Leadership for Mission

Designed by and for women who are inspired by the Gospel vision of justice, freedom and the dignity of the human person. This program has been acknowledged for its contribution to the formation of young women within the Catholic Church and recognised as an example of ‘best practice’ in lay formation.

In May this year, 11 intelligent, faith-filled young Catholic women from across Australia gathered online to share their research on contemporary issues affecting women and how a narrative or female character from the Scriptures could enlighten understanding of that issue. These students are participants in the 2021/2022 Leadership for Mission graduate program for young women, a joint initiative between Australian Catholic University (ACU) and the Australian Catholic Bishops’ National Centre for Evangelisation (NCE), with the support of Catholic Mission.

The online presentations were the culmination of their studies for the Semester 1 unit, Interpreting the Bible for Leadership and Mission. Dr Janine Luttick, the lecturer-in-charge for the unit, had invited the women to theologically reflect on an issue, challenge or opportunity that interested them, and to then approach the topic from both an intellectual and spiritual perspective.

Under the themes of human dignity and equality, the topics included cyberbullying, sexting, body image, the possibilities and risks of the digital landscape for young women, and the objectification of the female body. Under the theme of leadership, topics included women’s involvement in decision-making, the nature of leadership within the Church, where women’s voices were missing, and where language was still dominated by patriarchal overtones. The topic of unconscious bias was raised in terms of women facing questions about choices between family and career, in contrast to their male counterparts who are seldom asked similar questions. These themes were developed in critical dialogue with the biblical tradition.

In their theological reflections the women drew mainly on the Genesis narrative as well as key biblical female characters across both testaments, for example, Susanna, Esther, the woman at the well, Lydia, Rachel and Leah, Mary Magdalene, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. The students noted that these women of ancient literature still have the capacity to speak into the complexities of modern life, yet their stories are rarely heard within the context of the Sunday liturgy. And, if the prominent female characters of the Scriptures do get a mention in the homily ­­­– think here of Mary Magdalene or Mary the Mother of God – the depictions are sometimes uncritical and lack a feminine perspective.

After making their presentations, the young women were invited into a dialogue with a diverse group of women who have leadership roles both within the Church and in broader society. Kate Boileau, Rachel McLean, Sharon O’Keeffe, Jacqui Remond and Natalia Teguhputri are all women who have reflected long and hard on what it means to be a Catholic woman in the Church today. In their conversations with the students, they were able to challenge, affirm, and draw out deeper reflections on the issues that were raised.

Notably, while these conversation partners agreed with the students that there is still a very long way to go for women’s gifts to be fully appreciated within the Church, they also challenged the students to discover the dimensions that are life-giving. There is much joy to be had in the life of Christ, and they encouraged the women to ensure the lens through which they see the Church is an open one.

Semester 2 will see the cohort study Theology for the Future: Reimagining Leadership, with ACU lecturer, Dr Maeve Louise Heaney VDMF. In this unit students will explore various models of Church leadership and what such leadership might look like in the future. In 2022, their final unit is Theology as Leadership for Mission, and they will study the missionary dimension of the Church with Dr Gemma Cruz.

The Leadership for Mission program in its current iteration has been acknowledged for its contribution to the formation of young women within the Catholic Church. In 2019, the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life recognised the program as an example of “best practice” in lay formation.

In promoting the program, Bishop Michael Morrissey, the Australian Bishops delegate for women, wrote:

“For the good of society as a whole, it is critical that we raise up Catholic women leaders who will bring the Good News of Christ into the multitude of forums that they enter. This graduate program provides an opportunity for a group of young women to receive excellent academic formative input, as well as the chance to build strong and supportive relationships with other Catholic women.”

Naturally, the young women who are studying this Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies aspire to do well academically. However, they are also seeking a level of accompaniment that will sustain and affirm them in their desire to speak intelligently and lovingly into the spaces they occupy. ACU and the NCE are working hard to ensure these women not only develop a strong network among themselves, but also with other female leaders who work in similar fields.

Through strong collaboration, the ACU, NCE and Catholic Mission are striving to support these women in their desire to contribute to the Church they love and to forge paths of equity, equality and reconciliation.

The number of participants is small, but then, the number of women who spread the news of the resurrection was small and look at their influence!

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