Last Updated: Wednesday - 01/05/2011
October 29, 2001
Women examine their struggles
College chaplain encounters misunderstanding
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Nicole Brown, 24, grew up in a large parish in Calgary. As a young girl her mother was into making her do things at the church.
She would go and do whatever there was for her to participate in. Altar serving was potentially a service Brown could have done. But in the late 1980s, girls were not yet allowed to be altar servers.
"Oh it's too bad you're not a boy," Brown was told.
"Thank you God for making me a girl," she said because she really did not want to be an altar server.
Brown, however, has never ceased serving the Church and is now one of the archdiocesan youth ministers.
Brown was one of the three guest speakers invited by a group of women to speak about the struggles and dreams concerning women's role in the Church, Oct. 20 at the Grey Nuns Regional Centre. More than 150 people attended.
"I believe mothers have a very significant role in raising up their children to our faith," said Brown.
She gives credit to her mother and godmother as two significant people who nurtured her faith.
Brown told the audience of her experience of meeting the pope when she represented Alberta to receive the World Youth Day cross for its Canadian tour. She noted how the pope loves the young people.
"I saw in (the pope's) eyes that he was happy to receive me, not only because I was young, but because I was a young female," Brown said.
Brown believes that "the heart of each parish is always a group of women."
Without (women), different parishes wouldn't be the same welcoming and nurturing community, she said.
"Women are the ones who contribute greatly in youth ministry," she said.
From Sheree Drummond's point of view, that is the case because women are allowed to serve as youth ministers.
But her experience as a college chaplain reveals different realities.
Drummond, director of campus ministry and student services at St. Joseph's College, has to explain her role often to people whose understanding of the word "chaplain" is equivalent to priest.
Students would come to her office and look for a priest, while her door has a sign that says chaplain.
Drummond, who grew up in an ecumenical household, holds a master's degree in political science and a master of divinity from Newman College.
Exposure to feminist theologians was crucial for Drummond. Through them she was able to enflesh her position as a female Catholic minister.
Drummond would want to pursue further studies in theology.
"But I think along this line is another example of difficulty for women in the Church," Drummond told the WCR.
"If I happened to be male, I probably would have been encouraged to pursue a degree, likely would have been within the Church structure," she said.
But for her to do a doctorate that would have to come out of her own time and money. "It is too significant a sacrifice for a very unsettled world not knowing where you can find employment with that and how people are going to respond to it," Drummond said.
"I believe that women and men share in the mission of Christ equally," she emphasized. "But I believe that it is critical that (lay ministers) are well trained."
St. Joseph's College professor Rose Marie Hague, who coordinated the event with 14 other women, told the WCR that "women's gifts must not be cut out because of their (gender)."
"My inspiration in coordinating this event is not only on the past, honouring our foremothers, but also for the future," Hague said.
"We need to ask what the future looks like for women in the Church," she added.
Margaret McCabe, a rehabilitation counsellor at Canadian Paraplegic Association, was the third guest speaker.
When asked what she would like to see change in the Church, she pinpointed "more love and tolerance."
"I still have to experience feeling welcomed because I am different," she added.
While Brown hopes to see inter-generational understanding in the Church, Drummond emphasized the people's role being based on their gifts and not on their gender.
"I am putting my neck here on the line but I also want to see the Church talk about Eucharistic hospitality and actually mean it," Drummond said.
The one-day conference was divided into two parts. The first part was a look in the past where prominent women in the history were portrayed in a drama. The second part was the talks given by three young women as a look in the future
Stories of women in the Bible to the modern day women like Dorothy Day, were creatively retold by Patricia Casey, who directed the drama.
The story revolved around a young woman questioning what the Church has for her. "I think many young women do (have this question)," Casey said.
Of all the characters portrayed, Dorothy Day stole the day.
"So many of her approaches helped shape the way that social justice activism has developed through the century," Casey said.
Dr. Kay Feehan said these women are extremely powerful images.
"I think the (drama) opened up to people who these women were, for those who didn't know about them," Feehan told the WCR.
"Our history in the Church is written mostly by males and they have sometimes neglected the strong contributions that these women made," she said.
"Catherine of Siena was really the one responsible for getting the pope back to Rome," cited Feehan. "She is just one example."
Rene‚ Chalifoux, 21, an education student at U of A, was thankful she attended the workshop. She spoke highly of the message in the drama that was presented.
"What really hit me was the realization that the journey began in the very early Church with women who were just like us," she told the WCR.
"We can look up to them and consider them our companions in the journey together with our mothers and grandmothers," Chalifoux said.
Ann Marie Heino, 21, majoring in arts and women studies at U of A, was inspired by the event.
"It gives me encouragement and hope that women would rise up," she said.
Social activist and Newman College professor Bob McKeon, one of the few men present, felt privileged having participated in the conference.
"It was great being here today with a group of women, who have done years and years of service to the community in so many different ways," McKeon said.
Aside from the drama presentation and the talks, participants met in different groups between sessions and shared their thoughts and experiences.
A mini-concert by Edmonton-based Chanteuse was also presented which rendered inspirational songs and some cuts from the movie musical Sister Act.
The conference ended with a liturgy highlighting the dreams of women regarding their role in the Church.
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