Years ago, but not even that many, seeing a sister in a seminary go up to her chair to impart lessons of theology or philosophy to future priests was an event statistically almost unreal. It belonged to a remote chance, not exactly science fiction but in any case something close to it.
It was a highly improbable event, considering the general cultural framework and scarce inclination of the ecclesiastical authorities to open excellent places of formation to women. Of course the spirit of the Council also breathed in this direction and time has worked to enable the merit of so many female teachers to emerge. Thus, in silence, out of the spotlight, examples have increased in number, here and there, in various dioceses across the world, without being a codified phenomenon or especially encouraged by the Vatican hierarchy.
Indeed the path leading to a just balance within the Church is a long one. Although women religious form the majority, they come up against a male power that is still struggling to recognize their role. Too little is still delegated to women in terms of management, governance and administration, and in terms of their presence in seminaries as teachers.
Sarah Butler was among the first women professors in a seminary (Women Church World interviewed her in March 2013): she said that it happened “More or less by chance. After two mandates in the General Council of my community (1978 to 1988), I was asked to teach theology at a seminary, a post had become vacant at Mundelein Seminary, Illinois. I have now been teaching theology to men training for the diocesan priesthood for 20 years. I first taught at Mundelein from 1989 to 2003, then from 2003 to 2010 at St Joseph’s Seminary (Archdiocese of New York) and now, once again, at Mundelein […]. I have found that the seminary too has a missionary dimension […]. It is an enrichment for all”.
For future priests having a woman teacher, over and above the actual teaching, means having a different model for reference and leads to a natural acceptance of parity.
“I think knowing and relating to women is a great help to the students, our future priests […]. I have always had fruitful and constructive relationships with my students and colleagues […], the balance is decidedly positive”.
From the United States to the Philippines: in Manila Cardinal Tagle has entrusted to a woman religious, Nimfa Ebora of the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master (portrait on the left), the task of forming priests on the theme of Sacred Scripture. “Before entering religious life I taught in an elementary school. I didn’t think of continuing this profession as a religious. After my novitiate, the Congregation sent me to study theology. I earned a degree and then a master’s in Sacred Scripture. For two semesters I taught at one of the Catholic Universities in Cebu, the Philippines. In 2010 I was invited to extend my studies in Jerusalem with the Franciscan Fathers at the Studium Biblicum. There I obtained a licence in biblical sciences and archaeology. On my return to the Philippines they sent me to teach at seminaries”.
Sr Nimfa told us that in the Philippines to have women teaching does not come as a surprise. “It is considered an enrichment for seminarians since not only can they relate to a female figure, but the female figure herself completes their formation. They can obtain different theological viewpoints from women. What is more, at times the class does not consist only of seminarians but also of sisters and lay women who are doing the same theological courses. In class different theological topics are often discussed with the complementarity of the male and female viewpoints. It is a mutual enrichment”. In this way, the religious explains, the Church shows that evangelization is truly entrusted to everyone, men and women.
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