|The Rev. Marilyn Rondeau is a member of Living Water Inclusive Catholic Community, which held its first services Sunday afternoon at Harriet Chapel, south of Thurmont.|
"The Roman Catholic Church has been a constant presence in Mary Hollomon’s life.
Hollomon, 75, who lives in Frederick, was raised in a Catholic family and continued to worship at Catholic churches throughout most of her adult life, save for a brief period when she attended an Episcopal church.
Despite her nearly lifelong affiliation, Hollomon found certain Catholic teachings difficult to swallow, including the exclusion of women from the priesthood.
After years of internal struggle, she recently found a way to reconcile her faith with her values through Living Water Inclusive Catholic Community. Living Water supports ordination of women to the priesthood. Its female clergy are also affiliated with the Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an international movement of women deacons, priests and bishops.
Since beginning in a church in Annapolis in 2008, Living Water has grown to include services at churches in Baltimore, Catonsville and, as of Sunday, Frederick, with a Mass at Harriet Chapel near Thurmont. Before Sunday, Masses were said at Holloman’s former house in Thurmont.
Growing interest among local residents prompted leaders to seek a designated church space, according to the Rev. Marilyn Rondeau, the priest who presided over Mass at Harriet Chapel on Sunday.
None of the churches where Living Water hosts Mass are Catholic. The Catholic Church does not recognize women like Rondeau who have been ordained as clergy, although the Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests asserts that the female priests’ ordinations are valid based on the concept of apostolic succession.
“The traditional churches, they frown upon us,” Rondeau said. “They indicate we are excommunicated.”
Under the rules of apostolic succession, spiritual authority bestowed to Jesus’ original apostles has been handed down to subsequent generations of clergy. A male Roman Catholic bishop ordained the first female bishops, who then passed the spiritual authority down to other female clergy, according to the association.
As its name suggests, Living Water emphasizes inclusivity in all aspects of its teaching, not just the gender of its spiritual leaders. Worshippers are involved in all aspects of the service, from reading the Gospels — traditionally reserved for clergy in the Catholic Church — to the offertory in which the bread and wine used for the service are ceremonially placed on the altar.
“What makes us unique is that we are speaking with more than one voice and listening with more than one ear,” Rondeau said.
As an ordained priest, Rondeau still consecrates the bread and wine, completing the transfiguration of the food and drink into the body and blood of Christ. Living Water also lets anyone take Holy Communion, regardless of faith, sexual orientation or marital status.
The sacrament is traditionally reserved for Catholics under the church’s doctrine. Those who have divorced or separated but not had their marriage annulled in the church are also excluded from Holy Communion, although Pope Francis has acknowledged that there may be exceptions that bishops can permit for their archdiocese on an individual basis, the Catholic News Agency has reported.
Members of the LGBTQ community have been denied the sacraments of Communion and marriage as well as burial under canon law, although some priests and churches have defected from this rule on an individual basis.
Rondeau framed Catholic doctrines as a series of antiquated rules that denounce many of the identities and beliefs held by would-be followers.
“There’s a lot of people that feel so disenfranchised and so marginalized by the Roman Catholic community,” she said.
“They put up with things they disagree with, hoping things will change,” Hollomon agreed.
Rondeau could relate. A lifelong Catholic, she felt the call to priesthood as early as age 3, a sensation she described as “a tug, tug, tug in my heart...”