Home again


We flew home on March 27th with lots of great memories and warm feelings for all those who accompanied us on the trip.  We learned more than could be reflected in our itinerary.

It as a privilege to accompany 31 extraordinary women and men on a pilgrimage to Rome visiting the sites of early Christian women leaders. Led by our academic scholar, Sr. Carolyn Osiek, we learned how women functioned in early Christianity and explored sites with ancient frescoes, mosaics, sarcophagi friezes, ancient house churches, catacombs and basilicas bear the names of women leaders like Priscilla, Pudentiana, Praxedis and Domitilla.

At many of the sites, we held prayer services led by  spiritual director, Sr. Christine Schenk.  Her beautiful services helped us bring to mind our fore-mothers in faith, as well as, women today who have led with courage and fidelity in hundreds of ways in our Church and in our world.

The time together also afforded us the extraordinary opportunity to learn about the lives of early Christian women leaders from other participants in the group, experts in their own right.  Academics, clergy and leaders  from the US, Canada and the UK generously shared their work, ministry and scholarship with all.

To read our pilgrimage blog CLICK HERE.

FutureChurch at Vatican Radio

Chris and I also met with Philippa Hitchens of Vatican Radio who conducted not just one, but three interviews with us.  Here is a link to the interview she conducted with Chris as we prepared to begin our pilgrimage.

Vatican Radio Interview with Chris

As Chris noted, our exploration of earliest Christianity and the roles women offers deep insights and inspiration for women’s leadership today.  Going forward, FutureChurch will be expanding our pilgrimage destinations to learn about women’s leadership in Greece and beyond.

FutureChurch at Vatican Offices

Another aspect of our work in Rome involved visiting several Vatican offices.  In each and every office, Sr. Chris and I were welcomed and entered into respectful cordial conversations regarding our concerns for the future of Church leadership and ministry.

Congregation for Clergy

At the Congregation for Clergy we discussed our concerns regarding the shrinking numbers of priests and parishes and our hope for dialogue regarding optional celibacy.  The representative affirmed our concerns and offered his frank assessment of the current state of the Church.  He also received our packet with over 20,000 signatures asking that church leaders open the discussion on optional celibacy and invited us to stay in touch with his office.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

At the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith we met with another representative and engaged him in a discussion regarding women deacons.  The exchange was friendly and frank.  He received our packet with nearly 13,000 signatures calling for the restoration of the permanent diaconate to women.

Synod of Bishops

At the office of the Synod of Bishops we spoke with a representative sharing our concerns regarding the inclusion of women theologians and theologians with families during the working sessions of the synod. We learned Pope Francis and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri are making significant changes to the processes at the Synod of Bishops.  As a starting point, Cardinal Baldisseri moved beyond convention when he sent the preparatory document, the lineamenta, to all the bishops in the world and not just the heads of the Bishops’ conferences.  It is clear that Pope Francis is strengthening the Synod of Bishops and expanding their role in the decision making processes of the Church.

FutureChurch will continue to monitor events leading up to the Extraordinary Synod on the Family and advocate for inclusion of Catholic voices, including those of women theologians and theologians with families in Rome in October when the synod begins.

Pilgrimage participants write letters

During the week, our participants were eager to get on board with our postcard and letter writing campaigns.  We sent postcards to Cardinal Gerhard LudwigMueller urging the diaconate be restored to women, as well as letters to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldiserri asking him to include women theologians and theologians with families in the work of the synod.  We also sent copies of our Celebrating Women Witnesses in Spanish to Pope Francis which included information about the many women leaders missing from the Lectionary!  


The week was truly inspiring.  We entered into the ancient footsteps of our fore-mothers in faith, learned about their lives and saw more clearly our own call to be courageous leaders in this age.



Sending our letters to Cardinal Baldisseri and Cardinal Mueller


deb with mailToday I mailed our pilgrims’ postcards to Cardinal Mueller asking them to restore the diaconate for women.  We also mailed our pilgrims’ letters to Cardinal Baldisseri urging them to include women theologians and theologians with families as theological experts at the Synod on the Family.  Any new pastoral practices coming out of the synod will only be successful if they incorporate the voices, experiences and faith of the people of God.


Ostia: Remembering Monica


Ostia may have been Rome’s first colony. An inscription says that Ostia was founded by Ancus Marcius, the semi-legendary fourth king of Rome, in the 7th century BC.[2] The oldest archaeological remains so far discovered date  to the 4th century BC.

St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine died here.

Our prayer service during this stop was very powerful with Sherry and her son Tyler reading a prayer that honors mothers and children.


