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She heard the call
Red Wing woman ordained a Catholic deacon
Regina Nicolosi play-acted Mass as a child. She wanted to serve the Catholic Church, but she didn’t want to become a nun. Photo courtesy of Corpus Reports.
Regina Nicolosi play-acted Mass as a child. She wanted to serve the Catholic Church, but she didn’t want to become a nun. Photo courtesy of Corpus Reports.
By Michele St. Martin

Regina Nicolosi is a 63-year-old lifelong Catholic. She’s a chaplain at a nursing home. She’s active in her church in Red Wing. And on July 25, she was ordained a deacon, the last formal step in the process of becoming a Catholic priest. The ceremony took place on a boat on the St. Lawrence Seaway, international waters near Ottawa. The group chose the site because it is under the jurisdiction of no particular religious authority. The ceremony included the ordination of five women as deacons and four as priests. “It was just such a joyful experience,” said Nicolosi. “I felt my joy deepening, I felt it was right, a good thing to do.” After the ceremony, the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul issued a statement saying Nicolosi’s ordination won’t be recognized. “The Roman Catholic Church continues to hold, as we have for centuries, that only men may be ordained to the priesthood.”

The choice to stay and fight
Even before the disclosures in recent years of widespread sexual abuse of children by priests, membership in the Catholic Church was down, as were the numbers of young men interested in the priesthood. Yet the church continues to reject Catholic women, married men and openly gay men who want to minister to its faithful as priests. Why would a progressive like Nicolosi stay part of this conservative institution? “I had to leave my home country, Germany, when I fell in love with an American,” Nicolosi explained. “I could not leave my church, too. I love the church, it gives me a lot of very beautiful things.” One could say that the church is in her blood: Nicolosi has uncles who were Jesuit priests; her brother and a cousin (who attended the ordination) are priests, too. As a little girl, Nicolosi play-acted Mass. When she was older, she longed to serve the church, but she knew even then that she didn’t want to become a nun. “I wanted to be married and have children,” said Nicolosi, who is a married mother of four grown children and grandmother of one. None of her children—one daughter in south Minneapolis, two in New York City, her son in Duluth—are practicing Catholics, but they are all supportive of her ordination. Nicolosi’s longing to be a priest surfaced, she said, when her husband, Charles, was preparing to become a Catholic deacon (he was ordained in 1978). “I went through the whole training with him,” Nicolosi recalled. “I helped him into his albe (robe) and stole. I was hearing a call … but I could not be ordained.” She continued to be active in the church and earned her master’s degree in pastoral theology at the University of St. Thomas; she is working toward a doctorate. She continued to long for the priesthood—and then she heard about the Danube Seven.

The Danube Seven were trailblazers—the first women in recent history to be ordained Catholic priests. In 2002, the women were ordained by two Catholic bishops, then in good standing with Rome, on the Danube River between Germany and Austria. They were, as expected, excommunicated from the church; the letter announcing their ouster was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, better known today as Pope Benedict XVI. Two members of the Danube Seven—Austrian Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger and German Gisela Forster—were ordained bishops in a clandestine ceremony by bishops in good standing in the Catholic Church. They, in turn, presided over the ordination of the nine women on the St. Lawrence Seaway. The most well-known of the Danube Seven is Dagmar Braun Celeste, mother of six and former First Lady of Ohio (she was married for many years to former Ohio Governor Richard Celeste). She used a pseudonym, Angela White, because her daughter was about be married in the church and Celeste did not want to draw attention to her new status as a priest. She announced her ordination later that year. Since then, several of the women who have been ordained have used pseudonyms for a variety of reasons; all have to do with fear of the reaction of Rome and, in some cases, of their local Catholic communities.

The church reform movement
There is an active movement among progressive Catholics to reform their church. In the United States, groups like FutureChurch and Association for Rights of the Catholics in the Church (ARCC) advocate for changes that include the ordination of women and married men. These groups believe that decision- making authority needs to be vested in the hands of church members, not the Vatican. “We are Catholic, this is our church,” said Aisha Taylor, program director of the Women’s Ordination Conference. “We support the ordination of women, first and foremost, into a renewed priesthood—but we also are dealing with the racist, heterosexist and imperialist hierarchical structure of the church.” Dr. Judith A. Johnson, who coordinates the R.C. Womenpriests of North America program, estimated that her organization has arranged the ordinations of 20-25 women in the United States. Taylor said that, including women who have been ordained in “community celebrations,” the number is at least 100. When asked about the assertions of some church leaders that the women’s ordination ceremonies hurt the church, Johnson turns it around. “The future of the church lies in women priests,” she said. “Twenty-seven percent of churches don’t have priests.” Johnson and Taylor both feel change is inevitable.

Next year, a priest
Nicolosi is already looking ahead to her ordination as a priest, set for June 24, 2006, on Lake Constance, between Switzerland, Austria and Germany. She still hopes that her church will recognize the validity of her role. “Maybe even [Pope] Benedict will awaken one morning and the Holy Spirit will whisper in his ear, ‘Ben, I’m a woman. Why won’t you let women represent the sacred in the church leadership?’”

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Article comment by: Gabriel Ballawig

Are those so called "ordained women priests" have parish assignments? Are their people or congregation or parishioners attending their 'Mass'?

Posted: Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Article comment by: Kevin Hale

The ordination to diaconate of Ms Nicolosi is certainly illicit and invalid. On the other hand the ordination of married men should be considered in the Western ( Latin ) Rite as is done in our Catholic Eastern Rite churches. This is a matter of discipline not doctrine. Kevin

Posted: Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Article comment by: Noel Maria de Jesus

We had great women who were capable of being Apostles in the time of our Lord Jesus but our lord choose non of them as apostles this does not mean our lord underrates women in His ministry women had their role which was so good and so challenging than becoming apostles we Had our blessed mother, Joanna, Mary Magdalena and more but non of them pondered of being among the 12 we had Tabitha and other women in the early church we do not hear of them demanding to become apostle Why do we have so many women want to become priest which bible are they referring to or which teaching is it from none should deceive us that it is from the Holy Spirit If you want to belong to the Holy Catholic church follow the teaching of the church but if you feel you are more knowledgeable than the Holy spirit that guide the church then you should leave the church we do not want to hear any who goes against the teaching of the church claiming to be in the church as far as the world is leaving the church shall leave and the teaching shall not change if you feel this is against your rights just think which is more important between your rights and the right of God from now on stop thinking that the church need to be reformed reform your mind set you born in the church you find the very same teachings which helps a lot of great women to become saints do we hear of any of those demanding to become priest? Please stop pressing the Holy Father with these issues He is having very important issues in Sheparding not these straightforward issues Repent and return to the teaching of Holy Mother the Church

Posted: Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Article comment by: Yana

Under the heading, The church reform movement, Aisha Taylor says"We are catholic,this is our church" In scripture Jesus says to Peter.Upon this rock I will build my church" This is Jesus'church,not ours.

Posted: Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Article comment by: Lucy

I would never stand in line for communion from her. She's a poser, and not a Catholic, and I think she's very arrogant. Very sad.

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