First Woman Ever Appointed Rector of a Pontifical University

Says Church Doesn’t Need Gender Quotas to Grow, But Collaboration

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For the first time in the Church’s history, a woman has been appointed to head a pontifical university.

The Congregation for Catholic Education, headed by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, chose Sister Mary Melone to head the Pontifical University Antonianum, run by the Order of Friars Minor.

Considered an expert on Saint Anthony of Padua, Sr. Mary was also the first woman to obtain a permanent position as a professor on the theology faculty of the Roman university, as well as its first female dean, according to the website Vatican Insider.  

Born in La Spezia in 1964, Maria Domenica (her birth name) would finish school specializing in classics. She joined the Franciscan Sisters of Blessed Angelina, taking temporary vows in 1986 and professing perpetual vows in 1991.

She is currently president of the Italian society for theological research and former head of the Higher Institute of Religious Sciences “Redemptor Hominis.” Sr. Mary has also held numerous leading roles in academia, and has published many articles and essays.

The Church “doesn’t need gender quotas” to grow, but rather “collaboration,” she said in a 2011 interview with L’Osservatore Romano, published on the occasion of her election as the university’s dean of theology.

In response to being asked about the “label” of “female theology,” she said that although “more space definitely needs to be given to women,” the “reference to female theology does not really fit with my vision of things: all that exists is theology.” Although she noted that different sensitivities can enhance theological study, she said the way a woman approaches it while “certainly different,” “does not contrast” with a man’s.

Regarding the role of women in the Church, she said: “A reflection on this cannot be commensurate to the Church’s age, as this reflects a development of thought that has gone on for hundreds of years.” She added, “I don’t like comparisons although I recognize that in the past there may have been a reason for making comparisons.”  

“A great deal more can be done, but there is change, you can see it, feel it. I think that, my case aside, the election of a woman in a pontifical university is also proof of this,” she said.

Calling women to act, she said, “I believe this depends a great deal on us women, too,” adding: “It is us who should get the ball rolling.” (D.C.L)

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