A New Roman Catholic Women Priest Led Congregation in South Jersey

This excellent article by the South Jersey Courier-Post writer Kim Mulford is about a new congregation led by Rev. Eileen Di Franco who was ordained a priest with Roman Catholic Women Priests in 2006 and  four other Roman Catholic Women Priests who will share the responsibility. Rev. Eileen is a member of RCWP-USA-East.


Catholics Start Women-Led Congregation in South Jersey

PALMYRA Last week, as Pope Francis visited the United States for the first time, Eileen DiFranco stood on the street outside a World Meeting of Families conference in Philadelphia and held a banner calling for women’s ordination. Inside, there were banners printed with the words “Love is Our Mission.”

But she heard a different message.

“People were making horrible comments,” DiFranco said. “They were booing, hissing, telling us we were pitiful. Priests and nuns wouldn’t even look at us.”

“I finally started to say, ‘Is love really your mission?’ And nobody could answer.”

Ordained as a Roman Catholic woman priest in 2006, the Philadelphia native has celebrated the Eucharist with four other women priests at regular services held in Drexel Hill, North Wales and Northeast Philadelphia.

The congregations of St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Community are small. Perhaps 30 to 35 people meet regularly at Drexel Hill, for example.

Starting at 11:30 a.m. this Sunday, the women will take turns leading weekly worship services in a small chapel at Epworth United Methodist Church at 501 Morgan Ave. in Palmyra. Between 10 and 15 people are expected to attend.

The women’s ordination is not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Their community isn’t either. A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Trenton, which includes Burlington County, said she had no information about the group.

Indeed, women’s ordination “cannot be done,” said Pope Francis, during an interview with journalists on his trip back to Rome late Sunday. He pointed to Pope St. John Paul II’s declaration against women’s ordination in 1994. Pope Benedict reiterated that message in 2012.

“I must admit we are a bit late in an elaboration of the theology of women,” Francis added, according to atranscript posted by the Catholic News Agency. “We have to move ahead with that theology. Yes, that’s true.”

Some Catholics already are.

From the time she was a little girl, DiFranco felt called to fight injustice. She saw disparity in the way girls and women were treated at her school and in church.

“For me, it was glaring,” said DiFranco, who recently retired as a school nurse. After earning a master’s of divinity from The Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia, she felt called into ministry.

But she didn’t want to leave the Catholic Church. She wanted to help other Catholics follow the Gospel and the teachings of Jesus. She is among more than 145 women priests ordained through the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement.

“It’s my church as much as it is theirs,” DiFranco added. “There are plenty of people sitting in those pews who don’t believe what the bishops believe.”

Even so, change is hard, her congregants explained.

Three South Jerseyans who plan to attend the Palmyra worship service spoke to the Courier-Post only on the condition that their names, towns or parishes would not be used in the story. They said they feared excommunication from the Catholic Church. But each said they support women serving as priests.

One 77-year-old Catholic man said he has attended women-led services for nearly a year. After hearing about young girls who were abused during confession by a male priest, the South Jersey man said he felt young women should have the option of confessing to a female instead.

Jackie Agostini of Hainesport attends Mass at a few parishes, including the Mary Magdalene services. She doesn’t worry about excommunication because she supports women priests or attends their worship services. She said she wants to hear the Gospel interpreted by someone other than a man.

“It’s hard to be a feminist and remain Catholic,” said Agostini, a retired therapist who teaches women’s history at Rowan College at Burlington County. “I’m just going to stay around and be a thorn.”

“This pope is opening windows and doors and inviting change,” she added. “Change is tough. It’s tough in families, it’s tough in individuals.”

Kim Mulford: (856) 486-2448; kmulford@gannettnj.com

If you go

  • St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Community will meet at 11:30 a.m. on Sundays at Epworth United Methodist Church, 501 Morgan Ave., Palmyra. Visitors should use the ramp to access the chapel. For information, visit http://www.smmcommunity.org

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