Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Women answer the call to the priesthood

In joyous ceremonies this weekend in Falls Church, Virginia, and St. Cloud, Minnesota, five women were ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood and three to the diaconate.

At an ordination Mass celebrated June 22nd at First Christian Church in Falls Church to the strains of the "Mass of Christ Sophia", an inclusive language setting composed by Kathleen Rosenberg of the NOVA Community, Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests conferred Holy Orders on:


  • Barbara Anne Duff from Macon, Georgia. Rev. Duff was a Maryknoll Sister for 12 years, during which time she taught school in the Bronx, NY. After leaving community life, she pursued a nursing degree from Loyola in Chicago, IL, and served as an Air Force flight nurse during the Vietnam war. She then worked at the Manchester VA Medical Center in New Hampshire where she obtained a Master’s Degree in Human Services. She transferred to the VA Medical Center in Dublin, Georgia, and served there as the Nursing Home Care Unit Supervisor and subsequently became the Assistant Chief Nurse. During that time she got a BS in Information Technology from Macon State College (now Middle Georgia State College). Commenting on her ordination, Rev. Duff said that "I am fulfilling my original call to minister to those who are on the margins of society. We women priests are working toward a renewed priestly ministry, supporting nonviolence and social justice in our church and in the world."

  • Joleane Presley, who lives in Manassas, Virginia, and works full time as a hospital chaplain for Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, providing pastoral care to patients who are recovering from physical disabilities such as stroke, amputation, head injury and spinal cord injury. Rev. Presley has a Masters of Divinity degree from Duke University and she says of her current career and journey to the priesthood that "working with people with disabilities and meeting their spiritual needs has been a dream come true. Being ordained as a woman priest brings all of these dreams full circle. God has called me from age seven to be a priest and serve those who are hurting and ill." During the ordination ceremony, Joleane's father spoke movingly about that early calling while testifying to his daughter's readiness to undertake her new role.

  • Mary Collingwood, a devoted Catholic from Cleveland, Ohio, whose varied church career has already included teaching theology both at the high school level at Our Lady of the Elms High School in Akron and at the college level as an adjunct professor at Notre Dame College in South Euclid. Collingwood has also worked as Assistant Director of St. Barnabas Villa, an assisted living facility. For four years, she was Pro Life Director for Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Cleveland, and at the parish level she has been a Director of Religious Education and Marriage Preparation Coordinator. She has a Masters in Theology from St. Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology.

  • Marianne T. Smyth, who is from Silver Spring, MD and has been affiliated with the Living Water Inclusive Catholic Community in that area, has a Masters Degree in Counseling and four certificates from Global Ministries University in Theology and Scripture. A secular Carmelite for seven years, she was a caretaker for her elderly mother and has worked with students with learning disabilities and those who were drug and/or alcohol dependent. She now ministers to those facing sickness, dying and death.

  • Mary Theresa Streck of Menands, New York, a former Sister of St. Joseph who requested dispensation from her vows to marry the late Jay Murnane, a former Catholic priest and chaplain at Russell Sage College. The couple, who were active in CORPUS, the support organization for married Catholic priests and their wives, founded numerous projects and groups together including the Rensselaer County chapter of Pax Christi, Joseph's House and Shelter in Troy, NY, and the Ark Community Charter School in Troy, a school primarily serving low-income families, of which Streck remains the director. Streck has a doctoral degree in Education Leadership from Sage Graduate School. In an interview with the Times-Union, Streck described her ordination as "a continuation of a lifetime path." "It's not like I woke up and said 'Now I'd like to pursue a life of ministry'," Streck said, adding that unlike some of the other women priests who have come from working in Catholic institutions, "I am not going to lose my pension if I do this. I am not going to lose my job to do this. For me, it's a joyous passage." She said she is taking this step because "I don't want to wait another 400 or 500 years" for the institutional Catholic Church to accept women priests. Streck also rejects the argument that she should become an Anglican if she wants to get ordained. "I am not Anglican. I am a Roman Catholic," Streck affirmed.

