We are delighted to announce the virtual launch of the publication “In Communion with the Sacred Universe, The Story of An Tairseach” by Sr. Marian O’Sullivan OP. We plan to do this by ‘zoom’ at 7:30pm on Sunday 4th October, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi; it also marks the end of the Season of Creation. If you are interested in joining us please send an email to Sr. Colette Kane OP at the following address ‘director@antairseach.ie’ 
In collaboration with Ms Jane Mellet of Trocaire.org and we will send a link to your email – you just have to click on it on the night to connect to the zoom launch.
We look forward to ‘seeing’ you for the launch of this beautiful production.

Colette OP on behalf of the community and staff of An Tairseach

Congratulations to the Staff and Students of St. Mary’s University College, Belfast on the celebration of their foundation day on Tuesday 22nd September 2020. As a Congregation we are delighted to see a former college which was under our trusteeship continue to flourish and having a significant role in preparing teachers for our catholic schools in our every changing society.

St Mary’s Training College (now entitled St Mary’s University College) located at Falls Road in Belfast was officially opened by the Bishop of Down and Connor, Most Rev Dr Henry, on 22 September 1900.
The event was reported in The Irish News two days later. The following is an extract from the report:
Blessing of the Institution Important Address by Most Rev Dr Henry
A GREAT work, a work of permanent interest to the Catholic people of Belfast and the North of Ireland, was solemnly blessed by his Lordship, Most Rev Dr Henry. We refer of course to St Mary’s Training College, Falls Road.
His Lordship has manifested his appreciation of the success of the Dominican Nuns as teachers of the young by placing the College under their care. Already one hundred female teachers, from all parts of Ireland, are being prepared for the very important work of education.
In his Address Dr Henry said: “I am pleased to meet here this morning so many intelligent, earnest young ladies from different parts of the country anxious to do all in their power to qualify themselves thoroughly for the noble profession of teaching the young, not only in secular, but also in religious knowledge. I hope you will take full advantage of the opportunities afforded you, and you will work assiduously during the session in preparation for your examinations, and I trust that at the end of the academic year you will all score high marks in all the subjects of your programme.”
St Mary’s Training College will form an abiding memorial of his Lordship’s profound and practical interest in the training and culture of Irish youth. St Mary’s College will prove a blessing to Belfast and Ulster.
It is now about two years ago since the first sod was turned, and today there stands on the site in Broadway a building which, in appearance and design is most ornate and imposing. The situation has been so chosen that the extensive front, containing the principal rooms, has a southern aspect, commanding for the upper storeys a magnificent view of the valley of the Lagan and surrounding hills.
Today the official title of the College is St Mary’s University College: A College of the Queen’s University of Belfast. St Mary’s is an independent institution which has a partnership agreement for collaborative academic provision with Queen’s University. It is however a recognised provider of higher education in the United Kingdom in its own right.
The mission of St Mary’s is to make a distinctive contribution of service and excellence, in the Catholic tradition, to higher education in Northern Ireland.
Most Reverend Dr Noel Treanor DD, Bishop of Down and Connor, is the Senior Trustee and Chairperson of the Governing Body. Speaking about Foundation Day, he said:
“St Mary’s Mission Statement is emphatic in its fidelity to its founding tradition. The distinctive contribution lies in the Christian, explicitly faith-inspired world view or anthropology, which undergirds the pedagogical approach to each student and the contributions they make, through both professional and volunteering service, to many communities. St Mary’s with numerous other third level Catholic academic institutions across the globe continues the great adventure of conjugating reason and religious faith, knowledge and the probing of the ultimate mystery of existence, life and hope”.
The College Principal, Professor Peter Finn said:
“Unfortunately, as a result of the public health emergency, St Mary’s will not be able to celebrate the 120th anniversary of its foundation at this time, in a way that would properly befit the occasion. Today we mark Foundation Day with an acknowledgement of the great work that was started by the Most Rev Dr Henry and the Dominican Sisters in 1900. At a suitable time we will celebrate the rich history and traditions of the institution as well as the people who have made the College what it is today. Our rich past provides the platform for continued service and excellence in the twenty-first century.”
extract from https://www.smucb.ac.uk/infoserv/news/?ArticleID=52778553387669&nq=1
Sion Hill Campus, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, A94 A3C7, Ireland                                                                                                   Tel: +353 1 288 2075, Mobile: +353 85 872 7482,                                                                                                                  Email: info@lumenop.ie


Online Modules – Autumn 2020 semester

We are happy to announce that, during the  Autumn 2020 semester, at Lumen Dominican Education Centre, Blackrock Dublin  will  offer four modules  listed below online, each consisting of five pre-recorded talks (30-40 minutes each) and a webinar for just €35.