Meeting Pudentiana, Praxedes and Prisca


Their names may not be the easiest names in the world to pronounce, but making the journey to their sites was a powerful experience.

We started the day with a presentation by Dr. Carolyn Osiek focusing on women in ritual.

Women had roles as leaders in their house churches and as churches began to stretch beyond the house church.

The role of matrona in household was to be a leader with her husband in household worship.  Widows and wives of non-believers led without males. When you have an ecclesia – meeting in the house of a woman – it is unthinkable that anyone but a woman, the owner of the house, would lead.

By the middle of the 2nd century – assemblies were getting too big to meet in private house.  They remodeled private houses taking down walls and creating halls.

Women are named as deacons. In the Apostolic Constitution women are clearly ordained.   Their ministry was not exactly the same as the male deacons.

What do women deacons do?

  • Assistance at baptism of women, instruction before and after
  • Pastoral work with women, visiting the sick, etc.
  • Supervision of women at worship
  • Chaperone on women’s pilgrimages
  • Liturgical leadership in monasteries, especially what became the Divine Office
  •  Women functioned as presbyters too and was evidenced by numerous decrees of councils and opinions of bishops against them. Nevertheless they are named:
  • Ammion, presbyter, 3d c. Phyrgia
  • Artemidora, presbyter, daughter of Mikkalos, 2-3 c. Egypt
  • Epikto presbyter, from Thera
  • Kalē, presbytis, 4-5th c. Sicily
  • Leta presbytera, Tropea, Calabria
  • Martia, presbyteria, 4-5 c. Poitiers
  • Flavia Vitalia, 425 CE, Solin, Croatia
  • Guilia Runa, presbiterissa, Hippo, North Africa, after 431 CE

After the presentation, we traveled to:

1. Basilica of St. Pudentiana.  The basilica  is a 4th-century church in Rome, dedicated to Saint Pudentiana, sister of Saint Praxedis and daughter of Saint Pudens.  It is recognized as the oldest place of Christian worship in Rome. It was built over a 2nd-century house church.  The mosaic in the apse is famous for its iconography.  Christ is represented as a human figure rather than as a symbol, such as lamb or the good shepherd, as he was in very early Christian images. Two female figures, possibly St. Pudentiana and St. Praxedis hold crowns over the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul, the church of the circumcised and the church of the gentiles.

2.  St. Praxedes Basilica is an ancient titular church with gorgeous murals of women leaders and a very interesting fresco showing a woman holding a chalice and a host.

3.  Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest Marian church in Rome.

4.  Catacombs of Priscilla with famous frescoes of early women leaders and the oldest known fresco of the Madonna and child (in Rome?).

The Catacombs of Priscilla is mentioned in all of the most ancient documents on Christian topography and liturgy in Rome; because of the great number of martyrs buried within it, it was called the queen of the catacombs. Originally dug out from the second to fifth centuries, it began as a series of underground burial chambers.  The noblewoman Priscilla, who granted the Church use of the property, was a member of this family; her commemoration is noted on January 16th in the Roman Martyrology, which speaks of her as a benefactor of the Christian community in Rome. This cemetery was lost like all the others after the entrances were blocked to protect it from thievery; however, it was also one of the first to be rediscovered, in the sixteenth-century. A large portion of the funerary inscription, sarcophagi, stone and bodies (presumed to be those of martyrs) were subsequently taken away; nevertheless, the catacomb does preserve some particularly beautiful and important paintings, the most significant of which are included on the regular visit.

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After the tour of the catacombs, we held a wonderful prayer service.

Participants of the pilgrimage call to mind World Day of Prayer for Women’s Ordination


Many of our pilgrimage participants started the day with a prayer calling for the opening of doors to ministry for women.

Prayer for World Day of Prayer for Women’s Ordination

Ever present God; open the hearts and minds of all people, and inspire us all to use the unique gifts you have given us for loving service to each other.

We pray especially now, for those women whose gifts are best suited to serve your Church as ordained deacons and priests. Empower them with courage as they answer your call and strengthen them for humble service, great compassion, and insightful wisdom. Support them through their ministries and enlighten the leadership of your Church to practice the equality that Jesus modeled to embrace all women and men whom you have gifted for sacramental service.

Strengthen your Holy Spirit within those you have chosen for ordained ministry. May they answer your call and follow you with generous hearts.

We ask this in the name of Jesus, who called Mary Magdalene and Phoebe – as well as Peter and Paul – to be ministers in the early Christian communities.







