CATHOLIC women deacons

helping women answer the call...

Gloria Ulterino

Rochester, New York

My call is still evolving. It all began as a youngster in Church, listening to what I called “all the gibberish.” My name back then was Gloria O’Toole. Then, inevitably, I would hear the priest say, “Gloria tua,” Latin for Your glory. I belonged! Fast forward to college years, class of 1962. I had found a home with the Newman community, but Vatican II was just getting underway. So, as I pondered how best to use my history studies, I became a high school history teacher. Marriage and three much loved children followed in quick succession. Until God turned my life upside down! At age 41, when some are embarking on a second career, I returned to school to study theology. Out of nowhere, two significant people crossed my path and left their mark: a newly assigned priest and a Director of Faith Formation. Both intensely human. Charismatic. Funny and articulate. Committed to their faith in ways I had seldom experienced. So it was that I fell head over heels in love with liturgy and Church. And gorged myself on program after program that our diocese put before us. (It was the early 80’s, still basking in the light of Vatican II.) Not only that, but our diocesan seminary had just shuttered its doors, only to re-open as a lay institute. When I marched myself into my first theology class, “The Church of the Future,” I knew I had come home, for good. Where would it lead? Only time would tell. Four years later I entered parish ministry as Adult Faith Coordinator, and I loved it! The ministry, the variety, the people, all of it, even with the usual struggles. Then, after another seven and a half years, I was appointed the first temporary pastoral administrator in a parish, to lead folks for four months in between priest pastors. What a fit! What joy! What hope for the future, or so I thought. Surely, as some people had said, and I would agree, God was calling me to the priesthood. One of my sacred responsibilities over these years had been preaching on a regular basis. And I gave it everything I had! (Yes, women had been preaching in our diocese since the 1970’s.) But, of course, there were bumps in the road. Pressure from the Vatican on our bishop. Increasing limitations from what had been. So I formed a storytelling group, “Women of the Well,” intended to accurately and creatively tell stories of women in Scripture and Tradition, to lift up the half of the sky that was drooping. And wrote two published books. This was exciting work, hard work, fulfilling work. And yet: what was my calling now? Of late, I have come to recognize that my calling is to the diaconate. When I look at the vision of the Second Vatican Council on a restored diaconate, I can connect. Deacons “receive the imposition of hands, ‘not unto the priesthood, but unto the ministry’ (going back to the early church). For, strengthened by sacramental grace they are dedicated to the People of God, in conjunction with the bishop and his body of priests, in the service of the liturgy, of the Gospel and of works of charity.” (LG 29, the document on the Church.) Yes, this fits! Yes, this is what I’m about! It was the liturgy of the Church that propelled me into the study of theology. It’s been the Word of God that has become my very core: a love of Scripture caught from one of my professors, seven years of weekly Bible study with the folks, preparing for and growing into the holy ministry of preaching, and faithfully writing about women whose lives we discover anew in the Scripture. All this has been for the service of people to whom I’ve been sent. To empower them. To name their gifts and call them forth, for the life of the community. Are there questions? And doubts? Yes, of course. What about obedience to the bishop? This much I can say: we must both respect each other, be able to speak to and listen to each other, and then reach an agreement on the way forward. What about considering this “second best to the priesthood”? No, this love of God’s Word, this service of God’s Word in the liturgy, this service (meaning empowerment) of the community fuels my call. Even at my advanced age, I long to feel God’s power in the sacramental laying on of hands and anointing.
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