Susan Vaickauski, center, smiles after she is dressed in the stole and chasuble at her ordination to the priesthood by Roman Catholic Womenpriests on June 11, 2016, at the Northbrook United Methodist Church in Northbrook, Illinois. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller
NORTHBROOK, Illinois (RNS) "Her whole life, Susan Vaickauski felt an internal struggle.
But earlier this summer, as Vaickauski lay prostrate at the foot of the altar of a church in the Chicago suburbs, while friends, family and supporters sang the litany of the saints over her, that struggle disappeared.
In its place, she said, she felt “this overwhelming sense of peace and just God saying, ‘Yes, this is exactly what I was asking of you. This is where I want you to be. This is what I want you to do.’ It’s this feeling of knowing you did what’s being asked of you.”
What she felt God asking her to do — what she always has felt God calling her to do, she said — was to become a Catholic priest, a vocation that has been barred to women.
She answered that call on Saturday, June 11, when she was ordained to the priesthood by Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an international movement to prepare, ordain and support female priests.
Vaickauski’s ceremony was held at a Protestant church, as the Roman Catholic Church officially does not recognize these ordinations. It follows the tradition that priests are modeling Jesus and that the 12 men he called as his apostles — the first priests — were all men. The movement to ordain women priests, however, maintains its bishops continue in the same apostolic succession since its first female priests were ordained by Roman Catholic bishops.
The movement isn’t new: Roman Catholic Womenpriests started with the ordination of seven women in 2002 on the Danube River in Germany, and the U.S. advocacy group Women’s Ordination Conference was founded more than 40 years ago.
But its supporters have seen glimmers of hope for their cause this summer, most recently with Pope Francis appointing a special commission to study whether the Catholic Church should ordain women as deacons.
Even though advocates of ordaining women as deacons have warned it’s not a gateway to ordaining women as priests, it still has given some in the movement reason to be optimistic, however cautiously.
“We are feeling a little bit one step forward, one step back,” said Erin Saiz Hanna, co-director of the Women’s Ordination Conference.
“Pope Francis has opened it in a way that we’re at least talking about it, and that’s a great thing. … The women deacons question has raised the consciousness of being able to talk about women’s ordination a little bit more freely."