Rossi Sisters: 3 Laywomen Theologians (Part 1)

Professors at the Angelicum

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ROME, FEB. 3, 2004 ( The Rossi sisters are an unusual trio. All three are theologians and teach at the same pontifical university.

The three laywomen live at home with their mother (their secretary, they say). They hold doctorates in theology and teach at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelicum.

Theodora, the eldest, specializes in moral theology; Margaret Mary, the middle sister, in Thomism; and Teresa Frances, in ecumenism.

In this interview with ZENIT they explain their concept of theology, reveal why they have dedicated their lives to this passionate interest, and thank the Dominicans of their university for the confidence they placed in the sisters.

Q: Theology is your life. At home, do you always talk about theological subjects?

Theodora Rossi: If I answered «yes» it would be unusual, but if I answer «no» it would be false. We don’t always talk about theology, but conditions are created to reflect on it.

Margaret Mary Rossi: We talk about everything, as in every family. I would say that we like to exchange ideas, develop thought patterns, also with our brother Jerome, who teaches media at the Angelicum.

Teresa Frances Rossi: We talk a lot about the academic life. Theological learning is present and it expands our conversations. Often a theological quotation appears in the middle of a conversation that is not at all theological.

Q: Are you conscious that your case is unusual?

Theodora: We are, when we see ourselves from outside. But we don’t feel like that because we see ourselves from within.

Margaret Mary: Little by little we are becoming aware, for example, when we are interviewed.

Teresa Frances: In general, yes. What is strange is to be at the same time theologians, women, laywomen and sisters. Singularly, none of us is that extraordinary. There are families where some siblings are all religious, or doctors. Perhaps we are just precursors.

Q: What attracts you in St. Thomas?

Theodora: That he is an author with personality, which means that he proposes systematic thought, but at the same time can be re-read by someone who reads him.

Margaret Mary: His ability to affect the culture of his time and the subsequent one, and to rectify Christian thought and praxis.

Teresa Frances: His solid and consistent theological system, which constitutes a fundamental part of our confessional heritage, indispensable also for dialogue.

Q: Moral theology, Thomism and ecumenism are very different fields. Do you find a line of convergence in them?

Theodora: Yes, by contrast, synergistic work and convergent activity. Although the three disciplines have remote aspects among themselves, we turn them into transversal ones.

Margaret Mary: Especially with Theodora, because she is concerned with moral epistemology and I am concerned with the systemic assumptions of Thomism. Intersections with Teresa are more rare. In any case, Thomas worked in the Church that preceded the Protestant division and this makes him, in a certain sense, an indirectly ecumenical model of theology.

Teresa Frances: Yes, there is a meeting point between one and the other, at times with strange combinations, depending on the times and periods.

Q: The option for theology entails sacrifices. Has this been true in your case?

Theodora: To study and teach theology is at the same time the realization of a dream, because it is something unexpected and unusual, and the renunciation of a dream — of being able to live only teaching theology. [The three sisters do other work, in addition to university teaching — Editor’s note.]

Margaret Mary: I am not aware of the sacrifices because the theological and intellectual motivation entices me. Perhaps it is due to our education, in which arduous things are always exciting in themselves. Or perhaps it is also that my generation maintains in time the tension of happiness in a plan of life.

Teresa Frances: Being the youngest, perhaps it is still too early to assess the sacrifices and renunciations. Every achievement has its history. Some are the crowning of many efforts, others are a gift of the Lord, free, unexpected.

[Part II of this interview appears Wednesday]

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