Marie-Luise Langwald

64 years old; Study of theology (diploma), pedagogy and textile design – media training for theologians at the Institute for the Promotion of Young Journalists (ifp)
25 years as  a diocesan women’s adviser in the kfd (Catholic Women’s Community of Germany) and the pastoral care for women, including ten years as a spiritual adviser in the pastoral care for women in the diocese of Essen.
Training as a retreat leader at the Institute for Missionary Pastoral Care (IMS).
Institute of Our Lady of Schoenstatt.

When my father spoke of “My fair lady”, he did not mean the musical.  “My fair lady” was for my father, who didn’t speak English, my mother, my two sisters and me: “my four women”.

What experiences have shaped you as a woman?

In the family constellation I was the “2nd woman”, the first-born. It was a prophetic gift that my parents named me Mary. Each of their three daughters was a cause for joy for them. My father lovingly accepted the fact that a fifth woman was added when our grandmother moved into our house. Not a quota of women but women in the majority were a reality from the first day of my life.
After “primary school” I attended a girls’ grammar school, which still existed at that time. Looking back, I know that this type of school was good and right for me. The fact that a few boys joined in the upper grades was no more a disruption than the boys in the child’s neighbourhood. The sandbox was not just a “place for women“.
The time spent in youth work in my home parish was also “mixed”. Girls and boys were active in youth work, courageously taking it into their own hands and shaping it – especially when there was no chaplain. At that time the fathers accompanied us and backed us up. They supported us, but did not tell us where to go…
Nevertheless, something was lacking during this good time of youth work. The Schoenstatt Girls’ Youth, which I met when I was 16 years old, entered into this void. There it was again, being together “only” with girls. At that time “Mary” entered my life even more intensely. I was grateful for discussions on religious topics. They were more fruitful for me than organising and carrying out events and actions. When I began my studies in Münster, I changed from the Girls’ Youth to the Schoenstatt Female Students’ Community. Again it was a women’s community that was to challenge and shape me in the years to come. But also here: The female students worked together with the male students and planned and carried out common events.
In the student community, I started to think about my own womanhood together with others. How do I live as a woman? What makes me different from men? This did not play a role in the studies themselves. Even back then, women were not rare in the theological faculty. They were in short supply only in the teaching staff. Unfortunately, as I think in retrospect.
How do I live as a woman and with other women? The answer to this question was my entry into the Institute of Our Lady of Schoenstatt. Together with other women, I was able to face the question of being a woman and to reflect on and to get into conversation about my life as a woman in church and society.

What do you want to change through your life in this world?

The question of man and woman, of what they have in common and what is different did not exist in the first years of my professional life. In the parish where I worked there was the Catholic Women’s Community of Germany (Kfd). The Catholic Workers´s Movement (KAB) had long been an association for men and women. I could easily become a member; unlike a friend, who had to have permission from her (non-existent) husband.
The women’s issue became important and formative in my 2nd job. For 25 years I worked as a diocesan consultant in the pastoral care for women and in the Catholic Women’s Community of Germany (kfd). After training as a retreat leader, spiritual work with women took a more important place alongside educational work.
“Fair lady” took on a whole new meaning. I was no longer concerned with the four ladies. The fair and just position of women in church and society became my theme. I travelled through the parishes and deaneries of the diocese of Essen. Equal rights, women in family and work, women in the church, charisms and ministries, the diaconate of women. Sometimes I think: little has changed in the past years.
Ten years after I had started working in the pastoral care for women, my area of responsibility changed. The Catholic Women’s Community of Germany (kfd) was looking for a new diocesan president. A pastor who was willing to run for this office only wanted to do it in partnership and on an equal footing with a woman. So I was first appointed and then elected by our bishop to this new office at that time.

What do you see as the challenge for women today?

Two women’s issues concern me beyond my time in pastoral care for women: equality and partnership.
Women are still not where they belong in church and society. Equal rights, equality has not been achieved. Women hold high offices. Unfortunately there are only a few of them. Especially in the economy there is a lack of women. This is often due to a career break caused by parental leave and the resulting lack of further qualifications. Equal rights are still not a reality. There is still a “glass ceiling“. Even in the church.
Working together in partnership with different priests has strengthened and motivated me. In retreats I experience again and again that the participants gratefully acknowledge that it is good to have a conflict-free common leading of man and woman, of priest and lay woman. Here too there is certainly plenty of room for improvement in church and society. I am grateful that I was and am allowed to experience this cooperation. It also applies to my work as personal adviser to Auxiliary Bishop Ludger Schepers and together with him in the religious department of our diocese. In spite of many differences, I find some of my work and my thinking reflected in the “parent principle” of our community.

Where in your life have you experienced God?

Spiritually, since the beginning of my professional life, I have found working with the women of the Bible profitable. In the First Testament as well as in the surroundings of Jesus and in the early church there are many “sisters in faith” to whom I am grateful.
A special “sister” for me is of course Mary – especially the woman of the Magnificat. She helps me to accompany women to their own greatness. In many conversations, Bible studies and retreat courses it was and is a gift to me to pass on the treasures of the Bible. I am always fascinated when older religious women sit in front of me with big eyes and open ears and discover completely new contents and let them sink in. My own examination of the Holy Scriptures and many conversations with the Scriptures were and are important places for me to experience God.
Through the themes man – woman, male – female my image of God has changed. It has widened. More and more I was allowed to discover the motherly God. In the Psalms and in many other writings of the First Testament, God reveals his feminine side to me: God is help, fortress, mercy, tenderness, source, affection – and much more. The fact that many of these names are missing in the liturgy and our prayer treasure makes me increasingly sad. And some of the conversations about it also make me angry. God, who is wisdom, has become especially dear to me. Wisdom accompanies me. I can come to it with my questions. It makes me happy here too when I can search for clues together with other women – and men. I am grateful when I notice how something changes in the people around me – into a new and previously unknown expanse. Besides wisdom, I am fascinated by God, the vastness.
In Schoenstatt and in my community I discovered that being a woman means: to receive, to carry, to give. I am grateful that this is possible in many areas of life and that I am being led further and further into the wide open spaces.