Denise Donato, the pastor of Mary Magdalene Church in East Rochester, celebrated two milestones this week: She turned 60 on Wednesday, and on Friday, she became the first woman bishop in her church.
Presiding Bishop Francis Krebs, of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, ordained Donato as an auxiliary bishop in a Feb. 9 ceremony at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church. There are six other bishops in the ECC, all of them men, according to spokesperson John Kerans, of St. Louis, Missouri, where the church is headquartered.
“As the first woman being ordained a bishop in the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, I can definitely say that I can only take up this mantle surrounded by my sisters,” Donato said. “This is not a position I ever aspired to, but I was very strongly supported and encouraged by men and women both within the ECC and outside of it.”
As she received her new title, Donato was surrounded by many of the women who helped blaze the path she is now following. Nine ordained women stood with her at the altar, joining her in the Eucharistic Prayer, including two women bishops from the Roman Catholic Women Priests organization.
Mary Magdalene Church, which she founded in 2009, belongs to an independent branch of Catholicism, the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, in which the clergy marry, and women are ordained. There are more than 50 ECC parishes in the U.S, served by 125 ordained clergy — one-third of whom are women. Its members follow the Catholic tradition without being in communion with the pope, Donato said. There are an estimated 4,500 to 5,000 members.
Donato, a Rochester native, earned a bachelor's degree in social work from Nazareth and a master's degree from Syracuse University. She also has a Master of Divinity degree from Colgate Rochester Crozer. She was ordained a deacon at Spiritus Christi Church in 2002, and in 2003, she became its second woman priest. She left Spiritus Christi nine years ago and started the Mary Magdalene Church community.
Donato will serve a six-year term as bishop, overseeing the pastoral needs of ECC congregations in New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. During her term, she will remain a pastor at Mary Magdalene. She and her husband, Phil, live in Fairport.
Missy Rosenberry is the East Extra columnist.