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CTU women 'quietly push forth a vision.' (Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois) (Cover Story)

Mary Huffman of St. Louis matriculated at Catholic Theological Union at Chicago (CTU) in 1991. She is in her third year of a four-year program that will award her a master's degree in divinity. She will complete 36 quarter hours common to all master of divinity candidates and 72 quarter hours in one track of a two-track advanced program tailored to the needs of lay and religious women and men who will not be ordained.

The second advanced track generally adds another year, requiring 105 quarter hours beyond the basic 36 and leading to ordination. This track is closed to Mary and the 71 other lay women enrolled in CTU, but she doesn't feel limited. Rather, the women of CTU view the clerical candidates as the ones trapped in an ecclesiastical cul-de-sac.

"I don't have to commit myself to the church," Huffman said. I can commit to ministry. I have already experienced church in many other ways than Rome envisions.

Sure, I'm frustrated with the church. But CTU has taught me the church is bigger than that and that we're called to make things better. So we are quietly pushing forth this vision. We would be living without hope if we just took things the way they are."

The women of CTU are beyond anger and politics. Like any minority - which they are practically, if not numerically - they are more sensitive. They have a deeper understanding of the dominant male church, wwch barely bothers to understand them. Their presence at CTU has made the theologate not only a community of inquiry but a community of faith. They speak a different language and have a different vision.

Typically, Mary was aware that her native see at St. Louis was open, but she evidenced no interest in who would succeed Archbishop John May. "Does it matter?" one of the other students asked rhetorically. "I care who gets St. Louis, but it isn't going to affect what I'm going to do."

Huffman is enrolled in a collaborative program with the nearby School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. It will permit her to complete both degrees one year sooner than if she had pursued them consecutively. "I wanted to bring both disciplines together," she said. I'd like to do parish work with other MSWSs in other parishes. I'd like to apply the principles of organizing to revitalize neighborhoods, to make the church more viable.

"I don't know if I can reform the church from within, but the social work degree will give me other options."

It isn't easy. At $215 a credit hour, the 72 hours following the foundational courses cost more than $15,000, exclusive of the usual nuisance fees, books and room and board. For Huffman, there is the substantial added cost of the MSW (master of social work) degree.

She survives on student loans, a Dorothy Day Scholarship and a grant from Mary's Pence, a program started by Chicago's Call to Action that funds projects for women. She has also worked at CTU in research, library work and old-fashioned maintenance. She also has a job in retail sales in downtown Chicago.

The economics of earning a degree at a theologate that educates 159 seminarians from the 31 participating religious communities together with 15 from other communities invites comparisons. In addition, there are 45 women religiours*, 30 diocesan priests and 44 laymen. Its total enrollment of 356 makes it the W" theologate in the country.

(CTU accepts ordrained diocesan priests only; they don't want hovering bishops. Further, technically, CTU is a theologate, not a seminary. Strictly speaking, a theologate is a school of theology in which candidates for the religious priesthood study; a seminary - the word means "seed bed" - educates candidates for the diocesan priesthood.)

Religious are supported by their magregations. Laymen and women receive few subsidies. It is a rare parish or diocese that educates its future lay leaders.

The women of CTU were concerned about the number of Catholic women enrolled in seminaries and divinity schools of other Christian faiths. One unconfirmed report said half the students at Harvard's Divinity School are women, and 50 percent of those had Catholic roots. Clearly, growing numbers of former Catholic women are ministers in other faiths. NCR found one who remains a Catholic while ministering full time in a United Church.

Catholic Theological Union at Chicago was founded in 1967 by three religious congregations: the Franciscans, Servites and Passionists. Officially, it opened in fall 1968 with 108 students and a faculty of 24. It now has 1,600 alumni working in 60 countries on six continents. In the past year alone, the number of female lay students has risen from 58 to 72.

No one is quite certain when the first theologate opened its doors to a layperson, but by 1987, 40 percent of the student bodies of the 49 Catholic theologates nationally were composed of students who were not preparing for ordination. Nationwide, there are about 50 theologates, said Joseph O'Hara of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

"I don't know precisely how many of them accept women,' he said. Some are theological unions, so ifs hard to trace.' But in academic 1993, there were 314 full-time and 833 part-time female students enrolled. O'Hara reported that the number of full-time women had decreased slightly in recent years, while the number of part-time female students had increased.

It was the lay students, in fact, who broke down the pervasive isolation that once characterized religious formation. It's likely, too, that lay students helped the theologates by forcing them to become accredited.

