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AC+ resources on women in the Church

Editors  |  22 February 2021

For our AC+ subscribers: Here are some resources that might be helpful in engaging in deeper reflection on the roles women play in our faith communities, with a particular look at leadership. 


In celebration of her
On International Women’s Day it seems appropriate to honour and name some of the struggle and beauty of being a woman of faith, writes Beth Doherty. 

Mary as leader and role model

Explorations: The place of Mary in the Church
At the heart of the Gospel stories of Mary is joy at the promise of a birth that will make all the difference in the world to our lives. Mary encourages us to live out of hope and joy even in the many dyings of our lives.
PLUS Reflection questions and activities for students.

An immaculate conception of leadership
We need to find a model of leadership that offers a graced alternative that espouses love, justice and inclusiveness for all. We need Mary. 


Historical Catholic role models

Heroic women in the Bible
Some might have the impression that the Bible mostly sidelines women. But these stories show that there were plenty of women in Biblical times with the courage to challenge the men around them and stand up for what is right.
PLUS Reflection questions and activities for students.

Prophetic Australian Catholic women
Most people know of Australia’s first saint Mary MacKillop, but there are other Australian Catholic women who have also lived prophetic lives. We asked one of our young writers, Tatiana Kurniawan, to share some of their stories.
PLUS Reflection questions and activities for students

Mary Glowrey: A trailblazer on the road to sainthood
By anyone’s reckoning, Mary Glowrey’s story is an extraordinary one. In this feature, we explore some of the ways that Mary was a pioneer in health and mission for the Church.
PLUS Reflection questions and activities for students.

Journeying with Mary MacKillop
Mary MacKillop spent much of her life on the road – journeying from Melbourne to Penola and Portland, from Adelaide to Queensland, from Australia to Rome and Europe, and many more places. As Superior of the Sisters of St Joseph, she visited sisters and helped establish new schools and ministries across the country. In the process, she crossed paths with many other people and often made a lasting impact on their lives. One of our young writers imagines what it might have been like for a young priest to encounter this extraordinary woman.  
PLUS Reflection questions and activities for students.

The Mary MacKillop story
Mary MacKillop's life does not just tell us about a brave and determined woman who has become a saint. It also says something important about Australia and the Australian Catholic Church today, and about the vision we need as Australians and Catholics. In this feature, Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ takes us through the life of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. We also look at how the works she began are continued by the Josephites and their friends today.

The sacred stirrer
That our first Australian saint is a woman is a particular cause for celebration, writes Ann Rennie. Under our own Southern Cross she stands as a model for all, men and women, religious and lay, called to do good in God's name.

A letter to Dorothy Day
This year marks the centenary of the time in 1917 when you were first imprisoned for social protest and joined others on a hunger strike. In The Long Loneliness, you describe how terrified you were. You were only 20. But fear, however real, did not rule your life. May we all be as energised by the radical call of the Gospel.

Celebrating Dorothy Day
Dorothy Day brings together many strands of the Gospel: companionship with people who are poor, an uncompromising discipleship of Jesus, a commitment to simplicity of life, engagement with the world outside the Church and a radical trust in God. For many she embodies the best possibilities of the Catholic tradition.

A letter to Catherine McAuley
I wonder if you were able to visit Australia and look at your legacy if you might not be overwhelmed by what the sisters of Mercy, whom you founded, have been able to achieve. It is quite a story.

Mary Ward - woman of the hour
Four hundred years after her stand for women in the Church, Mary Ward's story still resonates.

St Bona of Pisa - the pilgrim's guide
St Bona of Pisa made her first great journey at the age of 14. Her life became dedicated to leading others on pilgrimages along the Camino de Santiago to help guide them towards God.

Feast of St Mary Magdelene
In recent years Mary Magdalene’s image has been more sharply drawn in the Catholic Church.

St Elizabeth of Portugal - the patron of family squabbles
St Elizabeth of Portugal dealt with her fair share of family drama. But as a Queen, her family dramas had further reaching consequences than most.

St Therese of Lisieux - the enormous little flower
For a saint so associated with little things, there is a cornucopia of information, stories, insights, analyses and sheer personal and psychological histories to be scoured whenever one begins to read about St Therese of Lisieux.

St Gianna Barretta Molla - committed to preserving life
The consistency of Mary and Joseph’s ethical commitment to the life and wellbeing of their child is celebrated each Christmas season at the Feast of the Holy Family. Thirty-nine-year-old (Saint) Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian born in 1922, demonstrated the same Marian-like commitment to the life and wellbeing of her child in 1962, and suffered the ultimate price for doing so.

St Katharine Drexel - called to a different life
A life of privilege beckoned, but it wasn’t what this wealthy heiress desired.

St Cecilia - dancing to a different tune
What music did St Cecilia hear as she sat alone on her wedding day, singing to God?

St Agnes and the spiritual mercy of God
Believing in the mercy of God doesn’t mean we continue to sin with the knowledge that God will forgive us for anything we do. It’s a belief that living in sin is simply not appealing because it separates us from God. St Agnes of Rome, martyred in 304 AD, clearly believed this.


Women's faith stories

Women pioneer new models of Church
Kilometres of vast, dry country stretch out across the horizon and the sun dances along the gum trees. Bumpy, unsealed bitumen weaves paths from scattered properties and far away townships. The diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes in North West New South Wales hardly sees any ordained religious drive these roads. Within the sparsity, the Christian community relies on the lay people and more accurately, the women, to run the show.
PLUS Reflection questions and activities for students.

