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Women’s ordination advocates post ‘sign from God’ in Chicago

Special Report Writer

The Women’s Ordination Conference wants to assist the Chicago archdiocese in its ongoing campaign to recruit candidates for the priesthood. But archdiocesan authorities may not appreciate the group’s help, which consists of dozens of signs throughout the Chicago area and a large billboard calling for the ordination of women.

The project, said Women’s Ordination Conference executive director Deborah Halter, is a “good example of what can happen when people respond creatively to something they can’t take anymore.”

The “something” in this case is a number of archdiocesan billboard signs that were introduced last fall. The message is short and simple: “If you’re looking for a sign from God, this is it! Consider the priesthood.” Below that message is the Web site address of the archdiocese.

In early June the Women’s Ordination Conference began proclaiming a somewhat different message. A 14-foot-high billboard along the much-traveled TriState Tollway in Chicago’s south suburbs says, “You’re looking for a sign from God? This is it. Ordain women.” Below are the phone number and Web address for the Women’s Ordination Conference. The billboard is located near a tollbooth where drivers must slow down and is just 10 blocks south of one of the archdiocesan billboards. The group is also placing 304 signs, each a foot high, at Chicago Transit Authority commuter stations, with a silhouette of a woman lifting a chalice and the words, “Ordain women as Roman Catholic priests,” in Spanish, German, Polish and Latin.

The advertising initiative was sparked at a Women’s Ordination Conference-sponsored gathering of some 40 women in the Chicago area with theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether last February. While the group was lamenting the males-only-need-apply nature of the recruitment invitation, Mary Beth Lang, a 38-year-old mother of two, wondered, “Would it be OK if we put up a billboard, too?”

The words “just seemed to come out of the blue,” said Halter, who was present at the meeting. “It electrified the air, and everyone started buzzing at once.”

Lang told NCR she first got the idea when the archdiocesan billboards went up but had not said anything until the meeting.

Within days a sign committee sent e-mail to friends and acquaintances seeking funding for the project. “We had no idea what these things cost or even if we could do it,” said Deirdre O’Neill, a board member. “We trusted the Holy Spirit.”

Thus far some $12,000 has been raised, more than enough for a one-month rental of the billboard and the placement of signs at commuter stations. “It’s worked out well, and everyone is enthusiastic,” O’Neill said. “We even got the same company to produce the signs that the archdiocese hired for theirs.”

National Catholic Reporter, June 16, 2000