Future Horizons for Religious Life John Scally

COVID-19: Is it a crisis or an opportunity for theology? John Scally

Jesus and Prayer – Reading the Psalms as a Christian Sean Goan

Three funerals and a wedding! Exploring the New Testament Apocalypse Kieran O’Mahony OSA

For further information and booking please visit their  website www.lumenop.ie. or email: info@lumenop.ie


 We are delighted to share  Sr. Fionnuala Quinn’s  Article, God Still Calls: Discerning Together In Creating A Shared Future _Furrow Article Sept ’20 (1)  which was published in the September 2020 issue of The Furrow 

Vatican City — Pope Francis will travel to Assisi Oct. 3 to sign an encyclical on the social, political and economic obligations that flow from a belief that all people are children of God and therefore brothers and sisters to one another.

The Vatican press office, confirming the pope’s trip, said the document will be titled “Fratelli Tutti” in Italian or “Brothers and Sisters All.”

Conventual Franciscan Fr. Mauro Gambetti, custodian of the Assisi convent, said the document “will indicate to the world a style for the future and will give the church and people of goodwill the responsibility for building it together.”

“The pope is clearly inspired by Francis of Assisi who, in following Jesus, recognized in fraternity, lived under the sign of mutual and loving service, the horizon of a fulfilled and happy humanity,” Gambetti added.

Francis is scheduled to arrive at the Assisi convent at 3 p.m. to celebrate Mass at the tomb of St. Francis and sign the document.

Because of ongoing concerns and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mass and the rest of the pope’s visit will be private, the Vatican press office said.

The encyclical is expected to echo many of the themes Francis has been discussing in his general audience talks on Catholic social teaching in light of the pandemic: human fraternity, the equal dignity of all people, the preferential option for the poor, the universal destination of goods and the obligation of solidarity. Care for the environment and the virtue of peacemaking also are expected to be part of the encyclical.

After the pope signs the document on the eve of the feast of St. Francis, the text is expected to be published in a variety of languages the first week of October.



The Season of Creation 2020: Jubilee for the Earth. For resources and information click here:http://www.internationalunionsuperiorsgeneral.org/season-creation-2020-jubilee-earth/


We are delighted to announce the reopening of Lumen Adult Education Centre, Blackrock Dublin.

As the country is slowly opening up again, trying to find a new normal, we decided to open Lumen as well. However, the autumn 2020 semester will be different. Health and safety measures will, of course, be in accordance with government and NPHET guidelines, and I would like to assure you that we will make every effort to ensure the safety of everyone in Lumen.

Amongst the changes to the programme you will notice are:

• an earlier start date for the autumn semester

• staggered starting times for classes

• the absence of activity classes (circumstances permitting, they will resume in January)

• a reduced number of participants in classes

• a potential change in class format

• no serving of refreshments during breaks

Please be advised that advanced booking is essential to meet health and safety requirements. Postal and online registrations are preferred ways of booking. Registrations on the day cannot and will not be accepted.

Sabine Schratz OP and Miriam Weir OP

Additional information can be found on the website www.lumenop.ie

Lumen Dominican Centre
Sion Hill Campus
Co. Dublin, A94 A3C7
Phone: 01-288 2075 / 0858727482
Email: info@lumenop.ie

We Empathy trumps troubles and tribulation, says a new Bible study from the World Council of Churches.

Inspired by Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John, the meditation by human-rights advocate Jennifer Philpot-Nissen argues that, though the Bible is certainly cognizant of tribulations, its overarching counsel is to transcend our travails through empathetic engagement in alleviating the troubles of others.

The pandemic has caused widespread illness and death, she says, but also surfaced ugly currents of discrimination and injustice, evident in examples from around the  world.

“While the virus does not discriminate,” the author asks, “can we say the same about ourselves, and about our responses to it?  Jesus’ promise – that we will experience tribulation during our lives – is repeated throughout the Bible, but so are instructions for how we should behave toward others at all times.”

The Bible study asks readers to tap their own spiritual wellsprings of empathy and offers readers ten empathetic ways to respond to the pandemic.

“Spread only the contagion of love, make it as infectious as possible!”

