Sister celebrates 100th birthday, 80 years in monastery - chicagotribune.com
When Sister Vivian Ivantic was a little girl, she knew she had a calling. She came home from first grade and announced to her mother that when she grew up, she wanted to become a priest or a nun.
And it was then, more than 90 years ago, that she discovered women cannot become priests in the Roman Catholic Church.
Ivantic became a sister instead and remained optimistic that priesthood would one day be an option for Catholic women to pursue.
On Sunday, after a Mass at St. Scholastica Monastery in West Rogers Park marking her 80th anniversary in the religious community, Ivantic made it clear that she hasn't given up on the idea, even as she turns 100 on Wednesday.
With a mischievous grin on her face and a fist in the air, she called on the Catholic Church to allow female ordination, a yearning that likely won't be fulfilled for her but an opportunity she hopes will at least be available to younger women.
"We need women in church offices. It won't come in my lifetime, but it will come," she said.
Much has changed in Ivantic's family, the church and American society since she joined the Benedictine community eight decades ago. Women today have more choices than becoming a mother, nurse or housekeeper, she said. She plays her beloved card games on a computer now. Much of her family has scattered from northern Illinois to Florida, Oregon and New Jersey. And she no longer wears the iconic habit of a cloistered nun or sister.
Dressed in a pale teal pantsuit Sunday with her silver hair swept to the side, she said she hopes to see more shifts, like women occupying positions of power in the church.
Last year the Vatican reprimanded a major network of nuns in the U.S. for espousing "radical feminist themes," including female ordination, for its more liberal ideas on the ministry of gays and for its silence, seen as a failure to enforce the Vatican's views, on sexuality and abortion rights. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious was chastised for stepping "out of line" by the male leadership in a report concluding a three-year investigation.
Though Pope Francis has not ruled out the possibility of women in leadership, he did close the door last month to the ordination of female priests, reviving a statement Pope John Paul II made in 1994 that intended to end the discussion. Even promoting female ordination can come with a price, as shown by the expulsion last November of Roy Bourgeois, a longtime priest with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers who refused to end his campaign for ordaining women.
But that doesn't stop Ivantic. It's an injustice, she said, and she has no problem speaking up.
"I think the American church is outstanding, but I'm waiting for women's ordination," she said. "We have been deprived of the celebration of the Mass because we don't have enough ordained priests. We have done so much as teachers, nurses, social workers, but we need to open church offices to women."
An advocacy group called the Women's Ordination Conference supports Ivantic's hopes for female priests, said the group's executive director, Erin Saiz Hanna.
"People, especially in America, are used to seeing women advance in the workplace, in politics, so people are ready to see women break through the stained-glass ceiling," Hanna said. "The hierarchy could learn a lot from just listening to its people."
As the daughter of pious immigrant parents from Slovenia, Ivantic took her vows at age 20. She worked as an elementary and high school teacher, teaching Latin for many years in schools around the country. Later on she became a school librarian at St. Scholastica Academy, a former all-girls Catholic high school run by the sisters.
Ivantic eventually became the community's archivist, and she meticulously reviews old documents and memorabilia that record changes in the church's history, some of which she witnessed. Each day she leaves her walker at the bottom of the stairs, climbing two flights to the archives where between prayer sessions and Mass she works accompanied by her cat, Thecla, named for an early saint who followed the Apostle Paul. According to legend, the virgin Thecla was chained to a lioness and sentenced to be eaten by wild beasts after she fought off the forceful advances of nobleman. The female lion apparently saved Thecla by fighting off the other beasts.
Her great-niece Elizabeth McGhee, 32, said Ivantic gives her a different tour of the monastery each time she visits, using her latest research topic to showcase a different part.
While Ivantic hasn't seen female ordination in her lifetime, McGhee said she expects to see it happen before she reaches her great-aunt's age.
Ivantic is the family's matriarch, McGhee said. In addition to keeping her 50 nieces and nephews and their children tightly knit by playing Scrabble, fishing, tending to the sick and enjoying an occasional beer — just one — she also encourages her family to ask questions about their faith, about the church's history and their lives.
Her niece Karen Ivantic, 56, said many in the family, herself included, often consider leaving the church because it does not allow women to be equals.
"I could easily walk away but I think … what holds me in is our family tradition and my love of (Sister Vivian)," she said. "She committed her life to this, she's not walking away. She's fighting, but she's not walking away.
"So what that says to me is, 'Don't abandon everything but don't stop fighting for the change.