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Order of Malta Australia


What the papers say: "Many Great Leaders of the Church Were and Will Be Women"


Many Great Leaders of the Church Were and Will Be Women

Article source: Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
22 Nov 2013


A doctor of the Church, St Teresa of Avila serves as an inspiration to all women

Secular feminists love to accuse the Catholic Church of chauvinism for refusing to allow women to be ordained as priests. But according to Anna Krohn of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family that sort of argument is too easy and too simplistic. It also misses the point.

“Women throughout the 2000 year history of the Catholic Church have been leaders of the Church and have stood shoulder to shoulder with men,” she says and cites such remarkable women as Catherine of Siena, St Hildegarde of Bengin, St Teresa of Avila, St Teresa of Lisieux, Joan of Arc as well as more recent groundbreakers and inspirations such as Germany’s Edith Stein and Australia’s St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, Caroline Chisholm, Rosemary Goldie and Dr Mary Glowrey.

“Women are and have been incredibly important to the Church and have not only been the primary carriers of the faith and faith formation, but are at the centre of Biblical stories both in the Old and New Testament,” she points out. “Everywhere you look in the messages of the Gospel is Our Lady herself and Mary Magdalene and the group of women who followed Jesus. Their role in His mission was different from that of the Apostles but it was no less important.”

Next week on Wednesday 27 November in the second of an important new lecture series to help modern Catholics better understand and deepen their faith, Anna Krohn will expand on the remarkable role women have played and continue to play in the life and leadership of the Church, and will discuss what she calls the “new feminism.”

Supported by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell and sponsored by the Order of Malta, the second lecture in the series will be held in the Crypt at St Mary’s Cathedral.


Anna Krohn will deliver an important lecture in the Order of Malta series

Entitled, “The Hour of Woman is Approaching….Is the Church Ahead or Behind that moment?” Anna will explore the issue of women in the Church and on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican II Council, will reveal the impact this had on the recognition of the vital role women play in the life of the Church.

Interestingly Anna’s upcoming lecture on the role of women in the Church coincides with this week’s unveiling of a series of frescoes dating back to 230-240 AD discovered in the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome which depict women in central roles from the earliest years of the Church.

Despite claims by the secular media earlier this week that the newly-restored frescoes show women as priests in the early Church celebrating the Eucharist, Anna Krohn says while such theories may make for a provocative headline, it is far more likely the central female figure who is depicted wearing a prayer shawl with her hands raised in a wide open embrace symbolises the Church itself reaching out to the world. 

“”Or the figure may be Our Lady,” she says.

She also points out that the frescoes with their numerous depictions of women are a reflection of the fact that women were the first converts to Christianity.

“The women shown are all believers and it was Christ’s message that freed them, releasing them from being considered as no more than objects and chattels of their husbands, giving them their first chance at fulfilling their aspirations, as it still does today,” she says.

This she insists is what the new feminism is all about.

Today’s women are rediscovering Christ’s message and taking the opportunity to rediscover faith for themselves, and together with seeking inspiration, encouragement and further formation, are embracing the whole new experience of what it means to be a woman and a Catholic.


Outstanding Catholic, literary giant Muriel Spark was an authorative teacher of the faith

Examples can be seen in Melbourne’s Anima Women’s Network or the Sisterhood, movements that were both founded so that Catholic women rather than being isolated from each other, could come together to support one another, share their lives, their faith and their vocations.

“Evangelisation by immersion is a wonderful way for women to encounter one another and foster and encourage their spirituality and faith,” she says.
As for women following the example of the Anglicans and allowing women to become priests or bishops, Anna can see no reason for this.

“Women should stand shoulder to shoulder with men in the Church but our gifts are different and what we can offer the Church is different,” she says.

St Catherine of Siena one of the great Doctors of the Church

Anna is particularly pleased her lecture will be delivered during the 25th anniversary year of “Mulieris Dinitatem,” Blessed John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women where he wrote the “Hour Is Coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged to in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved.”

Whether citing the incredibly strong women of the Old Testament, or those from the earliest days of the Church through to modern times, women continue to make their mark as some of the great Doctors and Mystics of the Church as well as recent women of great imagination and faith such as Muriel Spark, Dorothy Sayers and Flannery O’Connor.

All are outstanding writers and teachers who inspire us as are so many other women who work in the service of the Church in healthcare, teaching, pastoral care and the arts.
But perhaps her best example of how women of faith can inspire today’s generation is the current exhibition at the University of Melbourne. Entitled  “Strength of Mind: 125 Years of Women in Medicine” a major part of the exhibition is devoted to the remarkable achievements of gifted medical doctor and religious sister, Victorian-born Mary Glowrey.


Mary Glowrey helping those in the slums of India

“Mary Glowrey was a most astonishing and remarkable figure,” Anna says and is thrilled by the  excitement and enthusiasm of countless young medical students who have visited the Exhibition so far, and blown away by her achievements and her work, have adopted her as their inspiration and role model.

“Her legacy now on show at the exhibition is leading to the re-evangelisation of the University of Melbourne,” she says.

But for Anna there is still some way to go before women are fully recognised and appreciated for their immense contribution to the Church.

“Women continue to do extraordinary work but I am not sure the Church fully recognises this,” she says.

Although Blessed John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Paul VI and now Pope Francis are leading the way, in lower echelons of the Church worldwide old bureaucratic models still exist with some remaining outdated and overly rigid in their thinking when it comes to women.

“But this is changing,” she says.
The Order of Malta Lecture by Anna Krohn entitled “The Hour of Woman is approaching” will be held at 6.30 pm on 27 November at the Crypt at St Mary’s Cathedral. To rsvp email or call  02 9331 8477.

Related articles:

Lecture series: Cradio interview with Anna Krohn on Feminism & Equality: has the Church fallen behind?

Missed the previous lecture?  Listen to Dr Tracey Rowlands lecture, ‘The Three Theological Virtues: Why do faith, hope and love matter in the 21st Century’.

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