Catholic women forging pathways
The Catholic Women's Mentoring Program helps young women find professional role models. The program is also about women building each other up. One of the interviewees, Caitlin, says women sometimes need to tell each other 'Yes' their dreams are achievable. This can propel women through society in a positive way. 
PLUS Reflection questions and activities for students.

Empowering women and communities globally
he spirit of walking alongside the marginalised underpins the work of Caritas Australia and its Maryknoll Seedling of Hope program. Many women, particularly in the developing world, face systematic discrimination that prevents their full participation in community life. For women diagnosed with HIV and AIDS, physical as well as emotional support is crucially important. 
PLUS Reflection questions and activities for students.

Of rosary beads and Ramadan
A young Catholic and a young Muslim learn they have a lot on common, including a shared devotion to Mary and a love of beaches. 
PLUS Reflection questions and activities for students.

My mother's story
My mother, Angela Yong, passed on to us the most enduring gift – faith.

Serving God's nobility
From the outset, the Sisters of Charity have sought to serve the poor and marginalised above all others. As they celebrate 175 years in Australia, we look at how that vow of service has sown the seeds of many different ministries over the years. 

A place among the outcasts
Margaret Hayes says she works with people with HIV/AIDS and people in prisons because they need to know that God loves them. It's a place in society where the Church will always be welcome.


Female leaders in the Church today

Becoming the best you can be
Brisbane Catholic Education Office Executive Director Pam Betts never set out to become a senior leader in Catholic education. She has always just worked to give her heart and soul to whatever role was given to her.
PLUS Reflection questions and activities for students.

Helping girls build a more inclusive future
Nicole Christensen is the principal at Monte Sant’Angelo Mercy College in North Sydney. One of her students, Caitlin Hardy, interviews her about what it means to be a female leader in education.
PLUS Reflection questions and activities for students.

Putting people first
A former Australian Labor Senator, Ursula Stephens has been chief executive of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA) since July 2019. She says while an important aspect of leadership is to inspire others, it’s also about using your influence to bring the best out of every one – and to speak truth to power.
PLUS Reflection questions and activities for students.

Elsie's lessons
Elsie Heiss found solace in her faith as she grew up, created a community where she could feel at home, then spent much of her life helping the broader Catholic community grow in their understanding and acceptance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
PLUS Reflection questions and activities for students.

A living law
As director of Adelaide Archdiocese’s Tribunal, Sue Rivett’s role is to adjudicate on marriage annulment applications. As a woman whose own marriage broke down, she’s able to bring empathy from her own experiences to the task.

A leading light
If the Catholic Church is to address issues that led to the abuse crisis, it will need to keep listening to people like Kathleen McCormack. The member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors says education is vital in building global safer communities for children.



Feminism and faith

Can you be a feminist and pro-life?
It’s interesting that when a woman presents strong views, it is assumed she must be the mouthpiece of men, writes Kate Moriarty. It is never thought possible that a woman could have ideas that differ from the accepted feminist position. Women are expected to conform.
PLUS Reflection questions and activities for students.

Breaking open the Church for women
Phyliss Zagano has been a member of a commission set up by Pope Francis to study women’s deacons, and has published numerous works on the issue. Her latest book, Women: Icons of Christ, traces the history of ministry by women in the Catholic Church, in particular those ordained as deacons. In this interview, Deb Kent asks her about her work, and why the Church struggles to see women as made in the image of Christ.

Exploring the question of women deacons
Is it time for the Catholic Church to welcome women deacons? Pope Francis says let’s talk about it.

What the Church owes women
Much of the religious and spiritual education of Catholics has focused on attainment of the next life – heaven. This has been to the detriment of challenging us to contemplate the interconnectedness that human beings share with every other form of existence on our planet and in the cosmos.

What a girl wants
A Home Truths column on parenting girls while trying to avoid reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes. 

Time to hear women's voices
The theme of 'Being More Powerful Together' should not stop with the inclusion of more women in church decision making. It resonates for all of us – women and men. We all need to find our voices. 

Overcoming silence - the time is now
Stephanie Lorenzo has gone from raising money to support trafficked women in Cambodia and Australia, to joining a global campaign to empower and advocate for women in leadership positions in the Catholic Church.  

Telling womens' history
The preparations for the Plenary Council have involved much story telling. It is to be hoped that these stories will be reflected in the submissions made, and will find expression later in the gathering of stories into histories of the Catholic Church stories written by women and including women’s experience.

Discerning manhood
Boys' schools must be at the forefront of giving witness to how healthy, deep and respectful relationships are formed with girls and women.

Teaching boys to respect girls
It is concerning that some young men presume to exercise power so callously. They make girls public property without their agreement. In objectifying others and treating sex as a commodity, they betray the fundamental aspects of good relationships. 


Spirituality and prayer

Prayer rite for International Women's Day
Hymns, readings, reflection and prayers of petition to commemorate International Women’s Day, held on 8 March.

Be bold for change
On International Women's Day, we connect with Mary Magdalene's courageous witness and declaration ‘I have seen the Lord’. We stand too with the many women in our Church who, like Mary, continue to inspire us with their loving apostleship. 


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