Voice, Agency, and Leadership: Catholic Women at St. Ignatius Loyola
I have been invited to reflect on my experience of women at St. Ignatius parish. My experience of life in the parish dates back to the early 1970s when I first joined the parish and was teaching Theology at Regis High School.
Admittedly, at that time the experience and presence of women playing an active role in the parish was constricted and limited in spite of the Second Vatican Council’s invitation and call for a robust presence of all the laity in the ministry of the Church and participation in the “Ministry of the Priesthood” through Baptism. Women were not at the forefront of the Church’s evangelizing mission.
In 1983 I participated in the Baptism of our daughter into the parish community. She would grow, graduate from the grammar school, and challenge me and the Church on the role of women both in and out of the parish. Typical of many young adults she is disillusioned about both parish life and the Church. I wish she could return to the parish to see all that has transpired and changed in the role of women both in the Church and at St. Ignatius.
On March 11, 2021, we will be celebrating the contributions of the women of our parish. We will be celebrating the achievements and ministerial gifts of four special women on that night. They embody and symbolize the active evangelizing role of all women in the Church and specifically in our parish. Indeed, they are at the forefront of the action!
Of the over two dozen organized ministries of our parish, many are led by women. All the ministries owe their energy and sustainability to the many women who serve in them. Two distinctive experiences of women in our parish ministry have had an impact on me. These women accepted God’s invitation to do something beyond human understanding and they have touched my religious imagination and inspired me.
One serves as a Eucharistic Minister, and the other is a woman who serves as a Death Doula (A professionally trained person who provides non-medical caregiving–emotional and spiritual support — to people who are dying). Both roles are a work of great compassion: one that sustains and affirms love with the Eucharistic presence of love, and the other by helping people to appreciate that death is a renewed opportunity for holiness and a work of love for those who mourn the loss of love. In effect, both are powerful roles in supporting me, and us, on our faith journey. They are one of those blessings, rare and unexpected, that occasionally come our way and enrich our lives. As a result, I serve as a Eucharistic Minister at Lenox Hill Hospital. I see the sustaining joy of patients receiving the Eucharist and of the transformative power of hope the Eucharist provides as patients journey toward death. I am in a grace-filled position as a result of the modeling of faith demonstrated by these two women. Their prophetic voices are a constant invitation to all to come and serve the parish.
These are roles that go back to the Resurrection itself. It was the presence of women at the tomb of the Risen Lord that showed the way to the apostles. Current scholarship reflects the many ways women served and led in the early Christian community. The message is that God’s will be done and that God’s reign enters into every human heart from Mary at the Cross, to Mary Magdalene and to the contemporary witnesses to God’s love like Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, and the ministerial women of our parish.
Women in the Church have historically affirmed faith on the one hand, and on the other been intolerably marginalized by the institutional Church and cut off from positions of power and leadership in the world that God loves.
A recent parish webinar led by women was titled, “At Work I’m In Charge, in Church I’m Invisible.” Women in our parish are in the prized position of showing us, by way of discernment and grace, the way to becoming a more inclusive and welcoming Church. It is well past the time to make visible what was invisible. The inclusion of our women colleagues in the full Sacramental life of the Church will bring us closer to the Kingdom of God on earth. If not at St. Ignatius of Loyola, where?
Lastly, please join us at the celebration of the many achievements of the women in our parish ministry on March 11th. Check the parish website for more details.
– Anthony Miserandino, Ph.D.