In her homily during the ordination, Bishop Meehan asserted that "there is no shortage of vocations. Women are answering God's call and justice is rising in the Roman Catholic Church." She said that there are now 60 inclusive Catholic communities being pastored by women priests in the United States and that recent surveys have shown that 70% of American Catholics support ordaining women.

The following day, on June 23rd, Bishop Regina Nicolosi ordained three women to the priesthood in the Midwest region of Roman Catholic Women Priests. The ordination took place within the Community of Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, an RCWP community that meets at St. John’s Episcopal Church in St. Cloud. The three are:

  • Bernadyne Sykora of St. Cloud, MN, who was a member of Maryknoll for five years before leaving to become a school teacher. She has a master's degree in education of children with special needs and has been a deacon at the Community of Mary Magdalene, First Apostle. The 80-year old ordinand told the St. Cloud Times that it was her hope that "one day women will be given rights in the Catholic Church equal to those of the male population."

  • Corene Besetzny of Red Wing, MN, who says that her "journey toward priesthood has been life-long." After working in the Peace Corps in Liberia, West Africa, she completed graduate programs in teaching and anthropology. She has been active in parish ministry for many years in the areas of marriage preparation, family life, RCIA and social justice. She recently received a Masters of Arts in Women’s Studies: Religion, Theology, and Ministry from United Theological Seminary in New Brighton, MN. She has been presiding at worship at the Fairview Seminary Home in Red Wing, MN, and she also assists at the House Masses in her community. She works at the Red Wing Health Center where she ministers to the elderly.

  • Martha Sherman of Salem, South Dakota, who is a former School Sister of Notre Dame, an order she entered after graduating from St. Louis University with a BA in English and Theology. She left the order four years later but continued to teach in an SSND run school for eight more years. She currently owns and operates the Camp America Campground in Salem.

As for the official Catholic Church response to this weekend's ordinations, WJLA got Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde on record as saying that the ordinations were invalid. "The church does not have the authority to change her doctrine on the Sacrament of Holy Orders, which has been passed down... from our Lord Jesus Christ... It is a great sadness when Catholics choose to reject the truth of the Faith... I pray for their return to the fold."

The position of Bishop John Kinney of St. Cloud on the matter is well-established since, in 1998, he ordered Liturgical Press of Collegeville to destroy 1,300 copies of Woman at the Altar: The Ordination of Women in the Roman Catholic Church by Sr. Lavinia Byrne, a book promoting women in the priesthood. The book is now published in the United States by Continuum. According to the St. Cloud Times, Bishop Kinney reiterated the Church's opposition to women's ordination prior to this weekend's ceremony.

Bishop Nicolosi's response to such positions is that Roman Catholic Women Priests "believe[s] there are laws that are unjust and they need to be broken because they are not in accordance to the teaching of equality and love that Jesus preached and died for." She explained to the St. Cloud Times that RCWP's "liturgy is quite similar to the regular Roman Catholic ordination liturgy. The differences is we use inclusive language, which means we do not address God as 'male' and also addressing people in the pews, we do not address them as ‘brothers’ but as ‘brothers and sisters'". And Bishop Nicolosi added, "the part where men promise obedience to the bishop, we do not do that. We believe that the obedience is to the person of Christ, then our almighty God and to the community, not specifically to the bishop because we do not believe in the hierarchy as male priests do."


  1. Rebel Girl, thanks so much for this great article! The full equality of women in the church is the voice of God in our times.
    Bridget Mary
    Many blessings,
    Bridget Mary Meehan, arcwp, www.arcwp.org

  2. There is no such thing as a call for women to the Priesthood. It is reserved for men only. God bless you.

  3. May God bless you too, Anne, but there are many women who genuinely feel called by God to the priesthood. They are very gifted individuals -- in many cases even more gifted than many male priests who are presently ministering in our Church. It is only the current patriarchy that rules our Church that has determined that the Sacrament of Holy Orders is reserved for the "old boys club". Many respected theologians have studied the Scriptures (God's Word) in this respect and determined that there is nothing in them that would prohibit women from becoming priests.