Sr. Anne E. Patrick, feminist theologian and former president of CTSA, remembered for 'deep and secure faith'

Anne E. Patrick, 75, a feminist theologian and Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, who died July 21 in Silver Spring, Md., was remembered by her colleagues and friends for quiet activism and scholarship on behalf of women in the church.

Patrick, a prolific author and retired professor of theology at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, had recurrences of breast cancer over a 14-year period. She was also a contributor to Global Sisters Report.

"Her interest was in finding ways women could have access and make their contributions in the theological world," Sr. Patricia Parachini, a member of Patrick's religious community and friend since they attended St. Michael's Parish School together in Silver Spring, told GSR.

Patrick, the oldest in a family of six sisters, "was surrounded by a community of care all her life," said Parachini.

Patrick was the William H. Laird Professor of Religion and the Liberal Arts at Carleton and was the author of Conscience and Calling: Ethical Reflections on Catholic Women. She focused on feminist theology, religion and literature. She also published two influential monographs, Liberating Conscience: Feminist Explorations in Catholic Moral Theology and Women, Conscience, and the Creative Process.

She was also a director of the Society of Christian Ethics, an editor for the Religious Book Club, and a columnist for Liturgy. She was a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA), and a founding vice-president of the International Network of Societies for Catholic Theology. Patrick was an organizer of the 1975 Women's Ordination Conference.

In an address to the CTSA after receiving the 2013 John Courtney Murray Award from the group, Patrick noted that she was inspired to study theology after spending a 30-day retreat reading the documents of Vatican II and hearing theologian Monika Hellwig.

Patrick earned master's and doctorate degrees from the University of Chicago. Her graduate studies focused on the connection between theology and literature.

In an address to the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) in March 2014, Patrick expressed optimism that women would one day be ordained as Catholic priests.

She noted that while Pope Francis has said the door was closed on women's ordination to the priesthood, "he did not say the door was sealed in concrete for all eternity." She said that change remained possible.

Mary Hunt of WATER said that Patrick was a determined advocate for women's ordination.

"In her own scholarly work she made a strong case for substantive structural change to include women in every facet of Church life. Her position was crystal clear. Even toward the end of her life, while dealing with serious health problems, she made the enormous effort to participate in the Women's Ordination Worldwide/Women's Ordination Conference anniversary gathering in Philadelphia in September 2015," said Hunt.

"She knew that ideas are important, but more important than ideas are the people who carry them. Anne never wrote off anyone, even those who would stand in the way of what she thought ought to change," Hunt noted.

Mercy Sr. Mary Aquin O'Neill, a theologian colleague who also contributes to GSR, noted that Patrick will be remembered for "her ability to present advances in moral theology to a general audience in creative ways."

Friends remembered Patrick as an accomplished pianist who performed for patients, staff and visitors at Georgetown University Hospital where she received treatments.

Susan Ross, a friend and theology professor at Loyola University Chicago, said that she and Patrick worked together on a complex classic Schubert piano piece early this year.

"We spent a few hours working through the piece when she visited, and it remained a wonderful memory for both of us. I think this shows her determination, since some of her cancer treatments affected her hands — at one point, she had to wear cotton gloves. . . . She had a great attention to detail, and this carried over into her music as well as her theology."

Another theology academic colleague, Lisa Cahill of Boston College, described Patrick as "serene and strong."

"She had a deep and secure faith not often on public display but an inspiration to those who knew her. Her scholarship on literature was one source of her wisdom and embodied her insight. As a theologian she was an advocate for women and brought to that commitment an acute mind and nuanced, incisive analysis," said Cahill.

Parachini said that her friend's struggle with breast cancer resulted in a commitment to scientific research. Patrick donated her body to science in the interest of advancing knowledge about cancer.

A memorial Mass will be held on Sept. 10 at 11 a.m. at Annunciation Church in Washington, D.C. An additional memorial service will be held at Carleton on Saturday, Oct. 29, at 2 p.m. in Skinner Chapel.

[Peter Feuerherd is a professor of communications and journalism at St. John's University in New York and contributor to NCR's Field Hospital blog.]