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All Saints, All Souls, Remembrance

Qualities and heroic actions of our most honoured ancestors in faith may not be as unattainable as we assume

Susan Roll, Special to The Review | November 1, 2020

“Now at this time of year, the veil grows thinner between this world and the next.”  I remember first hearing that many years ago from Diann Neu as she welcomed participants to an autumn ritual.  But I’ve heard it since.  The deepening darkness, bare branches and chill hush of the weather in the Northern Hemisphere create an atmosphere that suggests that in this season one might faintly perceive that life really had changed, not ended, when a human life passed away.  Combining our secular calendar with the church calendar produces a one/two flip from Halloween one day to All Saints Day the next, and All Souls the day after that.  The expression “the veil is thinner,” especially when uttered in a low breathless voice with widened eyes, might seem to point to a naturalistic explanation for Halloween, and even of ghosts.

A bit creepy.  Just a bit.

And yet somehow, remembering those who have passed from our sight just feels right at this time of year.  As a Church community, remembering those “friends of God and prophets” in Elizabeth Johnson’s book title, can serve to remind us of who we are, as we see aspects of ourselves reflected in who they are.

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RCWP Liturgies on Zoom


  • Qualities and heroic actions of our most honoured ancestors in faith may not be as unattainable as we assume
  • In Memory of Her: Rev. Dr. Michele Birch-Conery (Aug 3, 1939-Oct 11, 2020)
  • Timeline of Catholic Women’s Ordination in the Context of Work by Women’s Ordination Worldwide
  • RCWP Liturgies on Zoom
  • RCWP Canada Bishop's Message:  All Saints/All Souls
  • Comments to the Editor
  • National Remembrance Day Ceremony 2020: A more intimate commemoration
  • The image of God within this too-often damaged world
  • Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints
  • Francis Comics
  • Comments to the Editor address and form
  • RCWP Canada Links
  • Related Links

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 RCWP Canada Bishop's Message

All Saints/All Souls

Elizabeth Johnson in her book, Abounding in Kindness, does a beautiful job unpacking the mystery of the “Communion of Saints” which we profess to believe when we say the Creed.  The image she uses is of the Spirit of God gathering us, both living and dead, under her wings until all people of the world, all people of all ages are held in the Divine Embrace. Quoting from Wisdom, “Although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes of them friends of God and prophets.” (Wis. 7:27) 

Johnson suggest that the Feast of All Saints is meant to be about all those alive on earth today who respond to the grace of God in trying to live the great commandments we hear about in the Gospel and the practical application expressed in the 1st Reading of the feast.  Paul often refers to the people of the early communities as “saints”  meaning they are God's people -  people of covenant by Baptism, sealed by the Spirit and called to live in Christ and witness to him in the breaking of the bread, and lives of love and service.

The institutional Church, however, celebrates the Feast of All Saints as a commemoration of those who have been canonized. Those deemed holy enough to be in heaven either because they were martyred for the faith or lived lives judged to be worthy of heaven.  They are presented as models of holiness and someone we can pray to in our need.  All Souls Day is an adjunct in which we pray for the dead who have not been sufficiently purified to meet the standards for admission to heaven.  This is a remnant of the Middle Ages where emphasis on the transcendence of God and fallen state of humanity was emphasized.  The Saints were to be honoured and emulated; the rest of those who had died were “poor” souls and needed to be released from “Purgatory” by our prayers for them. 

The Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium (40-41) emphasized that God calls all people to holiness.  Through Baptism persons are joined to God in Christ; receiving the Spirit they become sharers in the divine nature. “In this way they are [already] made holy.”  The church is not divided into saints and non-saints.  The vocation to be “friends of God” shapes the life of everyone in the community.  Life in God does not end with death.  Those who have died are alive in Christ Jesus.  We can relate to them as the “living dead.”

Johnson suggests that we think of all those who have gone before us as saints, holy companions travelling with us, in one Spirit-filled community.  So instead of invoking the saints to pray for us, we  ask that they pray with us.  We don't have to limit our prayer to those who have been canonized, we can include those we know and have inspired us in our lives. All those who have gone before us in faith are friends of God, partners in memory and hope referred to in the Letter to the Hebrews (12:1-2), as the “great cloud of witnesses.”  Our remembering them is to release the power of their witness into the struggles of today.  A Friday service broadcast from a synagogue  in New York prays, “May the beauty of their lives abide among us as a loving benediction.”

