An Article Not By but About Me

April 14, 2019 at 2:11 pm | Posted in Catholicism, marian ronan, Regina Bannan, | 9 Comments
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Given my working-class Irish roots, I feel a bit ambivalent about sharing this article with you, written by my friend and sister women’s ordination activist, Regina Bannan, and published in the recent issue of the Irish Edition in Philadelphia. Regina wrote the article to share the news that I’m going to receive the annual Mary Magdalene Award from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference in Philadelphia this coming Thursday. Regina is the president of the group.

But the odds that you subscribe to the Irish Edition aren’t high, and maybe if you read the article, you’ll join us outside the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul on the Parkway at 11 AM on Thursday. I would love to give you a hug there!! (Incidentally, it’s a token of how deeply involved I became with the Philly women’s ordination group that Regina reports that my husband and I arrived in Philadelphia in the 1980s but in fact we were there only from 1992 to 1997).


By Regina Bannan

Raised in Delaware County and educated by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur at Notre Dame High School in Moylan, Marian Ronan will return to speak in Swarthmore April 6. She will also be honored in Philadelphia on her birthday, coincidentally, April 18. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference (SEPA WOC) is recognizing her achievements by presenting her with the Mary Magdalene Award. Now living in Brooklyn, Marian has never lost touch with her beginnings and her Irish heritage.

The presentation of the Mary Magdalene award will be at the SEPA WOC Holy Thursday Witness, April 18, 2019, at 11am, across from the Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul, Philadelphia.  The Award is named after Mary Magdalene, who was the “apostle to the apostles,” the female follower of Jesus who has been misrepresented; her pivotal role in the early church was marginalized in the sixth century. Mary Magdalene has now been adopted as the champion of women, particularly those claiming their rightful places in the Roman Catholic Church, as a model of women’s leadership. Marian Ronan is a perfect exemplar.

Ronan attended the first Women’s Ordination Conference in Detroit in 1975 when she was a staff member at Grailville on O’Bannonville Road in Loveland, Ohio. She became a member of SEPA WOC when she moved to Philadelphia in the 1980s to pursue her doctorate in religion at Temple University, and was president of the national Women’s Ordination Conference at the turn of the 21stcentury. Despite relocating to two different states, she’s remained a member of the SEPA WOC leadership group and as a contributor to their publication, EqualwRites.

Now Ronan lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Keith Russell, an American Baptist preacher and academic leader. She characterizes her neighborhood: “My husband and I live in the amazing culturally and religiously diverse Flatbush section of Brooklyn where you can walk in ten minutes from mosques to Orthodox synagogues to Pentecostal store fronts to Haitian/Chicano/Caribbean Catholic churches.”  The last describes one of the places she goes to worship, which leads directly to the reason for her return to Delaware County.

Ronan will be one of the panelists at the SEPA WOC event at the Swarthmore Friends Meeting addressing the question “How Equality Can Flourish in a Multi-racial, Multi-cultural, Multi-national, Multi-generational Church:  What Does This Church Look Like Physically, Spiritually, Doctrinally?” She and three other speakers will consider the future of the Roman Catholic Church, of concern to anyone who reads the news, and especially to those who are part of that tradition. The other panelists will be Mariam Williams, a Philadelphia woman of color writer and artist; Kathleen Grimes, an Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics at Villanova University; and Sonja Spoo, a community organizer around women’s health issues and a Swarthmore College graduate. Mary Hunt, the co-founder of WATER, the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual, will moderate. The afternoon will include open discussion and a brief ritual, and is open to everyone, gathering at 1 pm and concluding by 4 pm, April 6, 2019.

Ronan reviews books for the National Catholic Reporter and writes for many other publications, often on women, church history, and the climate crisis. She became an ardent speaker about the world water crisis, then about Laudato Si, Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, and now about the disasters awaiting the world because of climate change. You may remember that she reviewed former Irish President Mary Robinson’s book, Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future, last year for the Irish Edition.

Her two most recent books as well as mot of her earlier works focus on women. Sister Trouble: The Vatican, The Bishops, and The Nuns collects her articles occasioned by the 2012 investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, but, typically, she goes on to consider the impact of sisters on the American church. For Women of Vision: Sixteen Founders of the International Grail Movement two years ago, Ronan edited and expanded work done previously by Mary O’Brien, and provided a scholarly introduction to this international women’s movement. Her first book, written with Linda Clark and Eleanor Walker, was Image-Breaking, Image-Building: A Creative Worship Handbook for Women of Christian Tradition. Her next, Sophia: The Future of Feminist Spirituality, written with Hal Taussig and Susan Cady, was the first published exploration of the power of the biblical figure of Sophia/Wisdom. This work has been frequently updated because it is such a rich resource for prayer and celebration.

