Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"The 100th Anniversary Celebration of St. Joan's International Alliance" By Janice Sevre-Duszynska

Dorothy Irvin at 100th Anniversary Celebratio
of St. Joan's International Alliance in England

St. Joan's Alliance Celebration of 100th Anniversary
This afternoon as we travel to Trier, Germany on the Euro-rail, I'd like to share a little about the group and its history. St. Joan's Alliance grew from the Catholic Women's Suffrage Society founded in London in 1911, the only association of Catholics to work for women's right to vote. These early suffragettes did not have it easy, according to Myra Poole, who spoke at our gathering. They were sexually harassed by police when arrested and force fed in jail. They were faced with so much opposition and cruel behavior that they believed in militancy. In 1910, 300 women tried to break into Parliament and were abused as they were taken to jail. The Roman Catholic Church, five per cent of the population, did nothing to serve or protect the women. For example, when a parish priest spoke in favor of the women and their cause, they were beaten up.

The three brave women responsible for the beginnings of St. Joan's were Florence Barry, Beatrice Gatsby and Gabrielle Geoffrey. These justice-minded women worked for the eradication of poverty and prostitution as well as for the vote. In 1921, Joan of Arc was canonized and she became a symbol of those who stand up to oppression. In
1928, members of St. Joan's spoke of their need of "losing ecclesiastical virginity." There were suffragists in the audience at Vatican II who tried to work for women priests.
St. Joan's was the first group in Catholicism to work for women priests. In the 60s, the women also worked for the diaconate, made a cautious request for priesthood as well as for a thorough examination of Canon law. Theologians Ida Raming and Mary Daly belonged to St. Joan's. "Patriarchy's everywhere," said Daly. "Even in outer space."

Other women in the movement spoke of the "Living Pix," the Incarnation as more important than the Eucharist as Mary had Jesus and lived. They said it was better to hover around the church door rather than the stage door and recognized the desire of so many women who would prefer to go to confession to a woman priest. Yet, the Victorian nun was taken as the norm, said Myra Poole, even as she was the "climax of absurdity." "She did good works and obeyed and didn't challenge. She surrendered her name, submerged her identity and individuality," said Myra. "The nuns at St. Margaret's Hall in Oxford were not interested in the Alliance."

In the early 40s, Alice Abadan of the Alliance called for social transformation. "Let us not be blinded by habit and convention," she said.

Meanwhile, French women got the vote in 1944-45. As the Alliance grew, members held women congresses.

The Alliance has played the leadership role in petitioning for lay (men and women) observers and women auditors at the Second Vatican Council (1961-1964); the revision of the nuptial liturgy; revision of those canons of the Code which adversely affect women; admission of women to Holy Orders.

In 1963, St Joan's asked for women religious to elect their own representatives to the Vatican Council. There was a motion for women's ordination at the International Congress of Laity in 1967. In 1968, members took on the topic of birth control.
That year theologian Ursula King wrote an article on women's ordination. In 1976, Canadian bishops led the way to ask for women's ordination. However, Pope Paul VI was surrounded by conservative men.

Mary Dietrich from Canterbury joined St. Joan's in 1966. As the Alliance spread to other countries, the word "international" was inserted. Dorothy Irvin has been a member of the
Alliance for over 40 years.

Registered as a non-profit association in Belgium, the Alliance is active wherever there are members, and attends United Nations sessions in Vienna, Geneva, and New York.
Consistent and valuable work has been done with the United Nations (and earlier with the League of Nations) for the advancement of women in the following areas:

- Equal access to education and vocational training
- Economic opportunities
- Family law
- Abolition of child and forced marriages
- Slavery and traffic in persons
- Female genital mutilation
- Human rights for women
- Elimination of discrimination against women

Dorothy Irvin, Connie Aligada, Sharon Masloski, Gabriella Velardi Ward, Julienne Feza and I have been active reps for the Alliance for the past three years during the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The Alliance has worked for the ratification by member states of the United Nations' "Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women," the "Convention for the suppression of Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of Others," and the "Convention on the Rights of the Child." Since 1966 the U.S. Members of the Alliance have supported the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

St. Joan of Arc is recognized as having played a determining role in forming the concept of national sovereignty, a concept essential to the work of the UN today. See

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