On January 18th, 2014, the first ordinations of Roman Catholic women priests and deacons of the year took place at St. Andrew United Church of Christ in Sarasota, Florida. In a bilingual ceremony presided by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan, Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia of Cali, Colombia and Maureen McGill of St. Petersburg, Florida, were ordained priests. Rita Lucey of Orlando, Florida, and Mary Bergan Blanchard of Albuquerque, New Mexico, were ordained deacons.
Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia became the third Colombian woman to be ordained to the priesthood after Rev. Olga Lucia Alvarez Benjumea, who accompanied her to the United States and participated in her ordination ceremony, reading the gospel in Spanish, and Rev. Aida Soto Bernal. Rev. Sanchez Mejia has been serving a community of 173 mostly Afro-Colombian families in Playa Renaciente, near the Cauca River in Cali since 2005. According to Rev. Judy Lee who has been mentoring the Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests' ordinands from South America, the heads of Sanchez Mejia's community wrote a letter of recommendation saying that she was ministering to and leading them and that they would happily support her as their priest. Sanchez Mejia, an activist, has also been supporting them in their struggles to keep their riverfront land, as there are interests who hope to take the lands and develop tourism there. She has worked with local priests in base communities and was a missionary to Ecuador for three years where she studied theology and served women and children and the outcast. Prior to entering the ministry, this mother of two trained and worked as a preschool teacher and also served as president of the Consejo Ancestral de Negritudes Playa Renaciente, an advocacy group for local Afro-Colombians.
Maureen McGill is a teacher and mentor in feminist spirituality connected with the Atman Center in St. Petersburg (Pinellas Park), Florida. She has a J.D. in Law and a Masters in Pastoral Studies. She is a retired attorney and has spent most of her legal career advocating for abused and neglected children. "My call to priestly ministry arose from those years," Rev. McGill says. "Women experience similar abuse and neglect in the church today. My call to priesthood will include advocacy to give women their rightful equality in the church." McGill has not given up hope that the traditional Catholic Church will recognize her role as a women priest. At her ordination, she told a local TV reporter that "the current Pope is awesome. Though he has not recognized the women yet, I think eventually he will. It is just a matter of when, where and how." This new and optimistic woman priest will lead inclusive liturgies at Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community in Sarasota and provide pastoral care for residents of nursing homes in St. Petersburg.
As for the new deacons, Rita Lucey is a member of Pax Christi who has been married for 61 years. She is a mother and a grandmother and a human rights activist who spent six months in federal prison to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas. She has also served as a hospice volunteer for 25 years.
Mary Bergan Blanchard is a professional mental health counselor and a writer. She has undergraduate degrees in English and education from the College of St. Rose, a B.A. in art from Marywood, and a masters in counseling and psychology from Boston University. She is the author of Eulogy, an autobiographical reflection on her years as a Roman Catholic nun, for which she received a certificate of merit from Writer's Digest in 2000, and Ed's Place: A Memoir where she writes about the man she met and married after she left the convent.
As usual, the official Roman Catholic Church disassociated itself from this latest round of ordinations, the Diocese of Venice (Florida) telling the media that "the Diocese has no association with this group. The Catholic Church has no authority to confer the sacred ordination on women, and this has been stated time and again"...obviously to no avail. Additional ordination ceremonies are already in the works for February in California and May in Washington state and New York.