The Contribution of Women Theologians
In the current issue of U.S. Catholic Magazine (January 2013) there is a cover story titled, “What Women Theologians Have Done for the Church,” by Heather Grennan Gray. It’s an excellent piece that leads an issue focused on women and the church. In light of the recent ecclesiastical critiques of the work of certain women theologians — one thinks most recently of two distinguished professors and women religious, Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ and Margaret Farley, RSM — Gray’s article succinctly highlights the shifts from before through after the era of the Second Vatican Council that have created the conditions for greater theological education and participation of the laity in general and women more specifically. There are a number of excellent theologians, liturgists, and pastoral staff members interviewed in this essay. One of the main commentators quoted in the piece is a professor of mine at Boston College, Mary Ann Hinsdale, IHM, a religious sister and theologian. There are also a few quotes from another familiar person who is a current doctoral student at Boston College, let’s just say that if you’re reading this blog, you already know who he is. Here’s the opening of the article, click the link to read the rest of it online.
Kathy Barkdull started her career in parish ministry the same way many others have: The director of religious education at her parish tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she would teach a class. With a willing spirit and not much more, she agreed. Twenty-five years later, Barkdull is pastoral associate at Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Pocatello, Idaho, and oversees evangelization and discipleship programs, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), and other ministries at the 1,200-household parish.
Over the years Barkdull received training through the diocesan certification program, workshops, and seminars, and eventually graduated from the Ministry Extension program at Loyola University in New Orleans. But Barkdull began to understand her work in a new light after she attended a conference of the National Association of Lay Ministers (NALM) in 2004 and heard Zeni Fox, a professor of pastoral theology at Seton Hall University, talk about the theology of lay ministry. Something clicked.
“Finding ways to call lay ministers forth, to support one another, to feel connected—that has really become my passion,” says Barkdull, who left the conference with the idea to start a lay ministry council in the Diocese of Boise, a territory of 84,000 square miles that is home to just 40 priests. At their first gathering in 2004 more than 300 came to listen to Fox give the keynote speech. “This focus has really energized and encouraged me,” Barkdull says.
In a very real way Barkdull’s work as a professional parish minister and lay ministry advocate has been shaped not just by Fox but by a host of Catholic women who have studied, taught, and contributed to theology. The fact that women have only been admitted to graduate-level theology programs at Catholic institutions for the past 70 years means the addition of women to the ranks of church scholars is a relatively recent change.
In the intervening decades, however, Catholic women theologians have helped form both lay and ordained church leaders’ understanding of liturgy, scripture, ethics, pastoral ministry, spirituality, faith formation, theology, and the church itself. This means that regular Catholics, too, have been influenced by women theologians—whether they know it or not.