Wednesday, December 26, 2018

My Story: Called Be A Woman Priest in a Holy, Joyful Shakeup of the Roman Catholic Church by Bridget Mary Meehan ARCWP

One night as St. Teresa of Avila prayed, she heard laughter everywhere and God said to her, " enjoy me." Perhaps, this is the divine message to the hierarchy about women priests!        

Like bright rays of sunlight streaming through fluffy white clouds, God's loving presence has illuminated my path from childhood days. When I reflect on my memories of an Irish childhood I realize that the Catholic Church is in my DNA. 

My First Communion in Rathdowney, County Laois, Ireland
In grade school I experienced a call to serve God, first as a nun in traditional religious life and later, as that call evolved, to serve the people of God as a priest and bishop in the international Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement. 

         I grew up in a happy home where friends and neighbors were greeted by my mother, Bridie, with cups of tea and scones,  and by my Dad, Jack, with story-telling and a tune on the trumpet or saxophone. After we emigrated to the United States, our home was referred to as "the tea house" because of my parents’ warm hospitality.

Anointing my Dad, Jack
I was born in Ireland, in 1948, into a warm and loving family. We lived in a little gray cottage in Coolkerry, a rural area outside Rathdowney, where cows and sheep grazed in green fields across from the Erkina River. Amazingly, it looks the same today!

Our family's first home in Coolkerry, County Laois, Ireland
Erkina River

        In this peaceful place, our family fished and played in its shallow, cool water. 
With Grandfather Beale,  Bridie, my mother holding Patrick, my brother and Jack, my Dad with hands on my shoulders 
We did not have many toys, but the earth was our playground. I molded and shaped mud pies in the rich moist soil of our garden. I imagined that my  baked goods were culinary delights like my mother’s rhubarb pie, scones and cake bread! I loved to feel the wind blowing my hair as I walked through the fields dotted with daisies, buttercups, golden wildflowers and purple heather. I played hide and seek in hay stacks with school chums, and hunted for eggs that the hens laid in our bushes. We drank milk from Carroll's cows up the road and from our goat.


At our open hearth, Mom always had a kettle on the boil, and every day we ate delicious  home-made soda bread. My brother, Patrick, who was  a year and one-half younger, and I walked home from school through the fields.  We often stopped at Vester Campion’s on the way out of Rathdowney for “sweets” (penny candy or ice cream wafers) which I put on Dad’s tab!

Sean, my youngest brother, was born in 1953. Dad worked at the bank as a porter and played in Billy Ryan’s band on weekends.  On Sundays Dad took us for walks through the lovely countryside, and as we strolled leisurely along he told us enchanted stories of fairies, banshees, rabbits and badgers. Each story, which introduced us to the mystical magic of the Celtic spirit, began the same way. “A long, long, long time ago in Ireland…”

My grandfather, Pat Beale, was a gentle, quiet man who often watched Patrick, Sean and me when we were small children. He took us out to pet Neddy, our donkey, and to see Mom milk the goat who sometimes would try to grab her hair! 
With grandfather Pat Beale in Coolkerry, Ireland

Patrick and I had a pet lamb that we fed with a baby bottle. One time the lamb swallowed the nipple from the bottle, and we ran to tell Mom this tale of woe. She assured us that all would be well. The lamb did not get sick and we learned our lesson.  Each day we drew water from a well near the river, and used rain water to bathe. Our Saturday evening ritual included warm baths in large tubs place on the kitchen floor. Dad and Mom worked as a team. One washed us the other dried us, then off to bed. Even though we did not have central heat, just an open fire place and hot water bottles for our beds, I never remember being cold.

On Sundays, Grandfather yoked the pony to the trap and went to first Mass, then Mom and Dad went to second Mass. One time when Grandfather was minding us, he fell asleep, and the three of us had great time with the flour. When Mom and Dad came home, the flour was all over the floor. Later they discovered that Grandfather was not feeling well. However, he gave exact instructions to my parents about “his last wishes.” He told them that he was at peace, and that they were to treat everyone well at the wake, have lots of food and drink for all who came. He even told them that he wished to be buried in the new cemetery near the town, not in Hamnacart where his wife was laid to rest.  Then, after a brief illness, Grandfather died and was laid out in brown habit in his own bed.  People came from miles around to his all-day and all-night wake. They remembered Pat by telling stories, laughing, crying and toasting him as they enjoyed delicious food and drink.  I still remember how peaceful he looked lying there on his bed.  I spent the night of the wake and funeral day with neighbors. As the funeral procession passed by,  I counted the cars and thought that he must have been well-loved because such great crowds came to say farewell.  
Our family was known as the musical Meehans, and our home was always filled with the sound of music. My first memory is of Dad playing "O My Papa" on the trumpet. 

Jack Meehan -See a variety of Jack's videos on YouTube and on jackandbridgetmarymeehan.blogspot
Jack Meehan plays the beautiful Irish song the "Rose of Mooncoin" with a Galway Band at Elaine Meehan and John Duff's wedding in Tullamore, Ireland in 2009. 

Dad’s father, Grandfather Jack Meehan, was one of the founding members of the Ballyroan Band in the late 1880s and his sons, my dad, John (also called Jack), Jimmy, and Paddy all played in this band. Dad was a gifted musician who has played with many bands during his 75 year career, and during his  retirement years he played both trumpet and saxophone for our inclusive Catholic liturgies and social gatherings in Florida and Virginia until he passed into the fullness of God’s embrace in 2012.
Ballyroan old schoolhouse where Dad went to school
Our family has always been a praying family.  In Ireland we gathered around the turf fire each evening to recite the rosary. My mother was a firm believer in the saying that a family that prays together, stays together. I had a sense early on that heaven and earth were closely connected, and the saints, angels, the Blessed Mother, and Jesus were family members who lived in heaven. I fell in love with God at a young age, and sensed that God was very fond of me, and close to everyone, including all creatures great and small.

I attended senior infants and first class in the National School in Rathdowney. The Sisters of St. John of God taught there, and I remember being slapped on my hand with a ruler when I answered a question incorrectly. In Irish schools at that time this was standard operating procedure, and I often had knots in my stomach for fear of being struck by the ruler. Obviously, school was not a fun place in Ireland in the 1950's!
St. Brigid of Kildare in Rathdowney, County Laois

Early on I was inspired by St. Brigit of Kildare, my patron saint. The stories about her blend Christian beliefs and pagan myths. St. Brigit was named after the Druidic mother goddess of fertility and abundance in ancient Ireland. St. Brigit saw to it that there was more than enough food, drink and love to nourish all who came to her hearth and home. No person who was poor or without resources ever left her presence without sustenance.  Brigit even gave the feast day vestments of Bishop Conleth to the poor. In Trinity Church in Rathdowney, where I celebrated my first communion, there is a beautiful stained glass window of St. Brigit, dressed in purple, holding a pastoral staff.

According to The Irish Life of St. Brigit, Bishop Mel, who was St. Patrick’s nephew, ordained Brigit a bishop. As the story goes, Bishop Mel said, “Come, O holy Brigit, that a veil may be placed on your head before the other virgins.” Then, filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, the bishop read the form for ordaining a bishop over Brigit. While she was being consecrated, a brilliant fiery glow ascended from her head. MacCaille, Bishop Mel’s assistant, complained that a bishop’s rank was bestowed on a woman. Bishop Mel argued: “But I do not have any power in this matter. That dignity has been given by God to Brigit, beyond every other woman.” Indeed, other bishops sat at the feet of Brigit’s successor until the Synod of Kells ended the practice in 1152. This monastic bishop was peculiar to Irish law, and indicated the powerful positions of abbots and abbesses of the great monasteries (from Oliver Davis,  editor of Celtic Spirituality, 1999 cited in Meehan, Praying with Celtic Holy Women, p.30).

Celebrating Liturgy with progressive Catholics in the Dublin area in August 2017.  Mary Theresa Streck ARCWP (on my left- breaking bread) and I met with women in Ireland interested in our movement in 2017 and 2018.

According to tradition St. Brigit built her monastery in Kildare near a large oak tree in 480 A.D. Both Brigit of Kildare and Hilda of Whitby founded monasteries in which women and men lived, some as celibates, and others as married couples with children, but all living in Christian community having dedicated their lives to Christ. In the sixth century, three Roman bishops sent a letter to two Breton priests, Lovocat and Cathern, banning women from presiding at Mass: “You celebrate the divine sacrifice of the Mass with the assistance of women. . . . While you distribute the Eucharist, they take the chalice and administer the blood of Christ to the people. . . . Renounce these abuses.”  My passion for justice and equality for women in the church is rooted in my Celtic soul that draws its inspiration from my patron saint, Brigit of Kildare.

In June,1956, we emigrated to the United States. It took seven days to cross the stormy north Atlantic. As we sailed into New York Harbor the majestic Statue of Liberty stood as a beacon of welcome to our new home. We were awestruck by the skyscrapers that loomed ahead of us, and felt the heat of the sun beating down on us.  The next day we drove to Philadelphia to a feast with our cousins who had emigrated from Ireland decades before. After this delicious meal we drove to our new home in Arlington, Virginia, where we settled in quickly. Dad went to work in a maintenance job in the DC Public Schools, and was invited to join a local band that played for the Irish Club in DC. Mom, a home-maker, took care of Sean, prepared us for school, and babysat for a few young children in our home.

Photo of our family after we immigrated to the United States. My Aunt and Uncle, Molly and Fergus McCarthy sponsored us and we lived with them in Arlington, Virginia in 1956

I still remember my first year at Saint Thomas More School as a traumatic experience. I was a chubby little girl with curly hair. At recess, some of my classmates would tease me about the way I talked. Some called me “fatso” and would not let me join in their games. I often cried, couldn’t concentrate in school, and felt as if I didn’t belong. I did not begin to flourish in my new environment until the fourth grade, when a lovely, gentle nun, Sister Marita Louise, expressed her belief in me. My spirit soared, my grades improved, and I made new friends. Affirmations always build us up.

