2013 Theological Institute concludes at Motherhouse

July 28, 2013 by


Theologian Dr. Catherine Michaud is finishing a two-year commitment she made to help Catholics understand the impact of the Second Vatican Council on the Church and its people.

“And how fitting it is,” she told the audience gathered at the Nazareth Motherhouse Thursday evening for the beginning of the 2013 Theological Institute, “that I should complete it here at home.”

In addition to being Dr. Michaud, she is also Sister Catherine, a Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia.

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Sister Catherine Michaud

Sister Catherine Michaud

After graduating from Marymount College in Salina, she received an advanced degree in sacred theology from Regis College, Toronto, and then completed her Ph.D. in systematic theology at the Toronto School of Theology of the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Her dissertation was titled “Pneumatology of Vatican Council II:  Forward Steps and Open Questions,” and has been the basis for her subsequent scholarly works. She taught at Marymount, and then from 1994 through 2011 served at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn., as a professor of Systematic Theology and Spirituality, the director of the certificate programs in Pastoral and Catechetical Ministry and, for seven years, as director of the master’s program in theology.

For this year’s four-day Theological Institute, Sister Catherine presented a series of lectures on “Understanding Vatican II,” with an emphasis on the 16 documents that make up the heart of the Council.

But, she noted on the first evening, “My concern coming here was not necessarily the detail of the documents, but that I can convey the extraordinary event that was the Council.”

Noting the age range of the 75-plus participants in the Motherhouse Auditorium, she added, “When I speak in churches, I’m always amazed” by the perceptions of Vatican II. “For some, it was lived; for others, it’s ancient history.”

Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council in October 1962, and theologians have since labeled it the most important event in Christianity since the Protestant Reformation. But the “paradigm shift” — a phrase coined the same year — was already well under way within the Church on numerous fronts, Sister Catherine points out:

  • There was a shift away from the idea of “Christendom,” or the imperial Christianity that had been prevalent since the time of Emperor Constantine in the fourth century.
  • There was a shift away from Catholic defensiveness that had begun with the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s.
  • There was a shift toward embracing “modernity,” as compared to what earlier had been called “the modernist heresy.” Most Catholics believed the Church had to befriend the modern world or become completely irrelevant.
  • There was increased involvement by the laity, through efforts like the Catholic Family Movement and numerous others.
  • There was a growing awareness of historical and Biblical context, and an understanding of the importance of both.
  • There were efforts at renewing the liturgy, as early as 1943 under Pope Pius XII.
  • There was philosophical innovation, which led to changing attitudes about our place in the world — as human beings as well as Catholics.
  • There was the end of colonialism across the globe and the fall of fascist regimes, but that was weighed against the rise of the Cold War and the threat of the nuclear arms race.
  • And there was the expansion of technology, and specifically media with the growing worldwide influence of television from the late 1950s through the 1960s.

But even against that backdrop, Catholics worldwide were surprised in 1959 when the 77-year-old John XXIII — considered a “caretaker pope” too old to do much — called for the ecumenical council that would become known as Vatican II.

“It was an event,” Sister Catherine emphasized. “To just read the documents, we can get a distortion — unless we know what was going on and understand the politics and the tensions.”

She added that all of the documents were ultimately approved by a strong majority of the 2,300 bishops taking part — and while Sister Catherine noted that the “opposition was only about 200 voices,” they were the powerful voices of members of the Roman Curia, the administrative offices of the Vatican.

After Pope John’s death in 1963, his successor — Paul VI — continued the Council.

The first document approved was the Sacrosanctum Concilium, or the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. It’s significant that it was the first, Sister Catherine said, because it emphasized the “liturgy is not a collection of private acts of prayer; it is communal by nature. We are part of the whole Church.”

Sacrosanctum Concilium called for “a return to noble simplicity” in the liturgy, and the use of common language that is “short, clear… and normally should not require much explanation.”

Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, is another of the principal documents, and the one that defines “Church” as the people of God. Also, the laity are called to take up their rightful place in the mission and ministry of the Church.

Sister Catherine also focused on what she called “The Abiding Agenda of Pope John XXIII: Ecumenism.” The Council’s Unitatis Redintegratio, or Decree on Ecumenism, uses the term “separated brethren” to describe other Christians and recognizes their “gifts.” At least four previous popes had encouraged ecumenical efforts, but it took Vatican II to make it part of the official teachings of the Church.

As the Theological Institute was concluding, Sister Catherine noted that some Catholics may feel impatient for all the change promised by Vatican II to become part of the Church. “To us, 50 years feels like a long time,” she said.

And the 50-year anniversary of the beginning of the Council may well mark a tipping point, she added. Pointing out that Vatican II was the 21st ecumenical council in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, she explained, “Typically, the test of a Council takes about 100 years — so this is the time when it could be rejected or embraced.”

The challenge for Catholics today, Sister Catherine said, is “handing down the wisdom and the experience of the Council to the next generations. So it’s not really just about 100 years. It’s about the generations who are taught about it, who are involved in it, who take it on as their identity.

“It’s how the third generation embraces it that is going to reveal whether this Council has been received.”



Thursday, July 25

Friday, July 26

Saturday, July 27

DVDs of all of Sister Catherine’s presentations will be available through Manna House of Prayer. To order a set or for more information, contact Susan LeDuc at retreatcenter@mannahouse.org



3 Responses to “2013 Theological Institute concludes at Motherhouse”

  1. Moni McIntyre on May 3rd, 2015 5:31 am

    Hi Cathy!
    I have been thinking about you and hoping that all is well. I would love to reconnect with you. Did you know that John Sivalon is at the University of Scranton?

  2. Mary Marg on August 12th, 2013 10:09 pm

    Catherine……Cathy oh my goodness I was, and am, so excited to find you here on the Motherhouse web-site. I have looked for you in the Motherhouse paper, when we use to get it, and watch for you as I look at the news here on the web-site every so often. I often wonder where you are and what life has held for you. Reading your bio above, it looks like higher education was your calling. I hope this finds you well and enjoying many of the Lord’s blessings.
    I just “retired” from St. Leo’s Parish here in Grand Island as Liturgist and Pastoral Minister after 16 years. It was great and I loved my ministry.
    Carlene and I moved home here almost thirty years ago. It doesn’t seem possible it’s been that long ago.
    We met some Religious Women from the Sisters For Christian Community and decided we would join their Community. We share life with other SFCC women in our area and with all the different orders of Sisters here in Grand Island. God is Good!!
    I hope you will receive this note. Maybe we can catch up sometime. I would love that. Do you get there to Kansas very often? I’d love to see you and catch up on old times.
    God’s Speed,
    Mary Marg

  3. anne eggleston on July 28th, 2013 8:22 pm

    Thank You—!

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