The new study is the latest in a series of biblical reflections composed in response to the coronavirus pendemic and published as Healing the World.

Author Jennifer Philpot-Nissen serves the World Council of Churches as programme executive for Human Rights and Disarmament in the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.



On July 22nd of each year, the Church celebrates the Feast of Mary Magdalene. Known as the “Apostle to the Apostles,” Mary Magdalene has a special place within the Dominican Order. We thank God for all the women preachers of today who continue to accept the call “To tell others about the resurrection of Christ”. Happy Feast Day- The following article Who framed Mary Magdalene?  is worth reflecting upon. 

Who framed Mary Magdalene? How the first witness to Christ’s Resurrection was made into a prostitute, and how women today are restoring their reputation.

It all comes down to the Resurrection. Twenty centuries of Christianity—and the faith of billions—rest on this singular event. And who is the primary witness to this momentous miracle, the first person to whom Jesus revealed himself? It would seem that fact would be such an essential element of the faith that all Christians should be able to respond without even thinking—as they do to similar questions, like “Who is Jesus’ mother?” or “Which apostle betrayed Jesus?”

But the first witness to the Resurrection—as all four gospel writers agree—was a woman whose name and reputation have become so misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misconstrued over the centuries that she is more commonly, though erroneously, remembered as a prostitute than as the faithful first bearer of the Good News.

That woman is Mary of Magdala and, finally, her centuries-old case of mistaken identity is being rectified.

Now that scripture scholars have debunked the myth that she and the infamous repentant sinner who wiped Jesus’ feet with her tears are one and the same woman, word is trickling down that Mary Magdalene’s penitent prostitute label was a misnomer. Instead, her true biblical portrait is being resurrected, and this “apostle to the apostles” is finally taking her rightful place in history as a beloved disciple of Jesus and a prominent early church leader.

“We’re trying to right a 2,000-year-old wrong,” says Christine Schenk, C.S.J., executive director of FutureChurch, a Cincinnati-based church-reform organization that launched nationwide observances of Mary Magdalene’s feast day (July 22) two years ago. The idea quickly grew from a handful of celebrations to nearly 130 prayer services last year at Catholic parishes, Newman centers, schools, retreat houses, hospital chapels, motherhouses, and in small faith communities.

“People see this as a positive, constructive way to show they support women’s equality,” says Schenk, who believes reclaiming Mary Magdalene’s reputation as an early church leader will have implications for women’s leadership in the church today, including the ordination of women.

As part of a Women in Church Leadership project co-sponsored by FutureChurch and Call to Action, celebrations were created to accomplish two goals: to provide opportunities for visible liturgical roles for women and to disseminate current biblical scholarship that counters the myth of Mary Magdalene as public sinner.

Badgered witness

Many cradle Catholics are shocked to learn that there is no biblical evidence that Mary of Magdala was a prostitute or public sinner. She is mentioned 12 times in the New Testament—making her the second most mentioned woman, after the Virgin Mary. Most references are found in the Crucifixion and empty tomb narratives, where she is portrayed as a loyal disciple at the foot of the cross and as one of the first witnesses to the Resurrection.

Unlike other women in the Bible, Mary of Magdala is not identified in relation to another person; she is not anyone’s mother, wife, or sister. Instead, she is called Mary of Magdala, a title that implies some prominence in the city, a center of commercial fishing on the northwest bank of the Sea of Galilee. She left her home to follow Jesus, and it is believed she was among several well-off, independent women who financially supported Jesus’ ministry.

These female followers of Jesus—disciples, really—became central when everything started to fall apart. While others fled, the women were faithful, and they were led by Mary of Magdala.

Details differ in the four, gospel accounts of the Resurrection as to the number of heavenly visitors at the tomb, which women accompany Mary Magdalene to anoint the body, and whether or not the women are believed when they run to tell the news of Christ’s Resurrection. But on this all four gospels agree: Mary Magdalene was faithful until the end, and her faithfulness was rewarded with an appearance by the risen Lord.

“It’s really remarkable that all four gospels have the same story,” says scripture scholar Mary Thompson, S.S.M.N., adjunct professor of religious studies at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York and author of Mary of Magdala: Apostle and Leader (Paulist, 1995). “You can be sure that if it had been possible to eliminate those women who went out from the empty tomb, [the gospel writers] would have done it,” because of the prevailing attitude toward women in those times, she says.

Despite the fact that legally a woman’s testimony at that time was considered invalid, the authors of the four gospels all make women the primary witnesses to the most important event of Christianity. That leads Thompson and others to believe that detail has historical validity.

