Buona sera!

Apologies for not writing yesterday! We realize we left you hanging just after requesting prayers for our presentation. We would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your prayers and petitions: April 29th was the longest day yet, but St Catherine’s resilient spirit was with us in everything.

We write to you from the stunningly beautiful Assisi!

I hear you asking, how did you get there, and why? 
We’ll get to that. But first – Day II of the seminar: (it’s a bit longer than normal, so pour yourself a glass of vino and have a seat!)


It all started on St Catherine’s feast day evening. We were all hungry, so we grabbed fresh fruit, Moretti (one of FC’s favourite Italian beers), and “pizza porto via” (pizza to go). We set up a delightful picnic on the balcony of our room in the convent and ate peacefully with Lucinda before bed. As it gradually grew dark and the sun set, we all rested in the silence that was the side streets of Rome, conserving our energy for the next day.

After we ate,  we made some last minute edits to the presentation, and practiced our slow, articulate speech for the translators. What do you get when you put two giggling, jet lagged girls in one room, still loopy from lack of sleep, a carb-only diet, and two bad hair days? A very late night.


Leanna awoke first, a providential 5min before her alarm. She took a deep breath and prayed with gratitude in anticipation for the day- presentation day at last! Following breakfast with some of the participants, we walked to Urbaniana Univeristy, arrived at CIAM at 8:45 and headed straight into presentations at 9:00.


We were whisked away for a interview with Deborah Lubov of Zenit for a Catholic media documentary segment. Exciting stuff! It took us a while to set up and get started because of a few mishaps:

  • as it was the only sunny day that week, the lighting was moody and unpredictable. We could hear the camera men arguing in Italian over the angle and position of the lenses.
  • Emily kept tripping over wires. What else is new?
  • as microphones were being clipped and wired, one of the guys realized that Leanna had no pockets. NONE. The mic ends up going behind her blazer and into her underwear. Problem solved, (just a little awkward)…
  • Our introductions got mixed up. We suddenly realized that Emily had became the “intern of the Holy See Mission to the United Nations in NYC” and Leanna was a “secretary for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops during ecumenical dialogues.” Quite impressive backgrounds we didn’t know we had! We re-started 3 times.

We finally completed the interview with flying colours (if we do say so ourselves). How can you go wrong with a stunning view, overlooking St Peter’s Basilica?!


To expand upon yesterday’s theme of listening, the first presentation of the day, by Sr. Catherine Aubin, O.P., examined the theology of receptivity and silence in response to God’s call. For Sr. Catherine, relationship with God is a dialogue and our human sense of hearing represents a person’s innermost identity. When the Word of God speaks to us, how do we listen to the voice? According to St. Catherine of Siena, a heart open to Christ’s love will know something of God’s infinite mercy- something too complex for the human mind but more readily apparent to the faith-filled heart. Next, Sr. Mary Madeline Todd, O.P. explained that mercy is the key to understanding the healing grace that is best appreciated in light of the history of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. At the core of the heart is a longing for the absolute good and the key to our self-hood. Sr. Mary Madeline focused on the prayer experiences of St. Catherine of Siena, Margaret Mary Alacoque, and Faustina Kowalska as distinct expressions of a revelation of the Sacred Heart made to women and their attentiveness to God’s outpouring of love and compassion.

Following that presentation, French theologian and winner of the 2014 Ratzinger Prize for Theology, Anne-Marie Pelletier, discussed the Blessed Virgin Mary and how what little about her we know from the Gospels suggests a great deal to us about the interiority of the heart – which reveals an ability to accompany the inner workings of God through the outpouring of love in the Incarnation, Christ’s passion and death, and most significantly, the resurrection. German theologian, Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz then presented on Edith Stein and her interpretation of the heart (which is both intellectual and affective) as a metaphor for the soul- the inexhaustible centre of the human being.

Next, our parish’s own Lucinda Vardey spoke on mystical love through flowers as one expression of the feminine genius. Lucinda expanded upon Aquinas’ theology that beauty is God’s own nature and that flowers serve as an invitation to contemplate our spiritual heart with great vulnerability before God.


Next up, Emily and Leanna (that’s us!) presented their long awaited case study “Awakening the Feminine in Parish Life.” What felt like six months in the making had now finally come to fruition and we were excited to represent our parish (that’s you!) with grace and charm.

