.”
Decades of Theological Study
After more than an hour of discussion from topics ranging from critiques on seminary formation, clericalism, pastoral empathy, the future of the Church, the group welcomed questions from the audience. The students also shared their appreciation for Sister Elizabeth’s contributions and publications with more than five decades of studying and teaching theology.
“One thing I really realized from this whole event was the diversity we had up there with the speakers not afraid to say what they thought,” added Curran. “We had some who expressed their grievances with the Church and they were very open about it and saying sometimes ‘I don’t think I can stick with the faith but I power through it’ and they gave their reasons for it.”
The panel was sponsored by the Brooklyn diocese’s Office of the Vicar for Religious, the Sisters of St. Joseph, Brentwood Office of Young Adult Ministry and the St. Joseph Worker program.
TMLA freshman Claire Casey was one of the many volunteers helping out with the event.
“I thought it was really inspiring to see everyone here that went to school here or taught here and come back and just sit in on a panel and answer questions and be spiritually connected in one way or another, but still be motivating and inspiring and very feminist,” said Casey. “I’m sure most of them were eager to come today. That’s going back to Mary Louis’ statement which is reconciliation, all inclusive love and unity as well as dignity.”