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Feminine genius the difference the Church needs

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There’s much talk about disempowered women in the Church, but it misses the real contributions women make to the Church.

It seems everyone else has had their say on women in the church, yet weirdly, no one’s asked me about it. Luckily for Catholic Weekly readers, I don’t actually need to be asked before giving my opinion. So let’s talk about women in the church.

From the woman who hired me in Sydney Archdiocese comms to the girl at the bookshop, the women I met (strangely) didn’t hesitate to offer their friendship, friendships that were vital in my return to the faith.

Their warmth, encouragement and compassion has shaped me, steered me and kept me going when things were bleak – and still does. It was those women who demonstrated genuine friendship and love.

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Then there was the colleague single-handedly responsible for my prayer-life. Every morning at 8:30 when she headed off to pray, she’d stop by my desk and ask me to join. I was lukewarm at the time and said no a lot, when I did she’d smile and go on her way – but she was back to ask again the next day.

It was nearly a year before I said yes and when I did her joy was palpable. She helped foster a prayerful relationship with God and has helped me develop it since.

Now I have to mention Mummy dearest. As I grew up, Mum held a number of roles at our primary school, some paid, some unpaid – she said yes to help in any way she could. At the parish, she did everything from reading, commentating, children’s liturgy, organising first reconciliations, communions and confirmations even long after her annoying kids had grown and moved on.

TRIGGER WARNING – Mum even cleans the church.

When I was in a car accident at 17, once they knew I was ok, my parents didn’t hesitate to see where else they could help. I came home to find the teenager who rear-ended me in the lounge room crying. She lived a few hours away, and Mum cared for her and kept her calm until her parents could pick her up.

But she and the women I mentioned don’t do it for praise. They do it because they are holy, faith filled women …”

That accident was the catalyst for me leaving the church as a teen, but when I looked back a decade later, it’s that image I remembered vividly. In that moment, Mum taught me what it meant to live our faith. It’s no surprise her middle name is Mary.

If I had several more pages I would talk about Rebecca Beard defending the unborn at Lifechoice and spend hours praising Branka van der Linden’s fight against euthanasia at HOPE.

I’d have no trouble filling columns about the inspiring works of principal Nichole Jones at McAuley Catholic Primary, Dory Cantrall director of the Culture Project, or Helen Morassut GM at St Mary’s Cathedral – and I’d love to hear anyone try to explain how the church would organise anything without the institution that is Kathy Campbell.

In my time at the church I’ve had the joy of meeting the most impressive group of women you could think of, running everything from church agencies to youth groups. I could write volumes praising the contributions of women in the Australian Church before even mentioning St Mary Mackillop and Servant of God Eileen O’Connor.

I can’t name the last woman I want to talk about for fear of her wrath. She doesn’t do what she does for attention or praise, yet she takes more than her share of condemnation from opposition and secular media.

Few people, man or woman, ordained or lay, do as much for the church as she does. So strong is her love for the church and its mission. I think every clergyman in Sydney and countless laity too would have a story of her incredibly selfless generosity.

I hate to think where I would be if I didn’t have her as a friend.

But she and the women I mentioned don’t do it for praise. They do it because they are holy, faith filled women looking to use their talents in the service of God.

I don’t believe you’ll find any man in the church, ordained or lay, who doesn’t have a similar story to me. We know it’s the women in our lives and in the life of the church who make us, and it, who we are.

To imply that without new ministries, or special recognition or a female diaconate, these contributions to the church and the people in it are somehow less isn’t just wrong – it’s offensive.

Related:

Benjamin Conolly: Stop celebrating death

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