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Sister Mary Priniski Balances Ministry With Bishops of South, Catholics at Emory University
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November 27, 2018, Atlanta, Georgia – Like many lay people and women religious of today, Sister Mary Margaret Priniski is balancing her time between two ministries. While maintaining her work as Project Coordinator for the Catholic Committee of the South, Sister Mary has also taken on the role of Interim Director for the Aquinas Center at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

Sister Mary, who has ministered the past 38 years as a volunteer with the Catholic Community of the South, a network of clergy and laity founded in 1939 to minister in “solidarity with those on the margins.” She has been on staff since 2016 as project coordinator for Gathering for Mission, which “engages church leadership with the voice and vision of Pope Francis through a process of dialogue.”

While being involved in such far-reaching projects, Sister Mary is also learning a new ministry at the Aquinas Center. “I’ve been on the Board off and on since 2010,” she explained, and is now its interim director. With the resignation of the previous director in July 2018, Sister Mary was asked to fill in as interim director until the Board decided which direction to take the center.

The Aquinas Center serves as the “Catholic presence” within Emory’s School of Theology. While Emory is Methodist based, Sister Mary explained, the university also has Baptist and Anglican Studies Programs – and now a Catholic Studies Program.

Much of what the Aquinas Center does on the Emory Campus is to “arrange for speakers of renown” to come to campus and speak to the students – and often to the local parishes, Sister Mary said. Upcoming talks in December 2018 and January 2019 focus on issues such as end-of-life decisions, the immigration and refugee crisis in Africa, and an aesthetic of the common good. The Aquinas Center also has launched a fundraising campaign for the St. Catherine of Siena Lecture Series to “bring to the fore the voices of women theologians.”

Sister Mary recently worked with an ad hoc committee to plan a week of celebration at the time of the canonization of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Sister Mary’s role is to contact speakers and arrange for them to addresses audiences at Emory or nearby areas. Alice Cameron, program coordinator, “does all of the behind-the-scenes work,” such as making sure that rooms are reserved for the talks and making arrangements for where the speakers will stay during their visit, Sister Mary explained.

“We’ve been given an endowment to do some work to bring together Greek Orthodox and Catholic communities,” Sister Mary said. She has helped to form a committee from both communities to plan the program. 

In addition, Sister Mary is helping to plan for Aquinas Day, a celebration of the great Dominican theologian and scholar. Aquinas Day features a prayer service with a homily by a guest speaker – this year, Dr. Nichole Flores, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.

Sister Mary also works closely with two tenured professors at Emory’s Catholic Studies Program. “The Catholic Studies Program is new this year,” she said. “The Candler School of Theology has 11 Catholics in the theology program, out of more than 400 students. Emory hopes that having a Catholic Studies Program will attract more Catholic students.”  

While working in all those areas can be demanding, “it’s been a lot of fun,” Sister Mary said. “You really need to plan ahead to get speakers – almost a couple of years ahead of time. But you can’t stop what you’re doing today. You have to keep a lot of things in the air at the same time, and I’ve learned that I can do that.”

She also learned a valuable lesson years ago from the executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, who responded to suggestions with a willingness to try new things. “Some people’s first response is, ‘That’ll never work,’” Sister Mary said. “I’ve learned, ‘Sure, we can try it out.’ I’d rather make a mistake than not do anything.”

Sister Mary said one of her biggest challenges is juggling her ministry at the Catholic Community of the South and at Aquinas Center. “Part of the challenge is to keep the two different hats going on at the same time,” she said. “I don’t want to let either one of them slide through the cracks.”

So far, her ministries appear to be coalescing well. Sister Mary feels that her work on the Catholic Community of the South – and all of her previous ministries with nonprofit organizations – has helped prepare her for her ministry at the Aquinas Center. “I work with bishops and the clergy” at Catholic Community of the South,” she said. “It’s helpful to have that background. A lot in my life has prepared me for this – you build on what you’ve learned from all your other ministries.”

Sister Mary cherishes the varied relationships she’s formed at Aquinas Center, the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, and the Catholic Committee of the South. “It’s all about relationships,” she said. “[Good relationships] make everything else so much easier.” 

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