Cardinal Mildred?

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One of our friars here at St. Bonaventure sometimes teases our volunteer receptionist, Mildred, that she would make a great Cardinal. Mildred is a founding member of our 51 year old parish. She embodies many of the qualities that characterized what were known as the “holy widows” of the early Church. Mildred is dedicated to her family, friends and parish. Often, after a day’s work answering phones and welcoming guests at our parish’s Ministry Centre, she returns after dinner to host a bereavement group or participate in some other programme. She’s also one of those thoughtful women who remembers every significant event in your life and always manages to find a card to suit the occasion.  Many parishioners have mentioned how surprised and touched they were to receive one of her notes at challenging times, when they needed a kind word or some prayers.

A good pastor needs to have some wise men and women to consult from time to time and get some honest feedback. Mildred has been and continues to be a good source of wisdom for me. What is remarkable is her ability to communicate honest criticism in a way that doesn’t elicit a defensive reaction in me. That’s a gift. Trust me!

My purpose here is not to canonize Mildred. She has her faults and limitations. However I do mean to highlight the importance of wise women in the life of the Church and especially their impact on the Church’s leadership. Women and men complement one another and their gifts are necessary for the full and effective living out of humanity.  During my work as a formation director for the Franciscans I would remind our young candidates and friars that they absolutely need to have healthy intimate relationships with both men and women.  Sometimes when I spoke of “intimate relationships” some of the guys would nervously squirm in their seats.  “Grow up!” I would yell at them.  True intimacy is about being able to be your true self with people and to allow them to speak the truth to you.  That’s essential for a healthy religious life and it’s equally essential for healthy Church leadership.

Over the last few months there have been “rumours” coming out of the Vatican that Pope is planning to make important appointments of women to key Vatican positions.  A hint of things to come has been B16’s positioning of Sister Enrica Rosanna at the Congregation for Religious.  (A congregation is the Vatican term for a Department or Ministry that looks after a particular issue. In this case it oversees the world’s various religious orders.)  Sr. Rosanna had been appointed “Under-Secretary” for that congregation under Pope John Paul II. However some in the Vatican administration were uncomfortable with a woman being in a position of authority over priests and so a “co” under-secretary was appointed who was a priest.  Since the election of B16 as the Vicar of Peter this “co” has been moved on to other pastures and Sr. Enrica has been affirmed in her role, of her own right.  Other such appointments are supposedly in the works. This is truly a hopeful sign for our Church.

In the next few days at St. Peter’s Basilica there will be a long procession of men taking part in the “consistory” when the Pope will make them Cardinals. They will form part of a core group of advisors to the Holy Father.  Most Cardinals are bishops, some are priest and some have been lay men. There is really no reason that a woman could not be a Cardinal as well. There is no necessary link between the advisory role of the Cardinal and  Holy Orders. Certainly there are plenty of women in the Church with valuable gifts of insight, wisdom and leadership.  B16 seems to be quite aware of that. Who knows… maybe one day there may be a Cardinal Mildred!


  1. Thanks to this blog and I am happy to affirm it.

    No doubt, I am one of those beneficiaries of Mildred’s enthusiastic “Hi” and with her soft aura whenever you approach her. And ever ready to go out of her way to do something for you. I cannot forget that Mildred.Maybe you forgot that already, but I cannot.Thanks again.


  2. Mildred’s passion to sserve the Church (and many others there) is a good model on how to heal and bridge the gap between faith and practice. A living example of what a follower of Jesus should be doing. That by virtue of baptism, one is called to share the mission of Jesus in the Church. Her life and commitment in the Church summarizes what is it “to be sent forth” and do the ways of Jesus. It is the heart of Practical Theology as described by a certain author :

    “It is a pattern of discipleship-by listening to God and responding, hearing and doing and worshipping and going ” to be sent forth” doing the way of Jesus.(Veling p145)

    Who knows this joke from the guest who witnessed Mildred’s commitment foreshadows the issue holds dear in the heart of the “feminist”
    to share leadership in the ‘male dominance” structure of leadership in the Church.

    Thanks Friar Rick and thanks Mildred.

  3. I have no doubt about Mildred’s dedication and competency at Bonnie, but there are more important issues at stake here than “awarding” a red hat to helpful lay persons.

    Consider a Sunday in the life of a typical post-Vatican II suburban parish. The priest, once his mother’s darling, says Mass before a congregation disproportionately representative of widows (both the traditional and the football kind), soccer moms flying solo, and budding young liturgistas and cantorettes. At the elevation of the Host, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist (overwhelmingly female) and altar servettes (overwhelmingly female) gather around the sanctuary to lend him moral support. After Mass, our priest enjoys a donut in the parish hall, while regaling the ladies of the Hospitality Guild before heading back upstairs to sit in as the token male at a meeting of parish CCD teachers (who are, surprise, overwhelmingly female). Later that afternoon, Sister Dorothy fills him in on the doings of the confirmation class, peace and justice committee, RCIA candidates, and youth group. At dinner he lingers over the new pastoral letter from his bishop, urging the flock to get more in touch with the God Who Nurtures. Finally, in the evening, he pokes his head into the weekly gathering of the Divorced and Separated Support Group, whose overwhelmingly female members and leaders thank him for his solicitude.

    Exaggeration? Perhaps. (Father probably wouldn’t have checked up on his catechists like that.) But the reality is that although we may yet have a male-only clergy and hierarchy, in those mundane areas of church life where laity and institution most commonly interact—the flavor is feminine. Whether you want to speak in terms of liturgy, ministry (lay and clerical), religious education, or sheer congregational numbers, official power may not rest in the hands of women, but considerable unofficial influence clearly does, and has for some time. We in the Church have been subject to its effects and but one of the worst things has been a subjugation of traditional masculine virtue: the concept of distinctly and properly manly Catholicism repressed, stigmatized, covered up, or otherwise forgotten for lack of practice. And the more “feminized” Catholicism has become—the more its pews became recognized as the province of wives, children, and the effete—the more likely were men and their post-pubescent sons to stay away to create, what I often saw at Bonnie… essentially a women’s club with some male officers.

    Sadly, the post-Conciliar priest of the contemporary Church has become a “resident CEO” of the parish plant, a de facto overseer of committees that add layers of bureaucracy and create a barrier between the priest and his people. The “CEO” role has nothing to do with priestly spiritual identity, and if he begins to delegate the more burdensome and distasteful pastoral duties in hospitals, nursing homes and the houses of shut-ins; he avoids being available for the distribution of Holy Communion outside of his own Masses–baptisms and weddings are merrily passed off to deacons, a marriage prep and RCIA to grey lady committees. He soon appropriates the we-the-church-vocabulary: “This is collaborative ministry!” No, it is not. This is masculine pathology, the abdication of fatherhood. It represents a radical departure from centuries of Church history and experience, and offers liturgical approbation to the concept of a “Fatherless” parish society. The phrase “Fatherless” society has direct parallels within the present secular order’s fatherless family: Both are late twentieth-century abnormalities damaging to both family and flock.

  4. Wow. Did you not get breast-fed or something? A little angry, no? I appreciate honest discourse, but the tone of your interventions are insulting… “altar servettes”, “the effete” and the role of women, the laity… the very nature of ordained ministry.
    Under the heap of garbage that you spew is an important reality… there is a loss of appreciation for the role of fathers and the masculine in society. But your point is lost in the stench of your hateful comments.
    Our parish is made up of many types of people. Women and Men, Old and Young, all are welcome… and they do participate.
    G Shelly… get a life!

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