Finally, Ronan’s most academic book, published in 2009, Tracing the Sign of the Cross: Sexuality, Mourning, and the Future of American Catholicism, takes us right back to her Irish heritage. Does any reader of the Irish Edition not know that thinking about these topics is deep in the Irish soul? Ronan takes these questions to new places, using poststructuralist analysis to look at the writings of four Baby Boomer Catholics: James Carroll, Mary Gordon, Donna Haraway, and Richard Rodriguez. While this is not the easy read that Ronan’s popular articles and speeches are, it speaks to a consistent searching for the consequences of the life of her ancestors. When I asked her if it would be OK to write about her in the Irish Edition she so characteristically replied: “Perhaps the article will mention that my great-grandmother, Hannah Kelly, was an Irish domestic.” This suggests her great interest in Irish history and the politics of class, the contradictions of our lives and our history, especially as revealed by the women in our families. She even started an Irish book club to explore these themes. The Mary Magdalene award is just another contradiction, moving another woman from a marginalized position to the center of the faith.

Some Thoughts About Responses to My “Pink Smoke” Post

April 25, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Generally speaking, there aren’t a lot of responses to my blog. Maybe this says something about the kind of writing I do. Or maybe it just means you’re all busy. I used to think it meant that I didn’t have any readers, but an email from WordPress in December informed me that around 6000 people had at least dropped by in 2010, which made  happy. In any case, I’m grateful when people post responses.

I get the impression that some of the respondents to my blog about “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” think my objections to a hierarchical organization of women priests and bishops is personal, a kind of”whining” or “grudge” because Patricia Fresen got more notice than I did after that conference in 2005.  Actually, I didn’t care very much when my talk wasn’t published, and I don’t care now; if I’d been doing what I’ve done these forty years out of some expectation of fame or even recognition, I’d be one bummed out cookie. In point of fact, the WOC executive at the time apologized abjectly and then published the piece when the omission was pointed out to her ; she knew exactly what the omission meant.

My concern with the omission of my talk by WOC even as it published the “bishop’s” is that it illustrates the hazards of the concentration of ostensibly sacred significance and power in individuals. It gets them more notice whether they deserve it or not.  A parallel example is a recent documentary film called “Women of the Catholic Church Speak,” which features interviews with six or seven nuns, an ex-nun, and a Roman Catholic WomanPriest. (There is a brief shot of the former executive director of WOC, Aisha Taylor, but no interview, of course). Laywomen were second class citizens before Vatican II, and almost fifty years after it, the ordination of at least some women makes us second class citizens now.

My second thought has to do with Rev. DiFranco’s comments about theologians not really understanding pastoral issues, or something to that effect. First of all, I would like to thank her for including me in the same breath with Rosemary Reuther and Elizabeth Schuessler Fiorenza. This has never happened before and is unlikely to happen again, so I want her to know that I am flattered. I note, in addition, that dismissing feminist theologians is something that Catholic priests and bishops do all the time–witness the current affair with Elizabeth Johnson–so nothing has changed very much here either. In point of fact, at the first Women’s Ordination Conference, a feminist theologian, Dorothy Donnelly, raised the question,”Why ordain anybody?” Some of us continue to ask that question.

With regard to the report that I said, at that same conference in 2005, that racism is worse than sexism, the writer might want to bear in mind that that conference of approximately 100 people was almost entirely white. And this is the case for the women’s ordination movement in the US as a whole, as well as the Roman Catholic WomenPriests organization.  Perhaps there were three women of color in attendance in 2005, none of them black. And the attendees were virtually all university-educated, many with graduate degrees. And what Patricia Fresen said was that the exclusion of women from Catholic priesthood was the same as apartheid. It is simply ethically unacceptable to tell a roomful of privileged white US nationals that their exclusion from the priesthood is the same as the imprisonment and murder of hundreds of thousands of black South Africans, even if that exclusion is, as I have said for many years, unjust. If we can’t bring more nuance to our thinking than this, we’re no better than the guys currently in power.

I hesitate to say that Karen Kramer sounds like a current male priest or bishop because her tone is more sad than arrogant. But in some ways, she too echoes the institution: can’t we all just be good Christians, get over our petty grudges, and cooperate? But if we feminists do not feel entitled–indeed, obligated–to express our deepest ethical concerns and objections without having those objections trivialized, how are we any better than the bishops, who never criticize each other so as to preserve the institution?

Thanks, finally, to Len Swidler and Mary Louise Birmingham who have been contributing to conversations like this one for many years.

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