Thursday, March 1, 2018

Prophecy on the Mount

Abigail McCarthy, right, is greeted by Sister Magdalen Coughlin, CSJ, left,
during a visit by McCarthy to the Mount in 1968. Looking on are CSJ faculty
members Sisters Eleanor Francis Powers and Catherine Therese Knoop.
Sister Magdalen, later MSMU President, was on the faculty at the time.
She and McCarthy were fellow alumnae of St. Kate's University.
THE MISSION STATEMENT of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet mentions "prophetic witness."

Well, have we got some prophecy for you.

Forty years ago – a biblical number to be sure – a prominent woman in public life delivered some predictions during a visit to MSMU that are so startling in their accuracy that we thought we would share them to kick off Women's History Month.

In 1978, Abigail McCarthy was the estranged wife of Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.) and a decade past his historic, divisive run at the presidency of the United States. An outspoken writer and opinion-maker in her own right who had visited the Mount in 1968, she was invited to deliver the Siena Day (academic symposium) keynote in February (reported in The View), titled "Christian Woman: Towards a 21st Century."

She predicted:
  1. Fewer women will be married in the 21st Century, and of those who are half will be [single] heads of households. And this: "There will be no such thing as permanent commitments in the 21st Century."
  2.  There will be a larger number of independent nations, but fewer democratic republics.
  3. "The [Catholic] Church will become a remnant in society" but the pope will be a symbol of unity.
  4. There will be "less privacy and independence in small matters because computers are making our lives available to others."
Think about it: How did she foresee the startling decline in the rate of formal marriage and rise in single motherhood? The crumbling of the Soviet Union more than 10 years before it happened and the worldwide struggles for democracy? The shrinking population of practicing Catholics and the global popularity of Pope Francis?

Number 4 is the one that really gets us. In an era before personal computers and smartphones, how in the world did she ever anticipate the effects of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the digital privacy issues we contend with today?

We think the answer lies in the fact that Abigail McCarthy was a woman educated and formed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. At a women's college she learned to lead. She learned to think as a prophetic witness, to read the signs of the times and act on them.

McCarthy received her B.A. at the College of St. Catherine (now known as St. Kate's University) in St. Paul, Minn., the CSJ school that educated so many members of the Mount's own religious community, including two presidents.

After college, Abigail Quigley met her future husband, a former Benedictine monk, at the small rural school in North Dakota where they were teachers. Both devout Catholics, they spent their first years of married life on a social justice mission, a Catholic farm commune in Minnesota. "Gene" McCarthy went on to be a Farm Labor Party and Democratic congressional representative from Minnesota and was elected to the Senate in 1958.

He is best remembered as the presidential candidate who challenged Lyndon B. Johnson and the Vietnam War in 1968 (playing a role not unlike Bernie Sanders') in that notorious election year. An Archives picture records Abigail's first visit to the Mount during a campaign swing through Los Angeles, probably around the time of the California Primary Election in June 1968 (photo above).

The very next year, after losing the election, Gene left Abigail and their five children for his long-time mistress, a television news reporter. But as Catholics the McCarthys never divorced.

Abigail McCarthy, who died in 2001, went on to build a successful career as a writer and commentator, an articulate voice for the place of women in the Church, in politics, in social justice, in everyday life.

In other words, hers was a life of prophetic witness in the CSJ sense. But as a prophet, Abigail McCarthy gave it a whole new meaning.