Dr Maeve Heaney to present at this year’s St Thomas More Parish and Forum Dinner

Maeve Heaney

This year’s St Thomas More Parish and Forum Dinner could hardly be more timely.

The presentation, by Dr Sr. Maeve Louise Heaney VDMF, is entitled “Women’s Leadership in the Future of the Church: Naming the Nameless” and will traverse some of the discussion points and recommendations that have arisen from the Royal Commission and the Plenary Council process regarding the role of women in the Church.

Dr Heaney, a consecrated member of the Verbum Dei Community and Director of the Xavier Centre for Theological Formation at Australian Catholic University, theologises through words and music and will be bringing this expertise into the evening’s forum, along with her personal experience and theological training.

“Music and theology is my specific area of research, rather than leadership or what might be called feminist theology,” she explained. “But I’ve been asked to speak about this theme as a woman who serves in areas of leadership. I direct a Centre for theological formation, a field which is often led more by men than women, and I have often been asked to talk about what this means, what it feels like.

“I think the Church needs to reflect more deeply on our ecclesiology and what our communities look like and could look like. The Pope asked for reflection in Evangelii Gaudium on how women could be more involved in decision making in church structures… the royal commission also asked for lay people to be involved in that process.

“The Australian Bishops since the year 2000 have been committed to reflecting upon and trying to open spaces for there to be more balance in the presence of men and women around areas of ecclesial work in the world. So I think, at present, there are many women doing many wonderful things but I also think we need to think about it more and address it more for the future generations.

Changing shape of people’s involvement

Dr Heaney explained that these are not radical thoughts or considerations and that, while the essentials should and will remain unchanged, that there is still a discussion to be had about the changing shape of people’s involvement in the church.

“I know a lot of young women that look at the church and don’t feel that there’s enough space for them,” she said.


“I think the Church is shifting and changing. I love my Church and I think we have a history, a heritage and traditions to hold on to, and yet we need to mediate into the future what we are called to be. I’m not saying the essentials are changing … they can’t … but what it looks like in the future might, and perhaps none of us know really how, and therefore how we can build it together needs thought.

“I think the role of women and how baptised people interact with priests… how they can support them, and our bishops more, and what roles can be given to women to make that task more collaborative.

“I’m not trailblazing something that people don’t know, I’m giving expression to things that are currently happening. And I think we need to imagine things differently. There are many Scripture passages that would help us, but we need more knowledge of scripture.

“We should also look at the history of the church, as there have been women involved in many ways that we often forget or lose sight of. So I think we need to reflect upon it more and collaborate more.”

Incorporation of music and song

Dr Heaney’s presentation will also showcase something new for the forum. She will draw not only upon her experiences as a woman, a leader in the Church, and her theological training, but also her skills and passion for music and performance which she believes are complementary.

“There are theological reasons as well as musical reasons for combining the two elements,” she explained.

“My PhD and my training is theological, but my area of research was interdisciplinary because there’s a whole thread of theology that emerged in the twentieth century that invited us to think about theology more broadly and to integrate the notion of beauty, of the arts, the fact that we don’t only communicate with words… and that THE WORD that we believe in is bigger than words.

“God communicates with us in a variety of ways and limiting ourselves to just words can sometimes limit our capacity of understanding things. At the end of the day writing novels, storytelling, music, poetry are also ways in which we make sense of things, so why shouldn’t theology use some of those tools in order to help us broaden and grasp in greater depth what our faith has to say… which at the end of the day can’t fit into words… I mean we can’t even really name God.”

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As a member of a consecrated ministry, Dr Heaney has committed herself to God through vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, giving her another perspective on the role of women in the church.

“It will never be a majority calling nor perhaps should it be but there is a tremendous history in the church of religious women and men committing to an “alone with God” commitment and service of others. Religious life shifts according to the needs, so the way it looks changes, as it responds to the signs of the times.

“You have congregations that emerge dedicated to education, dedicated to health, a lot of the more recent ones would be dedicated to evangelisation, or prayer, or current issues such as trafficking or refugees … but I believe the church will always have people called to consecrated life. I think it’s an intrinsic part of how some people understand God’s calling. It’s been present in our church since the beginnings, in different forms, but it’s always been there.”

Ministry in the church

One of the questions that is sometimes raised in discussions about the role of women in the Catholic Church is whether women should be able to become priests, but Dr Heaney believes the question itself is limited.

“We need to broaden the question,” she said.

“I think we need to think about the different roles that men and women can have in collaborating together. I think we probably need to deepen our own ecclesiology and our theology of priesthood and the priesthood of the baptised so we can understand better how those two knit together. And that would help us ask the question differently.

“We have an image of priests, and we have a specific image of leadership when we ask that question, but I think we need to reimagine both. So I’m not saying it’s not a question, or not an important one, I’m saying maybe we’re not ready for it… and that’s a maybe, I don’t know.”

“But I think we need to walk with care. Sometimes this conversation really gets hijacked and polarised and people stop listening to one another and I think that’s unhelpful.   So that’s not a theme I speak into specifically because I think we need to broaden the question.”

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The St Thomas More Forum will take place at the Mercure Hotel in Braddon on Friday June 21 at 7pm.  To attend, contact forum@stthomasmore.org.au or call 0416 823 447.

Dr Sr. Maeve Louise Heaney VDMF is a consecrated member of the Verbum Dei Community and Director of the Xavier Centre for Theological Formation at Australian Catholic University. She specializes and teaches in theological aesthetics, with a particular focus on music and fundamental theology. She completed her Bachelor’s in Theology at the Instituto Teológico Verbum Dei, San Pablo Apóstol, in Madrid. In 2004 she completed a Licentiate and Doctorate in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, in the area of Fundamental Theology and Theological Aesthetics, where she also taught for two years, as well as at the Rome base of the Catholic University of Dallas. She was the Bannan Fellow at Santa Clara University, California for the academic year 2011-2012, teaching at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley.

A theologian, musician and composer, she has worked in Spain, England, Ireland, Italy and Australia leading schools of evangelization, spiritual exercises and teaching theology. She writes and presents on themes of theological aesthetics, music and spirituality, as well as lecturing in Systematic Theology at ACU and at Holy Spirit Provincial Seminary, QLD. Recent publications include Music as Theology: What Music Says about the Word, Princeton Theological Monograph Series (2012), “Mercy, Music, and the Prophetic Voice of Theology: Jon Sobrino’s Extra Pauperes Nulla Salus” in Michael O’Connor, Hyun-Ah Kim and Christina Labriola ed. Music, Theology and Justice (Lanham: Lexington, 2017), “From the Particular to the Universal: Musings of a Woman Theologian” in Catholic Women Speak Network (ed.).  Shared Visions: Women Responding to God’s Call (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, July 2018) and “New Styles” in Carlos Alberto Moreira Azevedo, Richard Rouse (ed.) Chiesa e compositori; Parole e Suoni (Rome: Aracne editrice, forthcoming). In 2014 she released her 4th CD: Break the Crystal Frame, with Willow Publishing, Australia and is currently working on her next book and CD.



Wordpress (1)
  • Beth Gibson 4 years

    I agree that we need to reimagine both priesthood and leadership, and not just in terms of women. So perhaps we need to put a moratorium on anyone (any man) becoming a priest or leader until we have thought more about the issue and come up with an arrangement that more accurately reflects Jesus and his ministry??