Mary Eileen shares with us a little about her call to the Priesthood...
Called to Serve the Church by Mary Eileen Collingwood, ARCWP
I grew up in a family that was always taking care of someone. During my teenage years, I worked in a Catholic-sponsored nursing home as a nurse's aide. The nuns in charge indoctrinated us so that everyone who worked there knew the main goal was to prepare the residents for heaven. After high school, I entered the convent. When it was apparent that my mother was having difficulty caring for my grandmother and I felt the pull to help out, I left the convent to come home. (My Superior wasted no time in letting me know that I was not submissive enough for convent life.) So naturally, after I was married and our first child was 6 months old, I thought nothing of having my great-aunt's best friend move in with us when she had nowhere else to live. This gesture often repeated itself throughout our marriage, including the time after my older sister's death when her five girls needed a place to stay when their father worked weekends, holidays, and summer recess. And when my father-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, my husband and I cared for him in our home until he could be placed in an appropriate nursing facility. (Hit the Read More button below to continue with Mary Eileen's story)
My father tells me that my perspective on faith and life comes not only from my parents, but from his own mother in a "genetic" sense. She married a Catholic convert and had nieces and nephews baptized and married in Protestant churches. Because she believed that these events required family presence, she would attend those religious celebrations knowing that the Church considered attendance at Protestant services as grounds for excommunication. My dad saw that same spark in me! My understanding of and belief in a personal conscience was certainly rooted in that story.
As a child, I remember attending church meetings where my father would speak up and disagree with the priest who encouraged parishioners to buy up homes in the neighborhood so that black families wouldn't move in and plummet the property values. I was taught then that clergy didn't always have a handle on the Gospel message of equality for all. As early as my teenage years, I can recall my father often expressing his thoughts about seeing no reason why any one of his seven daughters couldn’t become priests-- quite a revolutionary declaration at the time!
My husband and I were asked to participate in a seminary class on Marriage and Priesthood that was being held at our parish. The seminary faculty wanted the seminarians to gain a broader perspective on the subject and invited married couples to attend. When the priest-professor spouted that ordination indelibly marked the soul of the priest, I asked, “Do we have to believe that?" My question caused quite a stir! To this day, I believe that living a Christian life is what marks us most profoundly... as we all participate in priesthood through our baptism.
I love being married and having a family, but I always knew there was something else God was calling me to-- and it has simmered within me for quite some time. My involvement in ministry was motivated by my desire to serve the church and by example, show my children that we must reach out in charity to others outside the family unit. I studied at the local Catholic seminary and obtained my certification in pastoral ministry, continuing on to earn my Master’s degree in Theology. The ministry that I experienced within the church and beyond has continued to keep me conscious of just how difficult it is for people to find their way in this world and recognize that God is there with them on their journey. Through my roles as director of a diocesan office, a pastoral minister in the parish setting, and a high school and college theology teacher, I came to realize that I was being called to a deeper level of care giving.
An agitation grew within my heart due to oppressive bishops, the new liturgical translations, the growing restorative agenda of new priests and Vatican declarations, and the recognition that my own children were rejecting the authority of the Catholic Church. I believed the agitation that stirred up within me could not be ignored. It gripped my very soul to the point that I felt compelled to respond in a way that would bring me peace. I never in my wildest imagination thought that I would be called to priesthood, nor that it would even be an option in my lifetime. After many months researching and interviewing women priests, I realized that the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests captured my imagination and my heart with their clarion call for equal justice for women in ordained leadership. I certainly understood this invitation and embraced the summons to provide a living example of what the Church can become.
Since my priestly ordination on May 24, 2014, I worked tirelessly for ARCWP and came to know many of the members well. Our Association realized that although we had one very capable bishop, there was a need for more bishops to serve the far-reaching geographical locations of our members. I was surprised when I saw my name listed as a nominee for the role of bishop. Although I did not believe I would ever be elected due to my short time as a member priest, and the number of capable women who had been nominated, I did decide to keep my name on the roster and let the Spirit work within the minds and hearts of the membership. When the ballot process was complete, I became the first bishop of our Association to be elected in North America. Subsequently, my episcopal ordination took place on September 24, 2015, in Philadelphia, PA
When I asked in disbelief how this could have happened, I was told that if I were a male who served the church for over forty years, I most likely would have been ordained a bishop long before now. . . The Spirit certainly works as She will!