The evolution of Ilia Delio

July 19, 2019
Posted in Blog
July 19, 2019 Editor

The evolution of Ilia Delio

Please click on audio of post. NOTE: only main text read; no links, text markings, images, videos, footnotes, etc. read aloud.

Jul 16, 2014

by Jamie Manson

Global Sisters Report

photo above: Franciscan Sr. Ilia Delio delivers the keynote address Aug. 14, 2013, during the Leadership Conference of Women Religious assembly in Kissimmee, Fla. (CNS/Roberto Gonzalez)

WN: What an incredible woman of God! Please visit Amazon for her books in print. And if in the Vancouver area this fall, please consider attending this weekend with her:

Becoming a New People for a New Planet: Exploring the Dynamism of Nature with Ilia Delio PhD 

Here we will explore Teilhard de Chardin’s vision of planetization by focusing on the complementarity between humans and cosmos and the mystical dimension of being, in which the outer world is within and the inner world is without.  We will build on the core energy of Love at the heart of the cosmos and examine how artificial intelligence is changing the boundaries of relationships with the potential for an ultrahumanism up ahead.  
Dates & Times:  Lecture, Friday Oct 18, 7 – 9 pm Cost:  $25.00
Workshop, Saturday Oct 19, 10 am – 4 pm. Cost:  $125

Location: Canadian Memorial United Church, 1825 W 16thAve, Vancouver   

Register online at


Telephone:  250-220-4601 or 250-888-7501



“If we attend only to the breakdown,” Delio says, “we think we’re over. We see death. But that’s a closed-system way of thinking.”

A Franciscan sister, Delio reads the struggle between the Vatican and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious through the lens of systems theory, an idea often employed in the study of evolution.

Open systems, she says, remain open to their surrounding environment, and they respond to changes in the environment by reorganizing themselves. After the Second Vatican Council, most orders of women religious underwent a similar reorganization, transforming structures of rigid conformity into non-hierarchical, collaborative communities.

“An open system has a capacity for newness. New basins of attraction arise within the system and pull it, over time, in a new pattern of life. So chaos really is a saving grace,” she says, adapting the notion of chaos theory from physics.

Welcome to the mind of Ilia Delio, where most questions related to the church or theology are answered throuFgh analogies to the physical sciences.

Delio is the rare theologian with doctoral degrees in both science and theology**. But at her heart, she is a teacher. She longs for you to see what she sees: the vast interconnectedness of human beings, God, and the universe.

Her engaging personality has made her a popular speaker not only among women religious, but in spiritual and academic circles. The breadth of her knowledge can make these events downright epic. When Delio addressed the LCWR [Leadership Conference of Women Religious] assembly in 2013, she spoke for more than two and a half hours over the course of two sessions, then took questions for another hour.

Delio’s intellect works like a hummingbird in flight. As she speaks, she moves swiftly and precisely from physics to medieval theology to the 20th-century mystics. She feverishly taps each of these sources, cross-pollinating ideas and generating new, complex images of God and the universe.

Her writing, on the other hand, has been known to bedevil even some sophisticated theological minds. More than one LCWR community had to develop a study guide to her 2013 book, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being, before the assembly. It isn’t so much that Delio’s prose is dense, but that her theological imagination is so fertile it cannot resist making connections between religious and scientific ideas. The resulting insights can overwhelm readers who are new to the concepts.

But Delio insists that her message really is quite simple.

“I want everyone to see that we are loved into being at this moment just as we are by a God of unconditional love,” Delio says.

“We emerge out of this long, cosmic process we call evolution. But evolution is about deep relationality,” she continues. “We are created for love, and that’s what keeps pulling us onward.”

Perhaps what is most intriguing about Delio isn’t her understanding of evolution, but that evolution is the story of her life.

Born Denise Delio in 1955, her upbringing was more “Sopranos” than scientific — minus the mob ties, of course. She was raised in northeastern New Jersey by second-generation Italian immigrants. Her mother was a nurse and her father worked for the railroad. Delio fantasized from an early age about becoming a nun — a dream her Sicilian mother, left wary by her sister’s negative experience in a convent, tried for years to discourage.

And she succeeded for much of her daughter’s youth. A gifted science student who dreamed of one day winning a Nobel Prize, Delio earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in biology. A doctorate in pharmacology from Rutgers University’s New Jersey Medical School followed with a specialization in spinal cord physiology. Her research earned her a post-doctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to study the pathology of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

But just months before Delio was to begin her new post, Thomas Merton’s spiritual masterpiece The Seven Storey Mountain rekindled her desire for contemplative life.

