Part II. Roman Catholic Women Priests are a CRY FOR JUSTICE
My vocation is intertwined with the eruption that happened around the time of Vatican Council II.
When did you first know you were called to be a priest?
I recall clearly when I first knew I wanted to be a priest. About Grade 7 (mid 50's) the parish priest visited our class. “Who wants to be a priest?” he asked. I think he forgot to include the word “boys” in his question. “Who of you boys wants to be a priest?” At least I didn't hear it. My hand shot up. And I was shot down. I was told in no uncertain terms, “Only boys can be priests. Girls can be sisters.” I was devastated.
Reprimanded by the priest and sister and teased by my classmates. I felt humiliated. I was broken hearted and crushed in spirit.
On another occasion we had a vocation play for the rest of the school. I was stuffed into a nun's habit and played the part of the sister while my arch-nemesis in the class was the patriarchal priest.
But I knew I was called to serve God. So, when I graduated from high school, I entered a convent. Being a naive 17, I didn't really know what that meant. But, exploring the inner longing I was experiencing was the beginning of a life-long journey of responding to the Divine wooing.
I spent 8 years (1961-69) with the Sisters of Providence at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, IN completing the formation program and discernment process. These were the Vatican Counncil II years and the ground was shifting under our feet. Everyone was caught up in a renewed understanding of who we were. Communities were challenged to rediscover the charism of their founders and explore what changes that would mean to their mission. We modernized our habits (the robes we wore) and were able to drive cars and move about more freely. Sisters were give more say in the ministry they did and many moved to work in more activist roles outside the confines of the classroom and to missionary efforts in foreign countries.
When it came time for me to make perpetual vows, to say “I'm in this for life,” I was not ready to do that. I still had a lot of unresolved questions and issues that needed to be addressed outside the confines of the convent. For some time I thought I might eventually go back and often dreamed of doing so. But, In time I knew that there was something else that God was calling me to.
I am grateful for the years I spend in religious life because I got a college education, something I likely would not have been able to achieve otherwise, and the foundation in scripture, theology and spirituality which I continued to develop through the years. Our formation directors were sisters who had been sent to schools like Catholic University of America or Fordham and brought back to us the best scholarship available and instilled in us a hunger for more. We were exposed to Hans Kung, Karl Rahnner, Edward Schillebecx, and Thomas Merton along side Thomas Aquinas and Pius Parsch.
Finding A New Way
I went into the convent singing songs like 'A White Sport Coat' and 'Que Sera Sera'. I came out of the convent into the world of Gloria Steinem and Ms Magazine, and Helen Reddy “I am Woman, Hear me Roar” - talk about culture shock! ... And I had nothing to begin with. Except for the support of a few women (and a good man of two) who had become friends. They helped we with housing, clothing, employment, and social support.
As a sister, I was a secondary school teacher of religion and business subjects. I had a greater desire to work in the business world than teach office skills. Fortunately, I found a job with Xerox Corporation as an executive assistant and then went on to positions in human resource management. Xerox had a great tuition aid program and I went to grad school and got my MBA degree back in the early 1970's – one of 8 women in my class of over 100 graduates.
Along the way I met my dear husband, Felix. When we decided to get married, one of our big decisions was where to live since he lived in Saskatchewan and I was in Chicago. Under the circumstances of the time, my immigration to Canada was preferable to his immigration to the US. We lived in Humboldt where he had a job and I started a small business. After a few years I sold the business and resumed teaching for Carlton Trail Regional College in Humboldt and at St. Peter's College in Muenster.
I also did a lot of volunteer work in the community especially with Girl Guides of Canada and the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, supporting the leadership development of girls and youth. Both Felix and I are church renewal chunkies. We read everything we could get our hands on and served on numerous committees and education programs in the parish and diocese from children's liturgy to marriage preparation and spiritual direction hoping to make a difference. We were instrumental in organizing CORPUS Canada a support group for married priests and advocated for the ordination of women as a companion piece to that.
When I was doing volunteer work in the parish in Humboldt, one thing I loved was visiting the sick at home or in hospital. That led training in Pastoral Care Ministry and eventually to a position in the Pastoral Care Department at the hospital. In 1992 we moved to Regina. I worked in parish ministry for 12 years until I retired in 2004 – frequently bumping up against the stained glass ceiling, limited in my ministry by the gender divide.
When the time came to consider retirement, Felix and I decided that it was something we wanted to do at the same time so we could enjoy our later years together. We both enjoyed travel and wanted to do more of it. In 2004, we sold our home and divested ourselves of much of our accumulated stuff. We bought an RV and truck and went travelling for the next 10 years. Home was where we hooked up. Our journey took us across Canada and the US multiple times. We also went to Poland and Ukraine where we met Felix's cousins and their families.
This travel was an opportunity to see many wonderful places, experience regional culture and cuisine, and learn many new things. It also was an intense deepening of my spiritual journey. An important part of our travel experiences was attending church renewal conferences and workshops where I met many inspirational women and men working for justice in the church.
The ordination of women was often part of these discussions. The ordination of seven women on the Danube in Germany in 2002 was hot news. This was followed by nine women being ordained on the St. Lawrence in 2005. Needless to say, this caused some stirrings deep in my soul. I was excited for those who were courageous enough to take this step and also for the possibilities for the future. For me, I felt the time has passed. I was retired after all.