In Matthew’s version (28:1-10) Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” first learn of Jesus’ Resurrection from an angel at the tomb, who tells them to “go quickly and tell his disciples.” As they leave they are met by Jesus, who also instructs them to spread the Good News to the others.

Likewise in Mark’s account (16:1-8) Mary Magdalene is accompanied by Mary, the mother of James, and Salome to anoint Jesus’ body. But inside the empty tomb they find an angel who tells them Jesus has been raised from the dead. Again, Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalene, but when she tells the disciples, they do not believe her.

Luke (24:1-12) says the three women are Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James; and Joanna, and that they first find the stone rolled away and are told by two men “in dazzling clothes” that Jesus has risen from the dead. The other disciples do not believe their “idle tale,” and Peter runs to the tomb to see for himself the burial cloths.

In John’s Resurrection account (20:1-18) Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb alone, sees that the stone has been rolled away, and runs to get Peter. What follows are parallel stories: Verses 3-10 describe how Peter and the disciple Jesus loved witness the burial cloths, but “they did not understand”; while verses 10-18 tell the story of Jesus’ appearance to Mary of Magdala.

“Woman, why are you weeping?” Jesus asks his beloved friend, who is lost in her grief. Mary Magdalene initially mistakes Jesus for the gardener, who had just asked the same question of her. But then she turns and in her recognition calls out, “Rabbouni” (meaning “rabbi” or “teacher”). Then Mary of Magdala goes to tell the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

A Mary mixup

If Mary of Magdala is consistently portrayed as a crucial player in arguably the most important event of Christianity, why is she not remembered for this role?

“Unquestionably and dearly, Mary of Magdala was the primary witness to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and our whole Christianity depends on that,” says Thompson.

The problem lies in the alternate image of Mary Magdalene as the fallen and redeemed woman, as the epitome of sensuality and spirituality—an image that has become ingrained in the imaginations of centuries of Christians and one that continues to be fostered through depictions in art, literature, and even movies.

So how did Mary of Magdala become a prostitute some several hundred years after her death?

The short answer is that Mary Magdalene has been confused with several other women in the Bible, most significantly—and ultimately problematically—with the unnamed sinner in Chapter 7 of Luke. In that story, a woman bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears, anoints them with ointment from her alabaster jar, and dries them with her hair. When the Pharisees object, noting that she is a known sinner, Jesus admonishes them and forgives her “because she has shown great love” (Luke 7:47). Nowhere does it say that this woman was a prostitute, and nowhere is she identified as Mary of Magdala.

The confusion may have come from the proximity of that passage to the one that identifies Mary of Magdala by name as a follower of Jesus who had had seven demons cast out of her (Luke 8:2). Although previously interpreted as referring to sexual sin, the mention of seven demons is now believed to mean illness, most likely mental illness.

The waters get even muddier when this unnamed sinner gets lumped in with another Mary—Mary of Bethany, Martha and Lazarus’ sister—who also anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair, as described in Chapter 12 of John’s gospel. An earlier version of this story in Matthew refrains from naming this woman. In Matthew this woman is a close friend of Jesus—not a stranger with a reputation as a sinner.

Some believe the conflation of Mary of Bethany and Mary of Magdala results not just from their shared name but also from the presence of the alabaster jar of perfumed oil. It’s easy to see why the sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet is confused with Mary of Bethany, who does the same. It’s possible that the shared symbols of incense and tears have historically united these women with Mary of Magdala, who was among the women who brought jars of perfumed oil to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body.

Sister Barbara Bowe, R.C.S.J., New Testament professor at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, says a similar thing happened to several “Johns” and the unnamed “beloved disciple.” It was a tendency, especially in the earlier period, she says. “Characters get blended together and homogenized in ways that don’t preserve the integrity of the texts.”

Although the decline of Mary of Magdala’s reputation as apostle and leader most likely began shortly after her death, the transformation to penitent prostitute was sealed on Sept. 14, 1591, when Pope Gregory the Great gave a homily in Rome that pronounced that Mary Magdalene, Luke’s unnamed sinner, and Mary of Bethany were, indeed, the same person.

“She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark,” Gregory said in his 23rd homily. “And what did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices? . . . It is clear, brothers, that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts . . .”

