Q&A: Woman is more than what she does

A chat with Pia de Solenni


Annie Oakley told Frank Butler in Annie Get Your Gun, “anything you can do, I can do better.” According to Pia de Solenni, however, what women can “do” isn’t the point. It’s about who she is as a woman.

On Nov. 2, Solenni will be the guest speaker at the Archbishop´s Lecture Series, speaking on the topic “What does the Church teach us about what it means to live as disciples?”

Solenni holds a doctorate from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, and teaches at the Augustine Institute in Denver.

She spoke to Denver Catholic about the vocation of women in a modern society.

Denver Catholic: Pope Francis has said that women need to have a more active role in the Church. How can women achieve this?

Pia de Solenni: First, I don’t think that our formal role in the Church needs to be the sole focus. As the Church has taught, women have a role in every aspect of society. In so far as they are present in all these various aspects, they should be bringing the Church to the world and that is a very important role.

Regardless, whether we’re talking about the role of women or men in the Church, we need to be thinking always and primarily in terms of service. If we’re thinking in terms of power, we’ve lost the point.

DC: How do you think women can be more involved in society, while continuing to be present in the home?

PdS: Well, I like to point out that there’s no reason why women have to do all of this at the same time. We go through different stages in life, depending on our various states in life. And, thanks be to advances in medicine, most of us can anticipate living well past our forties.

Most people have multiple careers throughout their lives, even going back to school for further education. It seems to me that we should be approaching the vocation of women in the same way.

DC: How can women contribute more to society with her “feminine genius”?

PdS: By this point in human history, we know that women and men can do most of the same things, sometimes women even perform better; so the question of doing has been addressed.

Now we are fortunate to focus on what it means to “be” a woman (or a man) and how does that contribute to what we do. Simply by being women and being confident in their gifts as women, women can contribute more to society in whatever they do.

DC: Pope Francis has spoken many times about the “forms of ideological colonization which are out to destroy the family.” What does he mean?

PdS: There are various references; the most frequent has probably been the gender colonization which seeks to eliminate the constructive differences between women and men. In so doing, roles and vocations such as husband and wife, father and mother, are treated as if they have no real and true significance. In which cases, institutions like marriage and the family will be redefined, or cease to exist altogether.

Archbishop’s Lecture Series

Nov. 2, 2016
7 p.m. – St. John Vianney Seminary
RSVP at archden.org/lecture

COMING UP: A man for strengthening others

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When the choirs of angels led Father Paul Mankowski, SJ, into the Father’s House on September 3, I hope the seraphic choirmaster chose music appropriate to the occasion.  Had I been asked, I would have suggested the Latin antiphon Ecce sacerdos magnus as arranged by Anton Bruckner. The all-stops-pulled moments in Bruckner’s composition, deploying organ, brass, and full choir, would have been a perfect match for Paul Mankowski’s rock-solid Catholic faith, his heroic ministry, and his robust literary and oratorical style; the a capella sections, softly sung, mirror the gentleness with which he healed souls. Above all, I would have suggested Bruckner’s motet because Father Mankowski truly was what the antiphon celebrates: “a great priest who in his days pleased  God.”

We were friends for some 30 years and I can say without reservation that I have never met anyone like Paul Mankowski. He was off-the-charts brilliant, an extraordinary linguist and scholar; but he wore his learning lightly and was a tremendous wit. He rarely expressed doubts about anything; but he displayed a great sensitivity to the doubts and confusions of those who had the humility to confess that they were at sea. He could be as fierce as Jeremiah in denouncing injustice and dishonesty; but the compassion he displayed to spiritually wounded fellow-priests and laity, who sought healing through the work of grace at his hands, was just as notable a feature of his personality.

His curriculum vitae was singular. The son of working-class parents, he put himself through the University of Chicago working summers in a steel mill. He did advanced degrees at Oxford and Harvard, becoming the sparring partner of a future Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, at the former, and delving deeply into the mysteries of Semitic philology – unfathomable, to most of his friends – at the latter. He taught at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and was pastor of an English-speaking parish in Amman, Jordan. Wherever he was, he lived like a true ascetic; he was also the best company imaginable at a meal or a party.

He was a writer of genius, although his published bibliography is considerably slimmer than it might have been, thanks to the years when he was silenced or censored by his religious superiors. A good example of his ability to combine keen insight and droll humor is his 1992 dissection of the goings-on at the annual convention of the American Academy of Religion (available here). More recently, Father Mankowski drew on his extensive experience as a confessor and spiritual director to pen, with his superiors’ permission, a respectful but sharp critique of his fellow Jesuit James Martin’s book, Building a Bridge (available here). In the decades between those two pieces, and when permitted to do so, he published essays and reviews on a wide range of topics, including literature, politics, Church affairs, biblical translations and the priesthood, while sharing his private musings with friends in a seemingly endless series of pungent parodies, revised song lyrics, and imagined news stories.

Years ago, his friend Father Richard John Neuhaus dubbed Father Mankowski one of the “Papal Bulls:” Jesuits of a certain generation notable for their intellectually sophisticated and unwavering Catholic orthodoxy, which often got them into hot water of various temperatures (including boiling) with their Ignatian brothers and superiors. Paul Mankowski was no bull, papal or otherwise, in a china shop, though. He relished debate and was courteous in it; what he found off-putting was the unwillingness of Catholic progressives to fight their corner with a frank delineation of their position. This struck him as a form of hypocrisy. And while Father Mankowski, the good shepherd, often brought strays back to the Lord’s flock, he was unsparingly candid about what he perceived as intellectual dishonesty, or what he recently deplored as “ignoble timidity” in facing clerical corruption. Paul Mankowski was not a man of the subjunctive, and he paid the price for it.

He is beyond all that now, and I like to imagine St. Ignatius of Loyola welcoming him to the Father’s House with a hearty “Well done, my son.” In this valley of tears, freshly moistened by those who mourn his untimely death at age 66, Father Paul V. Mankowski, SJ, will be remembered by those of us who loved him as a man and a priest who, remaining faithful to his Jesuit and sacerdotal vocations, became a tower of strength for others. This was a man of God. This was a man, whose courageous manliness reflected his godliness.