When asked the question, “Will the Catholic Church ever ordain women?” one respondent replied in broken English, but with great profundity…
“Ask God, not Pope. Not up to Pope, it up to God. He makes the rules not Pope.”
While some may argue, quite persuasively that the highest ranking official in the Catholic Church, does make the rules, we who walk by faith understand that in the end, God has the last say! To that end, in roads are being made, ever so slowly towards the recognition of women in the Catholic Church, beyond the traditional role of a nun.
Although the Vatican may still view the ordination of women as tantamount to heresy, more Catholics are warming up to the idea that women can and should be ordained. In September of 2010, the National Catholic Reporter, an independent news source, reported, “the latest poll of U.S. Catholics done by The New York Times and CBS News disclosed that 59 percent now favor the ordination of women to the priesthood, while 33 percent are opposed.”
As the shortage of male priests continues to daunt the Catholic church, God is opening doors for women to become more active participants during mass. Catholic women in increasing numbers are attending seminaries as well as special preparatory programs within the church. They do so to become equipped to serve through avenues currently open to them. One such woman is Gillian, G.M. Small. “Gill,” (pronounced, “Jill”) is a recent graduate of the St. Francis De Sales School of Pastoral Ministry, through the Diocese of Oakland. A proud Catholic woman, Gill does not spend time lamenting Rome’s current stance on the ordination of women. Instead, she is walking through the doors that God has opened and keeping her lamp, “trimmed and burning,” serving the Lord. Below Gill shares her journey into Christian service through the Catholic Church, her thoughts regarding doors opening for Catholic women and words of wisdom for those praying for the ultimate glass ceiling to come crashing down!
Read on and be blessed…
Shepastor Interview with Gillian G.M. Small, Esq., Eucharistic Minister
Graduate, St. Francis De Sales School of Pastoral Ministry, Diocese of Oakland, CA
Home town, Akron, Ohio, current resident of Oakland, California
How would you describe your “call” into the ministry? What, if any obstacles have you encountered as a Catholic woman pursuing that call?
Ministry for me is very broad. I’ve been involved in the ministry of music since I can remember. I’ve enjoyed singing hymns and antiphons and the like, and singing gospel music since the 7th grade. I continued with that and sang in high school and in the University of Akron Gospel Choir. When I graduated and came to California, I joined All Saints Catholic church where I taught Catholic education to 8th grade students.
Before Vatican II Council of Bishops, convened in the early 1960’s, we were not encouraged to read the Bible. We had instruction books and readings which contained the various books of the prophets and lessons in Sunday School. At that time I was about 26 years old. I discerned that there was a great need for continuing adult education in the Catholic faith. Most Catholics, unless they are working in the church in some specific capacity, after confirmation, don’t become involved in biblical study. They attend church, primarily because of obligatory reasons – not wanting to go to Hell.
I liked All Saints Church in Hayward because it was lively and had a younger staff of volunteers. I started getting involved in the Catholic Institute Studies and became an instructor. No one else wanted to take the 8th graders, so I took on the challenge. Fortunately, the students listened to my teaching, probably because I was closer to their age and they thought I was “cool.”
During one class, I asked them how many had bible in their homes. Maybe one or two raised their hands. I went over to the church and got a number of bibles, brought them to class and we played Bible hang man. That was their way of learning the Bible.
I was drawn to my current church, St. Columba after reading about the Gospel workshop choir. The pastor, Father Paul Vassar was a very progressive priest, active in social justice issues. He studied at Xavier in New Orleans and learned Black Catholic theology. St. Columba, a diverse, heavily African American Parish, flourished under his leadership. He encouraged African Americans Catholics to embrace their culture and heritage as we live out our faith.
Regarding obstacles, there are obvious limitations for Catholic women who want to take a more active role in the church as far as preaching. Only priests can do a homily (sermon). Lay men and women can give, “reflections.” Deacons and priests can read the Gospel. At present, only men can serve as deacons and priests.
Laypersons (men and women) can also distribute Holy Communion – these individuals are called, “Extraordinary Ministers” or “Eucharistic Ministers.” The ministers have gone through special training that prepares them to conduct 1st communion classes, confirmation classes, youth ministry and “the Right of Christian Initiation for Adults” (RCA). They may assist in the distribution of the bread and the wine, but only the priest can consecrate the elements.
