Sister M. Isabell Naumann

President of the Catholic Institute of Sydney –the Ecclesiastical Faculty for Australia, New Zealand and Oceania– and Professor Ordinarius for Systematic Theology, also an Adjunct Professor in Systematic Theology at the University of Notre Dame, Australia.

Having lectured in the USA, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Italy and Germany, she serves on various national and international academic boards and councils including the Pontifical Council for Culture, Rome. Member of the Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary where she holds the position of province vicar for Australia and the Philippines.

What experiences have shaped you as a woman?

Evidently, as a Schoenstatt Sister of Mary, it is the covenant-relationship with the Blessed Mother who as the Immaculata –as the woman who in her human response relates perfectly to the plan of God– has shaped my anthropological concept, and in particular that of true womanhood.  Furthermore, already before entering our community and later within my community, I had and have excellent examples of women who tangibly represented Immaculata qualities, true feminine dignity, and authentic leadership. Within my professional life too, I was privileged to experience genuine feminine leadership.  

What do you see as the challenge for women today?

My principal answer is that the woman has to come into her own, to be who she really is!

It is always the concrete human person (as imago Dei), in her/his distinctness and dignity, who is addressed by God and is able to give a unique answer to God – to accept God’s gift of freedom which is the ability to either affirm or deny the ultimate truth of creation and self.

If this dignity is the starting point, then a woman cannot be defined by her role as wife nor by her role as mother, friend, partner, colleague, competitor, or even as cheap labour…She transcends all these roles. “Her value does not depend on whether she fits into one or several of these roles and does justice to them. Her value is determined by the God from whom she comes and for whom she exists.

This concerns each and every woman, independently of the cultural context in which she lives, and independently of her spiritual, psychological and physical characteristics, as for example, age, education, health, works, and whether she is married or single.”(MD 29)

The nature of woman in relation to man is one of equality and one of difference, but a difference that in no way compromises that equality, moreover, it bears positive implications for a theology of complementarity and the genius of man and of woman.

To safeguard her dignity is not only the woman’s responsibility but is also a task given to the man (MD 14) since, due to the anthropological truth that both are created in the image of the Trinity, they are oriented toward each other for communion and complementarity (MD 7), a harmonious fruitful integration based on a respectful recognition of different charismas given to each other.

Wherever the qualities present in woman’s character, are suppressed, ignored or rejected, the charisma of woman is missing and we can speak of a one‑sided underdeveloped humanity in Church and society.
It is important that to the various areas of life in society in which she works woman is privileged to bring the human quality of sensitivity and concern, which is uniquely hers, and with it the task of assuring the moral dimension of culture, the dimension, namely of a culture worthy of the person, of one’s personal and social life.

On principle, there is no profession that women cannot carry out, for in the words of Edith Stein, “no woman is solely a ‘woman,’ however each woman is unique and possesses an individual disposition in the same way as men. This particular disposition determines the competence for this or that profession, artistic, scientific, technical etc.” Yet she points out that there are certain professions in which the female particularity is especially needed and actualized.

Woman’s call is that of giving life in all spheres of life, in other words: (spiritual) motherliness. It is an animating task and is characteristic of every woman. This is the charisma which she carries into life, be it in positions within the secular world or in the Church, in scientific fields or in the family. Wherever a woman governs, leads and directs, she does it as an animator, that is her charisma and by acting in this capacity she can contribute towards the change of our present day civilization from a degraded, often brutalized and soulless society into a community which is based on respectful recognition of each others dignity and distinct roles.

As regards the Church (discounting the discussion of women and priesthood), besides the need for robust theological reflection in consideration of the question of authority and power in ecclesial governance, it is for me above all a question of the acknowledgment in theory of the active and responsible presence of woman in the Church and that this must be realized in practice on all levels, as for example:

The appointment of women to senior advisory and decision-making ecclesial bodies and agencies, exercising co-responsibility with bishops, priests and religious, including representation on diocesan financial councils; that women take a critical role in relation to the selection and formation of seminarians and participate in the evaluation team deciding suitability for ordination as well as in the accompanying discernment that is required before a candidate is put forward for ordination;

that bishops are to include women when consulting with the college of consultors or a clergy appointments panel when making changes with regard to clergy; that suitably qualified lay people, especially women, be encouraged to exercise functions as judges in ecclesiastical marriage and penal cases and education opportunities be provided to expand the range of persons able to do so.

The history and gifts of women to the Church (both religious and secular) which have simultaneously been prophetic and problematic stretch from conservative submissiveness to intelligent contemplative resistance and innovativeness.

My personal experience of women’s leadership in the Church is one of light and shadow. It is all too often the case that women in theology, particularly in senior positions, need to be twice as good as their mainly male colleagues to stand any chance of being heard or taken seriously. Recognition is too often marked by polite but patronising astonishment, and the possibility of spending one’s life serving the Christian message in significant senior ecclesiastical positions or pastoral responsibilities is limited and ever fragile. Underpinning these experiences, one may also find subtle cultural presuppositions towards women and their so-called “predestined” place …

In my present position as President of the Catholic Institute of Sydney, I am responsible for one of the oldest tertiary educational institutions in our country.

Students come from a diversity of cultures and backgrounds and include seminarians, teachers, pastoral workers, and many others keen to deepen their understanding of the faith and to explore the way it is lived in contemporary society.

An important aspect of my role is that of promoting and fostering genuine dialogue between all concerned, and so help facilitate the change from an argument and debate culture to a dialogue culture. Dialogue not simply as an exchange of ideas but as an exchange of gifts (Ut unum sint, 28).

After the example of our Founder, I see it as my task to recognize, foster and further these gifts in others for the good of others. It is the beautiful task of engendering and nurturing the God-given image in the other– after and with the help of Mary, the Immaculata, the ordered harmonious personality, in whom we find the exemplar of what it means to be “a new creation in Christ.” 

For me, the Immaculata not only points to a beautiful beginning that originates from God who is faithful but a beginning with the end in view (in Mary’s case the Assumption). God always envisages the whole. Mary’s attitude becomes foundational for the Church for in her, the whole Church sees what she is and what she is called to be: the People of God has a Marian profile.