Feminist Theology in the Pulpit: Anne Carr

By Caroline Lauber


Over the next several months, the WLA Blog will feature posts written by guest writers. These writers are graduate students in the Public History program at Loyola University Chicago. Each visited the archives during Fall 2021, delved into the collections, and wrote about a topic not yet explored here. We are excited to share their research and perspectives! 


A pioneering theologian and professor, Anne Carr BVM specialized in feminist theology and Catholic thought. She was a steadfast supporter and advocate for women’s equality in the Catholic Church. Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives houses her personal papers and official Mundelein College documents. Born in Chicago, Carr spent the majority of her academic career in the Midwest. She received her undergraduate degree from Mundelein College in 1956, before joining Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) two years later. In addition to other appointments, she taught at Mundelein College, serving as the undergraduate chair of the Theology Department before becoming Assistant Dean and Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School from 1975 until her retirement in 2003 [1].  

Figure 1, Anne Carr, circa 1980.

Her most well-known book, Transforming Grace: Christian Tradition and Women’s Experience, details the relationship between the women’s movement and the Catholic Church. In this book, she advocated for the pursuit of wholeness in reconciling the two. Carr expressed the possibility and the need to reevaluate deep-seated traditions, while also remaining devoted to the Catholic Church. 

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Figure 2, Anne Carr at Mundelein College, circa 1965.

Although she is most recognized for her pieces on Thomas Merton, Karl Rahner, and feminist theology, Carr was also a frequent public speaker and preacher. Her sermons demonstrate that her theological work was not merely for the academy but related to and in service of the church. Carr lived out her theology. In practical ways, she advocated for a greater space and voice for women in the Catholic Church. Her sermons still spread truth and encouragement decades later to Catholic women and beyond. Carr ought to be remembered not only as a feminist theologian, but as a strong Christian seeking to spread the gospel.  

In 1985, Carr preached a sermon in Bond Chapel at the University of Chicago entitled “From Fatherhood to Friend.” This sermon examined John 15:9-17 in which Jesus calls His disciples his friends, and admonishes them to abide in Him and love one another. Carr explained that both feminist theologians and lay people alike struggle with the description of God, the Father. Some feminist Christians argued that the language of God the Father reinforced a patriarchal view of the church [2]. Carr countered that, as displayed in John 15, Jesus transforms the previous understandings of the divine-human relationship through His naming of God’s people as “friends”. Furthering this point, Carr proposed the following idea: “…Jesus is shown as transforming the central symbol of the patriarchy – the Father – with all its connotations of authority, rule, dominance, absolute power – into the equality, mutuality, reciprocity that we associate with the spontaneity and freedom of friendship” [2]. 

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Figure 3, Anne Carr Speaking at Harvard Divinity School lecture, 1984.

In an earlier sermon at University of Chicago, Carr referenced New Testament and Christian traditions to explore the role of Christian women in the church and in the world. She contended that feminist theology and its proposed ideology “affirms a vision of human wholeness, integrity, and community, a genuinely new Christian consciousness that extends inclusion, mutuality, reciprocity, and serve beyond its own causes. In so doing, Christian feminism transcends itself and enables the tradition to transcend itself, to become the hope, the future that is promised” [3]. She underscored the significance of Christian feminism not only to Christian women, but to the Catholic Church as a whole.  

Carr demonstrated her convictions in action in the public sphere through these sermons. She viewed feminist theology as not merely an academic pursuit or interest, but something that was illuminated through service in the church. Through a variety of talks, articles, and letters, Carr presented feminist theology in a clear and applicable way for people outside of the academy could understand. The full inclusion of women in the theological conversations within the academy and the church was Carr’s ultimate goal [4]. She strove to present Biblical and cultural explanations for these views to everyday Christians to further the mission of the women’s movement and enact change in the Catholic Church. Carr’s deep faith furthered her cause as she approached the church and the church community with love. Her desire to reevaluate and pursue wholeness stemmed from her commitment to the BVM and the Catholic Church.  

Figure 4, Anne Carr outside of the University of Chicago Divinity School, circa 1988.

Even though these sermons were not recorded, Carr’s written transcripts illustrate a compassionate and driven woman who sought to spread the Gospel in addition to advocating for the women’s movement. Carr’s influence and work as a theologian extended beyond the classroom. Her words at the pulpit provided continued encouragement and lessons to the greater community and ought to be treated with the same weight as her academic writing.  

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Figure 5, Anne Carr with Divinity School students, circa 1984.

Caroline Lauber is a first year student in the Public History MA Program. She is interested in pursuing a career in history education or advocacy. Outside of school, she loves to read and watch Chicago sports.   


Footnotes  

[1] Robert E. Doud, Anne Carr, BVM: Activist, Scholar, and Contemplative in Action, (Chicago: Loyola University Chicago, 2016). https://www.luc.edu/media/lucedu/gannon/gannonmonographs/monograph_AnneCarr.pdf 

[2] Anne Carr, “From Fatherhood to Friend,” (Sermon, University of Chicago Divinity School, 1985): 3. Women and Leadership Archives, Loyola University Chicago. Anne Carr, BVM, Papers. Box 1. Folder 10.  

[3] Anne Carr, “Untitled Sermon,” (Homily, University of Chicago Divinity School, 1982): 2. Women and Leadership Archives, Loyola University Chicago. Anne Carr, BVM, Papers. Box 1. Folder 6.  

[4] Anne Carr, “Sources of My Theology,” in Journal of Studies in Religions (1985): 131. Women and Leadership Archives, Loyola University Chicago. Anne Carr, BVM, Papers. Box 2. Folder 15.  

Images 

Women and Leadership Archives, Loyola University Chicago. Anne Carr, BVM, Papers. Box 2, Folder 30. Photographs, 1965-1990.  


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About Women and Leadership Archives

Established in 1994, the Women and Leadership Archives (WLA) collects, preserves, and makes available permanently valuable records of women and women’s organizations, which document women’s lives, roles, and contributions. The WLA grew out of the need to care for the records of Mundelein College and expanded to collect papers of women leaders and women’s organizations. Collection strengths include the subject areas of activism and women’s issues; authors; education; environmental issues; public service; social justice; women religious; and the fine, performance, and visual arts. The WLA is part of the Gannon Center and Loyola University Libraries and serves a wide variety of users, ranging from students and scholars to the general public. The WLA makes records available at the Archives in Loyola’s Piper Hall, offers remote reference services, presents programs, and provides online resources. Staff include a Director, Assistant Archivist, and graduate assistants from Loyola’s Public History Program.

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