Editor’s Note: A more formal memorial to Catholic Feminist Theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether was posted here at Feminism and Religion at the time of her passing. Now we are delighted to share these memories of her by two scholars, Theresa A Yugar and Janice L. Poss, who knew her well, especially in her last months. Therese’s reflection was posted yesterday and Janice’s is below. As Janice notes in her post, “More than any deep theological concept, doctrinal exegesis, or other hyper-scholarly thought, she taught me simply by being who she was – a woman – and she gave me the ultimate gift, the gift of herself.” Through these posts, Theresa and Janice pass on some of Rosemary’s wise and caring gifts to our FAR readers.
She’s gone, but not forgotten. She is there, presence felt. The Spirit, as they say, works in mysterious ways. I knew about Rosemary for several years after attending two presentations on feminist topics that she gave at Loyola Marymount University in 2005 and 2008. In 2006, I also recall hearing about her while organizing the first Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP) Mass in Los Angeles. Once I entered Claremont Graduate University as a Ph.D. student I heard quite a bit about her because my colleague and friend, Theresa Yugar, mentored me through orientation until she graduated. Occasionally I would see Theresa and Rosemary at Pilgrim Place when I attended Women Church Services. Although Rosemary was still teaching one class a semester, I could never attend because I was working full-time.
Rosemary’s recent teaching assistant, Linda Claros, who is my friend and colleague from LMU and CGU, and I were conversing. Linda told me that Rosemary and she were doing an independent study in the fall of 2016. I called Rosemary and asked her if I could join. She refused at first; but I persisted and she acquiesced. I was thrilled.
Paperwork had to be completed and we arranged for me to come to her house on August 24, 2016 to sign it. I live very close to Pilgrim Place, so I drove by the night before to make sure I knew which house it was. I wanted to be sure I showed up at the designated time that she appointed. The next day, Theresa called me to tell me that Rosemary had had a stroke and was in the hospital.
Needless to say, I was devastated. My heart skipped a beat as I wondered if she would survive. She did. Life changes so quickly.
Soon after, since Rosemary was now in nursing care at Pilgrim Place, the house had to be emptied. I helped. The house was full of books that Rosemary and husband, Herc, had collected over many years. We sat with Herc as he decided which to keep and which to give up. He had amazing stories to tell about each book. During this time, I also met Rosemary’s daughters, Becky and Mimi, and I knew they did not live nearby. I told them that if I could do anything for them or Rosemary, I would since I lived so close.
This offer became an almost five year learning journey with the “other” Rosemary. An other-abled, Rosemary who could no longer speak, but who was still herself, yet not herself. She was there in mind and body in another way.
The first sign that made me aware of her continued awareness and understanding after her stroke was after Women Church one Sunday in October 2016 when it was still hot in Claremont. We had reconvened in the garden adjacent to the nursing care facility. Rosemary was in a wheelchair covered in blankets, as we were all talking nearby. Since I did not know all these women too well, I sat by myself within eyeshot of Rosemary. I wondered if perhaps she might be too hot. I called out to her, “Rosemary, are you hot?” She looked at me and either with her good hand or her head she signaled that she was not! To my amazement, I had connected with her.
From that point on, I knew she understood everything that was going on. That was her first gift to me.
She presented me with a second gift as I was sitting with her and reading to her from Chris Weedon’s Feminist Practice & Poststructuralist Theory (Wiley-Blackwell, 1996), a book that I was reading in preparation for my qualifying exams. My voice began to falter, so I stopped reading. Rosemary took the book and continued to read the next ten pages. Yes, she was truly there and still able to read!.
Over the next three years, I visited her frequently. I wheeled her around the grounds of Pilgrim Place, or the neighborhood and took her to Mass on Sunday at Our Lady of the Assumption which was across the street. We would sit in the front and she would rock to the music. I would help her stand as she was wont to do when it was required during the liturgy.
In October of 2018, Theresa wheeled Rosemary all the way to Claremont Graduate University for the 16th annual Pat Reif Memorial Lecture that featured another of Rosemary’s colleagues: Kwok Pui-Lan. I coordinated this lecture and could not help Theresa as I had other duties to attend to, but we knew Rosemary would be thrilled to see Pui-Lan and be present at the lecture. The van we had scheduled to pick them both up had not arrived. In a quandary, Theresa asked Rosemary if it would be alright to push her the six blocks to the CGU campus. She nodded in the affirmative. At the end of the lecture, Pui-Lan walked over to greet Rosemary. They were glad to see each other. We had learned now how to get her from place to place. Unfortunately, we had not known this the previous year and were disappointed that she had missed the lecture given by another colleague, María Pilar Aquino.
Each time I visited with her, I felt myself to be in the presence of a woman of grace. An intimacy grew between us as we spent time together. We would often sit in silence. As we know, Rosemary was economical in her use of words, even when speaking, so now without speech she communicated in many other ways that were just as direct. She did it with an expression, a wave of her hand to stay or leave, or just sitting in the evening with me holding her hand until she dozed off.
More than any deep theological concept, doctrinal exegesis, or other hyper-scholarly thought, she taught me simply by being who she was – a woman – and she gave me the ultimate gift, the gift of herself.
Rosemary in silence. We sat with her daughters at her bedstead together in the hospital for three days. She transitioned while we sang her favorite hymns, calling on the angels as they carried her soul to heaven. Now she is with her other sisters, Carol Christ, Rita Gross, Marcella Althaus-Reid, Katie Geneva Cannon, bell hooks, Rosemary Keller, Barbara Harrison, and so many others. May she rest with them in power and peace. Presente!
You can read part 2 here.
BIO: Janice Leah Poss is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Women’s and Gender Studies in Religion program at Claremont Graduate University, holds an MA in Pastoral Theology from Loyola Marymount University and is Senior Coordinator for the Pat Reif Memorial Lecture at CGU . She is a comparative, interreligious scholar concentrating on women’s issues in Roman Catholicism and Tibetan Buddhism. She has a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.. She teaches on Thematic Bible Topics and the Vatican II document, Nostra Aetate. Her areas of interest are the intersection of aesthetics, ethics, feminism, praxis, social justice, activism, international peace-building and women’s leadership. She has contributed articles to many feminist publications and most recently to books@ATLA Open Press,“A Passionate Path of Women’s Active Contributions in Tantric Buddhism” on Buddhist scholar, Miranda Shaw, “Mary Milligan, RSHM, STD: Selvage Leadership within the Fabric of Church,” and the Journal of Feminist Theology,” Women Healing the Globe, Preserving the Tibetan Plateau.”
BIO: Theresa A. Yugar is a Peruvian American scholar in religion whose academic focus is on women and ecology in Latin America. She is a graduate of Harvard University with a master’s degree in Feminist Theology and has a Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University in the field of Women Studies in Religion. Her teaching and research interests include creating counter narratives in course curriculum, reclaiming the native indigenous cosmology within a Buen Vivir ecological framework, reimagining Andean colonial frameworks, and reflecting on 17th century Novohispana Latina woman Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz in a contemporary U.S. context. She is the author of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Feminist Reconstruction of Biography and Text (Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2014), and chief editor for the co-edited book Valuing Lives, Healing Earth: Religion, Gender, and Life on Earth (Belgium: Peeters Publishers, 2021) which focuses on women who embody commitments to healing the earth rendered vulnerable by problematic social systems in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
For Theresa’s book on Sor Juana click here.
For Theresa’s book, Valuing Lives, Healing Earth, click here