Catholic women in ministry – a review

 — Aug. 21, 200721 aoüt 2007

CATHOLIC WOMEN IN MINISTRY: Changing the Way Things Are, by Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers. Novalis (Montreal, QC ). © 2007, 216pp., $21.95. Reviewed by Gertrude Rompré.

“We read to know that we are not alone.” These words are placed on the lips of C.S. Lewis in the movie, Shadowlands. Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers’ latest contribution, Catholic Women in Ministry, indeed allows those involved in lay ecclesial ministry, particularly Canadian women, to know that “they are not alone.” In a style marked by its readability, Ternier-Gommers, creates a conversation within a conversation between women currently involved in ministry, those potentially drawn to pastoral service and her own autobiography. In reading the text, one has the sense of sitting in a sunny, country kitchen chatting with one’s sister(s) in ministry about those issues closest to one’s heart.

The technique employed by Ternier-Gommers is interesting in itself. She began by interviewing 26 women who are, or have been, serving as lay ecclesial ministers within the Catholic tradition in Western Canada. However, none of these women are quoted directly within the work. Rather, in an effort to protect the anonymity of the contributors, the author has created composites based on these shared stories. Identifying characteristics have been removed so that there is no direct correlation between the characters named in the book and the actual women interviewed. While Ternier-Gommers herself laments the fact that “women still do not feel safe offering the Church the reality of their experiences and insights, both positive and negative, without anonymity” (18), the final result is a refreshingly honest collection of narratives where tough issues and new insights are named.

The critical questions raised in Catholic Women in Ministry are placed on a bed of the author’s own love of scripture and her abiding conviction in the wisdom of the Second Vatican Council. Ternier-Gommers is able to contextualize the lived experience of women in ministry within these broader frameworks of scripture and tradition. In doing so, she has moved the dialogue around lay ecclesial ministry within the Anglophone Catholic church in Canada one step forward. While her previous work, Finding the Treasure Within (Novalis, 2002), began the dialogue between her own lived experience and her denominational context, Catholic Women in Ministry is the next logical step. In this more recent work, the dialogue is moved into the communal revealing the fact that the call of lay women to ministry within the Catholic church is not an anomaly but a movement of the Spirit.

Catholic Women in Ministry tackles many important issues: the discernment of a call to ministry, the authentic meaning of vocation, and the supports and constraints experienced by lay ecclesial ministers within the Catholic context. However, of the many topics broached, three are particularly significant in that they have rarely been addressed with such clarity and compassion. First, Ternier-Gommers examines Catholic sacramental theology. While again demonstrating a deep love and respect for the tradition, the author nonetheless underlines the tension that occurs for women in ministry when they are able to provide a pastoral presence but remain excluded from the celebration of the sacramental dimension of their ministry. Poignant examples are given of women who journey with the sick, develop deep relationships with them and their families, yet must step aside to allow the ordained minister to celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick. The second, though related, issue is the nature of relationships that develop within pastoral teams. In the chapter entitled, “Together in Ministry,” the author reveals the many challenges to effective collaboration that exist between lay and ordained pastoral staff. She is not afraid to name both the political and psycho-sexual tensions that can sometimes develop within these relationships but, in so doing, she consistently exudes respect and concern for all the players involved. Finally, Ternier-Gommers includes an important chapter examining the process of denominational transfer of women who began their ministry within the Roman Catholic tradition and have subsequently been called to serve as ordained ministers within other Christian traditions. Her conversation with “Betty” is particularly captivating in both the retelling of Betty’s story and her personal reactions to it.

Catholic Women in Ministry once again proves the healing power of the narrative. The author’s skillful weaving of the 26 collected stories serves to bring dignity and authenticity to the lived experience of Catholic women in ministry. It grounds that lived experience within a deep and thoughtful theological reflection and will surely serve as a springboard for further study into this ongoing phenomenon within the Catholic tradition.

Our reviewer, Gertrude Rompré, is chaplain at St. Thomas More College, Saskatoon. She has extensive experience in parish ministry in Saskatoon and northern Alberta. She is a founding member of the Réseau Ministeria Network, a national network of Catholic Lay Ecclesial Ministers.

Posted: Aug. 21, 2007 • Permanent link:
Categories: NewsIn this article: books, Catholic, ecclesiology, ministry, ordination, theology, women
Transmis : 21 aoüt 2007 • Lien permanente :
Catégorie : NewsDans cet article : books, Catholic, ecclesiology, ministry, ordination, theology, women

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