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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

Saint Mary’s panel discusses feminism in Catholicism with new volume

Tuesday night, as part of the Ex Libris Author series, Saint Mary’s community members gathered in Carroll Auditorium and on Zoom to watch a panel presented by editors and contributors of “Unruly Catholic Feminists: Prose, Poetry, and the Future of the Faith.” 

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Brian Horan moderates panel featuring Leigh Eicke, Jeana DelRossoa and Lizzie Wiley
Brian Horan moderates panel featuring Leigh Eicke, Jeana DelRosso and Lizzie Wiley.


The panel was moderated by Daniel Horan, director of the Center for Spirituality. Horan opened the event by introducing the three speakers: Leigh Eicke, Jeana DelRosso and Lizzie Wiley.

Eicke, one of the three co-editors, spoke first, discussing how the book is part of a larger series.

“Jeana, Ana [Kothe] and I met in graduate school at the University of Maryland. Ana and I started talking about putting together a collection of critical essays addressing women in faith, Catholicism and feminism,” she said.

“The Catholic Church and Unruly Women Writers: Critical Essays” is the first book the academics put together that engages with these topics. It includes essays from the medieval period through the early 21st century.

“The essays covered varied perspectives on both canonical and lesser-known Catholic women writers, all focusing on unruliness in what is commonly thought of as a restrictive site of writing for women: Catholicism,” Eicke said. “In all of these essays, rather than simply oppressing or containing women, Catholicism drove or inspired these writers to challenge literary, social, political or religious hierarchies.”

The second collection of the series is titled “Unruly Catholic Women Writers: Creative Responses to Catholicism.”

“Even though our goal had been scholarly articles in our first collection, we’d received so many creative submissions that we decided to pursue a second collection,” Eicke said.

The third collection took on yet another role.

“When we began to think about the third book in our Catholic Women Writers series, we knew what stories we wanted. We wanted to tell the sisters’ stories, and we knew those stories were out there,” Eicke said. “We also knew exactly what and whom we were referring to when we were thinking of unruly nuns.”

Eicke talked about how they reached out to nuns for their third collection “Unruly Catholic Nuns: Sisters’ Stories,” and were met with some hesitancy.

“One told us she wasn’t unruly enough to be in our volume. Others demurred, saying they had nothing to write,” Eicke recalled.

Nevertheless, the editors collected enough stories from “unruly nuns” and made their third collection. 

The introduction of the book sets the scene for the context of its various works.

“Despite our love for the Catholic culture, many of us cannot forgive the church’s continual and persistent failure of so many of its constituents, particularly women,” DelRosso read aloud. “Many of our writers address issues of social justice, which both domestically and internationally have become even more applicable within feminism and Roman Catholicism.”

DelRosso then read part of the introduction that spoke to the impact of feminism on the various writings.

“Inspired by feminist theology and feminism more generally, our writers also present Jesus as female [and] God as Mother, redefining gender and gendered language.” 

Wiley’s presentation included the reading of an original poem published in the volume, titled “She Will Rise.” 

After reading, Wiley discussed how she wrote the poem during her undergraduate years.

“I confused my professor several times with both my heavily Catholic and religious themes throughout my poetry, as well as my love poem about my lesbian relationship,” she said.

Wiley then went on to discuss the religious imagery and themes, starting with a disclaimer that she is no longer a practicing Catholic.  

“The refrain of my poem perhaps challenges the primacy of Jesus’ resurrection with a simple pronoun: she. With a promise that it will be she that will rise,” she said. “In my initial draft of my poem, I specifically remember my poetry professor fighting me with ‘Not because you have risen her?’ he said ‘Shouldn’t it be raised her?’ But I wanted to keep the clunky risen to kind of flip the Risen Christ trope upside down.”

Wiley continued to talk about how the girl in the poem is retaking herself, not needing the help of a man, not even Christ.

“The entire poem is really an effort to reclaim the woman’s body from a church that has abused it in a myriad of ways over the course of centuries,” she said. “In a church that has denied her agency to use her body how she wishes. The real triumph is that she rises anyway.”

The panel ended with a question and answer session, started by Horan asking more about certain pieces from the collection and the process of selection for a volume. 

Members of the audience also asked questions pertaining to what the panel felt was the best way for students to advocate for causes on campus, especially for issues that may be considered “unruly” by the Catholic Church. The panel encouraged speaking up and making sure your voice is heard.

“There are people listening,” DelRosso assured. 

“Keep fighting the good fight and stay if it’s the right place for you. And if it’s not, that’s okay too,” Wiley said.