Equipped to Lead and Succeed

USF Graduate Brings Her Voice to the Pulpit

by Talya Sanders, USF News

While the Catholic Church says women can’t be ordained as priests, it doesn’t say they can’t preach.

Teresa Marie Cariño Petersen ’13, an educator, theologian, and activist, believes it’s important that women have equality in the Church. For her, that means being a Catholic woman who preaches.

“To be a universal church, you have to be willing to listen to the universal people,” she said. “If we don’t allow half the human race to speak, we’re missing a vital part of our Church.”

Others support her view. Women should be allowed to preach at Mass, according to 67 percent of respondents to a U.S. Catholic survey in 2020.

An Awakening in New York

Cariño Petersen was working at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York City about 10 years ago when she began speaking, preaching, and writing. “I developed my voice there. I like to joke that I became a ‘public Catholic,’” she said.

She started at Church of St. Ignatius Loyola as a part-time youth minister but she began coordinating baptisms, weddings, and funerals. “It was a big mix from womb to tomb. I got to see the whole breadth of life and was in the thick of parish life,” she said.

As Cariño Petersen witnessed cars being set on fire in her Brooklyn neighborhood after George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin and after Eric Garner’s death in Staten Island, she said a shift toward racial justice sparked in her.

“I started speaking out more and writing about justice as essential to faith. I was developing my voice and realizing I had something to say and offer.”

She began speaking at parishes and contributed essays to Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Rise Up series. More recently, her work has been featured in National Catholic Reporter and Catholic Women Preach. This year, she was awarded the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Moira Erin O’Donnell Emerging Leader for Justice Award for her significant social justice leadership.

A Start in San Francisco

Cariño Petersen started down her path to the pulpit as a student at St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco. There, she began her advocacy for justice, including going on an immersion to Salinas, California, the summer after her junior year. At USF, she majored in theology and religious studies and minored in Catholic studies and in Philippine studies.

“USF was the cannonball that shot me out on a certain path. It’s so foundational to who I am,” Cariño Petersen said. “I love academia, I love learning, and USF fed my desire to know and study.”

At USF, she worked in University Ministry, participated in programs like the Erasmus Living Learning Community and Kairos retreat, and formed relationships with faculty and staff. She also studied abroad in the Philippines with the Casa Bayanihan program, went on an immersion program in El Salvador, and volunteered with the Pacific Institute for Community Organization.

A Return Home

Cariño Petersen’s ties to USF drew her back to the Bay Area. In 2019, she became the director of religious education at St. Ignatius Church on USF’s campus. Since then, she earned a master’s degree in theological studies from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, and she now teaches social ethics at Sacred Heart School in Atherton, California.

And she continues to write and preach. She’s pioneering a concept called somatic discernment, which places Ignatian spirituality in a new context of understanding what trauma does to the body and how it affects cognitive abilities.

“Love God, serve others, and be yourself — this is the mantra that I carry with me through all aspects of what I do,” Cariño Petersen said. “The reason I spend so much time working on social justice is that, at the end of the day, people are dying unnecessarily and too early; they’re being killed. It’s at the heart of justice, and it’s preventable.”