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First woman priest ordained in New Jersey dies

  • Thirteen ordained Roman Catholic Womenpriests from five states, including one bishop, attended Mary Ann McCarthy Schoettly's memorial service Monday in New Jersey. (Patricia Lefevere)
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Newton, N.J.

Mary Ann McCarthy Schoettly was not known to brag, but many among the more than 150 who attended her memorial service Monday at Newton Presbyterian Church said she had plenty to boast about.

One thing she could have trumpeted was that she had received all seven Catholic sacraments. From her baptism in 1942 to her more recent reception of the anointing of the sick, she had made her first confession, first Communion and been confirmed in her youth. Later, she entered into matrimony.

But what set her apart from the others in the church was her ordination to the priesthood. Schoettly was the first Roman Catholic Womenpriest from New Jersey to be ordained. Her ordination took place for the St. Mary Magdalene Community in Philadelphia in 2009.

Schoettly died July 22, the feast of Mary Magdalene. At the time of her passing, she had been co-presiding over the Sophia Inclusive Catholic Community, which meets every Sunday for worship and faith sharing in Sparta, N.J., and once a month in Morristown, N.J.

Michael Corso shared the ministry of the Sophia Community with Schoettly and presided at her funeral, along with Andrea Johnson of Annapolis, Md., one of five woman bishops serving the Roman Catholic Womenpriests in the United States. A dozen woman priests and candidates for deaconate ordination from neighboring states attended the memorial service.

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The assembly was encouraged to participate in the Eucharist by joining the celebrant in the words of consecration. Following the opening hymn, "All Are Welcome," Corso repeated the welcome when it was time "for all" to come forward and receive the gluten-free bread and alcohol-free wine.

Corso, who served as a priest of the Newark archdiocese some 25 years ago, left the priesthood to marry. He and Schoettly knew each other from choir and small groups, but in 2008, Schoettly asked Corso to be with her as she prepared to be ordained to the diaconate.

"This changed my life forever," he told NCR, noting how her invitation helped him to return to many of his priestly ministries.

In his homily, he called Schoettly a spiritual "actuary" and "an evolutionist" who had altered the lives of many of those attending her funeral and had ministered "in a priestly way as a faithful Catholic long before her ordination."

Corso invited attendees to "shout out" ways in which they remembered her priestly roles. Many recalled aloud her life as a retreat leader, chaplain, spiritual adviser, ecumenist, teacher, liturgist, confirmation instructor, peacemaker, mentor, listener, companion, and small-faith-sharing facilitator.

In his eulogy, Dan Schoettly talked about his mother's ability to perform all these ministries "because she cared so much about her Catholic faith." A high school biology teacher and student adviser for 25 years, Schoettly "knew science and religion don't conflict; they complement each other," her son said.

The women priests in the assembly gathered to pray in a circle near Schoettly's hanging vestments.

Roman Catholic Womenpriests include 150 ordained clergy women, 64 of them serving in the United States, guided by five women bishops. The women are active in 39 states across five U.S. regions. The group is also active in Canada, Latin America and in Europe. Schoettly had planned to attend the ordination of South Africa's first woman priest in Cape Town in late October.

[Patricia Lefevere is a longtime NCR contributor.]

Editor's note: Out of respect for the deceased, we have closed the comments on this story.

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