Catholic Women Preach: An Interview with Betty Anne Donnelly

Betty Anne Donnelly is a member of the Catholic Women Preach steering committee, serving as Preacher Coordinator. She is a former Maryknoll Lay Missioner, and has served on several boards, including Jesuit Volunteers International and Bread for the World, and is a current member of the Ignatian Solidarity Network Board of Directors.  Donnelly presented a breakout session at the 2016 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice with Jocelyn Collen, fellow CWP steering committee member, entitled “Lifting Up Women’s Voices in Proclaiming the Gospel.” ISN spoke with Donnelly about the ways in Catholic Women Preach hopes to give voice to women theologians. 

Betty Anne Donnelly: Catholic Women Preach


What is Catholic Women Preach?

Catholic Women Preach is an effort to publicize the abundant gifts of Catholic women from around the world in proclaiming the Good News.  All those interested can go to the new, independent website and see and listen to talented, theologically educated Catholic women — diverse in age and ethnicity — offer a short reflection on the designated readings in the Catholic lectionary for Sundays, holy days of obligation, and other feasts.

Each reflection will be posted at least two weeks in advance of that given date, so the website should serve as a nourishing and challenging resource for individuals, small Christian communities, parish-based bible-study and faith-sharing groups, RCIA preparation, and clergy preparing their own homilies.

How can Catholic Women Preach, as a whole, be part of the larger Church’s mission of addressing the Gospel call to respond to the realities of injustice that face our world?  

Most of the women who will preach on the website are engaged in ministries addressing affronts to the sacredness and dignity of God’s people and broader creation — whether through direct service, policy advocacy, and/or education.  Visitors to the website will be able to see and listen to these committed women and access links to learn more about their ministries and organizations with which they work.

Are there specific women who you anticipate focusing on particular areas of concern in the coming months?

Here are some examples of the extraordinary women you will hear preach in just the first two months:  Sr. Jamie Phelps, OP launches the website with an Advent reflection on the need to Stay Awake, to be attentive to the reality around us, including persistent racism, violence and scandalous poverty amid abundance.

Dr. Astrid Lobo Gajiwala from India is an advisor to her country’s Catholic bishops conference on issues involved in the treatment of Indian women and girls and efforts to enhance their roles in the Churc
h and broader society.  She encourages us to emulate John the Baptist in his single-mindedness and ample prayer life when participating in God’s redemptive plan of real structural change.


Participant at Catholic Women Preach breakout session at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice


Marie Dennis of Pax Christi International will explore how we might advance the promised blessings of God’s peace by engaging in non-violent just-peace building.

Krisanne Vaillancourt-Murphy of Bread for the World will reflect on how policy advocacy is a key part of a faithful and efficacious response to the Lord’s eloquent call in Isaiah 58 to share our bread with the hungry.

Future preachers, inspired by and drawing on the rich tradition of Catholic social thought, will also reflect on how scripture passages illuminate and impel us to address issues such as human trafficking, refugee resettlement and education, gender inequality, and degradation of the environment.

What are your hopes for the way CWP might impact younger people in the Church, particularly young women?

We hope that younger people in the Church will be thoroughly inspired and challenged by the women they see, some of whom will be in their age group.  The reality is that few Church-going Catholics have had the opportunity to see and hear women break open the Word.  We are all impoverished by this, especially young women who do not see role models of women’s leadership in the liturgical life of the Church.

Hopefully the novelty for many of the experience of seeing women preach will engender an even deeper, more intentional reflection on how what we have heard preached affects our own faith life and choices.  I’ve been very fortunate to have incredibly powerful women role models and mentors — both those still alive and those in the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us.  I hope that the website will provide young women and men alike with more sheroes.

Pope Francis is calling us all to more concerted missionary discipleship, and we need nourishment for the journey.  If we believe in the Corinthians model of Church, in which each person has been given particular gifts for the good of the whole Body of Christ’s ministry in the world, our Church should provide more opportunities for women to exercise their gift of preaching.

We hope that Catholic Women Preach will help shed light on both this need and the abundant under-utilized talent out there — and help move the conversation forward.

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