Coming Full Circle
In 2009 our journey took us, unexpectedly, to a prayer centre where we spent the next three summers camped in the woodland and working along side the regular community, sharing meals and praying with them. In a way it was a return to the community life I left behind when I left the convent. In the serene setting of the Qu'Appelle Valley, I would sense a sacred presence.
During this time I met Marie Bouclin, Bishop for RCWP Canada. She stopped in Regina on her way to Vancouver to ordain our priest, vikki, and shared with a number of local women about the women priest movement. As she shared her story of call, I felt I was listening to my story. In speaking with her after the presentation she put her hand on my shoulder, leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Are you the one I will come back to ordain?” In that moment I felt as if I had been struck by lightening. It was my “Annunciation” moment. And I protested, “How can this be?”
Like Pauline Johnson's Legend of Qu'Appelle, the voice echoed in my soul. “Who calls? Who calls?” I came to know it was God who was calling and I also knew that I had to surrender to the inner voice and allow the mystery of what was happening to unfold.
And it hasn't always been an easy road.
On Epiphany about 5 years ago, as we were driving from Regina to Texas, the analogy of the magi journeying to find the new-born king struck me. They stopped in Jerusalem expecting to find guidance on where to direct their search because the star that had been following had disappeared. King Herod and his court officials didn't know about the star the magi saw or its meaning. So the scribes were sent scurrying to study the books to see what they could find.
This resonated deeply with my seeking. Seeking advice from church officials on what to do with my priestly call had left me feeling deeply dissatisfied. Quoting canon law to me didn't help in my struggle to understand the call or how to follow the start in my heart when I came into times of uncertainty. This is true for other women as well. Like the Magi, we make our way the best we can and finally discover what we were seeking, we realize the truth of our call - that God can, and does, call women to be priests in the Roman Catholic church. Knowing we have found the one whom our heart desires, we offer our gifts – our lives of love and service. We also know we can't go back to the institution that hindered our journey. We need to find our own way back to our country. We need to make a new way of ministry.
We all know the image of the black sheep. The one who is different, who doesn't fit in with the rest of the group. The feeling of rejection can be very painful. So this image spoke to me:
“To some she was the black sheep of her family, to others she was a shining light.
She was simply a woman who trusted her internal compass and had the courage to live her life by her own rules.”
I say, however, it is not my own rules; I live as faithfully as I can the call I know from God. We need to “Be the change we want to see.”
Roman Catholic Women Priests are leading the church, not leaving the church. We are a prophetic voice calling the Church to justice for women. The church today is losing out on the gifts of women for ministry every time we act or even think that women should play anything but an equal role in guiding and nurturing the people of God.
Mary McAleese noted in her presentation at the Voices of Faith Forum in Rome on March 8, 2018 International Women's day, “The impact of women on initiatives for the betterment of humanity are well documented. Women in leadership among people of faith already has a tremendous impact on their lives. But until women are accepted at the highest levels of leadership, ordained ministry, the Roman Catholic Church will continue to falter.” She compared the Church to a bird with a damaged wing unable to fly. With one wing taped to its side, a bird can only go around in circles. She cried, “Free the wing and let the Holy Spirit soar!” The church simply can't afford to continue ignoring the gifts of leadership women bring.
The most common reasons given why women can't be ordained priest in the RC Church are:
Each of these arguments is lame.
Herein lies the problem – the patriarchs don't want women to share leadership in the Church. In a patriarchal society, women have been denied the opportunity to define themselves. Men view women as inferior, emotional (irrational), compassionate (too soft). Women are to compliment men. Their call is to be wives and mothers. Their place is in the home.
The Law of the Church (Canon 1024) states only a male can be ordained. Today, that is the only logical reason women are denied ordination. It is the law. Rules do not allow it. There are some that admit, “The church has been misogynist, it has been sexist. But we are including women as we are able. However, the rules do not allow it.” (Thomas Rosica, CBC doc.)
We will never have justice until the church gets comfortable with the feminist complaint: that we have been battered by the patriarchy. (Bekah McNeel, SOJO Magazine, 10-11-2018)
I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God designed us to occupy.
(Letter 2 -July 17, 1837. Sarah Moore Grimké (November 26, 1792 – December 23, 1873) was an abolitionist, attorney, judge, and feminist. Because she was barred from receiving a formal education, she educated herself.)
When systems are in error and justice for those affected is denied, they can no longer be supported. Just as with the situation of slavery, the denial of equality in the church and ordination to women called by God to ordination can no longer be justified as God's law; it is clearly man's law. Women, who are called by God and their communities, to priesthood are acting in obedience to God even though it is contrary to the law that excluded them from Sacred Orders. It is a matter of conscience.
I was ordained a priest on July 11, 2015. My ministry is to Mary of Magdala Inclusive Community in Regina and to the wider RCWP movement serving on the National Leadership Circle. Through a year-long process of discernment, the RCWP Canada community chose me to serve as Bishop for RCWP Canada. I was ordained on July 21, 2018 in Calgary. It was attended by people from across the country, some international guests, members of other faith communities, and 3 RCWP bishops from USA.
My role as Bishop for RCWP Canada is four fold:
To be continued...