Mary Theresa Streck didn’t have to say much to raise thundering applause from the crowded First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany hall Sunday afternoon.
Standing in white robes before Bridget Mary Meehan, bishop of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, Streck said, “I am here and I am ready.”
Her voice was almost apologetic, like she knew what was coming. A wave of cheers filled the hall.
Streck, an Albany native, was ordained a priest by the group on Sunday, joining roughly 40 other women priests in the association.
The Roman Catholic church doesn’t actually accept women priests. That’s why the ARCWP, which is not under the direct authority of the pope, conducted its ceremony in the Unitarian hall.
Ever since the ARCWP began with seven women back in 2002, Meehan said there’s been some major pushback from Vatican leadership.
“There is nothing more annoying to [the Vatican] than me,” she said. “This is about equal spiritual rights for women. We are the Rosa Parks of the church.”
But a few minutes before her ordination, Streck herself didn’t seem all that concerned with the opinion of people at the Vatican, or her own status as a church Rosa Parks.
“This just seemed like the next thing to do,” she said. “I felt led.”
Streck’s relationship to the Roman Catholic church was always unique.
“I knew I wanted to be a nun when I was in third grade,” she said. “I always felt called.”
She joined the Sisters of Saint Joseph at 17 and stayed in the fold for 18 years. Then in 1984 she fell in love with Jay Murnane, a priest.
Decades after leaving the order to marry Murnane, Streck said she’s still close with the sisters.
Together, Streck and Murnane built the Ark Community Charter School in Troy and continued their ministry.
These days she runs the Ark alone, Murnane having passed away. And she attends an open Catholic service every month at the Unitarian church, which caused her to pursue the priesthood.
“I hope one day women priests will be accepted by the full church hierarchy,” she said.
Until then, she seemed happy to be ordained at all.
Two other women, Maureen McGill, of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Mary Sue Barnett, of Louisville, Ky., also were ordained as deacons.
It was a very open sort of ceremony. The hymn, “All are Welcome” was sung. A woman danced down the aisle at one point with a bucket of incense, streaking the air with bright white smoke.
The congregation was asked to pray over the newly ordained, a job usually saved for other priests.
“We’re trying to bring the Catholic church back into the Jesus movement,” Meehan said. “Some of our priests are lesbians. Some are trans-gender. Jesus called everyone. That includes the congregation.”
Richard Roy and Stephen Peterson, both priests in the National Catholic Church of America and a married couple, sat near the front, casting approving eyes over the proceedings.
There weren’t many young people. The crowd largely belonged to a generation convention says would oppose women priests.
Roy had an explanation.
“Basically everyone here grew up during Vatican II [1962-5],” he said. “That ushered in a more accepting church. Subsequent popes tried to deny it, but we all saw the truth. Young people weren’t around for that.”