In All Things...

By Kate Dugan and Jen Owens -- July 29, 2009

A few years ago, we were two 20-something Catholic women starting graduate school at Harvard. We got to know one another, in part, through sharing experiences of growing up Catholic, struggling to be Catholic, wondering if we shouldn't be Catholic, and figuring out how to be Catholic. Our friendship strengthened how we articulated Catholic identity, and vice versa.

These conversations led us down the windy path to a project to collect and publish stories of Catholic identity. From the Pews in the Back: Young Women and Catholicism (Liturgical Press, 2009) -- a collection of twenty-nine essays by young women about Catholic identity -- is the result of our own Catholic identities, and an exploration of what it means to be 20- and 30-something women and Catholic. As we reflect on the implications of this collection, three opportunities and three challenges for these women stand out.

Our collection points to three primary opportunities for involvement in the Catholic Church for young women. First, we find an eagerness among young Catholic women to discuss what it means to be Catholic, and to do so in community. When we first put out a call for essays for our collection, we received over 100 submissions in just six weeks. Women seem hungry for further opportunities to dialogue. Coming to understand that they are not alone, they are encouraged to find opportunities for meaningful dialogue about Catholic identity.

Second, young adult women in the Catholic Church not only value Catholic social teaching, but also take advantage of opportunities to be of service and work toward justice. These young women have a hunch that being Catholic has something to do with the way we treat the most vulnerable members of our society.

And finally, this generation of Catholic women has a deep respect and admiration for Catholic role models like Dorothy Day and St. Therese de Lisieux and Thomas Merton. These members of the Body of Christ open up opportunities for further belonging in the Church, saying to us, "Yes, there is room for a Catholic like you, too."

 


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By the same token, young women confront considerable challenges in their relationship to the Church. Young women seek wider freedom and stronger encouragement to explore the breadth of spiritual practices in the Catholic tradition. Mass attendance does not seem to have the same hold on this generation of young adult Catholics as it does on previous generations, and these young Catholic women look for opportunities and practices to supplement their faith experiences.

Second, young women seek -- sometimes demand -- wider opportunities for ministry and representation in the Catholic Church. They stand on the shoulders of the women who weathered the changes of Vatican II, appreciative of opportunities for involvement in lay leadership, and now ask to discern vocations to priesthood.

Lastly, young Catholic women seek greater acceptance of members of the LGBTQ community in their Church homes. They see current Church teaching on these issues as discriminatory and are calling for an open discussion of sexuality and sexual identity in the Catholic Church.

Shaping and nurturing the collection of essays in From the Pews in the Back has created a community -- albeit dispersed around the country -- of young women eager to discuss Catholic identity. How the broader Catholic community and other young Catholic women respond to these twenty-nine essays will, we are convinced, be another adventure.

Kate Dugan and Jennifer Owens are alumni of Harvard Divinity School. This fall, Kate begins doctoral studies in religion at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, and Jennifer Owens will begin a Ph.D. program in systematic and philosophical theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.

Join us next week for the second installment of Young Women and Catholicism.