Diocesan Interfaith Officer was inspired to learn about other faith traditions

Teresa Albright, Ecumenical Officer and Chair of the Ecumenical/Interreligious Commission

By Marty Denzer, Catholic Key Associate Editor 

KANSAS CITY ─ Those of us who grew up in the years following Vatican II may remember attending services at several “Protestant,” non-Catholic Christian, churches around town, possibly attending  synagogue service on a Saturday morning, even a Buddhist or some other faith tradition as part of “the ecumenical or interreligious movement.”

What does that mean? It wasn’t just curiosity. Ecumenism is defined as the principle or aim of promoting unity among the world’s Christian peoples. It grew out of and is part of the legacy of the Second Vatican Council. The word itself comes from the Greek “oikoumemene,” or, inhabitants of the world.

In 1965, the document Nostra Atarte, the declaration on relations of the Catholic Church to non-Christian religions, specifically Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and Tribal faith groups, was promulgated and slowly but surely changed Christian perspectives toward non-Christian faith traditions 

Here in northwest Missouri, home of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, residents espouse many different faith traditions.

In the afterglow of Vatican II, which urged reconnections and sharing between Catholics and non-Catholic Christians among other things, members of different churches began interacting and discussing ways to enhance their commonalities, while explaining the differences in ways easily understood.

Teresa Albright, since July 2019 the KCSJ Diocesan Ecumenical Officer and Chair of the Ecumenical/Interreligious Commission, continues advancing the work of the past ecumenical officers, now-Abbot Primate Gregory Polan and Father Paul Turner, while incorporating her own interests and experiences.

Albright grew up in Overland Park, Kan., attending her parish grade school and graduating from St. Thomas Aquinas High School, before enrolling at the University of Kansas, to work toward a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities/Western Civilization.

Unsure of what she wanted to do after graduation, in May 2000, she accepted a job offer at Congregation Beth Shalom Synagogue, Overland Park, as Special Events Coordinator and Publicity Coordinator. For the next two years, she coordinated logistics for about 15 events each year, ranging from 20 – 1,000 participants. In doing so, she collaborated with committees, donors, visiting scholars, and vendors. She also oversaw the publicity for all synagogue programs, including website content management and design of printed marketing collateral.

While working at Congregation Beth Shalom, she learned more about and was moved by the Holocaust. So moved in fact, that she enrolled at Boston College to work toward a Master of Arts in Comparative Theology. “I originally went there because I was interested in inter-faith studies,” she recalled. Her initial interest grew, and she focused on Jewish/Catholic relations.

During graduate school, she worked as the office manager at Boston College’s Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, 2003 -2005 also coordinating interfaith learning events at the Center.

Following graduation from Boston College, she lived in Massachusetts for several years before moving in 2007 to Fulton Mo., to work on Westminster College’s Central Missouri Interfaith Initiative and later for the Diocese of Jefferson City as a curriculum writer in the Office of Religious Education.

Albright then relocated to Houston, Texas, which she considers the “most religiously diverse city in the U.S.” In 2009, she was hired by the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart to serve as Director of Religious Education.

Albright also served on the Archdiocesan Interfaith Relations Task Force as a steering committee member and as a research and development associate for the Houston Interfaith Ministries, “the beginning of her ecumenical work.”

With her husband, Albright returned to the Kansas City area in 2016, and put her passion and drive for ecumenism, which she credits to the Holy Spirit, to work. She became a member of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan Interreligious Commission under the direction of Father Paul Turner in Nov. of that year, and served until July 2019, when she succeeded Fr. Turner as Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer.

Albright was hired as a pastoral associate at Visitation Parish and continues to serve in that role. 

She credits the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, whose religious order was founded in 1843 by Marie-Theodor Ratisbonne and his brother Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne, “to witness in the Church and in the world that God continues to be faithful in his love for the Jewish people and to hasten the promises concerning the Jews and the Gentiles,” with her continued interest, inspiration and love of ecumenism and interreligious relations. The Sisters, who sponsor schools around the world, including Notre Dame de Sion school in Kansas City, “were instrumental in bringing Catholics and Jews back together as the world becomes more secular,” Albright said, promoting commonalities with other faith traditions. She is a lay associate of the NDS Sisters.

Albright said that since Vatican II concluded in 1965, inroads have been made on the Teaching of Contempt, the age-old foundation of Christian anti-Judaism stemming from the conviction that the Jews had been cursed by God for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

French historian Jules Isaac, a Jewish teacher and writer who suffered the loss of his wife, daughter and a son at Auschwitz, wrote L’Enseignement de Mepris, The Teaching of Contempt: Christian Roots of Anti-Semitism in in 1962. Published after his death in 1963, it was the inspiration and foundation for Nostra Atarte, In Our Time, which overturned the almost two-thousand-year-old charge that the Jews committed deicide, they killed God. Four points in the book include: “Judaism is not a degenerative faith; Christianity was born of it.” “Jesus was a Jew.” “Jesus lived as a Jew.” “Jesus recruited his Apostles from the Jews.” 

The deicide charge was never formally specified as Christian dogma but pre-supposed and accepted by the Christian world until its repudiation in 1965 with the promulgation of Nostra Atarte. However, it still exists, Albright said.

A more recent doctrine than deicide, supersessionism, or replacement theology, claims that the New Covenant of Jesus Christ supersedes the Old Covenant of God with the Jewish people. Islam asserts that it represents the purest and final expression of Abrahamic monotheistic traditions, superseding both Jewish and Christian teachings.

She serves as advisor to Bishop Johnston on ecumenical and interfaith relations with the goal of affirming and promoting ecumenical and interreligious relations in church institutions. In addition to expertise in Church teachings on ecumenism/interreligious documents and dialogue, she applies her training and leadership skills to facilitate unity and friendship among Catholics, non-Catholic Christians, Jewish, Hindu, Muslims, Buddhist and Tribal faith-filled people.

“We do ourselves a disservice when we refuse to hold conversations with people of faith, whatever that faith is,” she said. “When we articulate our faith in conversation, we grow in our faith and evangelize, even if we don’t realize it. That makes us better human beings!”


October 26, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph