Kathy’s Story

DSC04616I have always been a spiritual person, and at one time, I would say that I was very religious. I attended Catholic schools, primary grades through high school and was greatly influenced by the Rochester, MN Franciscan sisters. From the time I was in second grade I wanted to be a nun and always thought it would be as a Rochester Franciscan. While in high school, I attended a vocation fair and met the Good Shepherd Sisters and very quickly became interested in their work–caring for juvenile deliquent girls. After high school, I entered their novitiate in St. Paul, MN and stayed with them for 2.5 years. I almost completed my novitiate training, when I realized that I really wanted to be married and to have children.

I left the convent, realizing that I needed a partner in life, but was still committed to some sort of service work for others. I became a licensed practical nurse. Also during this time, I met my husband, Robert, we married and eventually had two children, a son, Isaac and a daughter, Eryn. My faith throughout continued to be important to me. I practiced nursing until both children were born and then became a full-time wife and mother, volunteering at church and school until our children became teenagers. Through attending retreats and other spiritual offerings and my prayer life during these “stay-at-home” years, I was aware of a desire to do more as far as ministry was concerned.

While in the convent, I had completed approximately half of my undergraduate work and knew that my first step would be complete my degree. My long-range plan at this point was to become a chaplain as I was aware of this being a ministry within the Church that women could do. The first step of course was to get my undergraduate degree because then I would be eligible to obtain a residency in clinical pastoral education, (CPE) which would give me the necessary training to become a certified chaplain and apply for a position in chaplaincy. That was 17 years ago and I have ministered as a chaplain at Winona Health during those years, working in Hospice, Acute Hospital and Long-term care. Prior to becoming a priest, in 2008, ministering as a chaplain was the most significant job I have ever had. In fact, my work as a chaplain prepared me so well for becoming a priest. After securing a chaplain position, I was aware that I wanted to be on a par with the ministers and priests who were my colleagues in ministry, so I pursued a Masters degree in Pastoral Ministries from St. Mary’s University in Winona. I was able to complete this degree while working as it was specifically designed for working adults. All classes were held in three intensive two-week sessions each summer with all the prep work done throughout the year, plus the writing of a dissertation.

The title of my dissertation was: “Excluded by Birth, Diminished by Language: A Case for Inclusivity Within the Catholic church.” This professional paper was based on a study that I did of the New Ulm, MN Catholic diocese when Bishop Raymond Lucker (now deceased) pastored that diocese. I put together a 13 point questionnaire which I sent to all the priests and pastoral associates–made up at that time of religious women, and lay men–Bishop Lucker said that the only reason that he had no lay women as pastoral associates is because no one had yet come and asked for a job! I had a 70% return rate which definitely showed the interest in my questionnaire topics–ordination of women as deacons, priests and inclusive language for God and people. When assessing the significance of my work with Bishop Lucker, he said, “You will probably be the one to benefit most from your work.” The basic results showed that the people in the pews as well as the pastoral associates were ready for more inclusivity but the hierarchy was tentative at best, except for men like Bishop Lucker. All of this would have to wait for a later date.

In conjunction with all my education and working as a chaplain, I was struggling in a big way with the Catholic church and it’s lack of consideration of women. I was especially becoming more and more aware of the exclusive language being used at Mass, both to name God and people and realized that those with the language are those who are considered. In conjunction with this, I was beginning to feel more and more the absence of women on the altars of our churches. I knew from my work as a chaplain that I was doing priestly ministry by the very nature of the job. I was called to be with people during significant times of their lives; at birth, at death, during times of crisis–illness and other significant times–I was doing the work of a priest through blessing, praying with patients and residents of the nursing home, extending the mercy of God. The more I experienced the good of the work I was doing and the acceptance of my ministry by the people that I served, I increasingly wondered why my Church said that women could not be ordained. Certainly women were significant ministers in Jesus’ time and in the early communities and it had nothing to do with gender but everything to do with ability and desire to serve in this way. As I continued to struggle with these issues, I found it more and more difficult to attend Mass and be discounted by priests half my age telling me that I was not worthy to serve as they did. Added to this was the frustration of working as a chaplain and needing to get a priest at the end of life for patients and residents and being unable to find one! And my reflection was –I am here, why can’t I do what is needed? I am prepared, willing and able.

My husband and I sought out other churches to attend for Sunday liturgy when it was too painful to attend my own–often we went to the “Church of the Great Outdoors.” This struggling of mine continued for approximately 15 years –it was during our children’s high school years and beyond and I often felt concerned that I probably turned them against the Church as well, but they always assured me that they saw the problems too. Even with the problems of attending Mass within an exclusive setting, I found that I really missed the ritual and the inherent beauty of the Church so on one prophetic morning, I had the following conversation with my husband, who by the way, has always been my most supportive person.

I said, “If we are ever going to have a place where we can attend liturgy that is meaningful to us, we will have to start a church of our own.” Now, I thought I was just kidding, but he looked up from what he was doing and said, “I think you’re right!” This was so unlike him, as he usually tries to talk me out of things. Seeing that he was serious, I said, ” If you are serious, then I will have to get ordained because no one will come to a church that doesn’t have an ordained priest, because you see, I had every intention that this would be a Catholic church! He said, “Then I think you should see what it takes and do it!” Talk about a prophetic moment! From that moment on, all systems were go for me to seek out getting ordained.