The Catholic church now allows more reflections from women. Some parishes still will not allow women to even give a reflection. St. Columba is on the cutting edge in this regard. It has been a teaching church. We are down the street from Graduate Theological Union, so we get a lot of seminary interns. Many of them are women. We have observed that increasing numbers of Catholic women are pursuing their masters in theology.
You recently completed several years of ministerial training. Please share the name of the program and how the program uniquely prepares/equips you for service in the Catholic Church.
St Francis De Sales School of Pastoral Ministry, through the Diocese of Oakland. St. Fr was a man that taught laypeople of the congregation to assist the congregation in the pastoral ministry of the church. It was a 3-year certificate program in lay pastoral ministry.
There has been an emphasis on laity ministry since the Vatican II council – the church wanted to make certain that people were trained and equipped and not just remembering their confirmation class. The program covered the history of the Catholic Church, the interrelationship between the Catholic and the Protestant faiths, the Old and New Testaments, Catholic Social Justice, varying types of ministry, the sacraments, healing and service. It was a broad program that helped people to discern their ministry calling whether in liturgy, music, administration, teaching, marriage and couples counseling or theology of the body.
What, in your opinion, will it take for the Catholic Church to open its doors to female clergy ordination?
“Besides and act of God,” It will take a very long time. In my opinion, priests will be able to marry before they ordain women. The Church uses the argument that women should not be ordained because Jesus did not have women for disciples or apostles. Many women are disputing that by saying that Mary was the first disciple. She truly was the first one to “carry the Gospel!” I say it is because of power and control.
One of our pastors, Father Kwame, says (paraphrased) that a time is going to come when the church will have to ordain women. As more priests come to accept women in the role of pastoral leadership, they will put pressure on their bishops to accept them as well. It is the Conference of Bishops that meet and make recommendation of policy. “They will have to make Rome listen.” Father Kwame also asks, (paraphrased) “When we are baptized, we are baptized as priest, prophet and king. How can we baptize laity in that name and remain unwilling to ordain women?”
What barriers do you see slowly crumbling regarding women serving in the Catholic Church?
The priests seeing that women are capable and equal, rather than subservient.When the Episcopal church started ordaining women, many of their priests left. The Catholic church accepted them, even though they had wives and children! They make all kind of exceptions for everyone except women! However, this is changing because the American Catholic Church/priests are becoming more accepting of women and are allowing them greater opportunities to serve.
What guidance would you give to Catholic women who feel called to serve in a “priestly role,” but lack direction and opportunity?
You have to be careful. In the words of the late past President Theodore Roosevelt, “Walk softly and carry a big stick!” Like water on a rock over time creates valleys, be persistent, accept/pursue as many leadership roles available. Be innovative, be proactive, be available. There aren’t as many available priests so the schools of pastoral ministry are coming up. I would encourage women to really take advantage of the program and the Church will eventually find that they have to rely upon the women because that is whose there.
What strategies ought we develop in order to provide clear paths to success?
We have to be proactive and consistent. We need to train and mentor other women to take over leadership positions as doors are opening. As priests are giving more and more responsibility to the laity, we need to step up and occupy those roles. Eventually, it will get to the point where the Church will be compelled to allow women to serve in the ordained ministry.
The scripture declares, “The effectual fervent prayer of the righteous availeth much” (James 5:16, KJV). Let us join our Catholic sisters in prayer as they continue to serve the Lord by faith, trusting, believing and pursuing the ordained ministry in the face of tremendous opposition. God has the last say!
In addition to her ministerial service, Gill is an attorney employed with the State of California's Department of Corporations as a senior corporation's counsel. Based in the San Francisco Office, she is the Department's acting general counsel and also practices securities and franchise regulation. Oh, and by the way, Gill is my sister!
Are you discouraged because of a glass ceiling? Do you have a word of encouragement for a sister or sisters who are in the midst of the struggle? We want to hear from you! Post a comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next Wednesday,
In faith, hope and perseverance,