Fairfield University's annual Anne Drummey O'Callaghan Lecture to focus on Catholic women in public

The last several decades have produced a flood of writing about women by Catholic writers, including the late Pope John Paul II. Much of it proposes images that support the Church's teaching on sexuality and marriage, or proposes new ways of understanding the role of women in the life of the Church. But what about Catholic women in public life - in the workplace, in the voting booth, in civic discourse?

Nancy Dallavalle, Ph. D., associate professor and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Fairfield University, will explore those questions when she delivers the University's eighth annual Anne Drummey O'Callaghan Lecture on Women in the Church on Wednesday, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m., at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. Please note the time change. The event is sponsored by the O'Callaghan Family, the Department of Religious Studies and the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield. For further information, please call (203) 254-4000, ext. 3127. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Dr. Dallavalle's talk, "Icons and Integrity: Catholic Women in the Church and in the Public Square," will discuss the role of women in private life and in the parish, and ask what models might be helpful for women who live their Catholic faith in the public square. Eleanor W. Sauers, Ph.D., director of Religious Education at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fairfield, will introduce Dr. Dallavalle, and Elizabeth Burns, a religion teacher at Lauralton Hall in Milford, will offer a response to the lecture. Burns graduated from Fairfield University in 2005 with a major in Religious Studies, and received a master's degree in Theology from the University of Notre Dame.

Dr. Dallavalle arrived on the lecture topic after writing an essay on feminist thought and the work of the great Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner. Reading a lecture he gave to a group of women in 1964 on the topic "women in church and society," she noticed two things "One, the obvious, that this topic far too frequently served as a vehicle for male clergy to tell women who they were supposed to be and, more disturbingly, for what they should hope."

But secondly, Dr. Dallavalle continued, " I was genuinely surprised to see the restraint with which Rahner approached his topic. Writing in the 1960's, Rahner wasn't telling women who they should be. Rather, he seemed to think that this story should be 'for the Christian woman herself to decide ... as her primary, proper, and inalienable task.'"

Dr. Dallavalle will focus on the images - the icons - that shape Catholic women's lives, and ask whether these are adequate for Catholic women as they participate more visibly in the public square, particularly as "being Catholic" as a public commitment is now often in dialogue with politics, consumerism, and a 24/7 media culture. Rethinking these images, she claims, might also allow Catholic women to approach them with a new integrity, one now born of their own experience.

The O'Callaghan Lecture On Women in the Church honors the memory of Anne Drummey O'Callaghan, formerly of Norwalk, who dedicated herself to religious education, especially as it relates to liturgy. It was established by her family and friends. She served as youth minister and director of religious education at both St. Jerome and St. Joseph parishes in Norwalk. Active on numerous catechetical boards and committees of the Diocese of Bridgeport, she was chair of BRED, the professional association of Bridgeport Religious Educators. She was particularly interested in church history and was passionate about the role of women in the church. This lecture series is designed to acknowledge, celebrate and advance the role of women in the church and provide a forum for conversation among religious educators, academics, and members of local faith communities.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on September 5, 2008

Vol. 41, No. 45

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