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Arlene Anderson Swidler

Arlene Anderson Swidler (1929 - 2008)

Arlene Anderson was born March 6, 1929, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1946 she embarked on a long and fruitful academic life by gaining a BA in English literature at Marquette University in 1950, then going on to do her Masters in English and Comparative literature at University of Wisconsin Madison 1950-1957 (ABD); MA 1952. In 1957, while a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Arlene married fellow student Leonard Swidler. It was to be a happy union, a partnership of like minds. Arlene continued teaching at UWM as well as Valparaiso University. In 1957 she and Leonard went to Germany where she taught at University of Maryland in Munich. While there she had collaborated with Leonard's research on the "Una Sancta Movement," the only ecumenical effort then to include Catholics. After returning in 1960, while both were on the faculty of Duquesne University, Arlene conceived of the revolutionary idea of an American scholarly periodical devoted to ecumenism with Catholic participation there being no comparable publication at this time. Arlene enthused Leonard and then recruited Elwyn A. Smith, Professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and together founded the JOURNAL OF ECUMENICAL STUDIES, first published by Father Henry Koren, CSSP, Director of Duquesne University Press.

According to Leonard it was at this time that Arlene began consciously to think, act, research and finally write as a budding feminist, especially in the area of religion. 'She published Christian feminist articles long before Mary Daly or Rosemary Ruether did.' Arlene's first "feminist" article was "The Male Church" in Commonweal, June 24, 1966.

In May, 1971 the Swidlers founded an ecumenical bi-monthly newsletter of the Philadelphia Task Force on Women in Religion entitled GENESIS III, later joined on the editorial staff, among several others, by their daughter Carmel Swidler. The newsletter expanded considerably, and to its last issue, May, 1975, Arlene was the its primary editor. During the 1970's, apart from many books and articles, Arlene was in great demand as a lecturer. She was popular as she was not confrontational, her style was to facilitate dialogue and critical thinking and raise consciousness on important issues.

Leonard Swidler, commenting on Arlene's work on Word magazine, the official journal of the National Council of Catholic Women, which she edited 'Andie knew how far and fast she could lead the Catholic women toward a sense of mature responsibility. She said tough things, but was able to slide them into a velvet glove so that they were not rejected. She was interested in raising the consciousness of women, and men, and moving them in the direction of greater self-awareness and responsibility - not scoring points. She was as radical and penetrating in her analysis and thought as any of the feminists in those days, like our then friend Mary Daly, but wanted her public utterances to effect positive changes in people's, especially women's, lives.'

Arlene succumbed after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease on 24th May 2008 and is survived by her husband, two daughters, Carmel (born 1958) and Eva (born 1962) and granddaughter Willow. She will be remembered for her work fighting discrimination towards women in the Church as well as her passionate support of many other human rights causes.



Work by Arlene Swidler on this website

Woman in a Man's Church

Ecumenism and the Lack Thereof

A Catholic Commentary on the Vatican Declaration

Arlene and Leonard Swidler

A friend and work colleague, Ingrid Shafer

" - I wrote this poem -- or more accurately, the poem wrote itself -- about a decade ago when I first met Leonard and Andie and was deeply moved by their bond".

ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi est

hand in hand
they walked under the stars,
along the Neckar banks,
fingers & minds intertwined
laughing at silly things
like local towns & villages
all ending in "ingen,"
partners in marriage & faith
& Wissenschaft,
talking & talking & talking,
sharing ideas & dreams,
inspiration one to the other,
shuttling scripture & thought into
the fabric of everyday,
discussing Frauenpriestertum
& Una Sancta & Milton & Metzger
& the wonder of quickening life in her
swelling belly, & Paradigmawechsel
& oekumenische Theologie,
& Fledermaus & Figaro & Firebird . . .
re-membering, weaving new future,
from the strands of the past
on the loom of the present
her-story, his-story,
their-story: Safe in the palm of God's hand
Hand in hand
they walk under the stars
at the edge of the abyss.
She who could once out-think & out-argue
a whole nest of magisterial misogynists
in several tongues,
now chatters aimlessly on and on,
a torrent of words, still clever but unanchored,
round & round, a record stuck
in an encapsulated past,
tradita torn from traditio,
a starving tree, no longer green at the tips,
calcified roots incapable of absorbing
the fresh waters of life, neither sprouting future,
nor yet blessed with oblivion
but tortured by the agonizing knowledge
of the unraveling of her mind,
the shutting down of synapses,
conduits, & links,
raging, flopping, wildly at times,
piscis drowning on land,
while her companion holds on to her hand
feeling her slip from his grasp,
hanging on to Nietzsche's cliff
or the Jain jungle traveler's well edge
with torn, bleeding, weakening fingers
in despairing faith that somehow
his love can save them both . . .
The shepherd boy bites off the serpent's head
and rips the monster out of his throat,
hurling peals of cosmic laughter
into the void
while the voracious python, jaws agape,
lies in wait
below . . .
Where is God now?

She, with the brilliance of
a dying ember's flash, suddenly invents
a sparkling pun, & they laugh
into the night,
for this eternal moment:
hand in hand

ihs, 1994-95