“I saw my life in his life,” Delio says. “I longed to love the world from afar and live only for Christ.”

She declined the fellowship. Her classmates and soon-to-be colleagues were baffled. “They were convinced that I had either inhaled a toxic chemical in the lab or had suffered a nervous breakdown,” she laughs.

A devotee of the Latin Mass, Delio sought an austere, cloistered life. In 1984, she joined the Carmelite order. Their long, traditional habit represented the holiness and sacrifice she craved. In a photo taken on the day of her profession of vows, she bears a resemblance to Therese of Lisieux. A crown of flowers atop her veiled head symbolizes her status as a bride of Christ.

Delio contemplates the image for a moment. “I was happy for about 20 minutes,” she jokes at first, then turns serious. “The Carmelites really taught me how to pray.”

They also gave Delio her name. “Ilia” is the Greek feminine translation of Elijah, the prophet who, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, ascended Mount Carmel to challenge 450 prophets of the false god Baal.

But her romanticized vision of religious life soon buckled under the tightly controlled day-to-day realities of monastic life. “The God to whom I had felt so drawn began to melt into the darkness,” Delio wrote in a 2009 essay. “I wondered whether I had chosen solitary confinement.”

After four years in the cloister, she requested a leave and was sent to discern with the Franciscans in North Plainfield, N.J.* Though they, too, wore the habit and followed a somewhat regimented life, they had an openness to the world that Delio found freeing.

“As I listened to their stories of mission,” she recalls, “I began to see that Jesus comes in many ways.”

Delio redid her novitiate and joined the Franciscans, but her knowledge of theology remained rudimentary. The community sent her to pursue graduate studies in religion at Fordham University in New York.

During the school year, she lived with Ursuline sisters in the Bronx. As the burden of both completing her doctoral studies and directing vocations for her Franciscan community weighed on her shoulders, Delio says it was the Ursulines’ kind support and attentiveness to her needs that helped her “see what the Incarnation is really about.”

“Suddenly I saw God present in these nuns wearing jeans and sweatshirts,” she recalls.     

At Fordham, she immersed herself in historical theology, finding inspiration among medieval theologians, particularly St. Bonaventure, on whom she would write her doctoral dissertation. Her dissertation director, renowned scholar Ewert Cousins, also introduced her to the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit paleontologist whose mystical writings on Christianity and the cosmos have inspired generations of Catholic theologians. She was drawn to the way he synthesized his deep scientific knowledge with his mystical vision of the world.

Teilhard developed the concept of evolutionary Christianity, theorizing that the whole of creation was progressing toward fulfillment in Christ. The goal of the universe, which he called the Omega Point, was full consciousness with God.

“He believed that love energy was at the heart of the Big Bang,” she says. “As love emerges in evolution, there is a rise in consciousness.”

Like Teilhard, Delio is as steeped in science as she is devoted to God. She isn’t simply an expert in his work. She shares his spirit.

“He was a deeply incarnational, deeply spiritual man,” she says. “I guess you could say we share an incarnational resonance.”

Delio’s latest book, From Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe, is an edited volume of essays by 13 of the finest scholars on science and religion. She challenged each writer to apply Teilhard’s insights to the needs of the current age.

After a young adulthood spent trying to transcend the world, Delio now wants to be immersed in it. “The Franciscan way is the way of the concrete,” she says, “seeing the love of God in the leper, among the flowers and birds, in the moon. Francis taught us a consciousness of God in the concrete.”

But as it was with her namesake, Elijah, Delio does find herself sometimes alone on a mountain. Like a prophet, she is mostly unbound from institutions. Not only is she living out a renewed form of religious life, her position at Georgetown is untenured.

Not surprisingly, she is comfortable in the chaos, insisting that it is indeed a grace. “For me, it’s a gift not to be too stable in anything. I think it allows me to be unbridled in my creativity.”

“I think this is how God works,” she adds. “God untethers some people in history so that they’re free to give themselves over in a radical way to create and to participate in the new.”

Please click on: Ilia Delio


  1. [1]There is financial assistance if needed. Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
    The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below. There is financial assistance if needed.
  2. [2]It continued:
    ‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”   The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed.  It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.  He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.
  3. [3]Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
    Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).
    What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.
  4. [5]
  5. [4] The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". [5]He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
    Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.
  6. [6]A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
    In June [2017], the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
    It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.
    Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
    The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.
    To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.


Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

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