Iowa City Woman Ordained Priest by Roman Catholic Womenpriests

By Molly Rossiter

CORALVILLE - Mary Kay Kusner was a little shaken when she got the letter from Bishop Martin Amos of the Diocese of Davenport, withdrawing his support of her chaplaincy and excommunicating her from the Roman Catholic Church.

She was not, however, deterred.

Kusner, 50, of Iowa City, topped off a two-year spiritual journey Sunday afternoon when she was ordained a Catholic priest by the Roman Catholic Womenpriests in front of nearly 300 people at First United Christian Church, 900 Lincolnshire Pl., in Coralville.

"It was Mother Church saying, 'You've done something wrong and we no longer support you,' and it was very strong," Kusner said of her feelings on receiving the letter. "But it did not change my drive — that is something that has been very solid."

Kusner at times was emotional during the service, particularly when she took her place at the altar next to Bishop Regina Nicolosi of Red Wing, Minn.

"This morning just felt surreal," Kusner said. "This, to me, is the culmination of so much prayerful discernment, prayerful questions wondering whether I'm doing the right thing."

The amount of public support at the ordination service — in which a Minnesota woman, Monique Gamache Venne, was also ordained a deacon — was "overwhelming."

"I've gotten a lot of supportive e-mails and phone calls, but to see this many people come out is wonderful," Kusner said.

Christine Grothe, 40, of Conesville, was one of those who attended the service to support Kusner.

Grothe said she and Kusner met when Grothe's daughter Nora was stillborn nine years ago, and the two women forged a strong friendship. Watching her friend become ordained — and go through the process — has brought Grothe back to the church, she said.

"I was so disillusioned and so not interested before," Grothe said. "I feel closer to God now because of Mary Kay."

Kusner became one of 11 ordained women in Roman Catholic Womenpriests' Midwest region. The organization, founded in 2002, calls itself "a new model of ordained ministry in a renewed Roman Catholic Church," although much of the Roman Catholic hierarchy does not recognize the organization as one representative of the church.

For the women in the movement, however, that's something that will likely change with time.

"No one thought the Berlin Wall would fall. No one thought we'd see the end of apartheid," said the Rev. Alice Iaquinta, an ordained Womanpriest and program coordinator for the Midwest region. "This time is coming."

"It's all coming together," she said. "Will I see it in my lifetime? One can hope. The 'church' is the people of God — it is not the Roman hierarchy and the Vatican."
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