Women in the church

“The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene” by Alexander Ivanov, 1835.

Photo courtesy of Russian Museum
Published: Saturday, July 20, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 19, 2013 at 6:40 p.m.

The St. Augustine Catholic Church Women's Book Group will host a prayer service Monday for the Feast of Mary Magdala.


“The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene” by Alexander Ivanov, 1835.

Photo courtesy of Russian Museum


If you go

What: “Wisdom, Women, Partners in Creation,” the 13th annual celebration of the Feast of St. Mary of Magdala, a prayer service followed by a reflection by Rabbi Gail Swedroe of UF Hillel. Light refreshments served. Open to the public.
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center Library, 1738 W. University Ave.
Cost: Free

The theme of the service, which begins at 7 p.m., is the Old Testament's books of Wisdom, from which readings and music will be drawn, said Janet Allen, who is president of the Women's Book Group.

The event, which is in its 13th year, is to raise awareness of how much women were involved in early Christianity, Allen said.

The guest speaker is Rabbi Gail Swedroe, the first female rabbi at UF Hillel, who will touch on the theme of wisdom as personified by a woman in religious text. Wisdom is known as Sophia in Greek text and as Bina in Jewish text, Swedroe said.

Swedroe, who recently graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, said she will discuss the idea of women and wisdom as being partners in creation.

“I'm looking at how wisdom is described in several sections from scripture as well as some Jewish wisdom literature,” said Swedroe, who is Hillel's assistant director and campus rabbi.

Allen said the Women's Book Group attempts to invite a religious woman with an expertise in a particular area every year.

“One of the reasons we invited the rabbi is for some insight on the Book of Wisdom,” she said. “We were very excited to find her.”

This year, the prayer service also will highlight the women who attended the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which addressed relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world. Among the 15 women invited to the Second Vatican Council was Sister Mary Luke Tobin with the Sisters of Loretto, who at the time also was president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Tobin, who died in 2006, was the only American woman of the three women religious invited by Pope Paul VI to participate on the Council's planning commissions.

“They worked behind the scenes and had a major part in writing some of the doctrines that came out of that,” Allen said.

Mary of Magdala was one of Jesus' inner circle of followers and was present at the central events of Christianity — Christ's death and resurrection. She is called Apostle to the Apostles because the risen Christ chose her to be the first witness of his resurrection and to share the news to the disciples.

“Her role after the resurrection was to announce that Jesus Christ had risen — the most important good news — to the apostles,” said the Rev. Marek Dzien, who is pastor of St. Augustine Church.

The women who organize this annual prayer service for St. Augustine and the community do so as a way to live their faith, he said.

In the past, the event has drawn about 50 to 75 people, both men and women, from different denominations.

“We have people come from all over Florida,” Allen said. “We try to make it a very inclusive service and try as much as possible to use gender-neutral wording so people can see what we can achieve.”

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