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Vatican names first woman rector of pontifical university in Rome

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VATICAN CITY — The Congregation for Catholic Education has named Angeline Franciscan Sister Mary Melone, 49, to a three-year term as rector of Rome’s Pontifical Antonianum University, making her the first woman to head a pontifical university in Rome.

The Antonianum is run by the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscan fathers and brothers, and offers degrees in canon law, theology, philosophy, biblical studies and archaeology, Franciscan spirituality and medieval studies.

Father Michael Perry, minister general of the Franciscans and grand chancellor of the Antonianum, issued a statement in early July congratulating Sister Melone and “sharing with conviction the confidence expressed” in her by the education congregation. He said he was certain “the daring novelty of this appointment will open new horizons for the life and academic activities of the Franciscan institute of study and research.”

In 2011, Sister Melone’s all-male colleagues elected her the first woman dean of a theology department at a pontifical university in Rome. She earned her doctorate in theology at the Antonianium in 2000 and served as president of its religious studies department in both the 2001-02 and 2007-08 academic years.

She also is president of the Italian Society for Theological Research.

In an interview with the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, after she was elected dean of theology in 2011, Sister Melone was asked what she thought about “feminist theology” or “women’s theology.”

“I’m against these kinds of labels,” she said, even if “perhaps in the past there was a reason” women theologians had to assert themselves. “Certainly, much more room for women must be guaranteed.”

Still, Sister Melone said, it is true that each person brings their own sensibilities and experience to their theological research.

“The way one approaches mystery, the way a woman reflects on what this mystery reveals, certainly is different from the way a man does.”

Rather than demanding that men in the church allow more women to study theology, she said, women’s religious orders and laywomen must see the importance of such study and dedicate themselves to it “because it is a treasure. Theology done by women is done by women; you cannot say it is not distinguishable. However, it is about complementarity and richness rather than opposition and claiming space.”