“The Feminine Genius” celebrated at women’s breakfast

Sr. Malou Tibayan gave the keynote address on "The Feminine Genius" at a women's breakfast May 17 in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Women attending the breakfast were invited to visit the “feminine genius” photo booth. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

When Sr. Malou Tibayan served on the diocesan Synod committee last year, she read many submissions from parishioners, youth and groups, commenting about the role of women in the Church.

Those observations, questions, and subsequent discussions prompted her to reflect more about the gifts that women bring to the world and to the Church – beyond the question of priestly ordination.

The culmination of that reflection was a keynote talk entitled “The Feminine Genius,” presented at a joyful women’s breakfast celebration May 17 in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.

Organized in conjunction with her Verbum Dei community colleagues, as well as diocesan Director of Ministry Services Marilyn Jackson, Diocese of Saskatoon Catholic Foundation Director Raissa Bugyi, and staff at the Catholic Pastoral Centre, the breakfast event was an inspiring “thank you” for some 75 women who attended.

“This gathering of women from across the diocese is our way of showing appreciation and to honour and celebrate the gift of who we are to the diocese and to the universal Church and to the world,” said Tibayan.

Dianna Knaus led the opening prayer. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

With the cathedral hall decorated with flowers and the artwork of women saints created by artist Tianna Williams (shared by the local Arise Movement team for the occasion), Diana Knaus, leader of “From Mourning to Dawn” bereavement ministry in the diocese, provided the opening prayer.

And in her closing remarks, Jackson recognized the women serving at the Catholic Pastoral Centre, including long-time employee Donna Rogal who has served in a number of roles and worked under five bishops since she started work for the diocese nearly 50 years ago.

During the breakfast, Donna Rogal was recognized for her service at the Catholic Pastoral Centre that has spanned 50 years, five bishops, and a range of roles. She started at the Catholic Centre on Sept. 10, 1973. “When asked about what motivates her after nearly half a century, Donna is grateful for the people whose path she has crossed that have made her a better person,” said Director of Ministry Services Marilyn Jackson. “Having served in the Marriage Tribunal Office since 1983, Donna’s warm, pastoral presence has been a catalyst for healing and guided many to return to the faith.” (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)


However, the heart of the breakfast program was Tibayan’s keynote address exploring the dignity and vocation of women in light of the characteristics of “feminine genius.”

Keynote address

“After presenting the summary of the diocesan Synod on Synodality, one of the things that I was praying and reflecting about was: when we ask the Church to listen to our voices as women and are constantly insisting and pursuing the ordination of women, what is it really that we are seeking or desiring?”

As her answer, Tibayan chose to focus more broadly on the dignity and vocation of women – and their “feminine genius” —  particularly citing two documents written by Saint Pope John Paul II namely:

  • Mulieris DignitatemLINK an Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women on the Occasion of the Marian Year, 1988.
  • Letter to WomenLINK written for the occasion of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, 1995.

“From the time of his election to the papacy in 1978 until his death in 1995, Saint John Paul II never stopped proclaiming women’s dignity. With wisdom born from the loss of feminine presence in childhood and later through friendship with women and a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he strove to help us discover who God made us to be. He also strove to help us understand how much the world needs our feminine genius,” said Tibayan.

Popularized by Pope Saint John Paul II, the term “feminine genius” refers to “our unique and distinctive characteristics as women which are expressed in our way of understanding and perceiving things and realities, also in our relationships, in our way of living and facing life and solving conflicts,” summarized Tibayan.

She noted that every human being has an intrinsic worth that has nothing to do with sex, age, health, appearance, education, social status, employment, or choices we make. “We have dignity because God made us, loves us, and desires a relationship with us  …the dignity of a human being rests above all on the fact that we are called in communion with God,” Tibayan said, referencing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes, and the biblical book of Genesis.

Characteristics of feminine genius

“As saint and martyr Edith Stein (Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) said: ‘The world doesn’t need what women have, it needs what we are.’ So, what are the characteristics of feminine wisdom and the feminine genius that we can contribute to the Church and to the world?”

