Upcoming Events

(Re)imagining Catholic Vocation

March 29, 2019 – March 30, 2019 all-day
Union Theological Seminary
3041 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
Abby Rampone

The (Re)imagining Catholic Vocation Conference will create space for young Catholics to explore and (re)imagine how they might serve – and challenge – their church and world.

Institutional parameters have largely failed to acknowledge vocation beyond the all-male priesthood, religious life, or heterosexual marriage. The 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment did not critically challenge these categories.

What does vocation look like for women, LGBTQ Catholics, and married people who are called to the priesthood or other roles in the church? Or what if our gifts are more unconventional – what if we are artists, activists, or dissenting theologians? This conference will offer space for questioning, fostering community among young Catholics, and building relationships with established progressive Catholic organizations. Young adults in college, divinity school, or beyond are welcome to join. Let’s (re)imagine justice.


We are pleased to announce that Jamie Manson will give the keynote address at the (Re)imagining Catholic Vocation Conference. Jamie Manson is a columnist and editor at the National Catholic Reporter.  She received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. She is editor of Changing the Questions: Explorations in Christian Ethics, a collection of writings by Margaret Farley (Orbis, 2015). Her writing has won numerous awards, most recently the 2015 Wilbur Award for Best Online Religion News Story for her extended essay “Feminism in Faith: Sister Elizabeth Johnson’s Challenge to the Vatican.” Her activism on behalf of women in the church recently garnered her the Theresa Kane Award for Women of Courage and Vision from the Women’s Ordination Conference.

The conference plenary panel will be “Decolonizing Catholicism in a Postcolonial Age.” Given the Catholic Church’s historic compliance with colonial activity, found in decrees like the Papal Bull of 1493 which authorized Spain and Portugal to colonize the Americas and its Native persons as subjects “by the authority of Almighty God,” how can the Church best address remnants of these attitudes which persist today? Are respectful missionary vocations possible in a postcolonial culture? How does the Church continue to uphold center-periphery dynamics, and in what ways can the Church take remedial action while addressing issues of environmental and racial justice in our contemporary moment? This plenary will attempt to address some of these questions, while providing a critical and productive space for reflection on the path forward to decolonizing Catholicism.


Participants will have the opportunity to choose among breakout workshop sessions that examine vocation from many angles. Confirmed breakouts include:

