This summer two female Jaspers traveled over 8,000 miles to uncover what a Lasallian identity meant to them as women.
The 2017 Lasallian Global Women’s Symposium (LGWS) took place from July 16 to 19 in Auckland, New Zealand at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and was attended by approximately 120 people. Two of them, senior Alannah Boyle and graduate assistant Jacqueline Martin, were representatives of Manhattan College.
Martin became involved with the Lasallian mission during her time as an undergraduate at Saint Mary’s College of California. Once Martin later learned of the LGWS, she knew she wanted to attend. Her trip to Auckland was made possible through funding by other Lasallians from various institutions.
“I was really surprised at how many different Lasallians whom I had never met before were willing to help sponsor me so I could be a part of this experience,” she said.
Boyle, on the other hand, felt that the symposium was relevant to research she was conducting within the Lasallian network regarding women’s issues and the Catholic Church’s response to sexual assault and violence. Like Martin, she received funding from numerous sources, including student life and academic offices.
Boyle and Martin were two of ten women from the Lasallian Region of North America (RELAN) who elected to attend the symposium, along with female students, faculty, and staff from other Lasallian institutions across America. Within the symposium, over one dozen countries were represented.
The symposium sought to address the evolving role of Lasallian women, largely due to their presence in the order. While Lasallian brothers account for just two percent of the order’s entire membership, laywomen make up 56 percent, Martin stated.
“Lasallian women are critical to the future of the mission, and it would not exist in the capacity that it does without us,” Martin said.
Lois Harr, director of campus ministry and social action, believes that women may be able to offer a unique perspective within the mission itself.
“I think, as in any realm, we are all better off if everyone’s gifts and talents are put in service of the world,” she said. “Everyone’s experience can help make organizations run well, bring good balance to decision making.”
Despite their continued presence in the mission, laywomen are distinctly underrepresented in leadership roles within the Lasallian order. The LGWS seeked to address that issue, as well as provide its attendees with the necessary tools to become effective church leaders.
The LGWS had several goals, among them to “recognize the distinct role and identity of women in the mission, especially as catalysts of change” and “empower Lasallian women to have a confident collective voice,” according to the organization’s website.
However, the central outcome of the symposium was to create an international Lasallian women’s council to address the issues discussed during the meetings.
“The priority was to ensure that women are equally represented and heard at every level of Lasallian leadership,” said Martin. “It was amazing to be a part of this symposium because we all had a hand in crafting what the future of our shared Lasallian mission can become.”
The theme of the symposium was “Lasallian women as changemakers.” Due to their distinct presence in the ministry, laywomen are beginning to be viewed as powerful and unique voices within the realm of Lasallian leadership.
However, some critics of Catholicism might argue that women have traditionally had more subservient roles within the Church. Citing doctrines such as having only men serve in the priesthood and interpreting a pro-life stance as anti-woman, they may believe that women have no opportunities for self-betterment. To Martin, however, religious devotion and personal empowerment are not necessarily on opposite sides of the moral spectrum.
“I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive, but it is very difficult territory to navigate because of the patriarchal structures of the Church,” she said. “I personally identify as both a Catholic and a feminist.”
“As a Catholic, I don’t agree with all parts of the Catholic doctrine. My beliefs and actions are deeply rooted in Catholic Social Thought, which, in my interpretation does not align with some of the ‘official’ Church positions on specific issues,” said Boyle. “If you love something, you hold it accountable.”
Personal empowerment remains a topic of discussion among Lasallian women. Similar to the beliefs of Boyle and Martin, the LGSW demonstrated that religious devotion and empowerment can go hand in hand, as opposed to representing the opposite sides of a coin.
“I think that women have long been overlooked critical players of the faith. We are doing much of the work on the ground, and we should be represented in positions of leadership,” Martin said.