An Outspoken Nun Gives the Pope a Woman's Point of View
updated 10/22/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 10/22/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT
After lightly touching the sister's head as she knelt before him for the traditional blessing, John Paul once again called on women "to serve as the needs of the church require." In a soft rebuke to the 53 nuns who wore blue armbands and lay clothing and stood during his speech to protest women's exclusion from the priesthood, the Pope repeated his belief that nuns should dress in "suitable religious garb."
Sporting a Mercy Cross pin on her two-piece brown tailored suit, Sister Theresa said, as she left the shrine: "It was my heart and truth and I had to speak it. I don't speak for every woman. I merely hoped to offer a challenge to him to hear the suffering and pain of women." Although John Paul was unable to schedule a private meeting with her in the U.S., she has an appointment to see him in Rome next month.
Sister Theresa, 43, has long been a social activist. One week after graduating from Cathedral High School in New York, she entered the Sisters of Mercy, an order devoted to work with the poor. After graduation from Manhattanville College and service running a New York hospital, she became regional administrator of her order. Two years ago she moved to Potomac, Md. to become administrator general. At first she lived in the palatial mother house, surrounded by 346 acres of prime real estate. But soon she moved to a modest apartment in Silver Spring, and she has since led a successful campaign to sell the property so the sisters can be closer to the poor.
A committed feminist, Sister Theresa favors the Equal Rights Amendment and is a leader of Catholics Act for ERA. One sister who knows her well says "she feels she has a vocation" to be a priest. She reminds others of St. Catherine of Siena, who was the patron saint of the founder of the Sisters of Mercy. In 1376, St. Catherine walked from Sienna, Italy, to Avignon, France, to exhort Pope Gregory XI in person to return to Rome and reunify the church. The friends of Sister Theresa hope the antecedent will prove prophetic: In 1377, Gregory returned to the Vatican.