The Challenge

Sunday, February 28, 2016 the New York Times had a number of articles/columns on gender, race and class. One that particularly struck me was “The Faces of American Power, Nearly as White as the Oscar Nominees”.…/race-of-american-poweer.html  It graphically illustrates the people of power in U.S. culture, government, education and business. The objective is to demonstrate that inequality is not limited to film! Is this a new insight?! No, however the pictorial display provides a convincing argument that patriarchal systems prevail. Take a look at the link above.

So, as we enter March, Women’s History Month, I would like to focus on scholarship that continues to challenge this reality of white male dominance: theology offered by women.  Prior to Sister Madeleva the face of theology – preached and taught – was male in the Western world resulting in the superiority of maleness. Why?  In the words of major theologian Thomas Aquinas, 13th century: “As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power of the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of a woman comes from defect in the active power.” Man was made to the image and likeness of a male God.

The Manifesto authors conclude with this statement: We invite others of all traditions to join us in imagining the great shalom of God. Following are excerpts from the Manifesto:

The Madeleva Manifesto: A Message of Hope and Courage

In the tradition of Sister Madeleva Wolff, CSC we sixteen Madeleva lecturers have been invited to speak a message of hope and courage to women in the church. . .

To women in ministry and theological studies we say: re-imagine what it means to be the whole body of Christ. The way things are now is not the design of God. . .

The Spirit calls us to a gospel feminism that respects the human dignity of all, and who inspires us to be faithful disciples, to stay in the struggle to overcome oppression of all kinds whether based on gender, sexual orientation, race, or class. 

To the young women of the church we say: carry forward the cause of gospel feminism. We will be with you along the way, sharing what we have learned about the freedom, joy and power of contemplative intimacy with God. We ask you to join us in a commitment to far-reaching transformation of church and society in non-violent ways. We deplore, and hold ourselves morally bound, to protest and resist, in church and society, all actions, customs, laws and structures that treat women or men as less than fully human. We pledge ourselves to carry forth the heritage of biblical justice which mandates that all persons share in right relationship with each other, with the cosmos, and with the Creator.

We hold ourselves responsible to look for the holy in unexpected places and persons, and pledge ourselves to continued energetic dialogue about issues of freedom and responsibility for women. We invite others of all traditions to join us in imagining the great shalom of God.

April 29, 2000

St. Marys College, Notre Dame, Ind.

Signers of the Madeleva statement

The Madeleva Manifesto was signed by the 16 Madeleva Lecturers in Spirituality, 1985-2001:


Madeleva Symposium participants: From left (standing): Joan Chittister, Lisa Sowle Cahill, Elizabeth Johnson, Denise Carmody, Mary Boys, Elizabeth Dreyer, Gail Porter Mandell, Dolores Leckey, Maria Harris, Kathleen Norris, Jeanette Rodriguez, and Sr. Rose Anne Schultz, St. Mary’s College vice-president. Front row (seated): Mary Catherine Hilkert, Diana Hayes, Sandra Schneiders, Monika Hellwig, Marilou Eldred, St. Mary’s president, and Sr. Margaret Brennan, who chaired the meeting. (Photo: Rita Koehler)

For further info on Sister Madeleva and the Madeleva lecture series:

Further info on women theologians:

Further reading:  Jimmy Carter’s book on Women, Religion, Violence and Power