Anne Jamieson, left, and Donna Strickland

Vatican appointments in August feature two Canadian women

  • August 11, 2021

Vatican appointments in August feature two Canadian women – Anne Jamieson and Donna Strickland.

Catechesis advisor sees Church struggle with past

As the Canadian on a revitalized International Council for Catechesis, advising the Vatican on all the ways the faith is handed on and shared with the world, Anne Jamieson hopes she can bring to bear the experience of a Church in need of reconciliation.

“I bring the sense that we are a Church, like everywhere, that struggles with a past — that asks itself the hard question of where do we need to be evangelized?” said Jamieson.

Jamieson is now one of four women on the council, two of them religious sisters. The women on the council, along with four bishops and four priests, have recently been given a more central role in the new evangelization by Pope Francis. In May Francis established the formal lay ministry of catechist, charging conferences of bishops around the world with issuing guidelines for the formation of lay catechists, asking the Congregation for Divine Worship to publish a rite of institution for lay catechists and giving bishops authority over selecting, training and equipping catechists.

Jamieson has been executive director of the Institute for Catholic Education in Ontario for the last year. ICE brings together Ontario’s bishops, teachers, trustees, principals and parents to safeguard and promote Catholic schools. Jamieson has a Doctor of Ministry from Toronto’s University of St. Michael’s College, has written several books for Novalis and has taught in schools and at the university level.

The job of the catechist in Canada begins with confronting the hard reality of the Church’s role in residential schools, Jamieson said.

“This is the moment where we have to go back and say we have to be evangelized again, not to be afraid of the truth of our history and to embrace it,” she said. “Reconciliation, especially with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, is not just an important historical or secular idea. We have a sacramental idea of reconciliation — that this is how the Lord calls us back and asks us to be unafraid to say how we have failed.”

Jamieson’s appointment to the Vatican’s advisory body for catechesis is significant, said Anna Boyagoda, the Archdiocese of Toronto’s director of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

“What I see in this is (Pope Francis’) effort to really give dignity to the role of catechist, to recognize the significance of that ministry, which historically women have been a huge component of,” Boyagoda said. “Anne will bring a sense of catechesis as a permanent part of our life. She’s such a perfect fit for it.”

The one thing Jamieson doesn’t expect to do on the council is come up with a brilliant curriculum for catechesis that can be applied in parishes and schools around the world.

“It isn’t about one solution, one kind of way of being in the world,” she said. “It’s about knowing the gift you have to give and knowing the need of the people you serve.”

When Pope Francis urges pastors to have the smell of the sheep, he means pastors must know what matters to the people they lead and what is happening in their lives. Those concerns will be different in different places, Jamieson said.

“It would be so easy if somebody could publish a book or a blueprint or a program and we could all open the same box and take it out and say, ‘That’s it!’ But that’s not what it is,” she said.

Knowing the lived reality of the community is a first step in the Church evangelizing itself, said Jamieson.

The International Council for Catechesis was first established by St. Pope Paul VI, who in his 1975 encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi wrote, “The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself.”

“People don’t have what we might have called blind faith anymore,” Jamieson noted. “Pope Francis is tapping into something really profound and important to say that there is something really attractive about the witness of faith.”

Jamieson believes the key to the new evangelization will be when the whole Church embraces Pope Francis’ declaration that he is a sinner who has been looked upon with mercy.

“That’s actually the Church,” she said.

Trail-blazing physicist joins science academy

In its 120-year history the Nobel Prize for physics has gone to just three women — Marie Curie in 1903, Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963 and Canada’s Donna Theo Strickland in 2018.

And now the male-dominated world of science has been matched by the male-dominated world of the Vatican, which has welcomed Strickland into the exclusive club of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Strickland welcomed the appointment because the international academy based in the Vatican represents an opportunity to interact with some of the most accomplished scientists in the world about the really big questions.

“Most academies are not international,” said Strickland. “So it is quite an incredible group of scientists that have been picked. So why would I turn down an opportunity even just to talk with these fellow-scientists?”

The chance to talk with people of faith about the nature of science also intrigues Strickland.

“The Church has a strong voice in various communities. So why wouldn’t scientists want to work with faith leaders to help the world?” she asked.

In the midst of a pandemic, with climate change bearing down on the planet, there are plenty of reasons for a dialogue between faith and science, said Strickland.

“Scientists need our Church leaders — not just Roman Catholic leaders, Church leaders — to help spread the word that science is a useful thing. We’re not out there to hurt the world. We’re out there to help the world,” she said. “Unfortunately, not all Church leaders are with us on this one. That’s a sad thing.”

Anit-vax preachers have dismayed Strickland with what she sees as a misuse of religion, often combined with a misunderstanding of science.

“They’re two different things. Science looks after trying to figure out how this world works. Religion is a belief system on why there’s a universe at all. They’re two totally different things,” she said.

Strickland was born into the United Church, which she still attends at Westminster United in Waterloo, not far from where she grew up in Guelph, Ont. Her Jewish husband, Doug Dykaar, also attends Westminster United in its other guise as Temple Shalom. Temple Shalom-Westminster United is the only church and synagogue in North America built to serve dual Jewish and Christian communities.

“Wasn’t that just meant for us?” asked a grinning Strickland.

Strickland’s long history of breaking into male-dominated environments dates back at least as far as 1978, when the teenager enrolled in engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. She was one of three women in a class of 25. Looking for something fun to do, Strickland began feeding her interest in lasers while she was still in high school.

After graduating from McMaster she found herself studying lasers and the physics of optics under French physicist Gérard Mourou at the University of Rochester. In 1985 she figured out a way to deliver intense blasts of laser light that last just a trillionth of a second. The technique is called “chirped pulse amplification” and it’s useful in precision glass cutting, laser eye surgery and a host of other applications.

It took more than 30 years for that research to result in a Nobel Prize, but in the meantime she taught physics, directed research and generally went about her job at places like Canada’s National Research Council, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, Princeton University and eventually the University of Waterloo.

If there’s one thing Strickland hopes for it’s mature, adult conversations about science and faith.

“Obviously, I don’t think there should be a war between religion and science. And there has been on both sides,” she said. “Religious people were scared of science. This was wrong. This academy, really in the early days, was trying to address that wrong. I think that’s important.”

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