Reader's Retrospective: Irene King Mennitt

This story appears in the Reader's Retrospective feature series. View the full series.

by Julie Gunter

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Editor's note: Introducing NCRonline's blog series "Reader's Retrospective": A special project that commemorates NCR's 50th anniversary by telling the stories of readers who have been faithfully subscribing to the National Catholic Reporter since its beginning. ​Read about the project's origins here.​​​​​​

Already an avid reader of Catholic magazines such as America, Commonweal, The Sign and The Catholic Mind, Irene King Mennitt's thought after reading one of NCR's inaugural issues was that this newspaper was "different, edgy, [and] could give me hope ... as a woman working hard to implement Vatican II."

Born to Irish-American parents and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., along with four siblings, Mennitt enrolled in nursing school after graduation from high school. She was commissioned into the Army Nurse Corps and served on a hospital ship during the last months of World War II.

Widowed at 36 years old and with five young children, Mennitt recalled that she often "felt alone, but was never left alone." Friends she'd made through a Cana Family Action group (modelled on the Christian Family Movement and initiated by a local parish priest) provided a circle of companionship "that surrounded [her] with love."

She remarried in 1972, to Lou Mennitt, a former diocesan priest who spent many years as a missionary in Honduras and Chile. He died from cancer in 1992.

A prolific letter writer, Mennitt spent countless hours over the next decades writing about social-justice-related topics to local newspaper editors, as well as bishops and archbishops on occasion. She was also a frequent contributor to her parish's newspaper, and republished a handful of columns in NCR during the early 1980s, including a reflection piece titled "And they refused the woman's hands." The article described her thoughts and feelings as a eucharistic minister who often observed parishioners switch lines during Communion in order to be served by the priest, and she expressed hopes and concerns related to the role of women and the laity in the church.

She is thankful for Pope Francis. She mentioned that Francis was her first husband's name, and that each of their children received the name of Francis at birth or during their confirmations. Mennitt also feels a special connection to St. Francis of Assisi Church on Long Beach Island, N.J., a faith community located near her family's summer home about 100 miles from her permanent residence in Lyndhurst, N.J.

Mennitt has also been a member of an intentional community since 1976 and is an associate with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace based in Inglewood Cliffs, N.J.

A version of this story appeared in the July 3-16, 2015 print issue under the headline: NCR a reader's retrospective: Irene King Mennitt.

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