Lay Women Study at Pontifical Universities

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An interview with Laura Ieraci - Lay Centre alumna 2011-2013

Lay Women Study at Pontifical Universities

Laura Ieraci, journalist and communications professional, also leads a ministry that teaches personal finance based on biblical principles.


What was your area of study and which pontifical university did you choose and why?

I was giving seminars in Montreal, my hometown, on theology and communications at conferences, in parishes and university settings, while working in Catholic media and communications, when a friend suggested I attend a theology and communications conference in Rome. There, I met the dean of the communications department at the Pontifical Gregorian University. In speaking with him about my seminars, he invited me to apply for graduate studies and to present a paper at a conference in Chile, where I was again encouraged to apply to the Gregorian. I was already studying theology part time in Montreal but, after an intense year of discernment, I decided to take the plunge and move to Rome. It had always been a desire of mine to study with the Jesuits, given their impact in Quebec history and society, and studying at the Gregorian would give me this opportunity.

What opportunities did your studies offer and how are your studies and research at the pontifical university related to the work you do today?

The licentiate program in communications at the Gregorian offered opportunities to learn and reflect on how media and communications systems work and how they impact individuals and society. Informed by sociology, theology and Catholic social teaching, we reflected on how, as a Church, we could better understand and respond to the crises and opportunities presented by media and communications, ultimately to bring greater glory to God. I bring these reflections and perspectives to my work regularly. Being in Rome also offered me the opportunity to work with exceptional media professionals at Vatican Radio (now Vatican News) and Catholic News Service, reporting on the life of the Church from its very heart and centre — a dream I had since starting in Catholic media in 2001. It also allowed me to experience life at The Lay Centre, which helped form me in my appreciation, understanding and practice of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

What advice would you give lay women who would like to study in Rome?

I would give the same advice I received from Bishop Lionel Gendron, P.S.S., now bishop emeritus of St-Jean-Longueuil, Quebec. He said if I wanted to make working for the Church my life’s work, then I should study in Rome.

“You will learn in Rome more about the Church in one year than you will working here in 10,” he said. And he was right. The experience of the Church in Rome is not replicable anywhere else. It is a microcosm of the universal Church, where all 24 churches in the Catholic communion are present, where every issue facing the church is pondered, discussed and debated, be it theological, canonical, social or otherwise.

The bishop also said: “If you feel generous enough to go for further study, then I encourage you to go.” It is interesting to think of taking time out to study as a lay person in order to better serve the Church as an act of generosity of time, effort, resources and skills, which many people would argue could be put to better use in the marketplace. I suppose we could think of study in terms of “sacrifice,” but I much prefer the bishop’s perspective of generosity, of gifting, as I believe lay women and men who are well-educated according to the mind of the Church in view of a lifelong commitment to service are indeed a gift to the Church.

How did your studies help you to become more able to serve the Church and society? 

In addition to the course content, learning about the Church from professors and classmates from around the world has been helpful in communicating professionally about the Church in its plurality. Life at The Lay Centre, where we experienced “dialogue in everyday life,” has been helpful to my human formation. My studies also gave me the credentials to be an instructor at a Catholic college, which has been very gratifying.

What do you think is an area of most pressing concern in your area of study or of your profession?

I am concerned about the divisiveness sown by some Catholic media and communications professionals, on both ends of the political spectrum. I believe in a diversity of opinions and in healthy debate; I believe in truth-telling and holding people accountable. But I am concerned that some Catholic media professionals — again, on both sides of the political spectrum — chase stories and communicate in such a way as to promote divisiveness, but not only, and such efforts are not in service to the Gospel.

What, in your opinion, is the importance of the role of laity in the Church at a decisional level?

Their role is very important, if only to encourage a diversity of ideas, experience and expertise in order for better decisions to be made in the Church. Everything in an organization communicates — not just its media vehicles — and this includes decision-making structures and processes. When lay people are absent from the decision-making structures and processes of the Church, it communicates very clearly what the Church truly believes about the laity. The Church’s teaching regarding the call of all the baptized — which Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have referred to as “co-responsibility” — requires the involvement of lay people at the decisional level if the Church is to be coherent and credible in its messaging.


Laura Ieraci has worked in Catholic journalism and communications for 20 years, including as a Vatican correspondent and in diocesan communications. She currently works for ONE, the magazine of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, and leads a ministry that teaches personal finance, based on biblical principles. She earned her licentiate at the Pontifical Gregorian University.


Photo: courtesy Laura Ieraci. We also asked our alumnae to share a special photo from their Lay Centre days. Laura shared the one below.



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