Women at Vatican II

Women have always had a significant role in the Church. Until recently, however, women’s voices were recognized only in exceptional circumstances, such as certain great saints, usually defined by the male leadership. The last fifty years have seen a gradual change – too slow, many would say. Here’s an interesting article about the beginnings of that change – the unprecedented, not yet fully acknowledged, presence and voice of women in the Second Vatican Council.

In Memory of Them

The Women Drafters of Gaudium et Spes
by Elaine Catherine MacMillan

Catholic women made Church history during 1965. From January to December that year lay women, both single and vowed religious, worked diligently on the drafting commissions and sub-commissions of Gaudium et Spes. References to their participation can be found in footnotes to standard histories and commentaries of Vatican II, and they are also represented in Carmel McEnroy’s book Guests in Their Own House: The Women of Vatican II, as well as by their own memoirs and writings. But the stories of these women risk remaining a footnote to Church history if we do not remember them by name or remember what they contributed to the Council. The purpose of this article is to remember three of the women “auditors,” Pilar Bellosillo, Rosemary Goldie, and Mary Luke Tobin, S.L., who participated on the drafting commissions that prepared Gaudium et Spes for the last session of the Council. The work of these women on Gaudium et Spes also influenced the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity.

Who Were the Women Drafters?

Space does not permit full consideration of all the women who worked as drafters of Gaudium et Spes. I’ve chosen Bellosillo, Goldie, and Tobin because these three repeatedly found themselves in the “inner circle” of drafters and translators of the text throughout 1965. Bellosillo, a Spaniard and physician by training, was, at the time of the Council, president (1961–’74) of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Associations (WUCWO) an organization then numbering approximately 36 million Catholic women worldwide. Goldie, an Australian by birth, was the executive secretary of the Comitato Permanente dei Congressi Internazionali per l’Apostolato dei Laici (COPECIAL) from 1958–’67. Of the three, Mary Luke Tobin, S.L., remains the best known to Catholics in the United States. Tobin was the superior general of the Sisters of Loretto during the Council and had been recently elected president of the then Conference of Major Religious Superiors of Women’s Institutes of America—now the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

Strong bonds developed between the women who arrived during the third session of the Council. As 1965 progressed and they were immersed in the work of the Council, these bonds deepened. Goldie and Tobin, for example, spoke . . .

Read the whole article here.

Notre Dame’s Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism brings together scholars from history, theology, women’s studies, sociology, religious studies, American studies, and English to interpret the American Catholic experience.


Source: In Memory of Them // Cushwa Center // University of Notre Dame

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