Sister Rose Thering, a Roman Catholic Dominican sister who dedicated her life to fostering Christian-Jewish dialogue and helped to change some teaching practices of the Catholic Church, died early Saturday morning, May 6, 2006, in her native Wisconsin. She was 85. Sister Rose had lived her later years in a senior housing complex at the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest in Hanover, New Jersey, before returning to her mother house of sisters in Wisconsin.
Sister Rose did the pioneer investigation of the most widely used Catholic religion teaching materials to see how Catholics taught about other faiths, and ethnic and racial groups. It was a self-study that dealt primarily with teachings about Jews and Judaism. What she found was shocking to her and so she wrote her doctoral dissertation on this subject. Although it was met with opposition at first at Saint Louis University, it was taken to Vatican II by Cardinal Bea, her staunch supporter, and eventually had a significant role in the passage in 1965 of Nostra Aetate, the document that asserts the ongoing validity of Judaism and that Jews should not be accused of the death of Jesus.
Through her writing, speaking and teaching, Sister Rose has been deeply involved in Jewish-Christian education and Holocaust studies for the past 50 years. After her retirement from teaching at Seton Hall University, a group of friends established the Sister Rose Thering Endowment in her honor. Its goals are to give financial assistance to teachers in New Jersey, whether in public, private or parochial schools, so they can enroll in graduate courses in the department of Jewish-Christian Studies and become better able to impart correct information about the Holocaust and prejudice reduction to their students.
She lived a career unparalleled in the Catholic Church and among women of religion. She organized and directed study tours to Israel for teachers; served on many commissions relating to Holocaust education; was a charter member of national organizations such as the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel, American-Israel Friendship League and the National Coalition of American Nuns. She was a life member of Hadassah, the National Council of Jewish Women and HIAS. She had traveled to Israel more than 50 times, made prayer-filled pilgrimages to concentration camps in Europe and visited with refusnik families in the Soviet Union.
Sister Rose's legacy is certainly her active building of bridges between Jews and Christians. When asked why she did this, her immediate response was, “Because an understanding and an appreciation of Jews and Judaism and the State of Israel helps me personally. I hope and pray to become a better person, a better Christian.”
Among the numerous awards given to Sister Rose, including the 2005 International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation award, she received the CCJU Nostra Aetate Award on November 17, 2005. However, due to her declining health, she was unable to attend the evening's celebration so the Award had been presented her in a ceremony at Seton Hall University on October 23 by Dr. David Coppola, associate executive director of CCJU, and Rev. Michael Moynihan, chairman of the Center's Board of Directors. At that ceremony, Dr. Coppola, a former college student of Sr. Rose's said, “For Sr. Rose, education was essentially about making meaning out of human experience and marking time as sacred and the Jewish people and Christians were inextricably bound together in God's loving providence.”
At the Park Avenue Synagogue dinner, an extraordinary video was shown of highlights from the Seton Hall University ceremony and from the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival's Best Documentary Short Award and nominee for the 2005 Best Documentary Academy Award, Sr. Rose's Passion, a film that portrays her lifelong efforts to counter anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz, executive director of CCJU, offered high praise saying, “Tonight's distinguished honorees remind us that progress is possible, but it is not achieved without the extraordinary efforts of people whose deep convictions and ethical values drive their vision.”