"Our Lady of the Snows" is not just a great name for a ski-town church. The name derives from the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, otherwise known as Our Lady of the Snow.
According to legend, the fourth-century basilica was dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus, after snow fell on the spot in August, an unlikely event on the Italian peninsula. Miracles, as well as tragedies, abound in the 2,000-year history of the Roman Catholic Church.
Teresa Gregory shared this tidbit of Catholic Church history during a recent interview. She has spent her life in the church, lately taking what she has learned to a new post at the Community Campus in Hailey.
Gregory came to the Wood River Valley in 2002 to take the position of pastoral associate and site leader at Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church in Sun Valley. The Kansas native graduated in 1991 from Seattle University Divinity School, where she broadened and deepened her lifelong faith.
"Religion was always strong within my family. In every waking moment you were called to consider what it means to be Catholic. I was surrounded by Catholic culture," she said.
Within a few years of arriving at Our Lady of the Snows, Gregory was appointed parish life director by Bishop Michael Driscoll in Boise, handling all day-to-day activities at the church. Only Monsignor John W. Morgan (now in Boise) and Father Jorge Garcia at St. Charles Borromeo in Hailey had higher authority within the local congregation, performing marriage, birth and funeral services as well as conducting mass.
Gregory gave talks, called "reflections," on church doctrine and history, and worked with other clergy in the area to bring ecumenical spirit to the church.
"It was an amazing opportunity," said Gregory. "I loved it."
Gregory said women had only been allowed to become parish life directors since 1983 when canon law was revised to allow lay practitioners such expanded duties in the absence of ordained priests. Her job in the church ended on June 1 when Father Joseph McDonald was appointed by the Boise Diocese to handle both ceremonial and pastoral duties.
Gregory said about 400 to 500 lay practitioners still hold positions such as hers across the U.S., most of them women. Ordained priests and higher-ups in the Catholic clergy must be men, she said.
Gregory took time to outline the monastic orders that derived over centuries within the church, beginning with the Rule of St. Benedict, who was born in 480.
"Monasteries were places where people could up the ante with regard to their faith, once Constantine [Roman emperor, 306-317] converted and it became more easy to be Christian. Monks usually gathered on the outskirts of cities," said Gregory.
"The radical belief of Christians is that God chooses to become one of us in this created world as a creature with us, so that we may come to understand the incredible dignity of this creation. Jesus dignifies and makes sacred this creation," she said. "The whole history of the church can be seen as a history of the struggle to live in the image of Jesus, to care for one another, love one another and take care of the less fortunate, to honor and dignify creation."
So how does one make sense of the Spanish Inquisition, torture, the Crusades and other points in history that are difficult to rationalize?
"The church has handled this struggle better at some times than at others. During those times it was handled immaturely, during times of war and violence, or when children and women were treated as property," said Gregory.
"When you attempt to limit the understanding of God to one area, when one person is considered inferior than another, when we stop talking to others and limit our relationships with one another, that is when atrocities become possible. God is so much bigger than anything any one of us, or any group of us, can conceive of," she said.
Gregory invited several other faith organizations to contribute during dedication ceremonies for the newly rebuilt Our Lady of the Snows church in 2007. The Jewish community blew the Shofar outside on a cold December night to welcome the faithful. Several Protestant congregations contributed blessed water from their churches to fill Our Lady of the Snows' baptismal font. A Greek Orthodox community in Twin Falls, some of whose members worship at Our Lady of the Snows, donated an icon from their house of faith.
"I wanted to create a place of conversation and dialogue with many faiths. I say don't close the doors of a church, take them off their hinges," said Gregory.
Tibetan Buddhists use the new building regularly to hold meetings. A group of architecture students, primarily Mormon, tour the new church each year to get inspired by the impressive new edifice that is Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church.
Today Gregory works amid more worldly concerns as coordinator of the Community Campus in Hailey, helping to organize College of Southern Idaho, the Blaine County Recreation District, dance companies and others into a building that once housed the Wood River High School.
"It's a new way for me to live in the world, but according to the same principles. Here it is more about education, fitness and kids. I love working with kids."
Gregory said she will offer classes this fall in scriptural studies, for those wanting to learn from her previous position in the community, and her long interest in Catholicism.