  • Catholic Committee of Appalachia, Michael Iafrate and Jeannie Kirkhope, Co-Coordinators, CCA       The Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) has been listening to the cries of the poor and the earth since 1970. Its hallmark: three pastoral letters published over the last forty years that have told the story of a land and people struggling against a system of exploitation and indifference. The third pastoral letter, issued in 2015, did not come from the Catholic bishops of Appalachia, but from the people themselves. Using excerpts from a recent documentary on this “people’s pastoral letter,” CCA Co-Coordinators Jeannie Kirkhope and Michael Iafrate will discuss the story of this remarkable document and the movements from which it sprung.
  • Mainstreaming Women’s Ministries, Women’s Ordination Conference       How can the Catholic Church mainstream, instead of marginalize, the ministries of women who seek or hold advanced theology degrees? If you are Catholic and identify as a woman, we invite you to sit down with Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC) staff for a brief one-on-one interview to share your journey: your sense of call, the path you hope to follow, the joys and hopes you experience, as well as the barriers and challenges. With your permission, your story will contribute to our year-long research project on young Catholic women. We will invite attendees to register in advance for an interview time slot.
  • Liberation Rosary, Black Moses Rankins       Liberation Rosary has been designed from an Africana perspective of Catholicism. As a Black Catholic, I believe it is very important for BLACK people to see ourselves in our GOD, our Savior (Jesus), and our Mother (Mary). Our communities are suffering at the hands of systems that question the value of Black life. Inspired by “prayer and works” in James 3:14-16 and “ask, seek, knock” in Matthew 7:7-12, I am inviting others to join me in prayer on the anniversary (August 9) of Pope John Paul II’s apology for the Roman Catholic Church’s involvement in the enslavement of the Africana community. I am inviting other to pray this rosary with these intentions: (1) for the end of individual, institutional, and cultural racism within our church and country; and (2) for the strength and energy to be honest and take action as the body of Christ to address racism.
  • Disability Theology, Union Theological Seminary Disability Justice Caucus        The Disability Theology breakout session will feature an interreligious panel of seminarians with disabilities from Union Theological Seminary. Panelists will provide an introductory overview of disability theology, touching on its connection to Catholic theology of embodiment, non-Catholic theologies, and focusing on the possibilities that it provides for the inclusion and (re)imagination of vocation for all. Panelists will speak from their personal, professional, and academic experience with disability theory and theology. Attendees will have an opportunity to ask the panelists questions; attendees with disabilities are particularly invited to bring their questions and experiences to the session. No prior experience with disability theory or theology needed. Session will be accessible to those with minimal academic experience of theology.
  • Called to Interfaith Dialogue with Muslims, Jordan Denari Duffner     Interfaith dialogue is a central, but often overlooked, part of the Catholic Church’s mission. Jordan Denari Duffner will discuss her own vocation to the work of interfaith dialogue with Muslims, and how she seeks to help her fellow Catholics better understand and relate to Muslims. Drawing on Church teaching from Vatican II, the examples of historic and modern-day saints, and Duffner’s own experiences working in Muslim-Christian relations, this breakout session seeks to equip attendees with the framework and tools for advancing interfaith understanding and solidarity in the Church and beyond.
  • Must ______ be a Vocation? Alfred Pang     Practical theologian Kathleen Cahalan has argued that our Christian understanding of vocation has become static and removed from the contextual complexities of people’s lives. She proposes a more dynamic grammar to talk about vocation, focusing on how prepositions can capture better the fluidity and multi-faceted dimensions of God’s callings experienced. She uses eight prepositions: “I am called by God, to follow, as I am, from grief, for service, in suffering, through others, within God.” This workshop invites participants to play with these prepositions and consider how they might help reframe their understanding of vocation for themselves and for the communities that they serve. What creative possibilities might they begin to see for themselves, communities, and the world? What action might they be challenged to take?
  • Catholic Women of Union      The Catholic Women of Union session will be a panel of both current students and alumnae. Each panelist will described their journey toward discovering a “vocation” and how their understanding of their work as Catholic professionals has evolved and creatively expanded. This panel is also be an opportunity for reflection on being Catholic at Union and the challenges, opportunities, and interesting chances for reinvention and new perspectives that it fosters.
  • Transgendering Our Theologies of Embodiment: A New Approach to Sexuality and Gender for the Roman Catholic Church, Dr. Craig Ford      It goes without saying that official church teaching with respect to the lives led by transgender and genderqueer persons is one that involves a disapproval that many would regard as transphobic. But what sort of theology of embodiment could we put in its place? In this session, participants will become more familiar with the current Catholic theological discussion surrounding gender identity, drawing specific attention to its limitations. From here, we will consider a theology of embodiment that stems not only from the Church’s natural law tradition, but also from queer theory as well as from insights gleaned from the lives led by transgender persons. Together, participants will assess whether this sort of theological intervention is viable, but—most importantly—we will discuss how it can be applied within the context of our daily lives. Craig Ford, Jr., currently serves as a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at Fordham University. Dr. Ford writes at the intersection of critical theory, including queer and critical race theory, and the Catholic moral tradition.
  • Vocation and the Arts       New York-based artists discuss how their faith motivates their work, how the Catholic tradition fits into modern arts media, and how their perspectives serve a broader audience.
  • Progressive Catholicism As Vocation, Zach Johnson, Call to Action Executive Director       Being a progressive Catholic is, and always has been a vocation in its own right. The first part of this workshop will trace progressive Catholic communities through history; highlighting trends in how, when, and why they emerge, including the corresponding trends in how the institutional church responds to these communities. We’ll end this first part by focusing in more detail on the progressive Catholic landscape of the United States since Vatican II. In the second half of the session, we’ll examine the state of progressive Catholicism in the United States today. We’ll consider how we arrived at this moment in time by as we talk through some of the common questions facing organizers within the progressive Catholic movement; our overarching question being: how do we organize across generations, and why does this often feel like such a daunting task?
  • Commonweal Writing Workshop, Matthew Sitman, Associate Editor       Commonweal associate editor Matthew Sitman will lead a workshop geared to empower young writers for pitching to progressive publications. Matt will discuss what those on the “margins” of the church have to offer as writers— particularly individuals from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, minorities, and members of the laity in a hierarchical church. Matt will discuss his own experiences as a Commonweal editor, including what he looks for as an editor, and what he tries to do when working with young or inexperienced writers. He will touch on some specifics: how to pitch an idea, different types of articles to consider, the do’s and don’ts of journalistic writing, and more. There will also be time for specific questions tailored to workshop members’ interests.
  • Beyond Rejection: Towards Affirming LGBTQ Vocations in the Catholic Church, Robert Shine, Associate Director, New Ways Ministry        LGBTQ church workers fired and priests scapegoated. Affirming theologians silenced. Queer love criminalized. Trans bodies rejected. Sacraments denied. These realities too often define many people’s experiences of church. Is there a pathway beyond the restrictive vocational framework presently imposed on LGBTQ Catholics and their families? This workshop will be a collaborative exercise to strategize about supporting LGBTQ Catholics’ vocations in the church. Participants of all sexual orientations and gender identities are most welcome.
  • Living with Wisdom: Thomas Merton Then and Now, Merton Society NY Chapter       This workshop will tell the story of this extraordinary Trappist monk whose writings, including his classic autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, have exerted a profound influence on millions. From his entry into the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, with his fame as an author, Thomas Merton became a prophetic voice for peace and social justice in his own time — in words that are equally applicable to our own times, for both our private and our political lives. His fascinating dialogue with other religions, through his extensive correspondence, provide a window for modern Catholics, opening up inter-faith and ecumenical dialogue in our own day. Thomas Merton was a contemplative monk, writer, peace-maker, poet, civil rights activist, a servant of God in all things. Pope Francis remarked, in 2015 before the assembled members of the U.S. Congress, that Merton was one of four great Americans — alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and Dorothy Day — who could teach dialogue between peoples and nations, and be a model to encounter God, enriching the prayer life and civility of the body politic. *Site visit to the site of Merton’s baptism at Corpus Christi Church 

(Full line-up is forthcoming!)


The (Re)imagining Catholic Vocation Conference will include both the intentional reclamation of traditional ritual and the integration of reinterpreted and inclusive liturgy. There will be several opportunities to participate in ritual throughout the conference, including a closing mass on Saturday afternoon.


A primary aim of this conference is to build connections and community among young Catholics. We recognize that discernment is not a solitary task, and as such, the conference will include plenty of time for formal and informal connection. Recognizing that we build upon the work of the generations who precede us, there will also be an opportunity for progressive Catholic organizations to table and introduce conference attendees to their work.  Finally, we will give attendees the opportunity to interact with the larger NYC community through several optional visits to noteworthy sites in the storied Catholic history of this city.


  •  Registration is now closed.
  • The conference schedule will be available soon. For planning purposes, the opening ritual will be at 11 am on Friday and the first workshop session will begin at 1 pm. The conference will end around 5:30 pm on Saturday.
  • There is no required registration fee for the conference, as we are committed to making attendance as accessible as possible to all participants. An optional contribution of $5-$25 upon registration will support our work. Meals will be provided free of charge.
  • If you will be joining us from outside the NYC metro area, we recommend that you seek lodging that will allow you to access Union Theological Seminary via public transportation. Union is located in Morningside Heights at 3041 Broadway, just off the 116 Street stop on the 1 train.
  • We will not be reserving space at a specific hotel. We may be able to offer a limited amount of free/low-cost housing on a case-by-case basis; if you will need this, please register as soon as possible so that we can strive to fulfill your request.
  • If you have any questions or concerns about housing or navigating NYC, don’t hesitate to contact us.
  • There are two registration options, one for young adults (approximately ages 18-35) who will attend the whole conference and a second for a one day track on Saturday, March 30 that will allow people of all ages to engage in intergenerational programming.