Women tiptoed into CTU. First, three came only to audit courses. Then a clutch of religious sisters enrolled for credit. Finally, in 1972, a lay woman named Alacia Lakey arrived. She wasn't formally snubbed; she was mostly neglected. She got little assistance with course planning or housing. After a year, she transferred to Yale s Divinity School According to the founding president, Passionist Fr. Paul Bechtold, "The tensions were not unlike those that surfaced in the early days among the several faculties of the different religious orders."

Huffman is 29, younger than most of her female classmates at CTU. The third of seven children, she was a cradle Catholic raised in a thoroughly Catholic home in St. Louis, where her father runs a bargetowing business on the Missouri River. She graduated from St. Mary's, once considered the sister school to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend. She spent the next three years volunteering with the Holy Cross Associates, two of them in a Catholic Worker community in Phoenix, Ariz.

For a while, I thought I was going to law school,' she said. "It even crossed my mind to become a nun, but it wasn't a strong feeling.

"In Phoenix, I got the idea that I wanted to study theology. So I wrote to my old thei at St. Mary's and b mended CTU. He sf a good place for women to be."

Huffman's classmates agree. "Its a great place to feel good about the church," one said It's culturally diverse, and are at least a dozen women on the faculty who keep us looking beyond the institution into ministry."

"I'm here because one of my recurring dreams is that I'll go to church some day for communion and it won't be there," Jo

"It seems as though I'll never get out of here, but after working at WalMart for years, I had to look at the values in my life. When I get my master's in theology, I'm going into a liturgical consulting program and, if I'm needed, into ministry in my parish."

Charlene Klabacha, who commutes from Orland Hills, Ill., a good hour away, said, My boundaries are tested here.' She is working for her master's in pastoral studies. With three children, two still in school, she will return to be a full-time director of religious education in her parish.

In a standard seminary, generally an ecclesiastical pyramid created by a square-jawed bishop with bricks and mortar in his veins, the language of these women would sound hokey.

"This isn't a seminary," said Tina Moreau of Massachusetts. school of ministry. ... We even have lots of non Catholics."

Moreau worked in church-related programs Bolivia and Haiti before coming to CTU. She wrote to some 20 theologates before enrolling in CTU's World Mission program.

This place will give me more credibility," said Kara McBride, youngest of the students interviewed. McBride, whose mother is a CTU alumna, expects to complete her master of divinity in 1995. She graduated from the College of St. Thomas in Minnesota and spent a year at Chicago's Amate House, a sanctuary for recovering addicts, before coming to CTU.

"I can't picture myself graduating," she said lightly. "But if I do, I'll have some background. I can go toe-to-toe.'

McBride was part of CTU's program in Israel, one dominated by male seminirians. They couldn't use inclusive language if they tried," she said with youthful exaggeration. "So I told them they simply couldn't understand what it's like to be on the outside. At least twelve priests stopped talking to me." On balance, the women of CTU have few complaints about oppression. "I'm respected and challenged," Moreau said. "I'm looked upon as an equal." Any male-female tension seemed to be in line with comparative ages. The younger women sensed more repression and were more outspoken about it, largely because young people are more outspoken. All agreed that the theologate was setting trends in trying to overcome societal and institutional sexism.

The importance of sound academic preparation was not lost on these women. Said Judy Logue, a convert mother of three grown children who now directs the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Wilmette, Ill.: "I've got CTU in my hip pocket. My education there is very important toward my status with clergy. Women have to know that you can't just be good-hearted and expect equal treatment.'

Catholic Theological Union's modest campus is on the outer edge of the University of Chicago, in what was once the old Aragon Hotel, home to polite but poor people. As things turned out, the area stabilized and the CTU neighborhood is more than passable, an important consideration for a school that would attract commuting women.

Barbara Anderson attends CTU part time. She works for the Department of Health and Human Services and is a youth minister at St. Helena's Parish "I want to work in a youth program. I don't care if it's archdiocesan or not," she said. I'm just tired of seeing girls pregnant and boys

Anderson is African American, attending CIU on an Augustus Tolton Memorial Scholarship, funded in memory Chicago's first African-American priest. She serves as a unpaid youth minister - a commonplace for women in parishes that still find ways to pay male bowling coaches.

We put on plays," Anderson said proudly. "We write our own plays. We don't get them from a book. We deal with sex and drugs. We perform at the Baptist church and before the Girl Scout troop. Our youth group is ecumenical. We work on the strains between parent and child and we look at the parents viewpoint.

"You know, the archbishop should be doing more for us. It's very difficult for an African-American to accept a European-American to minister to us."

Anderson hopes to graduate in 1996. "I'd like to be taking more courses," she said, "but I need more money. ...

