Maureen Fiedler: Loretto Values in Action
“Oh, honey, I listen to you all the time!Madeleine Albright
With these words Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, greeted Maureen Fiedler before air-time on the radio show “Interfaith Voices,” a public radio newsmagazine on world religions, spirituality and ethics that is syndicated on 69 public and community radio stations in North America.
“Interfaith Voices” explores how faith intersects with culture, public policy and the relevant issues of the day. It features interviews that help listeners understand religious traditions not their own.
At the end of 2017, Maureen retired as host and founder of “Interfaith Voices,” leaving the show in the capable hands of Amber Kahn, a young Muslim woman who shares a founding vision of the show. Under Maureen’s leadership, the show had accumulated about a dozen national awards.
In the 1990s, on long drives through rural areas between Washington, D.C., and Buffalo, N.Y., to visit family and friends, Maureen listened to the radio. “All I heard on religion shows were fundamentalist, evangelical Christian preachers or Mother Angelica. We need a radio program that will give more balanced perspectives on religious matters,” she continually muttered to herself and to anyone else who would listen. So was born the inspiration for “Interfaith Voices.”
The anti-Muslim feeling generated in 2001 by the tragedy of 9/11 terrorist attacks spurred Maureen into high gear with launching the new radio show. It was time! Despite no money and little expertise but with plenty of determination, passion and an awareness of the need, Maureen began the weekly hourlong radio show.
Not one to shy away from controversial issues, Maureen dealt with such topics as LGBT rights, transgender issues, politics, atheism, agnosticism, abortion and ongoing news among Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews and other world religions.
She believes that contentious issues need to be dealt with in a reasoned and thoughtful way so that some common understandings might materialize; or, if there is no agreement, mutual respect for others’ views can emerge. This is the goal of “Interfaith Voices.”
Promoting dialogue and understanding are hallmarks not only of “Interfaith Voices” but also of Loretto. Maureen was bringing Loretto values into the public square.
As a staunch proponent of equal rights for women, Maureen has displayed another Loretto value. Maureen came by her feminism early in life. Her first feminist act occurred when she was in high school. The boys’ and the girls’ Catholic schools had just merged before Maureen became a senior, so there would be one graduation ceremony. The priest principal called Maureen into his office to explain why the custom of having the student with the highest grade point average deliver the valedictory address could not be followed that year. Maureen had achieved the highest grades, but since she was a girl, the next highest (a boy) would give the speech.
The next morning, Maureen marched into the principal’s office and declared, “Father, this is unjust. It’s terribly wrong, and it will look simply dreadful on the front page of the city newspaper.” The school had its first female valedictorian that year!
The Loretto values of openness and welcome, respect for the earth, racial and gender equality, peace and social justice shine through all of Maureen’s life through “Interfaith Voices,” the Loretto Earth Network, the Quixote Center for peace and justice, coalition work and her interpersonal dealings.
Now that Maureen is retired, she is working on another book, quite different from Rome Has Spoken (1998) and Breaking Through the Stained Glass Ceiling (2010). Inspired by Loretto co-members, this one is about the evolution of the committed life in the 21st century.
With this on her bucket list, she quips, “No guarantee, because my cats, Cleopatra and Napoleon, demand so much attention. I tell each of them: ‘Oh, honey, I listen to you all the time!’”