Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan lays hands on Miriam Picconi and Wanda Russell during their ordination into the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests in Ormond Beach on Saturday. (N-J | Nigel Cook)
Congregation members place their hands on newly ordained priests Miriam Picconi and Wanda Russell during their ordination into the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests in Ormond Beach on Saturday. (N-J | Nigel Cook)
Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan, center, presents newly ordained priests Miriam Picconi, right, and Wanda Russell to the congregation during a ceremony for the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests in Ormond Beach on Saturday. (N-J | Nigel Cook)ORMOND BEACH -- Two Palm Coast women who "stand on the margins" were ushered in Saturday to a role that's been reserved for men for hundreds of years.
Miriam Picconi and Wanda Russell were ordained into the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, a group that's urging the Catholic Church to welcome women into its clergy. About 150 people attended the ceremony Saturday afternoon at the Unitarian Universalist Society in Ormond Beach.
Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan, who presided over the ceremony, said the movement is "a holy shake-up whose time has come."
"One could say this is the church's best-kept secret," Meehan said. "But no more."
The Catholic Church won't recognize the women's ordination as valid, but Picconi and Russell say they plan to worship out of their home with a small group of people.
Meehan said her group is seeking justice for all people, particularly for women in the Catholic Church. The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests has ordained about 130 women worldwide since 2002.
At the start of the ceremony, others presented the soon-to-be priests to Meehan and the rest of the group. Russell's daughter, Monica Leavitt, recalled that as a young child, she often stayed late at her church, waiting for her mother to emerge from her Bible study group or wrap up other business there. The church is Russell's passion, she said.
"This was meant to be," Leavitt said. "My mother was born a priest. I know that from the bottom of my soul."
Since the two women moved to Palm Coast nearly three years ago, they've attended St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Palm Coast. Picconi teaches adult Sunday school classes and occasionally preaches to the congregation there.
"She is a wise woman, and we benefit greatly from her presence," the Rev. Bradley Hauff, the pastor of St. Thomas, said during the ceremony.
Picconi and Russell said finding a congregation to host their ordination ceremony wasn't easy. Some told the women they supported their cause but didn't want to offend Catholics or their clergy.
But Bud Murphy, the pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Society in Ormond Beach, said his denomination is "radically hospitable or inclusive."
"We felt very comfortable with what is happening here because, in a way, they're doing what should have been done years ago," Murphy said.
He also said the Unitarian movement emerged when some Christians, who were considered heretics at the time, broke with their church.
"We feel a kinship because they are speaking truth to power," Murphy said.
Fran Leavitt, whose son is married to Monica Leavitt, traveled from New Hampshire to attend the ceremony and spend a few days in Florida. A Catholic since age 19, Fran Leavitt said in an interview she's "amazed at the positive reception," that Picconi and Russell have received from other people.
"I think it's wonderful," Leavitt said about the two women's decision to be ordained. "I think it's inspirational."
At the end of the ceremony, Picconi and Russell changed into their new priests' robes, taking Meehan's hands and raising their arms before the audience.
Picconi cried "tears of joy," telling the crowd "my cup runneth over."
"My heart could burst right out of my body," Picconi said.