Ordained Pret 2019

Ordained Deacon 2018

Mary Frances Smith

 Certificate in spiritual direction

 Master of Arts Theology

 Bachelor of Science Nursing

I was born in 1951 in Rochester, MN to devout Roman Catholic parents. Even as a child I recall having a strong sense of the mystical. As an adolescent and young adult, I read philosophers and theologians such as Teilhard de Chardin, Augustine, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But I felt frustration when I would try to talk with parish priests about theology. They seemed uncomfortable talking with me. I recall, throughout this time, an  unexplainable restlessness, a feeling of urgency, of seeking something.  

In 1973 I earned my Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the College of St. Teresa in  Winona MN. I went on to work as an RN in Minneapolis MN for 43 years, eventually  functioning in many different roles within nursing, both as staff and mid-management.  Through my work in healthcare, I met Marv Smith. We married in 1976. I was gifted with  a beautiful stepdaughter, and Marv and I had three birth sons, all of whom have  wonderful life partners. Marv and I have four granddaughters. My husband Marvin is my  strongest advocate in all my endeavors. For the next twenty years, I continued to work  as RN, while Marv and I raised our children. That life absorbed most of my time and  energy, but I continued to feel a restlessness that I could not explain.  

Three major things were happening in my life in 1998,: my father was dying after  suffering for 10 years with Alzheimers; my husband was diagnosed with cancer; and I  was working in the worst job of my life, an HMO that was starving my soul. It was during  this time that I had what I call my “metanoia” experience, in which the river of my life  began to flow in a new direction. I was offered a new, much more life-giving job, and I  heard a “call” to study theology. 

It has been as a Roman Catholic laywoman that I have always experienced the  Church, the powerful social institution that framed my spiritual life from my birth, but in  2001, on my first night of class at The College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, MN, I knew  that I was coming home…to myself. Working full time, with frail elderly parents, it took  me the full seven years to complete that Master’s in theology from the College of St.  Catherine in 2008.  

Questions started to grow in my mind, a couple of years into the Masters program:  “What were the roles for women in the church?”  

 “Why were they not being ordained?”  

For my Master’s Thesis, The River and the Rock: Women Shaping Church, I interviewed  a number of Roman Catholic women of a range of ages, and discussed the results of  those interviews in light of Pope John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem and the writings of  Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza. One of the interviewees was Regina Nicolosi, who at the  time was on her way to Lake Constance on the Rhine to be ordained one of the earliest  Roman Catholic womendeacons. Regina would go on to be ordained a womanpriest  and then the first bishop of our RCWP Midwest Region. She would also act as one of my  most important mentors in my own journey to priesthood.  

For me, the unexplainable restlessness, the feeling of urgency, of seeking  something, my “metanoia” experience, the continued restlessness that I could not  explain, all led me to realize and answer my call. Parker Palmer’s words in Let Your Life  Speak express my understanding of what vocation is at its deepest level. “This is  something I can’t not do, for reasons I am unable to explain to anyone else and don’t  fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.” Like Palmer, I  understand vocation to be, “the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep  need.”  

On May 4, 2008, I was ordained a deacon in Winona MN. On August 16, 2009, I was  ordained to the priesthood with some of my RCWP sisters. There is a lovely but  challenging Zen koan that says, “Show me your original face, the face you had before  your parents were born.” This sense of deep awareness of one’s truest, most authentic  self is descriptive of how I felt on the day of my ordination to the Roman Catholic  priesthood. I entered into my life as an ordained woman priest with some trepidation,  but also with great joy, and a feeling that I was doing what I had been born to do.  On that day, it was as if I had finally climbed into my own skin. My life made sense in a  way it never had before. Along the way I have encountered struggles, both internal and  external. But throughout this journey my belief has remained unshakable that some  women are called to ordained priesthood just as some men are, and that these women have received the full calling to stand, in priestly vestments, at the altar, in persona  Christi.  

Since becoming a part of the womenpriest movement, have supported the  movement in a number of roles. In 2008 and 2009, I was a member of the Women’s  Ordination Conference Board of Directors, which met in Washington D.C. I served on  the leadership circle as the RCWP Midwest Region representative. I was a participant  on the ad hoc committee charged with the task of updating the RCWP Constitution,  eventually chairing that group. Additionally, I have mentored womenpriest candidates  who are preparing for diaconal and priestly ordination.  

Prior to my theological studies and my involvement in priestly formation, I had not  worked in any ministry in the mainstream church. However, during my theology  graduate studies, RCWP preparation for ordination, and following my ordination, I  worked in a number of ministerial roles. I presided for Dignity Twin Cities liturgies for a  number of years. After ordination, I completed a Certificate in spiritual direction from   Christos in St. Paul, MN IN 2010 and served as a spiritual director for a number of years.  I am not currently doing spiritual direction, but hope to resume my practice in late 2021.  

