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Outside cathedral Chigago group prays for women’s ordination

Special to the National Catholic Reporter

Amanda Fleishman could have joined her fellow United Methodists protesting outside the church trial of the Chicago minister who performed a gay wedding. Instead, she chose to join Catholic women in a Worldwide Day of Prayer for Women’s Ordination -- an issue most Protestant denominations settled years ago.

“I have a lot of Catholic friends and I feel they should have the same opportunities I do,” said 22-year-old Fleishman, who plans to attend seminary next year.

While most media flocked to the protest outside the trial of the Methodist Rev. Gregory Dell in nearby suburban Downers Grove, nearly 50 women and men gathered outside Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral to prayerfully ask the Catholic church to reconsider its ban on women in the priesthood.

The third annual Worldwide Day of Prayer for Women’s Ordination was observed March 25, on the Feast of the Annunciation, at events in Washington, San Francisco, St. Louis in the United States and in 11 other countries.

The Chicago prayer service was organized by the newly formed local chapter of the Young Feminist Network, a program of the Women’s Ordination Conference. “We want the church to know the next generation is alive and well,” said Laura Singer, one of the prayer service’s organizers, in her opening remarks.

“We don’t want to leave our church. This is the church we’ve grown up in and love. But we want to move beyond this notion of separate but equal,” she said. “We believe women’s ordination will help renew our church.”

While the group sang, blessed oil and anointed one another, school buses and sports utility vehicles pulled up to the curb to drop off school children at the cathedral’s Frances Xavier Warde School. Several students stopped to read the banner. One nodded her head and said, “Cool.” Some daily Massgoers at the cathedral were less supportive. “Just leave us alone and let us pray,” said one women who refused to give her name. “Stop being a bad example for the children.”

Katie Hogan decided to join the prayer service after the 8 a.m. Mass ended. “I definitely believe women should be priests,” she said. The crowd at the prayer service was a mixed one with almost as many men as women as well as Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans. Most noticeable were the young faces of Catholics born after Vatican II.

The organizers -- five women in their 20s and 30s -- reached out to fellow Generation Xers by posting flyers about the prayer service in coffee shops and bookstores and through an ad in Chicago’s alternative newspaper, The Reader.

“This is a big issue for women our age,” said Young Feminist Network organizer Loretta Pequeno, 31. “If we don’t do something to reform the church, more and more young women are going to leave. We don’t want to leave the church but we also don’t want to be silenced anymore.”

Fellow organizer Megan McGrath, 25, agreed. “We need to inject some energy into the church to bring back people my age,” she said. “The church needs to practice what it preaches about the dignity of all people.”

Bridget Boland, a 29-year-old attorney, said she and her friends see the church’s position as blatant discrimination. “I think that regardless of gender or race or ethnicity, people should have the opportunity to serve God however they feel called,” she said.

Twelve-year-old Kaitlin Faerevaag gave a glimpse of how those even younger feel. “It makes me sad that women can’t be priests,” she said. “We’ve come so far. Women can vote. We have a lot more rights. But they still can’t be messengers of Christ.”

Those in the over-40 set at the prayer service said they were encouraged by the number of younger faces in the crowd. “I was thrilled to be working with these younger members of the WOC team,” said Dierdre O’Neal, a national board member of Women’s Ordination Conference. “I was very impressed with the take-charge attitude and the enthusiasm for bringing the message about the inequality of women in our church.”

Don Wedd, regional coordinator for Call to Action, also applauded the energy of the young organizers and participants. “It’s great to see so many young women who continue to work on this and who may in their lifetimes see the achievement of the goal,” he said.

For at least one young woman, the cause was an extremely personal one. Bridget Rush, a high school theology teacher, said she has felt called to the priesthood since high school. “I feel I am a priest,” she said. “I don’t have to have a collar to pray with people and experience God with people.” But she said it was “a shame” that the Catholic church doesn’t recognize the leadership talents of women. “I do have hope that women will be ordained,” said Rush. “I’m 29. Maybe by the time I’m 50.”

National Catholic Reporter, April 9, 1999