Being a woman at the Gregoriana

STELLA MORRA | Director of the


Director of the "Alberto Hurtado" Centre for Faith and Culture

The presence of women at the Gregoriana is no longer a source of surprise. In fact, it is a long-standing reality (20,75%) that should however  remain a source of reflection and stimulus for us. Embracing the other person in their diversity is important, without assuming that being male or female is the same, learning to face the challenging task of pausing  on the threshold of the other person’s mystery without being strangers to them.

Being a woman at the Gregoriana - whether student, professor or administrative staff, lay or religious - is fortunately neither an exception nor an exotic oddity today. Women form part of mainstream ‘landscape’, and meeting women in the corridors, in the library, in the lecture hall or in the cafeteria is not a source of surprise. We are still a minority numerically, especially in some faculties, but the critical threshold - i.e. below ten and therefore virtually unnoticeable - has been crossed.

This is not simply a statistical figure: it is a reality, a challenging and stimulating reality.

In fact, it is a question of asking ourselves whether women’s presence is a normal occurrence - which it is! - and just what kind of ‘normality’ we want to shape together for our academic community. Will it really suffice to transpose the normality embedded in the cultures we originate from into our learning and educational community? The University that welcomes us all, men and women, aims to help us grow and be trained in this area too. This can be accomplished not only via academic courses or seminars, but also through the atmosphere and style characterising the time spent here together.

I therefore wish to share some thoughts that I consider important, and which I have partly learnt precisely here: first as a student and then as a professor.


“Equality" does not mean "in-difference”

First of all, it is important to avoid mistaking equal dignity with a specific “neutral” culture whenever possible. In fact, equal dignity in no way negates the rich diversity and the appreciation of the non-absolute nature of each and every one, representing only a part - and not the whole, ever - of humanity’s multifarious kaleidoscope. 

The diversity of our cultures of origin testifies to this reality. In this University of Nations, we constantly experience the particularity of each and every one and the richness of our mutual encounter.

However, the fact that women and men are ‘normally’ present in the same educational establishment, holding various positions, prompts us to come to terms with the fact that there is no such thing as a neutral, non-incarnate and contextualised way of being in education. Human dignity pertains to us all, but individual humanity is expressed in a specific, bodily form, reflecting a part of humanity that can only be recreated together. In fact, being man or woman constitutes an irrefutable otherness where neutrality is inexistent.



Embracing and collecting biographies

Secondly, it is important to acknowledge the delicate relationship between biographies and intellectual growth. In fact, while biographies are not neutral, and neither are they merely about the individual - but rather distinguish between men and women, first and foremost, and then in terms of cultures, upbringings, traditions, etc. - this ‘baggage’ that each person brings with them is not just relegated to the private sphere. 

By way of example, the motivations behind a young lay woman’s pursuit of academically qualified theological studies inevitably differ from the motivations of someone pursuing the same academic path under the direction of their superiors, financially supported by them. Indeed, these different motivations result in different needs and demands, expectations, with respect to the University and studies, to the relations with professors and fellow students, and so forth.

To welcome and embrace, inasmuch as it is intended, another person’s biography while experiencing one’s own as welcomed and received, without assuming that in this context being a woman or a man is the same thing, is a decisive step in structural and not just individual terms, as well as in terms of one’s specific virtues. 



This brings us to the third point: to the extent that this is the desired outcome. As men and women who contribute to the enrichment of this University, jointly seeking the most effective paths for learning and growth, the issue of moderation is decisive. The one thing enshrined in the above-mentioned diversity that could really benefit us all, is the ability to address the challenging task of pausing on the threshold of the other person’s mystery without being strangers to them.

Far from being a theoretical discipline, it is an art that can only be learned by investing time and action, gestures and words, proximity and distance, in a daily setting of acknowledged difference. Moreover, it is an art that requires constant apprenticeship, the art of moderation does not regard personal intention as the sole criterion of justice and goodness, but recognises the other person’s viewpoint - and life - as not only legitimate, but also as deserving utmost respect and protection.

Hence, the art of balance as the mean between closeness and keeping a distance, and the suffering caused by the lack thereof, is perhaps the greatest lesson I have learnt in the encounter with a predominantly male environment such as that of this university.


A school of wisdom

Further points could be raised, but it seems to me that these reflections suffice to illustrate the fact that this - temporary and incomplete - common home of ours can indeed serve as a School in the loftiest sense of the term, also thanks to the actual and ‘normal’ presence of women in its midst. 

Needless to say, men and women’s different cognitive and analytical contributions to research and learning is of course an additional element: not so much in terms of their sensitivities vis a vis specific subjects - which differ, albeit to a certain extent - but rather in terms of their methodological and strategic approaches. But this is among the most widely known and investigated aspects - suffice it to leaf through a book on the history of women in theology - or any other discipline overtly reflecting the gender of its authors.

This University offers plenty of room for us, for all of us: if we inhabit it fruitfully, it will become a populated area for encounter and growth.