From Research to Reality

While most of my friends studied abroad or took internships, I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college huddled over books and a laptop. The research bug had bitten me. I was so obsessed with a research topic that day after day I willfully ducked out of the glorious California sunshine into musty libraries and non-air conditioned coffee shops to read and think and type.

The subject? The Catholic women’s ordination movement. The more I read about its history and current activities, the more intellectually fascinated and personally inspired I became. I relished in stories of the courageous individuals who publicly demonstrated a Catholicism I could relate to—one that affirms the spiritual gifts and vocational callings of women, and all people for that matter. At the end of each day I called up classmates and friends and professors to tell them about the books I read and the controversies I pondered. While many feminists delighted in my interest, I found myself adamantly defending the cause to others who were skeptical or downright opposed to the idea of it.

Weeks of excitement culminated one afternoon over a cup of tea and an essay describing one woman’s long discernment to enter the priesthood. Amid the story of her restless prayers and candid conversations with fellow Catholics, my stomach jumped, my breath escaped me, and I looked up from the page in utter shock: Despite my love of theology, ministry experience, and commitment to the church, I had never seriously deliberated ordination as a potential personal calling. Not once. While passionately analyzing and defending Catholic women who discern callings to ordination, I had never asked my faithful female friends whether they have considered this vocation either.

The discovery that I could rally around this topic without engaging it at the most intimate level left me stunned and dismayed. My tea went cold as I stared at the blank wall. As I tried to make sense of this, I found myself justifying my detachment. Most of my male friends who consider the priesthood do so after spending time with male priests. “Of course I haven’t considered ordination,” I told myself, “I don’t know what I am really considering. Female priests are beyond the reality I have experienced.” Furthermore, most of my male friends begin discernment after intentional mentors or well-established programs invite them to do so. “Women have no such programs,” I thought, “and we have few mentors to provide a relationship within which to consider a call to ordination.”

This day has haunted me in the years since. I have continued to recognize many circumstances that allow women, like myself, to overlook the question of priestly vocations. I have concluded, however, that if I truly believe that God calls women to ordination in the Catholic Church, I need to be intentional about breaching these obstacles in vocational discernment. I need to ask myself and my friends to consider ordination. I must spend time imagining what Catholic ordained life would look like, for myself and for my female friends. I need to allow others to share in my discernment. I need not only write about it; I must engage this subject as a living reality, one that might be quietly living within me.

Jessica Coblentz is grateful that her recent undergraduate career at Santa Clara University encouraged her to ponder such important, controversial topics. She is back in the Seattle area again, where she continues to have more coffee house realizations.


3 Responses

  1. Love the blog…

    Jessica, I too have recently been spending a lot of time with the history of Catholic feminism and the women’s ordination movement. Have you read Mary Henold’s “Catholic and Feminist?” It’s an excellent and very recent history of how Catholic feminists were always unabashedly Catholic and in someways evolved in a totally separate way from the secular feminist movement. I’m loving it.

    Best of luck on your continued discernement and pondering and thanks for your words.

  2. ahowardmcparland–

    Thanks for the recommendation and your encouraging words. I will definitely check out the book


  3. How do I reset my password?
    Musca Law
    Musca Law

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