"The greater the work the more
important it is to establish it on
a solid foundation. Thus it will
not only be more perfect; it
will also be more lasting.”

St. Louise de Marillac

“Be diligent in serving
the poor. Love the poor,
honor them, my children,
as you would honor
Christ Himself.”

St. Louise de Marillac

 

An Unexpected Journey

By Associate Angela Anno

Deborah Rose retired as the executive director of FutureChurch in December 2023 after serving in the position for 10 years.

“Fan of FutureChurch … survivor believer … Black Lives Matter adherent … mom … grandma … sister … aunt … activist … fierce defender of my sisters around the world … political junkie … art lover … roller skater … lover of red zinnias … kickball champion … friend of orange monarch butterflies … seeker of stories … ever curious amateur … God’s Vanna White … pointing to Her dream for the world She loves …” That’s how Associate Deborah Rose describes herself today in the signature line on her emails.

A writer for the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) calls Deb “a woman of spunk, spirit, and hope.”

“But that confidence didn’t magically appear,” she responded. It was born from her “personal struggle to grow and mature as a Catholic woman.”

When she was growing up in a small town in Shelby County, Ohio, Deb never could have imagined the path her life would take. Her parents were devout Catholics, her faith was part of her everyday life, and options for women were very limited. At that time it was understood that her two brothers would go to college, but girls didn’t need further education, so she and her sister would marry and have children. She did just that—married young and had five children and continued being active in her church. At one point a deacon who was teaching adult education nearby suggested that she go back to school. She did go back earning a degree in international studies and a master’s in theology. She describes these times of raising children and learning as “gifts in my life.”

Like parenting and going to school, each new job she accepted opened doors and enlarged her vision of what she was called to do. One of her first jobs after getting her master’s was as director of a domestic violence center in Shelby County, where she did a lot of community advocacy work, provided wrap-around services and helped women understand they were not responsible for their abuse though they often were blamed for it.

During the Iraq War she worked with a Quaker group, organizing people for peace. Later, in Hamilton County, she worked for an organization that provided programs for underserved youth. She was also active with Nuns on the Bus as they advocated for justice and social change.

Through groups like Women Writing for a Change, she gained a deeper understanding of women’s pain of being excluded from “educational and ministerial opportunities available to men.” She saw so many women leave the Catholic Church to follow their calling. She said that while she was glad to see them follow their call, she was also sad to see such a “faith and gift drain” in the Catholic Church.

This led her to work with Catherine of Siena College in England with their online program to reach out to women in developing countries and provide them with up-to-date religious studies including feminist theology. She traveled to India, China, South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, Sri Lanka, and other regions, to spread the word about the program that empowered women.

Associate Deborah Rose (front, right) developed a deep and lasting friendship with S. Louise Akers (front, left).

Mission trips to Honduras changed her life in substantial ways. Dr. Mike Gable of the Archdiocesan Mission Office who guided the trip, also introduced her to Sister of Charity Louise Akers. S. Louise transformed Deborah’s understanding of “the prophetic nature of women religious who pioneered so many ministries to the forgotten and marginalized, worked to educate those who lacked access, struggled against poverty and violence and helped build the kingdom of God.” The two developed a deep friendship and, in time, S. Louise invited her to become an Associate and served as her mentor. Deborah shared, “S. Louise Akers’ spirit is forever emblazoned in my heart. I will never forget our many talks and the many, many laughs we had together. And now, when I face struggles or difficulties in my work, I ask myself, ‘What would Louise do (WWLD)?’”

When FutureChurch, an organization that “seeks changes that provide all Roman Catholics the opportunity to participate fully in church life and leadership,” was seeking a new executive director, Deborah applied and got the job. That was 10 years ago. She retired at the end of December.

Though she believes there’s still much work to do, Deborah sees that Pope Francis’ strong interest in opening doors in the Catholic Church for women and his inclusion of women as voting members of the Synod, the Curia, and heads of Church offices as crucial steps toward positive change.

One area where there has been a lot of work is in recovering the stories of women in the Bible. Deborah explained that “though Mary Magdalene’s memorial has been upgraded to a feast, on Easter Sunday, the lectionary still fails to include the complete reading of her encounter with Jesus, and her courageous proclamation of the Resurrection to the brothers and sisters. Even though she was named ‘apostle to the apostles’ in 2016 by Pope Francis, her sharing the Good News of his resurrection with the disciples is not heard on the highest-ranking holy day of the year.”

During the 2019 Synod for the Amazon, Deborah Rose (left) helped project images of a “Votes for Catholic Women” sign around Vatican City.

During the 2019 Synod for the Amazon, Deborah helped project images of a “Votes for Catholic Women” sign around Vatican City. This past fall, women voted in a Synod of Bishops for the first time. According to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), “colleagues said the persistence, collaboration, creativity and passion she brought to the ‘Votes for Catholic Women’ campaign are qualities emblematic of her past decade at FutureChurch.” She celebrates the fact that 54 women cast votes at the synod.

Her coworkers describe her as “a brilliant combination of spirit and spunk and a serious work ethic to advance the Church as well as being fun to work with,” the NCR reported. “Deb infuses joy into the struggle — joyful resistance along with prophetic persistence.” Under her leadership, FutureChurch helped advocate for greater participation in the synods, created online programming that spotlights biblical, historical and contemporary women, and founded the award-winning Catholic Women Preach project which produces regular reflections on scripture from women around the world and gives Catholics an opportunity “to hear women’s wisdom, their challenges, the way they see faith.”

Through FutureChurch educational resources, many Catholics have learned that “the early Church functioned very differently from the Church today,” Deborah said. “Women, like Mary Magdalene and others, walked alongside Jesus, Paul, and the other men and women as co-equals. And because our Church has developed without the full participation of women, Catholics often leave and the flock is being scattered.”

“That is distressing,” said Deborah, “because the Catholic Church needs these faith-filled, gifted, and brilliant women more than ever as we face seemingly insurmountable problems in this complicated, polarized, individualistic world.”

Yet, in her decade at FutureChurch, Deborah believes that more women and their allies who love the Church have newfound hope. “They’re working for change and not giving up. That infuses me with hope and joy and nourishes my spirit,” said Deb.

She believes strongly that Pope Francis’ determination to create a more synodal Church where people of faith walk together, prayerfully listen to each other, and discern together will transform the Church. “A Church that can listen with heart to those who have been excluded is a Church that can learn to live the Gospel more fully.” She believes.

What’s next for Deborah? Catholic Social Teaching has had a strong impact on her and she plans to put her energies into work to decrease gun violence. She’s already joined “Nuns Against Gun Violence” and “Moms Demand Action.” In February 2024, the board of FutureChurch voted to make Deborah “Emerita” and she will serve as a consultant for important projects, like “Mary Magdalene Goes to the Synod” where FutureChurch will continue its decades-long effort to expand the lectionary so that the stories of our foremothers in faith, like Mary Magdalene, Phoebe, Shiprah, Puah and more, can be proclaimed more faithfully on Sundays, holy days, and throughout the year. She also plans to savor time with her children and 21 grandchildren.

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