"We're pushing for change. We can't have a Polish pope telling us what to do. I was in Denver when the pope came. They had at least five sessions for the Latino youths, just one for us. We've got to change that."

Anderson's was typical of the anger of the other women. It was focused on issues rather than the institution. The CTU women have little interest in the chain of command that absorbs so much hierarchial emergies. Yet, it is abundantly clear that they do not intend to use their earned graduate degrees to head the altar and rosary societies. While ernest but severely hobbled bishops issue platitudes about the roles of women in the church, women are gradually taking over.

They are now in the majority on most parish staffs and, more important, are assuming more significant roles. Women now direct most of the education, sacramental preparation, counseling, liturgy and social programs, visits to the sick and elderly and so on. In more enlightened parishes, they routinely give homilies (called "reflections" to avoid inquiries from the chancery office) and preside at paraliturgies such as holy hours, rosaries and stations of the cross.

Gradually, especially as religious sisters grow older, lay women are assuming leadership in parishes without resident pastors. Meanwhile, ordained clergy continue to hold the purse strings and to control the cemeteries and seminaries. But only those directly involved in their parishes have any real influence.

There is some movement for ordination but there is little energy for this among the women of CTU. Dean Hoge, a professor of Sociology at Catholic University of America, has done studies that suggest that if the pope relaxed the prohibition that bars women from the altar, there would be no massive toward ordination - perhaps only 3,600 or so by the millennium. "It isn't the eucharistic part,' one student said. "I'm attracted to that. It's the clericalism, the celibacy and the political system that I couldn't stand."

Another said, They would have to break down the whole idea of hierarchy before I would be ordained. They would have to redo the whole job description. I'm much freer without ordination.'

Marionette Phelps, another Tolton scholar, said, When I started my theological education at Mundelein [a Cathlic college for women now affiliated with Loyola/Chicago], I had to ask myself, 'Where has all this knowledge been?' I had never even connected homilies with the. Bible!"

A single woman, Phelps is in her third career. "Mundelein was great,' she said, "but it didn't meet my needs. When I saw the bulletin board at CTU, I knew this was it.'

For CTU women the search seems to be one of discovery. It!s all there,' Phelps said. The church has laid it out. We just have to grab it."

Phelps, a white-haired, pre-Vatican II Catholic, gets emotional when she is seen in church as just another visitor. Like other CTU students, her education is a discovery process into a theology that was closed to her, as if it were a secret seminary initiation process.

The female professors, still largely banned from diocesan seminaries, lead the way. CTU's faculty is nearly one-third women. "They are mentors,' one student said. "They break down the paradigms. They're not afraid to take on the harder things to teach.'

Sue Terranova is a widowed mother of four. After five years as a part-time student, she is now full-time, hoping to become a hospital chaplain. "CTU has a reputation," she said. "We're raising awareness among people about women in the church. We're building something. I'm not in competition with the men here. I get help from them."

"There's a lot of pulling and tugging between the men and women,' Charlene Klabacha said, but there is a great respect for each other."

Passionist Fr. Donald Senior, professor of New Testament studies and president of CTU, said, "Ordination is not the issue here. Ministry is. We look progressive, but we are really quite centered in the church. We're not out of step. Our faculty, for example, would have little trouble with Veritatis Splendor (John Paul II's recent encyclical).

"We are creating a process of formation for the laity. The theology of the future will be to be inclusive across the spectrum. We are also proving that someone who is ordained later or who enters ministry later can get along."

None of the women of CTU was finding it easy. This is not a learn-by-numbers curriculum; the economics and time constraints make the program much harder for laity than religious. Typically, Denise Douglas is teaching fourth grade in her parish and commuting to CTU one night each week, completing a master's in pastoral studies.

"I've become an expert in overnight mail, getting my assignments in under the wire,' she said. "The profs are very understanding. It's tough but it's lifegiving and very affirming."

"They should give credits here for lunch,' Judy Logue said. I've learned more at the lunch table, trying to talk issues through. Diane Bergant [a religious sister and professor of Old Testament studies] has wired my mind. Diane says that no one is going to run her out of her church. I agree.'

Logue was the homilist at the recent ordination of a fellow student She preached while 20 priests listened. "We had ordained him,' she reasoned. "We called him to priesthood. He asked me to preach. Why shouldn't I?' No one objected.

"Oh, why are we even discussing this?" Logue added. "Sure, we need the hierarchial church in order to pass on the tradition. The church never gets rid of anything. But the church must be a place where one can reimage the tradition, and that's what CTU is all about."
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Author:Unsworth, Tim
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Mar 11, 1994
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