US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Catholic and Feminist

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Catholic and Feminist
By Mary J. Henold (University of North Carolina Press, 2008)

Sisters Theresa Kane, Marjorie Tuite, and Margaret Ellen Traxler. Rosemary Radford Ruether, Mary Daly, and Sidney Callahan. The names of these women are well known among Catholics who lived during the 1960s and ’70s, but not, apparently, to feminist scholars. A tendency to be antagonistic toward religion in general—and toward Catholicism in particular—has left feminist histories bereft of the work of these and hundreds of other Catholic feminists.

Mary J. Henold begins to right that wrong. In Catholic and Feminist Henold traces the “surprising” story of Catholic feminism from its emergence in the early 1960s in the writings of women in the Catholic press and in organizations of “new nuns,” to the pivotal first Women’s Ordination Conference in 1975, to the uncertainty in the movement in the late ’70s. Throughout she argues that feminism was not just something Catholic women applied to their faith, but rather that their feminism actually grew out of their faith.

“They knew that Catholicism and feminism were in conflict; if they had seen no conflict they would not have directed their feminist activism toward the church,” writes Henold. “But they also believed their Catholic faith could be life-giving as well as oppressive.”

Henold, herself a cradle Catholic and an assistant professor of history at Roanoke College in Virginia, did extensive research, combing through hundreds of Catholic periodical articles, visiting the archives of 18 individuals and organizations, and conducting 23 oral history interviews. The story she tells is well documented yet accessibly written for non-academics.

Although many of their goals were not reached, these Catholic feminists have shaped the lives of countless Catholics and the church today. With the help of this book, they can prove to the wider feminist community that, yes, it is possible to be Catholic and feminist.