Monday, May 08, 2006

Gone to the New Jerusalem...

Over the weekend, Sr Rose Thering -- the religious woman and educator whose work was evidenced in Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II decree on the church's relations with the Jews, and who worked to combat anti-Semitism, particularly within the church -- died in her native Wisconsin at 85.

Sister Rose — who wore a Star of David fused to the cross on her neck, used words like "chutzpah," and closed her letters with "shalom" — devoted most of her adult life to writing, lecturing and traveling the world in a quest to promote greater understanding in the often-strained relationships between Christians and Jews.

As a member of a commission appointed by [then-New Jersey] Gov. Thomas H. Kean she helped write a 1994 law mandating the teaching of the Holocaust and genocide in all elementary and high schools in New Jersey. At Seton Hall, where she joined the faculty in 1968, she established workshops on Judaism for church leaders and teachers and led student groups on 54 tours of Israel.

In 2004, "Sister Rose's Passion," a 39-minute documentary film on her life, won an award at the Tribeca Film Festival, and it was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005. She also received more than 80 humanitarian awards, including the Anti-Defamation League's Cardinal Bea Interfaith Award in 2004, the first to go to a woman....

On a Wisconsin farm in childhood where Jews were spoken of in whispers, in her parochial school catechisms and other religious texts that portrayed Jews as Christ-killers, Rose Thering learned the coded messages of intolerance early in life and found them unsettling. Later, as a teacher, she examined the Catholic textbooks of her students more critically and was shocked by what she found.

"I had ordered the most widely used Catholic religious teaching material from high school and grade school," she recalled in 2004. "When I began to read, it almost made me ill." She cited a passage that asked, "Why did the Jews commit the great sin of putting God himself to death?" and another declaring, "The worst deed of the Jewish people was the murder of the Messiah."

She was in her 30's and had been teaching for years when she resolved to act against what she saw as a fundamental flaw in church teaching. The result was a study of anti-Semitism in Catholic texts and a dissertation for her 1961 doctorate at St. Louis University that propounded the evidence: textbooks and preachings that abounded in calumnies against Jews and Judaism. Her work was published later in an anthology, "Faith and Prejudice" (Paulist Press).

She did much, but when you remember that the same old shenanigans are still out there, you realize that there's still a ways to go....

AP/Seton Hall University