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 is below and Janice’s will appear tomorrow. 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. Part 1 was posted yesterday. You can read it here.
Almost five years ago, Rosemary Radford Ruether suffered a devastating stroke that left her partially paralyzed and no longer able to speak or write, activities that were integral to her life as a writer, teacher, activist, and scholar. During her difficult last years Janice and I learned new ways of engaging her that were academically stimulating and fulfilling for her. We became advocates for her during her disability as she had been an advocate for us. Thus, out of pain grew blessings.
Janice and I dedicate and share with you these two short reflections that reflect our struggle to find our way without her. We know there will be many more reflections composed and shared by others whom she mentored, influenced and touched. Now—in the midst of our grief and sadness at her loss—we offer our personal memories of how she enriched our lives every day until she passed from our midst at 2pm, on Saturday, May 21, 2022.
Theresa A. Yugar
On that day, I lost my dear mentor and colleague. And the world lost a prophetic voice that spoke truth both in the Roman Catholic Church and in the theological academy.
Like many of you, during the past few months I have been thinking about the importance and relevance of Rosemary Radford Ruether’s life and scholarship, and her influence on my own life and scholarship. Rosemary and I have many things in common. In our formative years we were both surrounded by the thinking of strong women. We were both educated and inspired by nuns to work for social change within the Church. We were both involved in The Women’s Ordination Conference, Mary’s Pence, the Roman Catholic Women Priest Movement, and Women Church. Within the theological academy we were at home in the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature‘s Women’s Caucus.
Like Rosemary, I have remained within the Catholic Church with the intention to help transform it. In the U.S. Catholic Magazine in 1985, she was asked why she remained a Catholic, when many of her fellow feminist theologians had left the church in despair. Rosemary told the interviewer: “As a feminist, I can come up with only one reason to stay in the Catholic Church: to try to change it. You’re never going to change it if you leave. So that’s why I stay around.”
On a more personal level, issues of mental health were a concern for both of us. Rosemary with her son, and myself with my father. When Rosemary was writing her book, Many Forms of Madness: A Family’s Struggle with Mental Illness and the Mental Health System (Fortress Press, 2009), we talked about the challenges of the mental health system in the United States. Prior to publication, I read her manuscript and we had conversations about our association with the topic.
I was fortunate to be one of Rosemary’s students from 2006-2012 in the Women’s Studies in Religion doctoral program at Claremont Graduate University. During those years, I learned a lot from Rosemary about how to be an effective teacher, scholar, and activist. She gave me the theoretical methods to do research in feminist studies and then encouraged and inspired me to research topics that I found most interesting. She was also an excellent professor because she listened not only to her colleagues but also to her students. In her life, and in the classroom, Rosemary was also able to hold in tension being a Catholic woman and a feminist. Today, as a professor myself, Rosemary’s feminist methods inform my own teaching practices.
Like her students, my students appreciate the interdisciplinarity of my classroom curriculum and my openness to different perspectives. Like Rosemary who listened to me, I also listen to them. I hear them. I see them, like she heard and saw me.
Rosemary was also a role model for me as an academic scholar. I never heard her speak unkindly about anyone. If there were ways she could help her students, or colleagues on a personal level, she did. She recognized that people have different talents and gifts and she affirmed them. As Rosemary, I aspire to be an academic scholar who is open to new ideas, strives for excellence, and is committed to fostering global relationships aimed at coalition-building across social justice issues.
During Rosemary’s time at Pilgrim Place Health Care Services, I cared for her the way she cared for me during my doctoral program. Because of the geographical closeness, I was able to visit her often. I would ask her if she wanted me to read to her. If she did she would put her hand on the book for me to read, and to keep reading. Her preferences were always academically stimulating whether it was a newspaper, a Catholic magazine, or a book. I would walk her around the campus after lunch, so she could visit with her friends along the way. She would often hold my hand. In a COVID context, when I came to visit and had to wear a shield, she would tap my shield to welcome me.
The most precious memory I have of Rosemary is her love for Mary E. Hunt. Early on, during Rosemary’s time at Pilgrim Place, Mary E. Hunt called me on the phone, wanting to speak with Rosemary. I relayed to Rosemary that Mary Hunt was on the phone. Because she could not respond in words; she tapped the phone and then kissed it to convey her love for her.
My enduring love for Rosemary resulted in my being a co-editor with Sarah E. Robinson, Lilian Dube, and Teresia Mbari Hinga of the book Valuing Lives, Healing Earth: Religion, Gender, and Life on Earth (Peeters: Belgium, 2021). Putting it together was a four-year process, and a sincere labor of love. The book is a festschrift celebrating Rosemary’s lifelong commitment to social justice, ecological justice, and the full actualization of women in church and society. Like Rosemary’s book, Women Healing Earth: Third World Women on Ecology, Feminism, and Religion (Orbis Books, 1996), our volume—published 25 years later—also privileges the voices of women on a global level who are engaged in grassroots ecological movements aimed at healing the earth. My prayer was that Rosemary would see the book once it was published. And, she did! For this, I am eternally grateful.
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