Joan on stage. Photo courtesy of John Capper.

Reflections on the Janette Gray Memorial Lecture 2022

The Janette Gray Memorial Lecture 2022
Adelaide Town Hall Thursday 19 May 7pm
Speaker: Sr Joan Chittister OSB
Faciliator: Dr Judith Redden AO RSM

Hosted by Adelaide Town Hall, Catholic Religious Australia—South Australia and St Aloysius College, the Janette Gray Memorial Lecture 2022 raised funds for the Janette Gray RSM Fund which aims to raise the profile of women in theology and to provide scholarships for women to study theology.

A video will be made available and can be ordered from the Sisters of Mercy on 08 8150 4900.

“Embarrassed and chuffed” so one of my fellow attenders said that Jan would have felt to be at “her” lecture.

Joan Chittister loved to walk around Cambridge speaking with Jan (as did I). Always warm, challenging and provocative, Joan remembered Jan as a champion of justice, unafraid of gender, and intolerant of exclusion.

It was a great lead in to an engaging celebration of Jan and the 142nd anniversary of the Sisters of Mercy in Adelaide. Celebrating the inclusion of all people in Pope Francis’ 2020 Encyclical, which uses the model of the Good Samaritan as a reminder of the widespread nature of grace and the radical nature of God’s action, Joan Chittister pointed to its purpose: “The shooting star of transformation”–Serving the common good.

Engaging a far-reaching exploration of the elusive nature of the common good led to a journey through history and language. All this was undergirded by Joan’s passion that “We need to know what we are looking for and to pursue it with passion.” Such was her address: fully learned lecture, call to arms and fireside chat – in the light of the latter, it is impossible not to simply engage her as “Joan”.

Thus “Public virtue must engage our common vision and shape our character as well as our personal priorities.” After all, what is good for white wealthy heterosexual males is not what is good for all!” The encyclical calls for engagement with the stranger, the outcast, the poor, those of all religions and none. It is remarkable in its address to all humankind.

Finding the common good is a matter of heart and soul. Joan cited Pope Francis with great affirmation:

“Each new generation must take up the struggles and attainments of past generations, while setting its own sights even higher.  Goodness, together with love, justice and solidarity, are not achieved once and for all; they have to be realized each day.” (Address to the Authorities in Chile 16 January 2018)

Common technology, economy and communication have connected the world yet we are still in a world without a shared understanding of the common good. The recognition of our global connectedness requires a new kind of inclusion and since all are now one, so all are now at risk.

Turning her closer attention to the Encyclical Fratelli tutti (3 October 2020), Joan noted that whilst those around ignore them — outcasts, poor, transgender, women — Francis calls for all to be included to shape and share the common good.

But there is a rub — and what an abrasive rub it is! The very title of the document is “To the Brothers”. English subtitle: On Fraternity and Social Friendship.

Fratelli Tutti is in a way a pilgrimage of following Jesus — a first (papal) call to the conscience of the whole world. Open-handed, colourblind, unifying. However,

“This encyclical is also seriously in need of an examination of conscience” if it is to impact anybody.

Unlike most, it does not condemn, but is a letter of invitation to all. “It is an encyclical of which a Catholic can be proud.” Yet, the near full Adelaide Town Hall was reminded, the vision will not be taken seriously until the church itself confronts its own traditions of oppression, exclusion and sexism.

Fratelli Tutti contains not a single world about women. “If men and women are not equal, there is no common good.”

Joan Chittister also reminded her hearers that refusal to change language shows an unwillingness to recognise the inequality and the inequity. Language would be a good first step to addressing the deeper injustices.

Introducing Sr Dr Joan Chittister and noting her 12 honorary doctorates (as well as her earned one), Sr Dr Kathleen Williams (YTU) quoted from TS Eliot (Four Quartets, IV, Little Gidding):

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

A standing ovation is rare in Australia. I had not before seen one for a lecture. We discovered a beginning together at the end of this remarkable address.

Kathleen also began with a quote from Joan and Jan’s personal correspondence:


Indeed. Amen. Thank God for Joan and for Jan!

— Notes from Reverend Dr John Capper

Joan Chittister was on fire last night, I loved it! Her address began with an acknowledgment of Jan Gray and recollections of their time together at Cambridge. Joan found mutual support in her friendship with Jan and an appreciation of her contribution. It was touching! Her exposition of the Pope’s Encyclical Fratelli Tutti was thorough and instructive, yet noted its omissions honestly and with integrity. She clearly articulated the absence of comments about women possessing the same dignity and equality as men. Where are the sorelle in a conversation about the common good? They were clearly missing. Joan gave an impassioned presentation in support of not only the importance of the equality of women in the church but the importance of the calling to each of us within the church to recognise and act on demanding the equality of women in the Church and society in our own circle of influence She outlined the misinterpretation of Women’s power in Genesis which I would like to explore further with my own students Well worth the journey to Adelaide from Perth.

— Notes from Rosa Speranza

See https://joanchittister.org


The Sisters and Joan. Photo courtesy of John Capper.

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