|Left to right,Fr. Roy Bourgeoois ,Fr. Marek Bozek, Annie Watson ARCWP and Janice Sevre Duszynska ARCWP|
My name is Janice Sevre-Duszynska. I’m an ordained priest and peace activist. Thank you all for inviting me here today.
Make the connections between sexism and racism, sexism and nationalism, sexism and militarism, sexism and capitalism,” said one of my earliest mentors, Dominican sister Marge Tuite at a Women Church Convergence gathering in Chicago in 1982.
We know that two-thirds of the world’s poor are women and their dependent children, and much of their suffering is caused by warmongering.
As Roy’s roots are in the Cajun French community of Louisiana, mine are Polish from the south side of Milwaukee, on South 15th Street, just down the hill from our parish, S.S. Cyril and Methodius, the saints to the Slavic people. The neighborhood corner grocery stores were Adamski’s, Sweda’s and Banicki’s.
Our family lived upstairs in my Busia’s house where we practiced Polish customs, such as Swienconka, the Easter basket blessing; we made kielbasa, Polish sausage, and exchanged oplatki, the Christmas wafer. My Busia, Marysia, and my ojiec, (grandpa) Youzef, crossed the ocean on the Stefan Batory, the ship that carried Eastern Europeans to the U.S. at the turn of the last century.
My cousins lived downstairs with their mother and father, Uncle Hank, who worked second shift at Miller High Life. A postwar child, I learned about the unspoken horrors of war from Uncle Hank and the men in the neighborhood, some who had schrapnel on their faces and bodies. Uncle Hank haunted Busia’s house. My mother said it was because the night before the three-day Battle of the Bulge,
The men were playing concertinas and dancing and he gave them haircuts. After the battle which Uncle Hank somehow survived, he was ordered to pick up the limbs of his friends’ bodies and place them in a potato sack.
My Busia was a mystical character straight out of an Issac Bashevis Singer short story. For her there was no division among the dimensions of being and space. We were connected to nature and the spirit world. She who called me “Janusia” shaped me. She reminded me to cross myself with holy water from the Sacred Heart of Mary font as I left the house saying Zostanchez y Bogiem, “Walk with God.” She would often touch my face and tell me in Polish that I had the “Good Stubborn,” the Good Mischief.” It wasn’t until years later when I began witnessing publicly for women priests that I remembered her words. They strengthened me.
Every Saturday from the age of eight through thirteen, I helped my teacher and friend, Sister de Paul, clean the priests’ sacristy AND the sanctuary of our church. There, I learned the names of the priests’ vestments. I practiced the altar boy prayers in Latin and asked the pastor if I could become an altar girl, too. He shook his head like Pope Francis does today …
So instead I made believe I was a priest. While cleaning the sanctuary that was off limits to females, I would sit in the priest’s chair as I dusted it. I’d go up to the altar, pretend I was reading the Gospel, then preach. I’d lift up the bread and wine. I’d give out Communion and bless the people of God.
These imaginings also shaped and formed me.
In St. Cyril’s there were three images of women that remain in my mind: Above the confessionals: the Mary who poured expensive perfumed oil on Jesus’ feet. How one man in the painting looked at her with disdain because of her sensuous display of affection and gratitude. In contrast, Mary, Jesus’ mother in the stained glass Nativity scene lacked expression—even spirit. I found myself kneeling, praying my penance in the baptismal nave at the feet of the jeweled Jasna Gora Czestohowa, Our Lady of the Bright Mountain. Was it her earth-soil-like darkness that resonated with me? Here I reflected and began to form questions like “Why was it that my mother, aunts, Busia and the sisters were not asked their opinions? Why didn’t they speak up and take the lead?”
I met Roy Bourgeois at a Call to Action Conference in Milwaukee in November 1988. “I’ve got a file on you,” he said, referring to the time I interrupted the ordination of a male priest and asked the bishop to ordain me. "Bishop Williams, Bishop Williams, I am called by the Holy Spirit to present myself for ordination. My name is Janice and I ask this for myself and all women.” Then I prostrated myself, hoping that my priest friends would show solidarity and make a circle around me. It didn’t happen, so I got up and said: “I am all of the oppressed women of the Bible. I am Sarah, I am Hannah, I am Elizabeth, I am Veronica, I am the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, I am the woman who poured the oil over Jesus’ head. I came here today with the help of my patron saint, Joan of Arc, hoping you would ordain me for all women. Will you ordain me?”
A few days after 9-11 our interfaith peace and justice community brought Roy to speak at Lexington, Kentucky at six different venues. When he preached the truth about U.S. militarism in the world, he made some of the people at the cathedral angry, just like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Jesus did.
Roy mentored me as an activist for women priests and as a peace activist. When I went to federal prison for my witness to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas, Roy was unable to visit me like he did for most of our SOA Watch community’s three hundred prisoners of conscience. Instead, he came to my ordination . . .
Not long before my ordination on August 9, 2008 I got a call from Roy while I was driving. He told me he couldn’t sleep after he received my invitation to my ordination. I pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the car. “I’ve decided I’m coming to your ordination, Janice,” he told me. There was a pause. Then I told him, “Roy, I know you know what you are doing? But do you know what you’re doing?”
Two people’s lives were changed when I was ordained. I am blessed to be Roy’s friend.
It wasn’t just adding women and stirring for us women who became priests. Rather, it’s a renewed priesthood in a reformed church.
We women priests are working at non-hierarchical and non-clerical. We are trying to be a circle of equals to each other and within our liturgical communities where all of God’s people are welcome at our table . . .