Last Wednesday, as is frequently done at this Roman Catholic institution, a priest came to speak at Villanova. Her name is Father Anne.
She enjoys rescuing dogs, live music and connecting with people. Most of all, she likes playing an integral role in the next era of the Catholic Church. Father Anne was ordained on Oct. 16, 2021 in Albuquerque, New Mexico through the Association of Roman Catholic womenpriests. Today, there are more than 400,000 Roman Catholic priests across the globe. Out of this huge Catholic pie, Father Anne finds herself in the thinnest of slices: she is one of the only 250 female priests that exist.
While Father Anne was baptized Catholic and celebrated a confirmation, she was not a practicing Catholic until her thirties, when she began to more seriously explore religion. She managed a secular rock band and lived with the musicians on a lavender farm outside Portland, Oregon. The house was half a mile from a local Jesuit Parish; it was there that her conversion to Catholicism began.
After putting deep roots into the Catholic community everywhere she lived and returning to school to earn her Jesuit degree, Anne, like St. Augustine, felt her restless heart. She heard calls to be a priest from God and would lie awake at night “physically consumed by God’s frustration.” However, she knew that it is illegal for a woman to be ordained in Roman Catholic tradition, so she abided by the law and tried to live out her vocation in every way that she could as a woman. Anne ran pastoral ministries, brought people communion, led retreats, went to get a master of divinity and even ran a parish as a pastoral associate, and yet “God was not satisfied. God wanted more.” Father Anne said that she lived in a constant battle over what to be: obedient to God versus obedient to church doctrine.
After choosing to pursue priesthood, she realized that she is different from the Roman Catholic Woman priest movement because she is “not a Roman Catholic Woman Priest, but a Roman Catholic priest who is a woman.”
Father Anne is celibate, wears the collar and calls herself Father. Although she lives and works exactly like a male priest, after her ordination, she has been excommunicated and cut off from sacramental life of the church. She cannot receive Eucharist, cannot work for the church and she will be denied a Christian burial. If she was a man, she would have healthcare, a Ph.D, connections, a paycheck and a worldwide network of priests who devote themselves to looking out for each other. But for Father Anne, despite being a priest, she has none of this. At times, she has even struggled to keep food on the table and a roof over her head.
Father Anne is dedicated to reform, and she wants to do it by expanding the symbol of priests. Right now, it’s contracted to the male form alone, but she is working to expand it to also include the female form.
“Roman Catholics do not see this,” she said as she motioned to her body.
“This symbol is much more prevalent than we realize,” Father Anne said. “When a male priest walks into a secular environment, in his collar, I don’t believe that the first thing that people think of is God and reconciliation and the relationship of God and the body of Christ. I think that the first thing that people think of is Indian boarding schools, abuse of power, the sexual abuse of a child. But when they see me, a woman in a collar, they are greatly intrigued by the embodiment of the symbol. They see a future and are re-filled with hope.”
She recounts a story when she was at a grocery store and an elderly man stopped her and asked if she was a priest. He said that he had never seen a woman in a collar; he was overjoyed and gave her great encouragement. Another couple, one of Latino descent, told Father Anne that they had left the church after the sexual abuse scandals. However, they asked Anne if she would baptize their two-year-old daughter.
“You are exactly what the Church needs,” people tell Father Anne.
Father Anne has been invited by non-Catholics, lesbians and even Atheists to preside over weddings, memorials and liturgies.
“God is made present by my presence,” she said.
Father Anne is focused on her passion for women’s equality in the church because she recognizes that a male-only priesthood emboldens the subjugation of women everywhere. Despite her dedication, she has faced trials, lost friends and colleagues and has been endlessly criticized and tormented for her priesthood.
Even in the crowd at the event, there was evidence of the deep disagreement on this issue.
Rick Bochanski, a student, said that “When [he] heard that the event was happening, [he] was very concerned and disappointed in the university. [He] found it scandalous.”
While speaking with Bochanski, there was another student heatedly arguing with Father Anne. Amid challenges and accusations, she calmly explained her beliefs backed by the religious text. She ended their impromptu debate by saying that “there are no grounds, whether sexual or gender, on which you can base oppression. That is completely anti-Gospel.”
However, another student, Nathan Reynolds, felt that “Father Anne’s talk was eye-opening. She’s changing the world right now.”
To end the conversation, Father Anne shared what she hopes that people, on both sides of the issue, take from the event.
“I hope people take the idea of scrutinizing the things that are in their lives,” she said. “We often assume that things are static or ‘the way that they are,’ but oftentimes there is a deeper reality at work. I hope that when people go forward, they see the world around them and are able to distinguish what is coming from a loving God and what is simply not.”
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