Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


A Church for everyone: In conversation with Phyllis Zagano

  • 26 May 2023
Dr Phyllis Zagano is an internationally acclaimed Catholic scholar who has lectured throughout the US, and in Canada, Europe and Australia. Her many awards include the 2014 Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice from The Paulist Center Community in Boston for ‘her prolific body of work that has constantly echoed the cry of the poorest of our society for dignity and for justice both inside and outside the Church . . . specifically the dignity of all women’.

Her groundbreaking work on women in the diaconate led to her appointment to the Pontifical Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women in 2016. She has taught at Fordham, Boston, and Yale Universities, and currently holds a research appointment at Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York. Her book, Women: Icons of Christ (Paulist Press, 2020), received a US Catholic Media Association 2021 Book Award. Her recent book, Elizabeth Visits the Abbey (Clear Faith Publishing, 2022) examines the role of women in the church, through the eyes of 12-year-old Elizabeth. Dr Zagano speaks with Australian Catholics and Madonna magazine editor Michele Frankeni about one of her latest books, the need to open the ordained diaconate to women who have a vocation, and the Synod on Synodality.

MF: Tell me about Elizabeth Visits the Abbey. I’m of an age where choosing a confirmation name was all about the Virgin martyrs. It would’ve been great to have had more stories about women in the church. Was that part of the reason that you wrote Elizabeth Visits the Abbey?

PZ: Elizabeth Visits the Abbey is my Covid book. I was Covid quarantined with a Sister friend of mine who teaches lower grades. I said I wanted to write a children’s book and I started Elizabeth Visits the Abbey, and she said, ‘no child can read that’ – that’s pre-teen, not for grade school. So, she wrote a book, What’s a Deacon? Her book is about Beth, and her dream of growing up to be a deacon. It is aimed for American fourth grade, pupils around 10 years old. And I kept writing Elizabeth Visits the Abbey.

Beth is now older, and she’s gone off with her mom to Ireland. Her mother is Irish, her father is American, and they meet in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, Ireland. So, the book begins with the love story of the parents. And it is a vocation book for many different vocations: marriage,