Our talk focused on Magdala: a conciliary of women and men of different educational and professional backgrounds who have a connection to our parish as students at USMC, parishioners, volunteers, or invited guests. This gathering was designed to share our theologically informed thoughts and feelings on the feminine and the creation of a theology of women. We meet monthly and each meeting has a different theme. Over the course of our six-month exploration into the feminine genius as a conciliary thus far, we had discussed the challenge of determining shared language, maternal imagery in Scripture, the masculine/feminine Jesus, Logos, Order and Harmony, embodiment, and Sophia (Wisdom).

Our presentation chronicled the origins of Magdala and its challenges in finding language in which to even discuss what we meant by ‘the feminine genius’ and how this genius was lived out by women and men in our parish community. However, the beauty of the challenges we experienced is what gave us the understanding that the feminine is perhaps best understood as a narrative theology. Essentially, the ability to share stories. Whether it be a biblical one or a narrative born from our own life experience, stories are a central aspect of learning to be in relationship with God and one another.

We highlighted a quote from Sandra Sheneiders’ Woman and the Word, in our presentation that served as a real consensus and turning point in our conversation. Sheneiders states that to tap into the feminine in both men and women, the Christian imagination must be healed. She explains it in this way:

“I would like to suggest that just as the self and world images can be healed, so can the God-image. It cannot be healed, however, by rational intervention alone. Repeating the theological truth that God is Spirit may correct our ideas but a healthy spirituality requires a healing of the imagination which will allow us not only to think differently about God but to experience God differently. The imagination is accessible not primarily to abstract ideas but to language, images, interpersonal experience, symbolism, art – all the integrated approaches with appeal simultaneously to intellect, wit and feeling. What must be undertaken is a therapy of the religious imagination…” (Schneiders, 19)

So, the first conclusion Magdala considered was that the feminine genius can be understood and felt through imaginative prayer drawn from the heart (the affective) rather than pure intellect alone. We were delighted to find out that this tension between the heart and the mind was a consistent theme among many presentations.

This discovery had a distinct pastoral application and most certainly impacted our parish’s prayer life. We ended our talk by explaining how and suggesting that since the feminine genius is not about a definition, but a narrative – we must begin with prayer, speaking first to the heart. This is the core of who we are as Catholics, and inspires who we yearn to become in the eyes of God. Only once we are comfortable with the language of the feminine can a renewal be born in the Church. This is when the feminine will be recognized and acted upon rather than stifled.


Following the presentations, we taxi’d over to Santa Maria sopra Minerva for 6:00pm Mass for St Catherine’s feast day celebration. The driver took a few roundabout side streets – and we almost got into a few accidents…again – but as divine providence would have it, we ended up at the doors by 6:00 on the dot.

As you can imagine, it was packed. About halfway through the 1.5 hour liturgy, three young gentlemen gave up their seats so we could sit and pray. How generous Italians can be! As if the crowds at Mass weren’t enough, afterwards the tomb of St Catherine was opened and made available for visiting. Everyone “lined up” (in Emily’s words, “created a malfunctioning, fire hazardous clump”) to see Catherine. Although Emily had a few helpful suggestions for more effective ways to manage hoards of people forming no semblance of a line, we agreed that it was more than worth it to visit her body again, this time, with all your heartfelt prayer intentions in our hearts.

Off we went to dinner at a nearby restaurant! Leanna silenced her craving for Tortellini with cream sauce, and Emily got her filling of Penne Carbonara. Who needs unclogged arteries, anyway?

Ali, a friend of ours, arrived at 9 to meet us and take us on a walking tour of Rome. Little did we know our night was just beginning.

After 3 hours of speed-walking, dessert-eating, and site-gazing, we only just barely made it back for 12 midnight curfew. The Paliottine Sisters who hosted us at Casa per Ferie stayed up an extra 10min to let us in. Lucky for Ali, he speaks fluent Italian and could explain why we were late… (we were getting gelato).

A very, very tired Emily and Leanna crawled into bed, barely able to keep their eyes open.

The next day (today, for us here in Italy) was much the same in pace. Straight after the final morning sessions, we hopped on the train to Assisi. And here we are now (so VERY ready for bed).

And that (along with faulty internet last night in the convent), is why we are late in writing to you. We apologize, but we know you understand. Until tomorrow…

Buona notte,



4 thoughts on “Magdala’s Moment

  1. Leanna and Emily Present…This sounded tremendously helpful. I can imagine that all the Theologians in attendance were grateful for a “lived example from the Parish floor”. Thanks for these POSTS. What wonderful women you have met and Saints…Assisi is it’s own sacred sphere,remember us all to Francis and Claire


  2. I love reading your blogs, I feel like I’m right there with you! What a wonderful experience you both must be having. Safe travels and God bless you both.


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