Gaile Pohlhaus, Ph.D., former National Voice of the Faithful officer and inspirational guide for so many at Villanova University where she taught, in her Church, and in VOTF, passed away suddenly on Tuesday morning, February 27, 2018.
She lived a remarkable life, as the oldest of ten siblings, a nun, professor, activist, wife, and mother, her son Will said.
“I am very sad to hear this news―Gaile was one of my heroes,” said VOTF trustee Margaret Roylance, who worked closely with Gaile Pohlhaus on many of the organization’s initiatives. “Whatever I’ve done during the last 15 years to support VOTF has been based to a significant degree on her insights about the Church and about human nature shared during the early Structural Change Working Group days of VOTF. Requiescat in pace.”
Margaret continued, “We all owe a great debt of gratitude to Gaile and to her husband (Bill) for supporting those many trips to Boston for Structural Change Working Group and other VOTF meetings. Her health was never robust but her strength was beyond compare.”
“Gaile was a true Christian, a valiant worker and a wonderful friend,” said Elia Marnik, former VOTF Board Chair and leader of numerous VOTF projects. “She will be lovingly remembered.”
Her daughter continued this theme on her Facebook post, saying her mother was “a Christian who worked tirelessly and fiercely to reform the Roman Catholic Church, particularly with regard to women’s status within the Church and with regard to corruption of religious hierarchy in perpetrating and hiding sexual abuse.”
At the time of her death, Gaile was Professor Emerita in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University. She had retired from Villanova in 2005, but she remained active in VOTF and continued teaching, studying, and writing about her major interests of theology and women’s equality, even after she started living in a nursing home.
“Gail was truly committed to the VOTF goals,” said Mary Freeman, former VOTF Trustee and coordinator of several working groups. “She flew up (to the Boston area) for committee and board meetings regularly. I was privileged to have her—and often Bill—stay with me. She shared so much of her spirituality. We became very good friends.”
Although active in every one of VOTF’s Structural Change Working Group initiatives, she was most involved with VOTF’s study on Parish Pastoral Councils and Parish Pastoral Council Primer to identify the existing structures of the church as a first step in trying to change them. This work culminated in her presentation at the 2004 meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America: “Parish Pastoral Councils and the Voice of the Faithful.”
In addition to VOTF’s Structural Change Working Group, Gail was instrumental in many of VOTF’s women’s equality issues and programs. Her activities on behalf of women’s equality also spread outside VOTF. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference, for example, presented Gaile with its Mary Magdalene Award in 2013. Her profile in SEPWOC’s newsletter read, “The award recognizes courage and leadership for women in the church. Balance characterizes Gaile’s style; her courage has deep spiritual roots which allow her to challenge without alienating—mostly! She has a lifetime of working everywhere from parish to church reform organizations and academia.”
An early generation computer programmer and lover of all things tech, according to her daughter, Gaile also was a lifelong educator, teaching at high-school and college levels for decades. Gaile held a Master’s in mathematics from Boston College, a Master’s in theology from Villanova University, and a Ph.D. in religion from Temple University.
She spent the bulk of her teaching career at Villanova, becoming full professor of theology and religious studies and retiring as adjunct professor in 2005. Gaile also directed the Women’s Studies program at Villanova for several years, and after retirement was named an Honorary Member of the Gender and Women’s Studies program, having been responsible for developing a number of its assets, including the creation of its Resource Center and its graduate assistantship position.
Gaile was a member of the American Association of University Professors, American Academy of Religion, Catholic Theological Society of America, College Theology Society, and American Academy of Religion. She received the Catholic Theological Society of America Ann O’Hara Graff Award in 2005 and the College Theology Society National Service Award in 2007.
A VOTF founder and its first president Jim Post remembered Gaile as a “devoted VOTF member, officer, and leader inspired by a deep compassion for those in need. Her life was really defined by love of others.”
“Gaile’s voice was so important to VOTF and to me personally,” said Mary Pat Fox, present VOTF president, “especially when she served as VOTF Secretary from 2006 to 2008. She was so knowledgeable and kind, always there to discuss issues as they arose. She will be greatly missed.”
In a Facebook tribute, her daughter, Gaile Pohlhaus, Jr., said, “I am grateful to have been her daughter. She taught me to imagine different worlds, to, as she would say, ‘walk around corners that aren’t there,’ to question authority, and to provide cogent arguments for the things I believe in. I will miss her very much.”