She was the first woman to obtain a permanent position as a professor at the Faculty of Theology of the Pontifical University Antonianum, the Roman university run by the Order of Friars Minor; she was the first woman to be appointed a dean, which is equivalent to the position of department head and now that Jorge Mario Bergoglio is Pope, she is the first woman to become a rector of a pontifical university in the Eternal City. The Vatican congregation for Catholic Education – headed by cardinal Zenon Grocholewski for the period 2014-2017 – has nominated Franciscan Sr. Mary Melone, an expert on St. Anthony of Padua, to lead the pontifical university.
Sr. Mary (birth name Maria Domenica) Melone was born in La Spezia in 1964. After finishing school with a specialization in classics, she joined the Franciscan Sisters of Blessed Angelina where she took her temporary vows in 1986 and then professed her perpetual vows in 1991. In 1992 she graduated with a degree in teaching and philosophy from the Libera università Maria santissima assunta (LUMSA) with a thesis on “Corporeity and intersubjectivity in Gabriel Marcel”. She then studied theology at the Pontifical University Antonianum, where she had studied from 1983 to 1987, obtaining a degree in 1996 and then a PhD with a thesis on “The Holy Spirit in Riccardo di San Vittore’s De Trinitate” published in 2001. She was Extraordinaty Professor at the Faculty of Trinitarian and Pneumatological Theology from 2002 to 2008 and head of the Higher Institute of Religious Sciences “Redemptor Hominis”. In 2011 she was elected (by a male college) dean of Theology. She is currently president of the Italian society for theological research (SIRT). She has published articles and essays in various collections and magazines – Antonianum, Doctor Seraphicus, Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie, Italia francescana, Quaderni di spiritualità francescana, Ricerche teologiche, Studi francescani, Theotokos – and has edited Ricardo di San Vittore’s works for the Edizioni Paoline publishing house (“La preparazione dell’anima alla contemplazione: Beniamino Minore” – “Preparing the soul for contemplation: Benjamin Minor”) and St. Anthony of Padua (“Camminare nella luce: sermoni scelti per l’anno liturgico” – “Walking in the Light: A selection of sermons for the liturgical year”).
“The academic community wishes the new Rector Magnificent, Professor Mary Melone, a fruitful work at the Pontifical University Antonianum and extends its gratitude to Professor Martin Carbajo Nuñez for the great work he did as acting Rector Magnificent,” a message from the university offices in Via Merulana (Rome) reads.
“I don’t give much importance to these kinds of labels, female theology,” Sr. Melone said in an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, published on the occasion of her election as dean of Theology. “Above all, I don’t like comparisons although I recognize that in the past there may have been a reason for making comparisons. Maybe there is one today as well, I don’t know. More space definitely needs to be given to women. The reference to female theology does not really fit with my vision of things: all that exists is theology.”