Tibayan listed characteristics of feminine genius, citing saints and biblical women who demonstrated each trait:

  • Practical knowledge – St. Edith Stein who wrote: “Women comprehend not merely with the intellect but also with the heart;”
  • Intuition – St. Teresa of Avila, mystic, writer and reformer of the Carmelite order, well known for her wisdom and understanding of the interior life;
  • Feminine wisdom – St. Catherine of Siena, a mystic and illiterate woman whose outstanding wisdom is described as “an infused gift of the Holy Spirit;”
  • Sensitivity – The Blessed Virgin Mary, whose “far-seeing eyes” saw the difficulty at the Wedding at Cana, and brought it to her Son;
  • Resilience – St. Josephine Bakhits, kidnapped, tortured and enslaved as a young child in Sudan: “When speaking of her enslavement, she often professed she would thank her kidnappers, for had she not been kidnapped, she might never have come to know Jesus Christ and entered His Church;”
  • Hospitality and Generosity – A range of examples, including the widow in scripture who gave her last pennies, and the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet;
  • Motherhood – Both physical and spiritual – lived by St. Monica, the persevering mother who devoted many years of her life praying unceasingly for the conversion of her son St Augustine and by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who through her life of holiness, “helps us understand that our greatest beauty is our love.”

Tibayan concluded by honouring Jesus’ mother Mary and other women in the Gospel. “The Church sees in Mary as the highest expression of the ‘feminine genius’ and finds in her a source of constant inspiration…. Her ‘fiat’ and her being the ‘handmaid of the Lord’ shows us the royal dignity of service,” she said also citing other women in the Gospel such as Martha and Mary, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene.

“A friend of mine shared her reflection on the presence of women in Jesus’ time. She said: ‘They supported Jesus in his three years of public ministry. They were also the ones at the foot of the Cross. They never abandoned Jesus. And she said: Where would the Church be if all the women quit serving?”

Verbum Dei missionary community

As an example of women’s changing role in the Church, Tibayan reflected on her own missionary community – Verbum Dei – founded in 1963 by Fr. Jaime Bonet with a small group of women.

“He had always wanted to promote the role of women in the Church. And so, he encouraged them to study theology. That time, women were not allowed to study at the seminary. And so, it was very challenging. But with a lot of patience and persistence, two members of our community were the first women to study at the Comillas Pontifical University in Spain and another one in Rome. The woman who studied in Rome was the first woman who graduated with a  doctorate degree in Philosophy and the first woman who taught in the faculty of Theology at the Pontifical University of Sto. Tomas in the Philippines.”

Three Verbum Dei missionaries serving in the diocese of Saskatoon attended the breakfast with their community’s visiting superior general, (pictured, l-r): Sr. Mirasol Abala, breakfast keynote speaker Sr. Malou Tibayan, Verbum Dei superior general Sr. Maria Antonieta Vargas López, and Sr. Marta Piano. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Verbum Dei is now present in 32 countries, embracing people of all stages and areas of life,  including consecrated women (sisters), consecrated men (brothers and priests) and missionary married couples. The name “Verbum Dei” (Latin for “Word of God”) expresses the missionaries’ total and exclusive dedication to praying, living and proclaiming the Word of God, allowing it to transform life on a daily basis, and teaching others to do the same.

Increasing the involvement of women

Tibayan also pointed to other increasing involvement of women in leadership, including Pope Francis opening important roles in the Vatican for woman, and naming five women theologians to the 30-member International Theological Commission. “And just last month, Pope Francis decided to put at least three dozen women as voting members of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October.”

Tibayan also observed: “We are very blessed to have the opportunity as consecrated missionary women, to help and support in the different ministries here in the diocese. We are grateful to Bishop Mark (Hagemoen) and some very supportive clergy for their trust. I can say with honesty and pride that in this two-and-a-half years of working in this diocese, I have experienced the beauty of honouring our differences and the value of working in the spirit of complementarity as men and women, religious, lay and clergy.”

Tibayan encouraged each of her listeners to remember that they are “a unique and valuable gift to our Church.”

She added: “If you would ask me what do I dream as a woman in the Church? I dream that we women in this diocese would give more credibility to ourselves. That we could be more convicted and courageous.”


[Reporter Kiply Lukan Yaworski is the communications coordinator for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon – rcdos.ca ]

Summary video by Maricorn Mangampo:

More photos:

(Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)


Marilyn Jackson, diocesan Director of Ministry Services, opened the day with a land acknowledgment for Treaty 6 territory and the traditional homeland of the Métis. Artwork of the saints was created by artist Tianna Williams, shared by the Arise Movement. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski)


(Photo by Maricorn Mangampo)


(Photo by Maricorn Mangampo)



(Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)


(Photo by Maricorn Mangampo)


(Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)


Women working at the diocesan Catholic Pastoral Centre were recognized during the breakfast. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski)


(Photo by Maricorn Mangampo)