The Catholic Church says women cannot be ordained as priests, but Anne Patrick was never one to take “no” for an answer.
Throughout her career as a Catholic religion professor at Carleton College and a feminist theologian, Patrick remained optimistic that women, one day, could be leaders in the Catholic Church.
In an article she wrote in 2015, Patrick noted that while Pope Francis said the door was closed on women’s ordination to the priesthood, “he did not say it is nailed shut and sealed for all eternity.”
Patrick, 75, died July 21 after a 14-year battle with breast cancer.
While Patrick was passionate about women becoming equal participants in the Catholic Church, colleagues, friends and family say she was driven by something deeper.
“She had a desire for full inclusion for all of humanity, for every person to reach his or her potential all over the globe,” said her sister, Mary Patrick.
Patrick left a mark on her profession, touching the lives of many students and winning numerous local and national awards, including the Catholic Theological Society of America’s 2013 John Courtney Murray Award, the society’s highest honor.
In her acceptance speech, Patrick said she hoped the society would be “proactive about encouraging those from other underrepresented groups to find their theological voices and share their wisdom.”
Patrick was born April 5, 1941, in Washington, D.C. She received her early education from Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in Silver Spring, Md., and went on to earn a master’s in English from the University of Maryland and her master’s in divinity and a Ph.D. in religion and literature at the University of Chicago.
In 1980, Patrick joined the faculty at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., becoming the religion department’s first tenured woman professor.
At Carleton, Patrick is remembered for her quiet yet confident demeanor.
“Quiet doesn’t capture the spirit-filled dynamo that was Anne,” former student Leslie Ritter-Jenkins wrote on the college website. “She supported students as whole beings, encouraging us in academics, in social engagement with the world, and she looked out for our emotional health.”
To focus on her own health, Patrick retired in 2009 and returned to the Washington, D.C., area, where she continued her life’s work until the end. When she could no longer read or type, she dictated essays to her sister Mary, who is now working to compile them into a book.
“She wanted more time to do her work, but was at peace with God’s plan for her at the end,” Mary Patrick said.
In recent years, Pope Francis gave Patrick continued hope for recognizing the roles of women in the church.
“She had an enormous sense of hope in the church,” said Michael McNally, chairman of the religion department at Carleton College. “Things like faith and hope were, for her, not flashes in the pan or dazzling moments of optimism, but the stuff sustained by communities.”
Less than two weeks after her death, Pope Francis appointed a new commission to study the role female deacons played in Christianity’s first few centuries.
Patrick was preceded in death by her parents, William and Estelle Patrick, and her sister, Peggy Patrick Miles. She is survived by her siblings Helen Patrick Varner (Jerry), of Bethesda, Md.; Maureen Patrick (Robert Selig), of Denver, Colo.; Eugene L. Miles, III (Mary Petr), of Ruxton, Md.; Susan Patrick Inzeo (Nick) and Mary Patrick Garate (John), of Kensington, Md. Services have been held.