Support a Catholic Speaker Month: Profiling Mary Ann Glendon

Mary Ann Glendon

This blog post is in support of Catholic Speakers Month. Read all about this project, and the 100 speakers it profiles, on Brandon Vogt’s blog.

An inspiring women

As a Catholic woman who has attempted to live my faith in the daily tumult that is our society, and even dared to teach the faith, I’ve looked to women who have shined with their own vibrant light in the world… women for whom there in not a separation between their faith and life, and who honor both faith and reason. For me, Mary Ann Glendon has been an apt teacher through her life as a law professor, a prolific writer, and by her public service as the former United States Ambassador to the Vatican under the administration of President George W. Bush. Most recently she has been appointed to serve on the US Commission for International Religious Freedom. (I’ll leave notes on her amazing life in a biographical sketch, provided to me from her, at the end of this post.)

Over the years, I’ve read many articles written by Glendon, especially as she has lent her voice to the political and legal problems of our day that needed a voice for human dignity, especially in the areas of the family and women’s issues. Plus I have had the pleasure of hearing her speak locally in the Archdiocese of Boston as a keynote speaker for the Women Affirming Life breakfast.

I first started following Glendon’s work in 1995 when she was asked to be head of the delegation from the Vatican to the United Nation’s conference on women in Beijing, the occasion for John Paul II’s Letter to Women.  For me, Mary Ann Glendon’s witness is one that exemplifies not only the virtues of Christianity, but also, most notably, the beauty and mission of womanhood that John Paul’s letter extols.

In the parlance of Catholic circles, Mary Ann Glendon is one brilliant spiritual mother. She is a woman of holy influence in every sphere in which she dwells… as a wife and mother, as a decorated and gifted leader in her profession, and on the world stage. (And FWIW, I’m not the only one who has thought that she might make a great Supreme Court Justice.)

Someone worth reading

Glendon’s books are listed in the biographical sketch below, and  you can access some of her articles at First Thingsplus find her recent op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal on “Why the Bishops are Suing the U.S. Government.”

My Patheos colleague Kathy Schiffer describes Glendon’s help in the fight for religious liberties on Capitol Hill.


(Note: I chuckled at the sweet disposition of the gentleman given the honor of introducing Mary Ann Glendon… and the length to which he goes in bringing her to the podium. This is an academic presentation at the University of Chicago, and its content may or may not suit your interests, but it is the most recent example I found of Glendon’s prowess as a teacher and presenter… but do take time to hear her introduced and to listen to the early portions of her presentation, if not the whole thing.)

Biographical Sketch

Mary Ann Glendon is the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University and President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.  A former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, she currently serves as Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.  She writes and teaches in the fields of human rights, comparative law, constitutional law, and political theory.

Glendon is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1991, the International Academy of Comparative Law, and is a past president of the UNESCO-sponsored International Association of Legal Science.  She served two terms as a member of the U.S. President’s Council on Bioethics (2001-2004), and has represented the Holy See at various conferences including the 1995 U.N. Women’s conference in Beijing where she headed the Vatican delegation.

Glendon has contributed to legal and social thought in several articles and books, and has lectured widely in this country and in Europe. Her widely translated books, bringing a comparative approach to a variety of subjects, include The Forum and the Tower (2011), a series of biographical essays exploring the relation between political philosophy and politics-in-action; Traditions in Turmoil (2006), a collection of essays on law, culture and human rights; A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2001), which the New York Times reviewer said should be the definitive study of the framing of the UDHR; A Nation Under Lawyers (1996), a portrait of turbulence in the legal profession, analyzing the implications of changes in legal culture for a democratic polity that entrusts crucial roles to legally trained men and women; Rights Talk (1991), a critique of the impoverishment of political discourse; The Transformation of Family Law (1989), winner of the legal academy’s highest honor, the Order of the Coif Triennial Book Award; Abortion and Divorce in Western Law (1987), winner of the Scribes Book Award for best writing on a legal subject; The New Family and the New Property (1981), and textbooks on comparative legal traditions.

Her prizes and honors include the National Humanities Medal, the Bradley Foundation Prize, and honorary doctorates from numerous universities including the Universities of Chicago and Louvain.

Glendon taught at Boston College Law School from 1968 to 1986, and has been a visiting professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and the Gregorian University in Rome.

She received her bachelor of arts, juris doctor, and master of comparative law degrees from the University of Chicago. During a post-graduate fellowship for the study of European law, she studied at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and was a legal intern with the European Economic Community. From 1963 to 1968, she practiced law with the Chicago firm of Mayer, Brown & Platt, and served as a volunteer civil rights attorney in Mississippi during “Freedom Summer” 1964.

A native of Berkshire County, she lives with her husband, Edward R. Lev, in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. They have three daughters and six grandchildren.



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