July 24, 2003
I Am Woman
By Blessed Sacrament staff/ SUN contributing writers
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Class examines lessons to be learned from women of the Bible
The intense July heat did not deter a strong turnout for the Good News Foundation’s Summer School for the Soul. Running from July 7 through July 11, from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., the five sessions each included a prayer service and focused on a different faith topic. On July 9, Sr. Therese Fournier, CSJ, presented “Women of the Old Testament — Who Were They & What is Their Story.” Those in attendance gathered in small circles to engage in reflection and a thought-provoking session on biblical women. People might be surprised to hear that women of the Old Testament share much in common with women of today, said Sister Therese, a professor at Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica.
“We are all essentially biblical women,” said Sister Therese. “Each of us is just as relevant and important as Sarah, Judith and Naomi. Their experiences and relationships with God relate to our lives –– they are now.” Sister Therese explored the role of several women of the Old Testament, including Judith. According to Sister Therese, the Book of Judith is a vivid story relating how, in a grave crisis, God delivered the Jewish people through Judith. “Talk about guts,” exclaimed Sister Therese. “Judith entered into a conspiracy with the Jewish elders as a spy and saves her people. I don’t know how she did it –– she single-handedly saved Israel from the hands of the enemies.”
Judith was a beautiful, wealthy and intelligent woman. But according to Sr. Therese, she was more remarkable because of her steadfast devotion to God. “Judith went in alone,” Sister Therese noted. “She possessed many qualities, but her prayer and confidence in God is what got her through.”
During her presentation, Sister Therese encouraged the group to ponder if there are any modern-day Judiths –– women who are steadfast in their faith, even during times of peril. Joanne Lockwood, who attended the foundation’s Summer School session, pointed out that she believes Mother Theresa was a modern-day woman of the Bible; she was a faithful woman who had a lot to say and do, Lockwood said. “Mother Theresa abandoned her life to work among the dying in Calcutta and take poor people and give them dignity. She made an incredible impact on the lives of so many people,” Lockwood said. “There are many more modern-day biblical women out there than we realize,” Sister Therese added. “Perhaps at this point we do not know of too many modern-day Judiths. But as you travel you will find many powerful women — women who can certainly exert a powerful influence on social ills.” For those who attended, Sister Therese’s presentation opened their eyes to a new and interesting topic. While they admitted hearing stories of the Biblical women, most were unaware of their tremendous impact.
“I definitely learned something new about how powerful women of the Old Testament were. Every time you come to something like this, you end up taking a piece of it away with you,” said Lockwood. During her summer “downtime,” Sister Therese, who also teaches a class to retired professionals, brings her college lessons to various audiences and adapts them accordingly. With each lesson, something unique is brought to the table, she added.
Sister Therese particularly enjoys the exchange between young men and women in the classroom when the topic grapples with issues such as gender roles throughout history. There are many general assumptions people have regarding women as well as men, such as that females are considered weaker than males and that the role of females is to support males. Talk about history opens up a venue for discussion between how the past relates to the present. While students acknowledge that this stereotypical thinking is outdated, and that women and men today are equal, throwing out such topics leads them into engaging conversation. Students start thinking and exploring the issues, she said.
“During discussions, I ask them questions like ‘Is the role of women different today than it used to be?’” explained Sister Therese. “Most say that things have changed over the years, but you might be surprised to find that there are pockets of thinking around that still believe this today.” Sister Therese has noticed that the young men of this generation have come a long way to break free from stereotypes regarding gender roles. “There is definitely a change in the young men of today,” said Sister Therese. For the most part, these are guys who are not afraid to say, ‘sure, I like cooking and cleaning’ or ‘I enjoy doing chores around the house.’” Sister Therese said that she is pleased to see the growth and maturation of today’s young people. Though they have moved away from “ancient” thinking, they do not discount the past. “There was a different cultural, political and social mindset throughout history,” Sister Therese said. “But this doesn’t mean that the past isn’t relevant. There are so many interesting things that we can explore and take and learn from.”