I was one of the founding woman priests for Compassion of Christ Catholic  Community in Minneapolis. I also served as one of two pastors for the community of  Mary Magdalene First Apostle in St. Cloud, MN presiding at Masses and giving  homilies until I retired from those positions. I have witnessed weddings and presided at  memorial services.  

I define my ministry vision the way I describe myself, as a traditionalist at a  progressive table. Over time, varying views have emerged within RCWP-USA regarding  the roles of priesthood and preferred models of liturgy. Views ranged from support of  traditional liturgies, minus the patriarchal language, to liturgies with no ordained  presider at all. A number of progressive Catholics, some as a result of deeply painful  experiences within the church, choose to forgo inclusion of a priest in their worship  services, citing clericalism. But, for me being ordained in the line of apostolic  succession, and celebrating, vested, at the altar, does not automatically equate with  clericalism.  

My understanding of the mission and vision of RCWP-USA is to support and sponsor  women called to Roman Catholic priesthood by creating a path to ordination and  Eucharistic practice in concert with the broader established customs of the Roman Catholic Church, so that, one day, women priests will be fully embraced by Roman  Catholicism. This vision is expressed when women priests step into their rightful place,  in the sanctuary, vested and at the altar. They should have equal opportunity to be  visible as they practice the rich and beautiful priestly traditions of the Roman Catholic  Church. Many women priests of RCWP- USA do not have the opportunity to celebrate  in a sanctuary. They persevere, celebrating sacraments in community rooms and  homes, in city parks and around kitchen tables. But I believe that, if a worship  community with a woman priest is fortunate enough to have access to a church with a  sanctuary and altar, this is where they should celebrate. It is my joy to stand with women  and men who bring life and growth to the Church.  

On my ordination day, I felt so clearly the importance of all the love and support of  my family and friends, especially that of my husband, who so eloquently presented me  for ordination that it still brings me to tears. I share it with you here, in all humility,  because he knows me better than any other living person. 

“I’m Marvin Smith and I’m here to recommend that Mary Frances Smith be  ordained as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest. After 33 years as Mary’s husband, I consider myself an expert witness on Mary-matters and the bearer of inside information. Sorry, there’s nothing of great intrigue to disclose. I, like all who know her, realize there’s something about Mary that  just fits with becoming a priest. So what are those qualities that recommend her so well? Clearly among them, are her compassion and reverence for life and her deep appreciation of people as unique individuals deserving care and consideration. Those qualities make her the  outstanding and professional psychiatric nurse she is.  

Yet there is another essential characteristic she possesses and shares with  the other courageous women whose ordinations we’ve come to celebrate.  It is a special quality, deservedly revered, and perhaps needed during these times more than ever. It’s an attribute best fulfilled when motivated  by a deep sense of justice and guided by honesty, selflessness, and steadfast commitment. Simply put, it’s a willingness to do hard things. To  quietly stand and advance a just cause when told to sit. To conscientiously  speak and thoughtfully act in harmony with what one knows is right in the face of disapproval. It’s an underlying measure of strong character that can  forge profound change by exposing and eradicating discrimination and injustice to enhance our common humanity.  

Mary’s pursuit of ordination has been demanding. From completing a Master’s Degree in Theology to proceeding through the diaconate and priestly discernment process all while working full time to help finance her children’s college education—all hard things. Activities like serving on the  Women’s Ordination Conference board to accepting facilitative roles on  RCWP Committees (this is where the inside information comes in) are  among the hardest things for her to do. Speaking before groups and  traveling to distant cities may be easy for some, but not for Mary. She’s  never fancied herself a frequent flyer. Just sitting next to her through  turbulence makes one convinced sedatives are a miracle drug. As difficult  as these personal challenges have been for Mary, there’s a profound  paradox at work here.  

Yes, over these past years, her priestly journey has been hard, but from my  expert viewpoint, it has been the most natural, genuine, and personally  correct path she has ever walked. Isn’t it interesting, that doing hard things  when justly inspired, may be the most innately effortless! Perhaps for us  all? If the inverse is true, then rigidly restraining the inner yearning for  spiritual equality and liberty expressed by Mary and her sacred sisters will  with time only become harder and more impossible to suppress.  

I’m here to bear witness that Mary Frances Smith is truly ready to be  ordained as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest and I feel privileged to  witness history being progressively fashioned by the doing of hard things.”  

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