A trip to the Vatican Museums


Today we spent the morning exploring some of the Vatican museums, including Pio Cristiano and the Sistine Chapel.  We also visited St. Peter’s.  Dr. Carolyn Osiek and Chris Schenk pointed out the sarcophagi where women are remembered as leaders.  Here are some of the photos from the Pio Christiano museum and one of our Vatican guide.

A Lutheran pastor who joined us for the pilgrimage, Lisa Schrader, stands in St. Peter’s square.  She was a joy to have along!

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The Sabbath and a trip to the Catacombs of Domitilla and the Basilica of Saint Sabina


We began the Sabbath with a real pilgrimage to theScreen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.49.08 AM Oratory of St. Francis Xavier del Caravita.  It was a pilgrimage because the nine who set out, had to cross over a sea of bodies, the 19,000 + participants in the Rome marathon, and walk most of the way.  A few pilgrims were not able to get through the long line of runners and had to turn back.  Those who did finally make it had a lovely experience at the mass but were vastly aware that while the Gospel reading was John’s story of the Samaritan women talking with Jesus, the Samaritan woman was barely mentioned in the homily.  Instead the priest’s homily focused on Jesus and Pilot.  See Kate Comny’s comments.

After mass, we walked back to our lodging and loaded up for the afternoon’s activities.

We visited the Catacombs of Domitilla and had a chance to explore underground tunnels where many Christians were buried.  They were carved through tufo, a soft volcanic rock, outside the walls of the city, because Roman law forbade burial places within city limits. Previously, the pagan custom had been to incinerate corpses, while early Christians and Jews buried the dead. Since most Christians and Jews at that time belonged to the lower classes or were slaves, they usually lacked the resources to buy land for burial purposes. Instead networks of tunnels were dug in the deep layers of tufo which occurred naturally on the outskirts of Rome.

These catacombs are situated on the land of the noblewoman Flavia Domitilla, the niece of Flavio Clemente, a consul from 95 A.D., who married a niece of Emperor Domitian (81-96) who was also called Flavia Domitilla. Domitian had Flavio Clemente condemned to death for religious reasons, and that his wife and niece were exiled to the Pontine Islands. Before their exile, the consul’s niece put her possessions on the Ardeatina at the disposal of the Christian community where the largest Christian underground cemetery of Rome would later originate.

Nereus and Achilleus  were martyrs, two soldiers who were probably victims of Diocletian’s persecution (304 A.D.). They were buried in the basilica.

Interestingly, this is the place where a number of bishops signed the Catacomb Pact, a copy of which hangs on the wall as one exits the catacombs.  On November 16, 1965, close to the end of Vatican II, around 40 conciliar Bishops met at the Catacombs of St. Domitila to sign a semi-secret pact intended to do away with the richness, pomp, and ceremony in the Catholic Church. The names of the Bishops present are not known.

The final stop for the day was at the Basilica of St. Sabina.  The church was built on the site of an early Christian house church owned by the Roman matron, Sabina, who was later declared a saint.  Dr. Carolyn Osiek presented a short lecture here on some of the murals and the carvings.  Ally Kateusz also shared some of her research on alternative interpretations of the meaning attached to the carvings.

We followed with a prayer service honoring Anonymous Women.   As we lit the candles, we were stopped by a priest who oversees the care of the church.  We learned that he was worried about wax falling on the floor, but his gruff demeanor caused some of the participants to ask if the same interruption would have occurred if the prayer leader had been a priest.  Interesting question!

Later in the evening, Dr. Osiek presented a lecture on Patrons and Catacombs.

Key points:

  • The model of patronage we find in the gospels springs from the patronage relationships that developed in the Roman empire.
  • Women were often patrons for other women and patronage was not limited to the elite.  Women patrons often funded unofficial groups, an activity that had a direct bearing on patrons in early Christianity since Christian women patrons often funded the operations of early house churches.
  • Christian patronage is found a) among non-elites, b) among near social equals, and c) between the founder and her/his communities.
  • Women patrons played essential roles in early Christianity where personal patronage was particularly a woman’s domain

Other points:

Paul calls Phoebe “prostatis” Alwhich in a patronage relationship of that period implies she is his superior.

Women patrons located in early texts:

Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2)

The mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12)

Prisca with her husband Aquila (1 Cor and Acts)

Apphia with Philemon and Archippos in Paul’s letter to Philemon

Lydia (Phil 16:14-15,40)

Nympha (Col 4:15)

Tavia & Alce (women patrons in the letter of Ignatius)

There are 28 tituli of Rome, 28 churches that became stops for processions and celebrations.  Of the 28, at least 11 bear women’s names.  At least 5 catacombs bear women’s names.

More notes to come!