I attended Bishop Denis J. O’Connell High School, and for the most part, I enjoyed the experience. For me, high school was a time of serious study and reaching out—doing service projects in clubs, like putting on a party for children with special needs. Music and laughter is the common language of the soul that connects us beyond our limitations. I felt that God was calling me to consecrate my life to service, but I struggled with the nun bit. Me, a nun? You have got to be kidding! I enjoyed life too much.

After viewing the movie “The Nun’s Story,” the idea of convent life repelled me. So I had some heart-to-heart conversations with God in which I did most of the talking. There was no way that I was going to scrub a floor, like the submissive nun did in the movie, and let someone deliberately walk all over it! So I applied and was accepted at George Mason University, but in the end I made a deal with God that if I found religious life to be like “The Nun’s Story,” I’d be out of there!

We returned to Ireland several times, always to a warm welcome from our extended family. On one of our vacations in Ireland our family was having a great time in Ballyheigue, a scenic town on the western coast of Ireland. One windy summer’s evening, when everyone else was at tea, I took a walk by myself. I was feeling anxious about a major change in my life. As I strolled along the ocean’s edge, the majestic waves were breaking at my feet and a strong wind at my back was propelling me forward. Clouds floated across the evening sky, shapes shifting as they drifted effortlessly by, and the crimson sunset painted the horizon with golden red hues. I felt a peace descending on me. In the depths of my soul I heard God assuring me, “I will love you forever, with my infinite love.” At that moment I knew that no matter what happened, all would be well. Words are inadequate to express how deeply I felt God’s love surrounding me. It was a mystical experience, and is, to this day, one of the most powerful spiritual experiences of my life.

Visiting or reminiscing about the places that have been significant in our lives is often helpful and affirming. Some people make spiritual pilgrimage to the houses that have been home for them in the past. I made such a visit to the three-room cottage where I and my two brothers, Patrick and Sean, spent our earliest years together with our grandfather, Papa Beale. I walked to the spring where we drew water from the well. Then I went to Grogan, to the church, now boarded up, where Mom and Dad were married fifty years ago. I sat in the church in Rathdowney where I made my first holy Communion, right under the stained-glass window of  Saint Bridget. I stopped at Lady’s Well, where Dad’s band would play every year on the feast of the Assumption, and from where we always carried home bottles of blessed water. My last stop was the cemetery outside Ballyroan, to place my hand on the tombstone of Grandfather and Grandmother Meehan.

These kinds of journeys affirmed my Celtic roots. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. There is a thin veil between this world and the next, and all of life is laden with grace—both our times of  joy and our times of sorrow. Our loved ones who have gone before us stand ever ready to help us. They rest in the eternal embrace and are but a prayer away.

Our family celebration of Jack and Bridie Meehan's 50th wedding anniversary. During the Mass, Katie, seated on grandpa's lap pointed to two doves "kissing" on our chimney top! Bottom row: Aunt Molly, Mom, Dad, and me, top row: left to right:
Nancy Meehan holding son Danny, Sean Meehan, Valerie Kritter and Patrick Meehan

I frequently attended daily Mass in grade school, and experienced a special closeness to Jesus in the Eucharist. The call to priesthood, to celebrate the sacred in sacramental encounters and liturgical prayer, I believe, was imbedded in my soul in those early years of my life. But I could not name it yet, so I started the journey on the road traditionally set aside for women called to serve God by serving others.  

After graduation from Bishop O'Connell High School I entered the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters.
Bishop Dennis O'Connell Class of 1966 50th reunion in 2016

 There were ninety postulants who entered the convent on September 15, 1966. The new motherhouse was still a work in progress so there were workers all over the building who provided a major distraction. We learned how to make tight beds that you could bounce a quarter on, and when our Postulant director did not know what to do with us, she sent us up to brush our teeth.  Our rooms were separated by partitions and curtains. At night we were supposed to finish our day in sacred silence and our last act was to pray prostrate on the ground. Well, the first night I prostrated the wrong way.  I wondered what the giggling was about! I have so many wonderful memories of our band, the group I entered with forty-four years ago. We had a reunion four years ago at Stone Harbor for both the “ins” and “outs.”

With Mom and Dad on my profession day in the Immaculate Heart of Mary Order on  June 29, 1969 at Immaculata, PA.