I first contacted Mary Ramerman who was ordained by Bishop Peter Hickman of the Ecumenical Catholic church in 2001. ECC was formerly the Old Catholic church. This was the group back in 1878 that split from the Roman Catholic church over the issue of infallibility. At the point that I contacted Mary Ramerman, I knew of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, but was personally against their title–everything that I objected to within the present church was “Roman.” Mary Ramerman was very kind and at one point I even traveled to Rochester, NY to visit her and her co-pastor, Jim Callan, (which by the way is a wonderful story to look up!) but eventually it became clear to me that Mary didn’t have the time, what with pastoring a large parish to assist me in any timely fashion in my pursuit toward ordination. It was at this point that I turned to Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP)

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the reason for this group of women naming themselves, Roman Catholic Womenpriests was because they wanted to say in no uncertain terms that they are doing the same thing that the men are doing, except for working for a renewed Vatican II church. One of the things that the pope, bishops and priests who don’t support us will always say is that our ordained are not valid. We always have to correct them and say that we are just as valid as they because we can trace our ordinations back through the line to Peter–our first women were ordained in 2002 by a male bishop in good standing. What we women do say about our ordinations is that they are not licit–basically that the hierarchy doesn’t accept them, but they are valid!

It was 2006 when I began my journey toward ordination with RCWP. I was in contact with Bishop Patricia Fresen, a South African Dominican Sister for 40 years who felt called to priesthood and was personally asked, in the early days of the movement to consider being consecrated a bishop for service in the United States because many women were prepared and ready to be ordained. Patrica followed her call and this challenge and was one of the founding mothers of the RCWP movement. Patricia answered my inquiry immediately letting me know of the 2 year period of discernment and the 10 units of study that would be required of me in the process. The first half of the units were required before diaconal ordination and the remaining units before priestly ordination. I was encouraged to obtain a spiritual director, which I did and a sacramental minister who could instruct me in the sacraments. I was ordained a deacon on August 12, 2007 in Minneapolis, MN and a priest on May 4, 2008.

I would be remiss if I did not say that the whole process was one of joy for me as I came to the realization through my discernment that God had been calling me to priesthood all my life through all the life experiences that I had participated in: all the years of Catholic education, my convent years, through all the experiences of being a wife and mother, being a faith-filled Catholic all my life, my work as a chaplain–God was calling me. So what may seem like an all of a sudden decision was really a long preparation to serve. Having been a faithful Catholic all my life, I had always been one to believe and accept all that the Church taught, so in my younger years, I didn’t even consider priesthood because it wasn’t an option for women. It was only after more study and education that I realized that up until 1100 C.E. women were ordained for ministry in the same way men were ordained! These women were mostly women religious, but in the early church after Jesus, women led house churches along with the men. Note: If you aren’t aware of this history, Gary Macy, Hidden Tradition of Women’s Ordination is a good source. With further study on my part and in listening to the hierarchy’s reasoning for why women can’t be ordained, one realizes that their reasons are quite flimsy and really more about power and control.

So, moving forward then, I was very much aware of the Spirit guiding my process, from that first moment when my husband really quite prophetically said, “Kathy, I think you need to do this!” through the criticism of some that I wouldn’t have expected criticism from, I simply have always felt God’s Spirit calling me to do this. I can remember an anonymous letter I received after being ordained a deacon. There was some local publicity and the unnamed letter I received stated that I was “just after the power.” That is one thing I can honestly say, “I have never been about any power, but continually am humbled to pastor the wonderful community of Vatican II Catholics that have gathered around me.

After my August 2007 diaconal ordination, I began forming and building a community of believers–I sent out a letter to those that I felt might be interested letting them know that this would be an inclusive parish where everyone would be welcome at the table regardless of gender, marital status, sexual orientation or how one chose to live out their sexuality. I invited approximately two dozen people and probably half of those came to some introductory meetings. Our eventual parish looks quite different from those original gatherings. Several of the originals are still with us, but many, many more have come to join us–mostly by word of mouth.

I was ordained a priest on May 4, 2008 on the campus of Winona State University, almost right across the street from where we have gathered for liturgy for the past 4.5 years in the Lutheran Campus Center, adjacent to a coffee shop that provides our hospitality after Mass each week. I have mentioned throughout this story the guidance of the Spirit in my journey. I will share a couple of significant items: First, my ordination day was the 50th anniversary of my First Communion. I didn’t pick the day ahead, the Spirit chose the day–it turned out to be the only weekend we could have the space the entire summer as the university was going to overhaul the air-conditioning system right after graduation which was Friday and my ordination was Sunday. I realized later it was the date of my first communion. Now you might be wondering how I knew my first communion date and it was because the date was the day before my birthday, so I always remembered that significant date too. I had invited several area clergy that I consider my colleagues (the priests I invited said no for obvious reasons) and one of them was at that time the chaplain at the Lutheran Campus Center and came up to me after the ordination and offered his space for our liturgies if I didn’t have another space. I didn’t! So, we have been blessed with a rent–free space these last 4.5 years. We do support their ministries in all the ways we can financially and in other ways. Finally, I must give much credit to my husband of 40 years, Robert, for his continual love and support of this ministry–he gives me strength! I know from other married priests that support of one’s mate is so very vital to make a go of it. I have been blessed in these 4.5 years with two inactive male priests who have stood in for me for liturgies when I need to be away. I am most grateful to these fine men.

That brings me to the present. I don’t know where the Spirit will continue to lead this ministry, but I am here for the long haul. We probably have approximately 50 solid members of the parish and it is still growing! Not all 50 are there every week–we are averaging 20 every week, we have a board of directors as of last year, 2012 and we have begun the discussion of a larger space. All Are One Roman Catholic Church is named in honor of John’s Gospel, Chapter 17 which records the priestly prayer of Jesus, our brother–“that they all may be one.” This was his prayer for his young flock the night before he died–our desire as a parish is that we will work to make all of us one by being open to all who want to join us for liturgy and who choose to be part of a renewed Catholic church.

More as the Spirit leads…