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Professor explores connections between motherhood, public service

| Friday, September 28, 2018

The Center for Spirituality at Saint Mary’s commenced a two-part lecture series Thursday evening titled “Theologies of Lived Faith.” This series consists of two lectures held on Saint Mary’s campus in Carroll Auditorium in Madeleva Hall.

To begin the series, Claire Wolfteich, professor of practical theology and spirituality at Boston University, discussed the importance of motherhood in a lecture titled “Mothering and Public Leadership: Glimpses of Spirituality through Women’s Life Writing.” Wolfteich highlighted the lives of three twentieth century public leaders, Dorothy Day, Dolores Huerta and Lena Frances Edwards, in order to exemplify women’s spirituality and motherhood.

Wolfteich opened her lecture with a question that guided her research.

“How does the study of Christian spirituality capture the varied experiences of mothers?” she said.

This question, Wolfteich said, led her to review case studies of women in the history of Christian spirituality. In addition, the autobiographies of these women acted as a window into her studies on women’s spirituality.

“Women’s narratives offer contextual, embodied struggles,” Wolfteich said. “It is very important to hear that word ‘embodied’. So where is the body in your life of Christian spirituality? If you look to women’s own autobiographies often you see a lot about the role that the body plays. You see struggles, you see voices that are coming into being but are not fully realized yet.”

By glimpsing into the lives of Day, Huerta and Edwards, Wolfteich found that these women had to balance their social justice efforts with their responsibilities as mothers.

“All three of these women are known for what they accomplished in the public sphere, but what is less well known is how they juggled that calling with their calling as a mother,” she said.

Wolfteich pointed to Day as an example and said Day connected her motherhood to her work in the Catholic Worker movement.

“[Day] describes her public leadership in terms of maternal love,” she said. “She extends her identity as a mother to talk about what it means to lead the Catholic Worker movement.”

A common reverence toward Marian devotion exists between in the spirituality of Day and Huerta, Wolfteich said.

“Dolores Huerta was very supported by Marian devotion as was Dorothy Day,” she said. “Huerta would often turn to Mary at very practical moments like when her car broke down on the way to an important meeting. She immediately took out her rosary and credited Mary with getting her car back on the rode.”

Regarding the life of Lena Frances Edwards, Wolfteich said her work was directly connected with motherhood.

“She is an example of a twentieth century, lay, black, Catholic woman whose life was devoted to maternal health,” Wolfteich said. “She delivered babies. She melded mothering, public leadership and spirituality in deeply integrated ways.”

Another similarity arises, this time between Edwards and Day, regarding the spiritual experience that pregnancy can foster, Wolfteich said.

“Her [Edward’s] own spiritual journey was very much shaped by her own experience of pregnancy and labor,” Wolfteich said. “And that’s true for Dorothy Day as well. Day found the experience of being pregnant to be an experience of co-creating. She felt this incredible closeness to God.”

In her concluding comments, Dr. Wolfteich said she chose to study the three women because of their unique experiences.

“Part of the reason why I like to look at these three women together is because I think it leads us to wonder about the intersectionality between race, class, spirituality and mothering,” she said. “Day, Huerta and Edwards all stepped out into unconventional, public and private vocations.”

The second lecture in the “Theologies of Lived Faith” series will take place on Oct. 8th in Carroll Auditorium on Saint Mary’s campus.

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