I am grateful for the ten years I spent as an IHM Sister. I learned a great deal about the spiritual life and about the gift of consecrated life. In 1977, after my mother had serious back surgery, I took a leave of absence to help care for her. It was during this time that I realized that traditional religious life was no longer a good fit for me. This began a lengthy process of discernment that included prayer, reflection and conversations with companions on the journey and different religious communities. Finally, in 1996, I joined Sisters for Christian Community, a prophetic ecclesial community of consecrated women “living a commitment to serving the people of God in a ‘new pattern of the consecrated life that is self-determining, self-regulating, self-governing.’”  There is no category in the institutional church to define us. Our vision is to strive for a community of equals and to live the prayer of Jesus “that all may be one.” This dynamic, courageous group of women pioneers, whom I joined are “freelance nuns” who affirm each member’s unique and diverse call. They encouraged me to follow my conscience as I discerned a call to priestly ministry.  

Through the years I became aware that other denominations were ordaining women, and I pledged myself to work for ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church. I strongly sensed God's call to priesthood when I worked for fifteen years as a pastoral associate at Ft. Myer Chapel in Arlington, Virginia. I did everything except preside at Mass and sacraments. Often, when I conducted a communion service in the absence of a Catholic priest, the people would express their gratitude for the “lovely Mass.” Even though I made it clear that this was a Communion Service, they often called it a Mass. So it dawned on me that they would easily accept me as their priest if I were ordained.

I often prepared couples for marriage, but the chaplain, who did not know the couple, officiated at their wedding. Some of the chaplains that I worked with would have been delighted if I could have officiated at weddings and in anointing the sick. They had so many duties with the military that they would gladly have shared the ministry with me. So my call to priestly ministry, over the years, was gradually confirmed by this wonderful community that I dearly loved, and by several communities that I have served over the past twelve years. One of these communities in Northern Virginia met for twelve years to reflect on the Sunday Scripture readings in preparation for liturgy.

In 2004, Dad and I became snowbirds, bought a small mobile home and settled in Sarasota for the winter months. I called this home, Mary's House, and dedicated it to Mary Mother of Jesus. 

 In 2005 I was invited by a group of women from different faith traditions in our Florida community to lead discussions on women of the Bible. During one of these sessions I shared with them that I was invited to attend the first North American ordinations of Roman Catholic Women Priests, on the St. Lawrence Seaway. The women were delighted and told me that not only should I attend, but that I should be ordained and that they wanted me to be their priest! One woman even donated her frequent flyer miles so I could fly free to Canada. 

I was awestruck in Gananoque by the ordination ceremony, and knew that this was the path God was calling me to.
Four of the nine women were ordained as priests and five as deacons aboard the Thousand Islander III boat that sailed on St Lawrence River. Michele Birch Conery ARCWP was the first Canadian woman ordained a priest at this ordination.

 Soon after, I applied and was accepted as a candidate. I completed the preparation program, which consisted of ten units of sacramental and pastoral theology. In addition, I have a Master of Arts in Religious Studies from Catholic University in Washington DC, and a Doctorate in Ministry from Virginia Episcopal Seminary.

The first U.S. Ordination on July 31, 2006 in Pittsburgh, PA.
Bridget Mary Meehan, left in red stole,  was ordained a priest in Pittsburgh, PA, by Bishop Patricia Fresen in the center, Bishop Gisela Forster on the right and Bishop Ida Raming next to Bridget Mary on left

On July 31, 2006, I was one of twelve women ordained by three women bishops, Patricia Fresen, Gisela Forster, and Ida Raming, in Pittsburgh, on the river boat “Majestic.” My dad, my brother Patrick, my soul friends Sister Regina Madonna Oliver, Peg Bowen, and several more beloved friends attended. As the bishops and people laid hands on us, I felt the Spirit’s presence like an electrical current moving through us. My dear Dad and several close friends stood behind me with hands on my shoulder and head as hundreds of people came through the line to lay hands on and pray over me and the other ordinands. It was an awesome experience to be blessed by family, friends, and people I never met before. We were launched by the people of God into a new future. Like the women who followed Jesus, Roman Catholic Women Priests were leading the Church to a new era of Gospel inclusivity and partnership in the United States. A new day was dawning for the Catholic Church as twelve women walked into history, shook up the male hierarchy, and challenged sexism in the church. By offering a renewed model of priestly ministry in a community of equals, women priests ignited a revolution in the Roman Catholic Church.
Bridie Meehan, my mother

My mother, Bridie, did not live to see me ordained, but I know her prayers enfold me and strengthen my faith. My eighty-eight year-old dad, Jack, passed into God’s eternal embrace in 2012. He continues to bless me as I play recordings of his joyous rendition of “When the saints go marching in” at Memorial Services. I believe that there is a cloud of witnesses, my family and friends who have gone before me, cheering me on from heaven. Each day, I place myself in the circle of their love. My brothers, Patrick and Sean and their families are supportive of my calling. 

        In many ways, they keep me grounded in reality, and remind me that the change that I have dedicated my energy to may not happen in my lifetime. 

Before going to Florida in 2006, Dad and I met with the PAX community, an established Northern Virginia Roman Catholic community who have hired their own priests for 30 years and planned their liturgies with these presiders. They asked me to preside at their Thanksgiving liturgy because they felt they were ready for a woman priest. A liturgy team met with me for two hours to prepare this liturgy. I wore a stole at their request and we celebrated the liturgy in a large room in a house. People sang joyously, shared openly and participated fully.

Soon after Dad and I returned to Florida, members of our house church began to gather on Saturday evenings and warmly welcomed one another. Dad played a processional hymn like  “Amazing Grace,” on the sax with a wee bit of jazz, that drew all of us into the spirit of praise for our Saturday evening Mass at Mary, Mother of Jesus House Church and from 2008- 2018 at St. Andrew UCC. 

Our close-knit community sings and opens our hearts to one another as we share stories of our faith lives during the shared homily, and recite the Eucharistic Prayers together. “Do this in memory of me” we pray and so we took Jesus’ words literally to celebrate together the mysteries of our faith at the sacred banquet. As devout Roman Catholics have done through the ages in their local churches, we, the Body of Christ, are sharing the Eucharist, the Body of Christ, with the Body of Christ.  We, the gathered assembly, celebrate our mystical communion in Christ with all the saints, who have gone before us and with the pilgrim people of God, the entire church as we celebrate sacraments.  

The only difference is that I am a Roman Catholic Woman Priest presiding in a church that has yet to accept women’s ordination, even though women served the Christian community in ordained ministry during its first twelve hundred years (see Gary Macy, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination, and Ute Eisen, Women Officeholders in Early Christianity). Our energized inclusive community is not waiting for permission from church authorities. As one woman noted, “The Vatican will catch up one of these days. Until then, we said: “Let’s praise God you holy people with holy music.” And so we did every week in the winter from 2006-2008 in our cozy home only a few miles from the Gulf of Mexico. 

It is such a joy-filled liberating experience to welcome all to receive sacraments at the Banquet Table -divorced and remarried, LGBTQi- everyone- no exceptions. We live the most important rule of all Jesus' invitations to "love one another" as we follow our consciences. 

Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community is one of eighty  faith communities of progressive Catholics in the United States with women priests who are leading a quiet revolution to gently topple a clerical "top down" male-dominated structure in a long overdue, holy, joyful shakeup of the Roman Catholic Church!

("She's Not Waiting for Church's Permission" by Carrie Seidman, Article about Bridget Mary Meehan in Sarasota Herald Tribune on Jun 7, 2015

  One woman, Marie, who had been divorced and remarried, cried when she received communion at our house church last spring. After a hostile encounter with a priest years ago, she felt unworthy to receive the Eucharist in her parish community. Now she said: "I feel like I have come home at last."  Marie had invited me to celebrate Mass in her home next season in Florida.  I preside at "home Masses" when people ask. When people are sick and infirm, I gather with their family and friends in their own surrounding to celebrate the sacrament of the anointing of the sick in a communal setting, inviting others to also anoint and pray together for healing and wholeness.

In the 21st century, Catholic worship, centered in the Eucharistic thanks-giving and self-giving of Jesus, is once again being celebrated in house churches. Roman Catholic Women Priests are leading the way to reclaim the ancient tradition of Eucharistic table sharing that builds community. Like the holy women and men of the early church, we are gathering together to break open our lives, to share bread and wine in memory of Jesus, and to live the Christ-Presence in our work for justice, peace and equality in our world.

Therefore, it is appropriate that the community, not the priest alone, say the words of consecration together. Gary Macy, chairperson of the Theology and Religious Studies Department at the University of San Diego, concludes that, in the understanding of the medieval mind, regardless of who spoke the words of consecration—man or woman, ordained or community—the Christ presence is a reality in the midst of the assembly.

Roman Catholic Women Priests are dreaming daring dreams and discovering fresh visions at the heart of Christianity that is pouring new life into the Roman Catholic Church.
Jack Duffy
Jack Duffy, one of our Sarasota House Church members shares what it means to worship in spirit and truth as the Body of Christ: “In this small, intimate, friendly, around-the-table setting, the worship was deep, spiritual, holy. We could all really sense that Jesus was there with us.  The Masses celebrated by Bridget Mary, a validly ordained Roman Catholic priest, were no different from those we have attended done by other validly ordained male priests. Her ordination was completely valid; as are the Masses at which she officiates. Having a woman priest may seem ‘new’ and radical; however, it is fairly certain that women—and married men—had been the ones presiding at the Eucharistic celebrations in the early Christian Church.  So when the Roman Catholic Church finally evolves to this ‘new’ and radical way of operating, it isn’t really new at all.  A prominent US Catholic Bishop from Detroit speaking here in Sarasota two weeks ago predicted the Church of the future will most likely see married and female priests.”

In 2008, Mary Mother of Jesus Catholic Community decided to run an ad in the local Sarasota Herald Tribune, inviting all to attend a weekly, inclusive Catholic Mass in our house church, which still, at that point, met in my home. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Venice responded immediately. They asked the Herald-Tribune to stop running this religious service announcement, but the editors decided not to comply.

It was the “snowbird season” when people came to Florida to enjoy the sunshine and escape the cold weather. I received lots of phone calls, and each week more people crowded into my tiny living room for Mass. On several occasions we had to borrow our neighbor’s chairs. Then parking became a problem because there were too many cars on our street and the Association asked that we park in a lot about a half-mile away, which meant volunteers would do traffic control and shuttle people back and forth from the parking lot to our mobile home. We continued to place our ad in the newspaper. Then the diocese placed an announcement in the Herald-Tribune stating that “no such worship site exists within the Diocese, nor is it recognized by the Diocese of Venice” (see article “Religious Fraud or Religious Conviction,” by Tom Lyons, Sarasota Herald Tribune, Feb.26, 2008).

After several letters of protest from our community were published in the newspaper, ABC TV showed up and filmed a Mass in our home. They interviewed Jack Duffy, a member of our community, who said: “A church like Epiphany Cathedral is so big and huge, but this is more personal, more intimate and we can feel a little more tighter relationship with Jesus. . . . I can see where officials in the Catholic church might not approve of it, but as my wife so clearly says, we are spirit-filled, common-sense Catholics. This just makes sense.” 

The ABC interview quoted my argument that our Roman Catholic Women Priests initiative was grounded in Gospel equality and early church history: “Jesus was a rule breaker and he got in plenty of trouble for breaking the rules. . . . Most people do not know that women were deacons, priests, and bishops and were ordained for the first 1200 years of their history. When they discover that they are simply taken aback."

Adela Gonzales White, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Venice stated: “Bridget Mary Meehan and her house church are not associated with the Catholic Diocese of Venice” (“Sarasota woman says she’s a Catholic priest,” ABC/Suncoast, March 5, 2008). After the program aired, the Diocese took out ads listing Sunday Liturgies inside their Diocese.

Regardless of their intent, our community tripled in size. As a result, we needed to move our Saturday evening liturgies from my home to a larger home. After three weeks, we outgrew the larger home and found a warm and welcoming sacred space at St. Andrew United Church of Christ.  Before every Saturday liturgy Helen Duffy and Imogene Rigdon greeted every person who entered the church, both regular attendees and first time visitors. They continued to welcome everyone for 4-5 years, and to this day returning visitors recall the joyful, inclusive welcome they received to Mary Mother of Jesus from Imogene and Helen!

From 2008 to 2018, our community has continued to grow. There are approximately fifty members during the winter season and thirty members during the off-season months.From the beginning Mary Mother of Jesus members met regularly to consider together the various issues and problems they faced as a newly forming group. Our discussions and decisions have always taken place in a circle of equals.

 The entire community has an annual meeting at which all members gather to set policy, make decisions and approve our annual budget. We now have six women and two men who are priests who preside at liturgies.
Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community gathers around altar every Saturday at 4 PM at St. Andrew UCC to celebrate Liturgy/Mass

I was ordained a bishop on April 19, 2009. Since then, I have ordained 54 deacons and/or priests in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. (

Bishop Patricia Fresen was the presiding bishop at my ordination as bishop. Bishop Christine Mayr Lumetzberger and Bishop Ida Raming co-presided at this ordination.

One of the highlights of my first year as bishop was the historic Florida ordinations. In Dec. 2009, our Mary Mother of Jesus community hosted the first diaconate ordinations in St. Andrew Church. Joining us were members of our sister-church, Good Shepherd Community in Ft. Myers, with their RCWP pastor, Judy Lee, who was the administrator of the Southern Region at that time. Dena O’Callaghan and Katy Zatsick, the ordinands for the Diaconate, were accompanied by their families.

On Feb. 5th, 2010 we celebrated the priestly ordinations of Dena and Katy, and the diaconate ordination of Mary Ellen Sheehan from Georgia. The diocese of Venice announced that all who attended the ordination would be excommunicated. Actually, the bishop's threat (Sarasota Herald Tribune article reported by Anna Scott on Feb. 6th, 2010) increased our attendance. 
Historic ordination of Katy Zatsick and Dena O'Callaghan as priests and Mary Ellen Sheehan as a deacon  on Feb, 6, 2010 in Sarasota, Florida

Several people told us they came to be in solidarity with the women being ordained, and to support our justice movement for women in a renewed priestly ministry in our church. The people of God seem to regard this punishment as a badge of honor. Over 250 people gathered in the jam-packed church. All of the courageous Catholics who attended this ordination, and all our supporters and communities are together breaking the stained glass ceiling in the Roman Catholic Church. The good news is that these Catholics are speaking truth to power by their presence and support of our ordinations.

Two years earlier, the Vatican had laid down the gauntlet declaring, on May 29, 2008, that any woman who sought ordination, or a bishop who conferred holy orders on her, would be immediately “punished with excommunication.” It went a step further in 2010, categorizing any such attempt as delicta graviora — a grave crime against the church — the same category as priests who sexually abuse children.

