Church on fire: women in a wounded church + final conference

Please note: the final lecture of the “Church on Fire” lecture series will take place this Tuesday, May 24 at 7:00 p.m.

This week, one of the most formidable opponents of the death penalty will speak in Buffalo against a backdrop of horror. The heinous act of homegrown terrorism has rekindled talk of the death penalty in New York State — at least by some on the right.

With a resurgence in right-wing politics, not just nationally, but even in New York, prompting talk of the death penalty and potentially jeopardizing hard-won progressive policies, there may be no No better time to hear social justice advocate Sister Helen Prejean speak about not just church reform, but the socio-political context in which we seek it.

Details here and below.

Women in a wounded church

But this post is about another sister who, though less famous than Sister Helen, is no less accomplished. On April 30, Sister Margaret Carney spoke on “Women in a Wounded Church.”

Along with this talk, the “Church on Fire—Stay With Us!” series of lectures and concerts built towards its conclusion, but it can also build a movement. After a slow post-pandemic restart, the most recent conferences have been extremely well attended, with excellent speaker-to-speaker engagement. We would have to find a way to capture this energy and this spirit in order to move forward. I was amazed to find such a full sanctuary on a beautiful spring Saturday afternoon for Sister Margaret’s talk.

“Sister Margaret Carney is a ball of fire,” said Michael Pitek, parish council president of Blessed Sacrament Church, initiator and organizer of the lecture series, in his introduction.

And that wasn’t hyperbole, I realized during the lecture. President of Saint-Bonaventure University for a dozen years, I could see why half a generation of students would admire and love her. His quotes were notable, including: “We need faith, hope and love – but we also need imagination” and “You want to be a servant but you should not be reduced to bondage”.

You can watch the full conference here:

Despite the high esteem in which she is held and the distinguished positions she has held, Sister Margaret did something that many accomplished women would no doubt identify with: She started with — essentially — her resume. Professional women are often, unfortunately, faced with an unfortunate and unfair truth: men often assert their authority and expertise by virtue of their position, while women – even in the same position – may feel they must demonstrate their expertise and experience to be heard.

If this is the case in the secular world in which women have achieved legal equality, one can only imagine what it is like for women leaders in a Church whose apostolic leadership has always been entirely male and in which women are so often relegated to service and support roles.

You want to be a servant but you should not be reduced to servitude.

Yet Sister Margaret is the equal of all those I have met in Catholic leadership at all levels of the hierarchy. Because of this demonstrated ability, throughout her adult life she has been entrusted with pivotal roles in modern developments involving the role of women in the church.

This was the most enlightening part of her lecture, as she told this story that she not only studied, and not just observed firsthand, but was part of the making. As someone who did not grow up Catholic, this story was entirely new to me. As someone who supports a greater role for women in the Church, I found it instructive to see both the progress and the obstacles.

We think of church history as something that happened in distant centuries in distant lands, but it is something that happened in the lifetimes of many of us. , and someone who was there was here, right in front of us, giving us a first-hand account. Not only that, Sister Margaret said, it continues. And she’s still engaged.

In fact, a substantial part of her speech was devoted to women in the Church under Pope Francis. She explained why the early sense of a lack of action on women’s issues by one of the most dynamic popes of modern times was misplaced. She sees some of the greatest opportunities in the Pope’s efforts to reform the Curia, separating the very different roles of theology and administration.

To help reform the Church, a stronger formal role for women – which, after all, would only recognize the essential role they already play – might be exactly what we need, and just in time. Those of us in the Diocese of Buffalo can be especially heartened – even proud – to know that one of our own will bring so much common sense, perspective and good humor to the process.

We need faith, hope, and love – but we also need imagination.

The teaching continues this Tuesday with the final presentation of the Church on Fire – Stay With Us series.

NEXT UP in the Catherine M. and Paul W. Beltz Lecture Series:

River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey

Sr. Helen Prejean, OSJ, author of walking dead mansocial justice advocate, Nobel Peace Prize nominee

Tuesday, May 24, 2022 at 7:00 PM

To purchase tickets, go to; or call Michael Pitek at 716-480-8313; or email him at [email protected]

Canisius High School Auditorium, 1180 Delaware Avenue

Free off-street parking is available at the Canisius High School parking lots

Angela C. Hale