Few ascribe malicious intent to Gregory (“Although I have a hard time with the ‘Great’ part,” says Thompson), who most likely wanted to use the story to assure converts that their sins would be forgiven. Indeed, the gospel passage is a powerful one—and can still be, without being inaccurately attached to Mary Magdalene.

“I have people who tell me,‘I liked her as a prostitute,’ ” says Schenk. “That story spoke very deeply of the profundity of forgiveness.”

But Christians deserve to hear about the multiplicity of women in scripture, argues Schenk. And reducing one of the most important leaders of the early church to a prostitute has exacted a price, especially for women, by feeding into the notion that women are either madonnas or whores.

“This fans the flames of the stereotype of women as sinful,” says Bowe. “For women today who look to the Bible for inspiration and liberation, their choices are limited enough. When we suddenly cut Mary Magdalene off at the knees and turn her into some evil sex pervert, we deprive men and women, but especially women, of a figure with whom they can identify.”

Mary Magdalene’s story and that of Luke’s unnamed sinner need to be separated, Bowe says. “Then you can take them each in their integrity,” she says. The passage in Luke is powerful, “But it’s not Mary Magdalene.”

Lead us not

While no pope or other person deserves the singular blame, many feminist theologians have no doubt that Mary Magdalene’s reputation was deliberately altered to suppress women’s leadership in the church in those early centuries. Given the gospel accounts, her importance could not be denied—but her character could be changed to be less threatening.

“To have silenced and suppressed the tradition with respect to the most prominent woman in Christian circles isn’t an accident,” says Jane Schaberg, a professor of religious studies and women’s studies at the University of Detroit-Mercy who is writing a book on Mary of Magdala.

Schenk admits she wouldn’t use the word conspiracy, but she says, “It’s clear there wasn’t much resistance to changing her image. I’m not sure we can understand the degree of resistance and anger and determination on the part of male leadership to put female leaders back in their place. Unfortunately, that continues today.”

That women were leaders in the early Jesus movement is becoming clearer and more commonly accepted among scholars. Not only do several biblical passages describe them, but apocryphal, noncanonical writings also portray women as apostles, deacons, and co-workers. Studies of ancient burial inscriptions also have confirmed these titles—as well as the feminine presbytera—for women in the first centuries.

Women play a prominent role in the so-called gnostic gospels—writings that, though not included in the official canon, provide important historical evidence about the church of the first centuries.

For example, in the Gospel of Mary—the only apocryphal text named for a woman—Mary Magdalene is depicted as a visionary who receives secret revelations from Jesus, much to the chagrin of Peter. “Mary Magdalene, by virtue of her encounter with Jesus in John 20, was regarded as someone who was a special channel of secret knowledge,” Bowe says.

A more egalitarian, shared leadership was practiced among gnostic sects, with Mary of Magdala and other women figuring prominently. But as the early Christian church struggled for legitimacy, a male-dominated, hierarchical style of leadership prevailed. “The gnostic materials are full of the theme of opposition to Mary Magdalene’s leadership,” says Schaberg. “To put it simply, the people who opposed her won out.”

Others believe the characters of Mary of Magdala and Peter represent not the actual historical people but rather are used as literary devices in many gnostic writings.

“Peter is the symbol of what he is today—the power structure—while Mary Magdalene represents the pattern for the role of women in the early church,” says Thompson. “Two competing visions of church were jockeying for position, and it’s obvious which one won out. Women were already being subordinated. Patriarchal forces were trying to quell them.”

Thus the stage was set for Mary of Magdala to become denigrated as a sexual sinner and to lose her legacy as the first evangelist of the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection.

Thompson and other feminist Christians associate some of the loss of Mary Magdalene’s legacy with the rise of a celibate clergy in the fourth and fifth centuries.

“This seems to have been a creeping effect of patriarchy,” says Thompson. “I think we have to ponder the enormity of what happened to Mary Magdalene. The implications are still with us today.”

Interestingly, the Eastern church took a different tack with Mary Magdalene. “They never fell for the prostitute fallacy,” says Thompson. “She is honored according to the biblical portrait.”

A legend in the Eastern tradition has Mary of Magdala traveling to Rome and appearing before the court of Emperor Tiberius. When she tells Tiberius about Jesus’ death and Resurrection, he challenges her story, saying no one could rise from the dead any more than an egg in a dish on the table could turn red.

With that, according to the legend, Mary picked up an egg and it turned bright red in her hand. To this day, icons of Mary Magdalene often depict her holding an egg, and Eastern Christians still color their Easter eggs a bright red.

