The Catholic University of America

Nicole Lee

Canon Law Grad Finds Meaningful Work

After graduating from the University of St. Thomas in 2003, Nicole Lee landed a job in corporate marketing at Target. A double major in business administration and Catholic studies, Lee says she thought she had found “the best possible job” in the corporate world.

She was responsible for marketing events hosted by nonprofit organizations that received funding from the national retailer. She worked with artists and visited hospitals as part of her job.

But her life was “in a rut,” Lee says. “I was doing meaningful work, but I wasn’t happy.” She did some soul searching and in 2005 began studies in theology, philosophy, and canon law at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. In the end, she chose a career path that she says has provided her “a huge amount of peace” and has enabled her to serve the Catholic Church.

Lee, who earned a Licentiate of Canon Law in 2009 at Catholic University’s School of Canon Law, serves as director of the Tribunal for the Diocese of Phoenix. One of 13 students who started at CUA’s canon law school in fall 2007, Lee was the only woman and the only lay person in that group.

Of the 1,200 members of the Canon Law Society of America (CLSA) who have canon law degrees, 14 percent are women, an increase from 10 percent a few years ago, according to Sister Sharon A. Euart, R.S.M., executive coordinator of CLSA.

Sister Sharon says female canonists “bring a different perspective and skill set” to the job. In his Apostolic Letter to Women prior to 1995’s Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, Pope John Paul II described those qualities as “feminine genius.” In his writings, the pope called for the promotion of women to positions in the Catholic Church that don’t require holy orders.

As the Phoenix diocese’s tribunal director, Lee sees to the daily operations of the tribunal and supervises a staff of eight. She works primarily on annulment requests, which comprise about 85 percent of her work. Periodically she does research for cases involving temporal goods — materials and property owned by the Church — and consults on various sacramental issues.

In an annulment, a canonist considers whether the marriage bond ever truly existed, she says. “A canonist’s decision is based in the theology of marriage. Did the couple intend to be open to children, unity, and fidelity? Did the couple truly understand their vows?”
She describes her job as “a ministry.”

“Couples share traumatic stories about their marriages,” Lee says. “A lot of healing can happen in the process. Some people [who have fallen away from the Church] reconcile with the Church as a result.”

While a CUA student, Lee worked part time for CLSA, helping to maintain the society’s website. She brought her Web skills to the Phoenix diocese, where she helped to redesign the tribunal’s website. “A lot of people don’t know what canon law is,” Lee says. “Now they tell us they learn a lot from the website. We’re trying to get out the good news about canon law.”

Lee says she‘s glad she chose Catholic University’s canon law school. “Going to school at CUA enabled me to develop a network of people in the United States and the connections I gained at CUA have aided my ministry.”  

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Nicole Lee

Hometown: Becker, Minn.
Degree: Licentiate of Canon Law, 2009
Favorite CUA course: Selected Issues in Consecrated Life with Sister Rose McDermott, S.S.J.
Best memory from CUA: The Papal Visit of Pope Benedict XVI
Activities while at CUA: Student Intern for the Canon Law Society of America
Favorite place in DC: The Tidal Basin during the Cherry Blossom Festival
Hobbies: Wine, reading, traveling, new restaurants, and good food