Looking at women in leadership throughout the global church

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, April 11, 2018

With the Me Too movement and the treatment of women making headlines and shaking U.S. culture, organizers of DePaul University’s annual World Catholicism Week chose the topic of women and leadership in the global church for this year’s conference held April 6-8 at the university’s Lincoln Park campus.

This was the 10th year for the conference, which is sponsored by the university’s Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology and which gathers scholars from around the world to explore a single topic related to the global church.

Speakers came from countries such as Argentina, Uganda, Mexico and Nigeria. Panel topics included women and Scripture study, grassroots church communities and women leading faith-based social movements.  

During these annual conferences, scholars from around the world have a chance to engage with others working in similar fields and on similar issues, said William Cavanaugh, director of the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology.

“It creates this network where oftentimes scholars are working in isolation,” Cavanaugh said. “They might be working at institutions with few resources. They don’t have travel money to go to conferences. Library resources and accesses to databases might be limited.”

Sacred Heart of Jesus Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe from Uganda delivered the keynote on April 6. Nyirumbe is director of St. Monica Girls Tailoring Center in Uganda that serves girls formerly held captive by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Her work has drawn international attention and she was named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of 2014.”

Often women in the church who have a new vision for helping the poor can face some opposition, especially if they are in a religious community, Nyirumbe told Chicago Catholic. 

“At the same time it’s not a point of discouragement. You should also encourage those women who are continuing and struggling because within the community we have the courage and the strength to do more, dream more,” Nyirumbe said. 

Many people feel called to help the poor but may not know where to start. Nyirumbe has some advice for them. 

“What I always tell people is that we have to be present in their situation,” she said. “You really have to go down to the lowest root of the problem and be with the people in order to find out exactly how you can make them become part of the solution.”

Anyone who suffers or is vulnerable has a lot to offer, and leaders of charitable endeavors must not take over their lives but rather help them find their own voices and sew back together the broken parts of their lives, Nyirumbe said.

Mary Christine Jacobson, a parishioner at Holy Name Cathedral, said the topic attracted her to the conference and now she feels more familiar with many of the female theologians doing work in the global church.

“It really struck me that it’s not just this continent where we’re working on this but it’s happening all over the world. There are extremely educated women who are working to make it more equitable in the leadership of our church,” Jacobson said. 

A sense of nurturing is just one of the things women contribute to the church, she said. 

“I think we bring a lot of the more holistic, collegial understandings of the messages of Christ,” Jacobson said.

“This conference was one of the best experiences of my life,” said Sister of the Living Word Mary Conville, a parishioner at St. Ita, 1220 W. Catalpa Ave. “Powerful speakers brought home to us their ingenuity, goodness and wisdom in bringing new life to their people. So often I thought of the expression for church, people of God, as I listened, marveled and felt my heart burning within me as the speakers spoke of their commitment to the ‘lost girls,’ ‘Catholics of baptized and non-baptized members,’ ‘lay and religious’ and streetwise with whom we are called to be in solidarity.” 

Videos of the conference sessions will be available in a few weeks on the center’s website at


  • women in the church
  • depaul university

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