This is What a Catholic Looks Like By Kate Conmy

The following is a guest post written by Kate Conmy, MA, Membership Coordinator for the Women’s Ordination Conference.  Kate celebrates spiritual activism, feminism, and human rights.  She currently works as the Membership Coordinator for the Women’s Ordination Conference and lives in Washington, DC.  She can be contacted at

In my last semester as a Religion student at Mount Holyoke College I sat in my Feminist Theology seminar with only one question for our guest speaker: “Why are you still a Catholic?” A question I rarely dared to ask myself as I spent most of my studies concentrating on Buddhism, traveling abroad to Dharamsala, India, interning with the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in Berkeley, even learning Tibetan; by most observable assessments I had swapped the pew I grew up in for a zafu.  But Mary Hunt reminded me in such a simple and smart way that Catholicism is about community building and justice seeking. She said: “This is what a Catholic looks like. We have a responsibility to speak this language.”

In that moment I realized I had been resisting something that has always belonged to me. Raised in a Jesuit-educated Catholic family in Upstate, New York I felt less confirmed within the church, and more convinced that we were celebrating a god that was too small. One of the great mysteries for me growing up in a church-going family was the personal and religious reconciliation the Catholics I knew negotiated, sometimes weekly to make sense of their faith.  The dissonance between what was practiced during Mass, and what Catholicism meant at the dinner table seemed an exhausting spiritual dance of ambivalence.  It wasn’t until I began to identify as a feminist theologian that my spiritual worlds converged in a moment of satori: ambivalence is a virtue!  The sisters and daughters of Mary Daly gave me permission to re-claim my Catholicism with all of my questions as an extraordinary action of faith.  Ambivalence means courageously engaging the sacred to foster critique, conversation and innovation in the pursuit of knowing God. Just as Carter Heyward writes, “To love God is to un-do evil,” I so strongly believe that God must manifest as an expression of creative justice whereby inclusivity, “right-relation,” and the elimination of discrimination are central on the path toward a higher liberation. I graduated feeling empowered by women, activists, and radicals who claimed their faith and the responsibility to speak a language beyond the binary in order to celebrate the wisdom of all human and divine goodness. 

Pursuing an interest in the intersection between human rights, spiritual activism, and transformative justice, I interned as a researcher with the Pluralism Project at Harvard University and as the Religion and Faith intern at the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School.  Both opportunities raised questions of the civic life of a religious person, informing both activism and dialogue in the public realm. I went on to receive a Master of Human Rights degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS, University of London), focusing on the human rights of women, peace-building processes, and earning a distinction on my master’s thesis exploring the legal concept of Universal Jurisdiction. My time and studies in London allowed me to critically explore the dissonance between global and regional judicial bodies, and localized, holistic justice processes. SOAS encouraged the vitality of allowing space in one’s research and mind to question what human rights and human dignity look like around the world and the various paths one might take to achieve transformative permutations of peace. As a student I was active in the local Amnesty International chapter and the Spiritual Dialogue Circle, hoping to balance peace work inwardly and outwardly. It is in the spirit of liberation from injustice and of celebration of diversity within divinity that I feel called to tirelessly work for an agenda of peace, hope, and security.  The strongest women I know are Catholic women, whether out of spite or out of a deep and radical love, and I trust in their wisdom.

The success of WOC and the work of championing a dialogical community of equals is a non-linear journey that I am excited to be a part of.  As a human rights issue and as an issue of deep personal faith, this work pulls all of my heartstrings so that I may stand up as a young woman and say, “This is what a Catholic looks like.” It is through the work, energy, and members of WOC that I feel I can finally embrace the Dalai Lama’s famous words, “Stay in your religion and meditate.”  Even in my most Buddhist moments—holding the hand of the Dalai Lama, circumambulating pagodas from Bodh Gaya to Boston, retreating into the fields of Vermont—I held my Catholicism in my being, with love and certainly with ambivalence. And so we dance, celebrating women of faith and performing our heart-work for what we know to be good.  As WOC’s new Membership Coordinator, I feel blessed to support and collaborate with our vibrant and committed members. Let’s get to know each other and share our gifts to strengthen and renew the passion and vision within this amazing community.

This article is used with permission, originally published in New Women, New Church in 2011.

One thought on “This is What a Catholic Looks Like By Kate Conmy”

  1. Kate, What a beautifully written, intellectual but heart-felt piece. Knowing your mom for as long as I have, I know you come from a line of strong women. You have obviously grown into one yourself. How magical to see.


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