My Response to Vatican Decree of Excommunication: Disbelief

The Vatican has a long history of excommunicating, interdicting and punishing people in one century and canonizing them in another century. Pope Benedict canonized Mother Theodore Guerin, an excommunicated nun in 2005, and canonized Mother Mary MacKillop, another excommunicated nun, in 2010. Mary Ward, a foundress of a religious order modeled on the Jesuits, was vilified by church authorities. She was imprisoned at one point, and recently has been declared venerable, a step on the path to sainthood. One, of course, cannot forget St. Joan of Arc, patron of France, who rejected giving assent to church authorities and followed her conscience. She was burned at the stake and later declared a saint! St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the church's greatest theologians, was excommunicated after his death!

The Vatican stated that we are excommunicated, however, we do not accept this and affirm that we are baptized members of the church, and  our baptism cannot be cancelled for disobeying a man-made canon law. We serve Catholics in grassroots communities in the United States who are committed to gender justice, inclusivity and equality

left to right, Janice Sevre Duszynska (visiting our MMOJ Community in Sarasota, Fl), Bridget Mary Meehan, Lee Breyer, Michael Rigdon and Katy Zatsick- Lee, Michael and Katy are priests who serve our inclusive MMOJ community as priests. 

left to right, Janice Sevre Duszynska (visiting our MMOJ Community in Sarasota, Fl), Bridget Mary Meehan, Lee Breyer, Michael Rigdon and Katy Zatsick- Lee, Michael and Katy are priests who serve our inclusive MMOJ community as priests. 

Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community (MMOJ) has hosted ordinations of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (see beginning in December 2009 and these have continued with five women being ordained in January 2014. I reside in Sarasota so the hosting of ordinations will continue into the future.

Regular Saturday liturgies began in December 2009 with time taken off during the summer months.  By 2011 MMOJ offered masses every Saturday during the year and this continues with co-presiders now leading the liturgy with an ordained priest.
During this time a strong community relationship with St. Andrews had developed and many program and liturgy offerings are now coordinated together and have participants from both congregations attending.  The two communities offered an informational evening on Immigration Reform with the speaker being an immigration lawyer who attends MMOJ.  Members of both communities volunteered at the Gulf Gate Festival held on the property of St. Andrews.

In December 2013 MMOJ hosted a Christmas dinner for its members and the members of St. Andrews.  About 40 people attended.

I  have offered annual retreats for the members of MMOJ over the years.
In 2013 MMOJ offered its first memorial service for a person-in-need who was without a family and provided a religious ritual for the disposal of the cremains.  The community also hosted both a memorial liturgy for my Dad and followed by a meal in a member’s home.  In March of 2013, members participated in a liturgy during the conclave which elected Pope Francis. They also supported the travel of Janice Sevre Duszynska, an ARCWP priest, to travel to Rome for the conclave as a witness for the movement and the ministry of women priests.

Katy Zatsick ARCWP founded a new MMOJ community at Sun City in 2013. Since then, this  new house church community has been meeting monthly with a liturgy held in a resident’s home and will continue to do so.  MMOJ at Sun City Center offered its first commitment service for a couple in 2013.

Activities of Mary Mother of Jesus
MMOJ Inclusive Catholic Community offers Saturday liturgies open to the residents of Sarasota and surrounding communities. MMOJ at Sun City Center continues to offer monthly liturgies in a resident’s home.  For the first time members of St. Andrews and Mary Mother of Jesus held a joint service on Holy Thursday.

In 2014 our community hosted its first Sacrament of Confirmation ritual for children and adults of Good Shepherd Community located in Ft. Myers FL.  This faith community was co-pastored by Judy Lee and Judy Beaumont two Roman Catholic Women Priests, until Judy Beaumont’s death in January 2018.  
We co-sponsored with Call To Action and St. Andrews UCC for workshops by Dr. Matthew Fox theologian and another by Dr. Marilyn Jenai, transpersonal psychotherapist.

MMOJ members jointly with members from St. Andrew UCC have volunteered with programs for those who are homeless in Sarasota.  This support included a sponsored concert which raised money for scholarships of students who are homeless.  Members also visited with those who are homeless providing food for a meal.  Members also assembled 50 Easter gift bags and distributed them on April 14. We engaged in pastoral care and prayers with those who are homeless when visiting their site that is located in Sarasota.

MMOJ promotes educational outreach has included a viewing of Pink Smoke, a documentary history of the RCWP movement, in various venues from homes to other churches and community organizations   This includes having a woman priest available to answer questions.  MMOJ offers a book discussion for the education of its members. Under the leadership of Janet Blakeley ARCWP, director of spiritual development, we study popular authors in contemporary theology and discuss the impact their writings have on our spiritual transformation and advocacy for justice.

MMOJ created a website as a way to inform its members of events and activities and explain the mission of the community to those who search the web looking for information.

Mary Mother of Jesus invites its members to participate in activities of Pax Christi, a Catholic national peace organization – and Call to Action, an organization of groups working for church reform.  Pax Christi members hold peace vigils on the property of St. Andrew before death penalty actions conducted by the State.  MMOJ members attended the Annual Peace and Justice Memorial Day service hosted by Pax Christi and other organizations.

Mary Mother of Jesus is a 501-c-3 organization. It functions as a non-profit.  iA Board of Directors and its officers have been elected, bylaws have been approved, a structure document for MMOJ has also been approved and community meetings have been held.  The Board has been meeting monthly and provides reports to community members.

The Future
Mary Mother of Jesus will continue to offer weekly liturgies and Catholic rituals of the sacraments. The community will continue its outreach of inclusive worship and educate the community and visitors about the ministry of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. We will continue to work for justice and peace and to further ecumenical understanding through joint ministry with the members of St. Andrews and other organizations in the larger community.
Mary Mother of Jesus will also continue to support other local charities for peace and justice through financial support and volunteers from the MMOJ community.
As we evolve we will call forth and support women candidates for a new model of priestly ministry in our inclusive community of equals. Mary Mother of Jesus is an empowering community creating new forms of liturgical worship for the 21st century in the tradition of the Catholic Church.

 I co-officiated at the wedding of Sheila Carey and Ed Bohn in November 2017 on Manasota Beach, Florida.

There are approximately 264 members in our international women priest communities in 33 states and in Germany, Austria, France, Scotland, Canada, and South America. From our birth on the Danube River, the Roman Catholic Women Priest has evolved into two streams in Europe (West and East), two in Canada (West and East), and two in the United States (RCWP USA and ARCWP).

The specific charism of ARCWP within the broader global Roman Catholic Women Priests initiative is to live Gospel equality and justice now for all including women in the church and in society. We work in solidarity with the poor, exploited, and marginalized for structural and transformative justice in partnership with all believers, embracing both  contemporary theology and egalitarian structures. Our ARCWP vision is to act as a community of equals in decision-making both as an organization and within our faith communities. We advocate a renewal of Jesus’ vision in the Gospel, and celebrate our oneness with the community of the baptized, in a non-clerical model of church that promotes a peaceful and just world.

        We offer a pathway to priesthood for women called who have had years of experience in ministry, but do not have a degree. 
Our ARCWP program begins by affirming the religious and life experiences of our candidates and proceeds to custom design a program of preparation that will develop the knowledge and skills our candidates need for a new model of ministry in the 21st century.

Mary Theresa Streck and I co-founded People's Catholic Seminary (PCS) a new interactive, holistic program of studies and spiritual programs that is online. In partnership with Global Ministries University, we offer an affordable Masters degree of Pastoral Ministry. PCS utilizes resources like blogger and Zoom to communicate and build community across the United States, Canada, Europe and beyond.

Association of Roman Women Priests Community Celebrates the Ordination of Elena Garcia as a priest in Sarasota, Florida

As Pope Francis considers the possibility of ordaining women deacons in the Roman Catholic Church, I believe that our focus needs to be on living the full equality of women in the priesthood and on opening all decision-making roles to women in the Church.

One night as St. Teresa of Avila prayed, she heard laughter everywhere and God said to her, " enjoy me." Perhaps, this is the divine message to the hierarchy about women priests!

St. Phoebe Center

ARCWP Retreat in 2018 in Ft. Myers, Florida, See more photos and movies

  Welcoming all to the table and affirming all ministries as equal in an inclusive Church is a powerful way to heal centuries of toxic patriarchy and clericalism. The international Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement is a prophetic, holy shakeup that is changing the Church, creating a more vibrant community of faith one joy-filled ordination, one inclusive community and ministry at a time! This vision and mission has become the passion of my life!

Click on link below to one minute movies from ARCWP deacons and priests: “What I want the world to know about my call to priesthood.”

Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community celebrates Eucharist, shares in homily and prays Eucharistic prayer together in Sarasota, Florida each Sat at 4 PM at St. Andrew UCC (2018)

Bridget Mary Meehan, MA, DMin, ARCWP, a Sister for Christian Community, is an author of 20 books on prayer and spirituality including The Healing Power of Prayer New Expanded Edition, Praying with a Passionate Heart, Affirmations from the Heart of God, Living Gospel Equality Now, Praying with Visionary Women and Praying with Celtic Holy Women. She presides at inclusive Catholic liturgies and weddings in Sarasota, Florida.. She is a bishop serving the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, dean of Global Ministries University’s Doctor of Ministry and Master of Divinity Programs f t and co-founder of People’s Catholic Seminary. ,
I write articles on her blog:
Contact Bridget Mary:, 703-505-0004

 Recent media coverage of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests: 

 See 1 Minute Movies by ARCWP Members: "What I want the world to know about my call to priesthood"

Vogue selected its story  about women priests in 2018 as one of its top stories

"Condemned by the Vatican, Women Priests Demand Place at Catholic Altar" by Caitlin McGlade, Louisville Courier Journal

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