The speaker was Patricia Fresen, a bishop in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement. The day, Nov. 11; the occasion, a jubilant ceremony at a Jewish synagogue, during which Fresen would ordain two women -- the latest of a series of such ceremonies, aimed at helping women to fulfill what they say is their calling: to serve the church as Catholic priests.
Fresen, presider and homilist at the event, is a former Dominican nun of 45 years and a former seminary professor in South Africa. As a native English-speaker, she oversees the movement’s formation program for candidates in English-speaking countries and has quickly become its best-known bishop in the United States.
Though still a small organization, Roman Catholic Womenpriests has grown exponentially since it began just five years ago with the ordination of the so-called Danube Seven -- seven women ordained on a boat on the Danube River in 2002. The growth -- its leading edge in North America -- has surprised some, met expectations of others, and is clearly worrying some members of the church hierarchy.
“We have a lot of new applicants,” Fresen said in an interview the week before the ordinations. “I now have five assistant program coordinators, and we can barely keep up. It has amazed me. We never thought it would take off like this.”
Given the international dimensions of the movement and the increasing frequency of ordinations, tracking the numbers has been a bit tricky, but Bridget Mary Meehan, U.S. spokeswoman, finds it “a nice problem to have.” By Fresen’s count, since those first ordinations in 2002, 50 people -- including six men -- have been ordained, bringing the total to 37 in the United States and Canada and 50 worldwide. Leaders report that another hundred or so have entered the movement’s formal pre-ordination training program. In the United States, the rising numbers prompted a decision last fall to divide the country into five regions to deal more effectively with the demand.