Don’t tell Mary Anne Marks the Catholic Church is an oppressive, misogynistic disaster. She knows better. And she’s got a Harvard degree, too.
Miss Marks, a native of Queens, N.Y., graduated from Harvard University this past semester with an undergraduate degree in classics and English, delivering her commencement address in Latin. This fall, she begins a new life, discerning her future consecrated to Christ as a Catholic religious sister with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor, Mich. She and I are alumnae of the same high school, Dominican Academy, in Manhattan. Before heading to Ann Arbor, she talked with me a bit about how she got to this point.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: You are a Harvard graduate. Aren’t you surrendering all the possibilities that entails by entering a convent?
MARY ANNE MARKS: Yes, if one doesn’t see becoming a well-educated, intellectually alive nun as one of the possibilities.
LOPEZ: I don’t know about you, but I read the New York Times. A number of the op-ed columnists there, and a number of the news stories, tell me that the Catholic Church is anti-woman. And from other stories, about the various scandals, the Catholic Church also sounds like a dying, loser organization of sinners. Why would you choose to represent it in such a public, hard-to-miss way — in a religious habit?
MARKS: I feel privileged to represent the Catholic Church in a visible way, because it is an organization of sinners and sinners-turned-saints, emphatically alive, expanding, and responsive to the needs of the time, an organization that has been enormously effective in promoting the spiritual and material well-being of women and men throughout the 2,000 years of its existence.
From its earliest years, the Church’s doctrine of the equality of all humans as beloved children of God and its reverence for Mary as the spouse and mother of God elevated women to a status previously unheard of. In our own times, the Church’s unequivocal opposition to practices such as abortion and contraception, which harm women physically and psychologically, and threaten to render them victims of their own and others’ unchecked desires, makes the Church a lone voice above the chaos, promoting women’s dignity and happiness.
The cry that the Church is a “dying, loser organization of sinners” echoes down the centuries; it rang out in Christ’s day, it rang out in Luther’s day, and it rings out in ours. The second part always has and always will be too true. Kyrie eleison. The erroneousness of first part is suggested by the Church’s record of accomplishments and its longevity to this point, and by the new growth that people of my generation rejoice to see.
LOPEZ: Your call was not a sudden one. You explained to a Harvard publication that you’ve “always thought about being a nun.” You grew up in Queens at the turn of the 21st century. How would you ever think of such a thing?
MARKS: Religious life is an institution thriving in our time and in our nation; go figure.
LOPEZ: Did you ever worry that it was a weird impulse?