Doorway to Conversion and Theology. (Voices)
Hayes, Diana L., National Catholic Reporter
For the first 30 years of my life, I was blissfully unaware of the Catholic church. My only knowledge of the church came from movies like "The Cardinal" and "Going My Way"--not the best perspective necessarily. As an adult, traveling in Europe, I also visited a number of cathedrals, enthralled by their timeless beauty and incredible size, but again I never really paid much attention to the fact that while I came as a curious sightseer, others came to pray and participate in the Mass.
All of this changed, quite abruptly, in 1979. In the Year of the Three Popes, I suddenly found myself with an overwhelming urge to explore the Roman Catholic church. As I was raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church, I found this desire puzzling to say the least, as well as confusing. I knew not how to respond but finally I made contact with the Albany, N.Y., diocese where I was working as an attorney for the state. Soon I found myself taking instruction from Fr. Nellis Tremblay, pastor of St. Patrick's Church. Beginning instruction in the fall of 1979, I thought unknowingly that I would be confirmed and simply return to my life as an attorney, a Catholic attorney.
Little did I know that nine years later, in June 1988, I would be defending my dissertation for the doctor of sacred theology degree in Leuven (Louvain), Belgium. How all of this came about in my life is another story for another time. However, I do believe that it would not have happened had the Second Vatican Council not taken place.
The changes that the council brought about were many and continue to be discussed and debated. Turning the altar to face the congregation, and thereby including. all of the people, was significant--as was the renewed understanding that all Catholics, whether lay, religious or clergy, were the people of God and, therefore, were the church as well. The turn to the vernacular or common language of each local church, the changes in the liturgy to make it more inclusive and reflective of the people celebrating, the recognition of the church's catholicity, or great diversity of races, ethnicities and cultures, were all equally important.
For me, however, the greatest change was in the church's opening its doors, finally, to women, both religious and lay, in areas where they had previously been restricted. I often say, jokingly but also quite seriously, to those who ask about my conversion that God knew not to ask me into this church prior to Vatican II. For I wouldn't have been able to participate in a church where women, especially women of color, were relegated to menial, domestic or restricted religious roles.
After my confirmation in 1979, when I realized that God was not through with me yet but wanted me to become a Catholic theologian, I was unclear as to where this path would lead. …