But after she sent one of her papers to a long-time priest friend, he insisted that Goldstein should pursue her doctorate and teach.
“I told him that I had no interest in teaching because I thought that it was like being a parent with no spouse,” she said. “But he insisted that this was my vocation.”
Goldstein agreed to continue her studies, and decided to pursue her degree in sacred theology (STD) at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, where she studied under theologian Dr. Matthew Levering and focused her dissertation on Recent Magisterial Teaching on Redemptive Suffering from Pius XII to Francis. The theme of mercy, she said, had been constant throughout her faith journey and continually cropped up in the books she wrote.
Though she loved the work, one of the biggest obstacles to her finishing her studies was not her gender - but her funds. It’s probably the main reason that lay people - men or women - do not finish the full pontifical degree program, she said.
Fortunately, after she’d racked up over $100,000 in debt, “an angel” stepped in and offered to pay the rest of Goldstein’s way.
And on May 7th, wearing the same square biretta worn by Catholic clergymen and scholars with pontifical degrees, Goldstein walked across the stage and became the first woman to receive a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the University of St. Mary of the Lake. This fall, she’ll move overseas to join a seminary faculty.
Talking “guy stuff” - a woman among men
So what was it like to spend years of graduate studies as a woman in two, mostly-male environments?
For the most part, Goldstein said, the men at both the Dominican House and Mundelein were friendly and open to having a woman in their classes, though Goldstein admitted that she felt she fit in a bit better at Mundelein, since her classmates were coming from dioceses all over the country and weren’t already formed as part of the same religious order.
“Overwhelmingly, at Mundelein, I felt that there were a number of seminarians who went out of their way to welcome me,” she said.
It also made for some awkward - and funny - moments with her classmates, she said.
Sometimes, after sitting in on mealtime conversations on campus that consisted mostly of “guy stuff”, Goldstein would joke with her fellow classmates that she would have no idea how to speak to women again once she graduated.
“It really is true, I learned how guys talk,” she told CNA.
“I think people from the outside think that seminarians just think about God all the time, but they also think about sports, and about video games, and about Star Wars, and Red Robin burgers, all this guy stuff.”
The unnecessity of ordination - women leaders in the Church
From the outside, Goldstein might seem like she is advocating for women’s ordination - but anyone who takes a closer look at her work and her beliefs can see that’s not the case.
When asked about whether there is a need for more women in leadership positions in the Church, Goldstein said it all depends on how one defines leadership.
In the Catholic Church, she said, positions of leadership are properly understood primarily as positions of service rather than power.
“I wouldn’t want to see the kind of women who want to be in leadership positions because of the power,” she said.
In May, Pope Francis indicated his openness to establishing a commission “to clarify” the question of female deacons.
He noted that in Church history, deaconesses existed to help in anointings and full-immersion baptisms of women, for the sake of modesty.
These female deacons lived a life “similar to that of nuns,” according to a 2002 document from the International Theological Commission. The document offered a historical context of the role of the deaconess in the ancient Church, overwhelmingly concluding that female deacons in the early Church had not been equivalent to male deacons, and had “no liturgical function,” nor a sacramental one.
But Goldstein said she wondered whether simply upping the numbers of women in leadership positions in the Church would make a difference.
A common argument in favor of bringing more women into Vatican positions, Goldstein said, is that women may have acted more quickly and decisively during the abuse crisis. But Goldstein is not convinced that that is necessarily true.
“There’s no shortage of women as administrators of our public schools, and the Catholic Church has already done so much more than our public schools have done to protect children,” she said.
“That’s not to say there isn’t more that the church could do, but if the question is simply whether having more women in leadership leads to more just and humane policies, I’m not sure.”
“At the same time, I’ve been able to receive the highest degree that the church has to offer, summa cum laude, and I’ve been able to receive that with things being the status quo, so I have no real complaints with status quo at this time in my life.”
Update 6/10/16, 10:13 a.m.: A previous version of this story inaccurately described Goldstein's book "The Thrill of the Chaste" as a book describing Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body. It has since been corrected.