Mary T. Rattigan, CSJP
died: July 17, 2005
Mary Rattigan was a member of the Catholic Theological Society of America for many years. Some of you have a shared history with her while others do not know her name or her face. But, she is typical of all of us—student, teacher, scholar and theologian.
Mary died the morning of Sunday July 17, 2005.
Less than a month before her death, Mary sent me a card that contained the following quotation: “May you serve Wisdom in the ordinary and extraordinary moments of your life.” Looking back now, that quotation typifies her life. In that card Mary wrote, “My progress now doesn’t look good, but I’m not giving up all hope.” That idea also reflects the woman she was.
Born on May 14, 1933 in the Bronx of a large Irish Catholic family Mary enjoyed seventy-two full years of life! Mary entered the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Peace and received a solid Dominican education. Mary and I were both students at Caldwell College in the Sister Formation program in the 1960’s. Mary graduated in 1964 with a BA in English. She went on to study theology at Providence College and, in 1965, she received an MA in Religious Studies. Mary then went to the Jesuits to sharpen her skills. She earned a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology in 1973 from Fordham University. Her dissertation, “Christianity and Process Thought: The Decisiveness of Jesus Christ in the Thought of Bernard E. Meland, W. Norman Pittenger, and Daniel Day Williams”, was directed by Ewert Cousins.
A former classmate from Fordham tells the story that Mary’s doctoral defense was so superb, that her readers sat and talked among themselves before telling her that she passed. They did not want to make it appear too easy! Mary continued to make it look easy. During a sabbatical in fall 1995, Mary took two courses at Berkeley: “The Spirituality St. John of the Cross” and “The Psalms”. She received six credits and A for both courses.
As with most of us, it was time now to give back - to teach. She began teaching theology as an adjunct at St. Francis College in Brooklyn and Dominican College in Blauvelt. Eventually she accepted a full time teaching position at St. John’s University in Jamaica and in 1988 she returned to her alma mater, Caldwell College. While at Caldwell, she earned tenure, rank of full professor, and succeeded Sister Maura Campbell, OP as chairperson of the Department of Religious Studies/Philosophy.
Besides teaching, Mary served Wisdom in her many scholarly articles. Her latest article “Korean Women Theologians: From Han to Empowerment” was published in Women & Theology, Orbis Press, (October 1995). Mary also shared her passion for doing theology in study abroad. For many summers she and Caldwell College students, together with Father Tony Ciorra and students from the College of St. Elizabeth, enjoyed travel study experiences in Israel, Greece, etc.
Mary was active in many professional organizations: American Academy of Religion; Catholic Theological Society of America; College Theology Society (NY/NJ Region Secretary / Treasurer 1983-1985); North American Academy of Ecumenists;
Theta Alpha Kappa (National Board of TAK 1991-1996). On the local level, Mary was the Moderator of Gamma Charter Chapter of Theta Alpha Kappa at Caldwell College; a member of the Ecumenical/Interreligious Commission of the Archdiocese of Newark; a member of the Board of Trustees at Holy Name Hospital.
In 1996 Mary resigned from teaching because she was elected Leader of the Eastern Province of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Her six year term began January 1, 1997. Her gifts were now at the service of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and their ministry to Church and World. At the end of her term, Mary enjoyed a year long sabbatical that included time for spiritual renewal and travel. She planned to return to teaching as an adjunct at Caldwell College. But then, Mary was diagnosed with a malignant growth in her heart.
While Mary freely shared her passion for theology, she was an extremely private woman. She was the consummate professional. She definitely was not a “touchy feely person” but, she did enjoy a glass of scotch. As Sister Maureen Collin said “Mary was a factual, no-nonsense woman who got things done.”
Yes, we remember Mary Rattigan as a student, classmate, scholar, teacher, colleague, friend, and theologian. Mary truly studied what she believed, taught what she studied, but more importantly, lived what she taught! And she always made it look so easy!
Mary, may you continue to serve Wisdom in the extraordinary moments of your eternal life!
Barbara C. Krug, OP
Caldwell, New Jersey