Pope Francis named three women as members of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops on Wednesday.
The appointments, which the pope previewed in an interview last week, mark the first time that women have served as members of the Vatican department responsible for the world’s episcopal appointments.
Who are the pioneering trio? Take a look:
María Lía Zervino
María Lía Zervino is the Argentine president general of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO). The umbrella body representing almost 100 groups worldwide was founded in 1910 and represents an estimated eight million Catholic women.
She is a member of an Argentine institute of consecrated life, the Servidoras, founded by Fr. Luis María Boneo.
Zervino is also a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Described as a “close friend of the pope,” she wrote an open letter to Francis in 2021, praising him “for being the Francis of the 21st century,” but saying that “not enough progress has been made in taking advantage of the wealth of women who make up a large part of the People of God.”
“I dream of a Church that has suitable women as judges in all the courts in which matrimonial cases are processed, in the formation teams of each seminary, and for exercising ministries such as listening, spiritual direction, pastoral health care, care for the planet, defense of human rights, etc., for which, by our nature, women are equally or sometimes better prepared than men. Not only consecrated women, but how many lay women in all regions of the globe are ready to serve!”
“And I dream that, during your pontificate, you will inaugurate, together with the Synods of Bishops, a different synod: the synod of the People of God, with proportional representation of the clergy, consecrated men and women, and lay men and women.”
“We will no longer be happy just because a woman votes for the first time but because many prepared lay women, in communion with all the other members of such synod, will have given their contribution and their vote that will add to the conclusions that will be placed in your hands.”
“Probably, Holy Father, you already have this ‘card in your deck’ to put synodality into practice and wait for the right moment to play it,” Zervino said at the time.
Sister Raffaella Petrini
The 53-year-old Italian is the first woman to serve as secretary general of the Governorate of Vatican City State. As the second-ranking figure in the government of Vatican City State, she helps to oversee administrative offices, the police department, the post office, and museums, among other responsibilities.
Born in Rome on Jan. 15, 1969, Petrini studied political science at the Luiss Guido Carli, a prestigious private university in the Italian capital, before pursuing a doctorate in social sciences at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum). She earned a master’s degree in organizational behavior from the University of Hartford in Connecticut in 2001.
She is a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, based in Meriden, Connecticut. She professed her perpetual vows in 2007 and became a member of the general council in 2017.
She has served as a member of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples since 2005. She is a professor of welfare economics and sociology of economic processes at the Angelicum.
The Italian media have dubbed her “la Papessa” (the Popess).
Sister Yvonne Reungoat
The 77-year-old Salesian Sister of Don Bosco has been a member of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life since 2019, when she became one of the first women appointed to the body.
She was born in Plouénan, northwestern France, on Jan. 14, 1945, and became a postulant in 1963 of the religious institute formally known as the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.
She studied history and geography at the University of Lyon, working as a teacher in Lyon for 11 years.
In 1990, she began serving as delegate of the institute’s provinces of Spain and France for West Africa. In 1991, she was elected superior of the African province of Mother of God, based in Lomé, Togo.
In 1996, she became a member of the institute’s general chapter and in 2002, she was elected vicar general. In 2008, she became the institute’s first non-Italian superior general.
In a 2012 interview, she said: “My time as a missionary in Africa enriched my vocation, which then developed in a surprising way with my election as visiting councilor, vicar general, and finally superior general.”
“From the start, I thought that this mission would totally overwhelm me and that I could fulfill it only because I could count on the help of the Lord and of Mary Help of Christians.”
In 2018, Reungoat was elected president of the Union of Major Superiors of Italy. Last year, she was appointed Officer of the Légion d’Honneur, the highest French order of merit.