This very moving story from Buzzfeed, is a profile of Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, a seminal Catholic feminist theologian, whose book, Quest for the Living God, though banned by the Vatican, is an important book worth reading.

This profile is really good, a must read.

An excerpt.

You say Mary is too passive. Isn’t obedience the greatest virtue?”

This was one of 40 questions sent to Elizabeth Johnson by a cardinal when she was up for a tenure-track position at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in September 1987. A respected scholar for decades, Johnson found her application rubber-stamped by every committee within the school, yet still needed approval from the Vatican’s powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Given that she had written an article questioning the traditional view of Mary as humble and obedient, further rubber-stamping was not guaranteed.

The cardinal interrogating her was Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI.

Though Johnson dutifully answered each query, Ratzinger was still not satisfied. He proceeded to take the extraordinary measure of calling every cardinal in the United States to come to Washington to interrogate her on the content of the article. Johnson was the first female faculty member to come up for tenure at CUA, and the first to be subjected to an examination by the cardinals.

At the initial meeting, the hall was filled with men in black garb, gold chains across their chests, and priests at each of their sides. Johnson was the only woman in the room. “There were these men and they had all the power. I was vulnerable and at their mercy,” Johnson remembers. “There was patriarchy using its power against me, to deprive me of what, in fairness, I should have been given.” Twenty-five years later, the recollection still brings waves of sadness and anger across her face.

“I kept thinking that in another century, they would be lighting the fires outside.”

For most eminent scholars in their early seventies, teaching freshmen is an obligation they long ago relinquished to junior faculty and adjunct lecturers. But watching Elizabeth Johnson, distinguished professor of theology at Fordham University, eagerly enter a classroom of two dozen students, most of whom still qualify as teenagers, one immediately gets the sense that there are few places she’d rather be.

Johnson, 72, is teaching an introductory class in religious studies, which she leads not from the provided podium, but from the same chair-bolted-to-desk contraption used by the students. Like other sisters of her order, St. Joseph, she doesn’t wear a habit. Sitting among them in a circle at the Bronx campus, she opens the mid-morning session with a lesson on the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

A nun of Irish descent with a discernible Brooklyn accent, Johnson explains that many African-Americans have historically understood God through the story of the Exodus. God is the breaker of chains, the one who liberates people from captivity, Johnson tells her students, but God is also united with their suffering. “King loves the church, but he believes that when it hides behind a stained glass window, avoiding what is hurting human lives, it is morally wrong.”

Retrieved March 7, 2014 from

This article is one of four about women fighting within their churches for equality, all four are here: