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Maria Vendrik (English)

Maria H.C.Vendrik

Teacher,national and international leader

especially in Catholic women's organisations

Maarn , the Netherlands, 4 January 1908 -
+ Utrecht , the Netherlands, 17 September 1982.

As is often the custom in the Netherlands, Maria Vendrik was known to her relatives and friends by a personalised abbreviation of her name, in her case: Rie.We will use this name in our presentation, confident that that is what she would have liked us to do.

Rie attended the Teachers Training College in Utrecht and studied for degrees in English and French, which later turned out to be useful in her international work. Her leadership capacities were discovered on various occasions and so she was easily selected in leading positions. Although she was not ambitious by character, she gradually reached high ranking functions in national and international organisations, especially in the field of women's promotion and education. Spontaneous as she was, at times with seriousness at other times with a great sense of humour, she knew how to bring people together. She could inspire them to work for and commit themselves to common concerns, a commitment of which she herself was a living example.

In 1945 Rie became the co-founder of the Catholic Young Women's Movement in the Netherlands. In the same year she was elected its National President. She dedicated herself to the task of ensuring that girls, as much as boys, were given the chance to receive a full education and enter all professions. That was pioneer's work for the Catholic Church of the time.

The strength of her conviction and her talent for communication were also noticed outside the Netherlands. In 1952 she became Vice President, and four years later President, of the International Catholic Young Women's Movement. Her many years of experience in international youth apostolate resulted in her being co-opted into top management of umbrella organizations such as:

  • The Council of ' World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations'(WUCWO);
  • The 'Women's Ecumenical Liaison Group',founded in 1968 by the World Council of Churches and the Secretariat for the Unity of Christians in Rome
  • The 'Conference of Catholic International Organizations'.

In her leadership tasks Rie Vendrik had a strong sense of mission, with a special sensitivity to the needs of women in the Catholic Church. It was this on which she spent all her energy without ever thrusting herself in the foreground. Her living Christian faith and deep understanding of the biblical message compelled her to demand that discriminatory measures against women be reformed, and that there the contradiction between the affirmation of the Gospel principle of equality of the sexes and the inequality in practice and in Church discipline no longer be tolerated.

Rie functioned as a staffmember of the Dutch National Catholic Action Centre, which focused on laity formation. She was invited as observer to the Third Session of the Vatican Council. In several of its workshops she highlighted the concerns of the laity, presenting the vision of a new Church in which men and women will share real, full and authentic cooperation for the advancement and the salvation of the world.

The Third World Congress of the Lay Apostolate of 1967 in Rome was for Rie and all participants a high point for the Lay Movement after the Vatican Council. Rie played an important role in the intensive preparation that took place before the congress and in direction of the congress as it unfolded. It was here that she met for the first time and at close range the open and hidden machination of the Vatican authorities who tried to keep a tight control over the Congress and its lay leaders.

The Tenacious Voice of Women

In 1968 she was appointed a member of the newly established Council on the Laity in Rome. Right from the beginning she took up an independent and forthright position. Together with other members, she refused to sign an oath of loyalty which forced members to secrecy about the contents of the meetings.

In 1973, for the first time in the history of the Catholic Church, the Vatican set up a special 'Study Commission on Women in Society and in the Church'. This decision raised expectations: would the recognition of the equality of all members of God's People now be consistently applied to women, allowing them access to the ordained ministries? All the more so because the commission was set up in response to the Bishops' Synod of 1971 in which the Canadian Bishops' Conference had asked that the question of women's ordination be studied.

But even before the commission had gathered, Rome sent out a secret memorandum to bishops' conferences that clearly set out the limits of the study. The startingpoint of the research was to be the specific task of women and the complementarity of man and woman. And from the beginning of the research the possibility of priesthood for women was excluded!

Rie too had been appointed as a member of the commission. For her this function would become the most dramatic confrontation in her life.

During the two years' of the commission's work, she devoted all her skills at promoting open and honest discussion in the face of Vatican manipulations and intimidations. Aided by four women from Belgium, Spain, Portugal and Brazil, she offered strong opposition to the documents that were submitted, in which the Roman view of women's 'specific nature' was imposed with biblical and theological arguments.

The courageous action of the 'group of five' culminated in the writing of a Minority Report: a cry from the heart and an impressive recording of the voice of conscience welling up in deeply committed women, expressing the conviction and the expectations of numerous catholic women.

Maria Vendrik: a wise, warm-hearted and steadfast woman with both vision and patience. She was and is an inspiration for many women and men in the Church worldwide: a woman, gentle but strong.

René van Eyden and Dirkje Donders

tekst in het Nederlands

page donated by Prof. and Mrs. René and Akke van Eyden
and Dr. Dirkje Donders

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