By Donella Johnston
On Tuesday morning we heard the very sad news that Therese Vassarotti had passed away after a long struggle with illness.
Therese found out in February this year that she had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia and battled with this bravely for the last nine months of her too-short life.
Therese was sixty-two years old. She was married to Kevin and the mother of six children, Rebecca, Megan, Sophie, Mark, Andrew and Patrick. Therese was also the grand-mother of five grand-children.
Therese was the inaugural Executive Officer for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s Commission for Australian Catholic Women from 2001 to 2005.
At a recent Open Meeting for the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn Commission for Women, Bishop Pat Power described Therese as a “prophet and pioneer” for women’s participation in the Catholic Church in Australia.
In 2001 as she prepared to take on her role as Executive Officer for the Commission for Australian Catholic Women, Therese said:
“I would like to see a lot of healing done. That’s one of the things I’d like to see happen…There must be a whole lot of people out there who don’t have a voice, I’d like to give them a voice…There are lots of people who are disenfranchised; there are lots of women and men who don’t feel that in any forum they’ve got an opportunity to speak…I love my Church and I see this as an opportunity to be part of its journey, to come to full understanding and implementation of the gospel message, centring on themes of justice, and understanding our human condition with its male and female side…To have men and women making decisions together and sharing their wisdom .”
(The Catholic Weekly, 15 July 2001 http://www.catholicweekly.com.au/01/jul/15/story_11.html )
In 2010, in her contribution to the Catholic Social Justice Series (no. 67), Women in the Catholic Church in Australia: Reflections on Woman and Man Ten Years On, Therese writes:
“No-one would have predicted the issues that have dominated the public debate in the ensuing decade [since the 2000 Social Justice Sunday Statement Woman and Man: The Bishops Respond], issues that have called for a new understanding of our [women’s] place in the world and the type of world we wish to leave for succeeding generations. Women’s gifts are indispensable if we are to be true to the mission of the Church. Their [women’s] participation at all levels of all structures of the Church and wider society is no longer negotiable” (ACSJC: 2000, p. 22).
Up until her diagnosis late last year, Therese lectured in theology at the Australian Catholic University, where she coordinated education and formation programs to assist in the transition of leadership from religious to the laity in the Catholic Health Sector.
Prior to her appointment to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in 2001, Therese had a decade long career in teaching including Director of Religious Education at St Edmund’s College, Canberra. Therese was also National Communications Officer for the Catholic Women’s League of Australia.
Therese was a wonderful role model for Catholic women and girls. She was a true leader, a friend, a teacher, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a mother, a grandmother, and indeed a prophet and a pioneer. She has been variously described as warm, giving, vibrant, strong, active, determined, and faith-filled.
Therese travelled with the “dark companion” of her illness with courage and dignity.
She is remembered with respect and affection and will be sadly missed by those who knew and loved her.
Dear Therese, may you rest in peace in the loving embrace of God.