In the West, however, the image of Mary Magdalene as sensual temptress is deeply entrenched. Even today the prostitute continues to be reinforced by popular culture.

Few can forget Mary Magdalene’s character sensually singing “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” in the ’60s musical, and later the movie, Jesus Christ Superstar. Although the portrayal poignantly depicted the depth of her devotion and deep love for Jesus, it unfortunately tainted it with an oversexualization of her character.

The sexy saint stirred up even more controversy in Martin Scorsese’s 1988 movie, The Last Temptation of Christ. Based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, the film includes a sex scene between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, actually a dream sequence of what might have happened if Jesus had not been crucified. The film also erroneously identifies Mary Magdalene as the woman stoned for adultery in John 8:3-11.

But 20th-century artists aren’t the first to be misled into using the image of Mary Magdalene as temptress. In paintings throughout history, she is often pictured bare-breasted, and more often than not, clothed in red, the color of passion.

The vamp revamped

Today, reclaiming Mary Magdalene’s rightful role as apostle and leader remains an uphill battle, her supporters say. “The biblical scholarship is still relatively new,” says Thompson.

The news is just beginning to filter down to people in the pews. The feast day celebrations sponsored by FutureChurch and Call to Action are one way many Catholics are getting reintroduced to Mary of Magdala.

“I’ve long been an admirer of Mary Magdalene,” says Janelle Lazzo of Kansas City, Missouri, who once chose “sinner1” as her computer password because of her strong connection to the story in Luke.

“I thought if Jesus loved her that much with her various shortcomings, my own might not look so bad to him either. Once I realized what a pivotal role she had in his ministry, I was more than hooked,” Lazzo says.

Through her local Call to Action chapter, Lazzo helped organize and presided at a Mary Magdalene prayer service on her feast day at St. Francis Xavier Church in Kansas City. The service featured a proclamation of the Resurrection account from John, inclusive-language hymns and prayers, and time for personal sharing among the 60 or so gathered. Storyteller Sister Lillian Harrington, O.S.B. read a “Letter from Mary of Magdala,” in which a fictionalized Mary describes her true role in Jesus’ ministry.

In Indianapolis, Call to Action leaders organized seven observances last July. Organizer Lynette Herold, who attended several, including a Mass at her own parish, says the mood was energizing.

“It was very freeing, especially for the women,” she says. “It can be hard to relate to women in the Bible. So many of the stories are so negative. With Mary Magdalene, we’re finally getting another side of the story.”

Although she noticed that some participants wanted to hold onto the image of the penitent prostitute, Herold believes the “woman as temptress” monopoly must be broken. “We just don’t hear the women who were leaders and disciples proclaimed very loudly. Many people can’t admit that women had a key role in Jesus’ time. Because if we admit that, we have to ask why it isn’t happening now.”

It’s precisely that connection between the reinterpretation of the Mary Magdalene story and contemporary calls for expanded roles for women in the Catholic Church that has some Catholics concerned.

Although nearly all modern scripture scholars agree that the prostitute label is mistaken, not everyone is comfortable with the way her story is being retold. Some say feminists are hijacking Mary Magdalene’s story to serve their own agendas.

A 1998 article in the ultraconservative Catholic newspaper The Wanderer compared the new scholarship about the “historical Magdalene” to the “historical Jesus” movement in biblical studies. The church reformers—blatantly described as “heretics”—are said to be “distorting the historical figure of Mary Magdalen[e] in their crusade for a laywoman-run church.”

While feminist theologian Schaberg certainly isn’t in the same camp as The Wanderer, she nonetheless cautions against contemporary legend-making that is not grounded in serious biblical scholarship.

“I hope the efforts to reclaim Mary Magdalene will look more carefully at her tradition,” she says. “These efforts have to take into account the serious struggle New Testament scholars have with this material.”

But Schenk and others insist they are merely trying to right a centuries-old wrong—a correction that happens to provide a positive role model for contemporary women in the church. “I just think this has been a terrible injustice,” says Schenk. “I think of all the Christian women who need positive role models from scripture.”

With the prostitute baggage properly disposed of, Mary of Magdala can emerge as a model of a faithful, devoted follower of the Lord, as well as a strong, independent leader in the early church. Her leadership can motivate women of the 21st century, says Thompson.

“Mary of Magdala didn’t ask anybody whether or not she could lead. She simply led,” she says. “And that’s what women have to do today. Just do it.”

This article appeared in the April 2000 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 65, No. 4, pages 12-16).