For all those who have gone before us, especially the multitude who have died this year due to the pandemic, let us pray that this be so.  As we honour their memory let us renew our efforts to do all we can to protect the lives of the vulnerable persons among us.

Our feast of All Saints/All Souls put us in touch with what is, what has gone before, and what is yet to come. In the over-arching dynamic and creative energy of God, symbolized by the Spirit brooding over the waters in Genesis.  This dynamism also connects with the bread and wine of Eucharist and through this sacrament with the whole natural world.  It brings to fullness of life the evolution of all that is into communio sanctorum a holy oneness that emanates from the Source of All That Is.  That same Divine energy raised Jesus from death to be the Cosmic Christ, the Christ of the Ages, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.

+ Jane

[Jane Kryzanowski, Regina, SK is bishop for RCWP Canada]

Comments to the Editor

I wanted to thank you for extending a welcome to your beautiful Mary of Magdala Inclusive Catholic Community on Zoom. Just knowing that there are brave women being ordained and serving as Catholic priests has been a balm to my soul.

I also want to apologize that I have not attended since the first liturgy you invited me to. In different circumstances I would be attending regularly, but as a mom and wife I have found that Sunday mornings have not worked as I expected. My family has been attending church in-person together on Wednesday evenings (the only time slot left at our parish given the attendance restrictions and the fact that we were late in signing up), which has given us Sundays to rest at home or to go off on family adventures. Now that school is in session and my son is in soccer, Sunday mornings are the only morning of the week that we are not getting up early and going off in different directions, and I am recognizing the need to preserve that time together. Which is all to say that for this season I'm afraid I will not be able to join your beautiful gatherings.

Again, I am grateful for your ministry. Thank you, and God bless you.

[Catholic mother, Nanaimo, BC]

National Remembrance Day Ceremony 2020: A more intimate commemoration

Public Relations, | September 14, 2020

The global pandemic has directly affected the execution of this year’s National Remembrance Day Ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. However, The Royal Canadian Legion is still planning for a much smaller yet heartfelt ceremony, which will include a maximum of 100 participants.

“The importance of a live ceremony honouring our Veterans and their sacrifices is considered paramount by the Legion, especially during the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War,” says Danny Martin, National Ceremony Director. “At a time when we have all been isolated for months by the pandemic, ensuring the symbolism of the Legion and community leaders paying homage to our Veterans is more important than ever.”

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The image of God within this too-often damaged world

Susan Roll, Special to The Review | November 1, 2020

Far-right wing movements are on the rise around the world, and authoritarian quasi-dictators preen and shout from balconies, channeling rage and fear among their constituents into turbulent social unrest.  Groups that bear the name Christian vociferously support radically, sometimes dangerously opposed political camps.

When Jesus said “Give to Caesar…” the Greek word apodote means to “give back, return.”  The image on the Roman coin is that of Caesar, but the image of God – the imago Dei – is imprinted on every human being.  What, and how much, are we called to give back?  And what are we called to give forward, in order to incarnate the image of God within this too-often damaged world?

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Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints
by Elizabeth Johnson

Suzanne Michelle, | November 1, 2020

If you are a person into change, into contemplating your own place in the world, into deepening your personal spiritual connection to all that is, and especially to G-d, you will love this book.

Yes, it deals with feminist theology, yes, 'Sr. Beth' is an excellent, careful, and clear writer -- these are obvious with a cursory glance. We all fit together, somehow, in this world of G-d's, and hardly a paragraph goes by where the reader is not encouraged to feel and believe in both the connection and the process.

This work is a synthesis of very much, a disparager of very little, an emblem of hope and belief... a way... for how we are all part of the communion of saints, keepers of Wisdom, able ourselves to be 'friends of God, and prophets' -- and ultimately able to believe in and offer support to each other.

Read More on the topic of the Communion of Saints in a 9-page article by Elizabeth Johnson

In Memory of Her:
Rev. Dr. Michele Birch-Conery
(Aug 3, 1939-Oct 11, 2020)

                                                               Photo by Fred Beinhauer

Rev. Dr. Michele Birch-Conery’s earthly life spun round charisms connected to language, storytelling, prayer, and to serving others as a nurse, nun, teacher, priest and bishop.

Michele was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 1939, on August 3rd, the feast day of St. Lydia, who made her living dyeing, spinning and selling rare and expensive royal purple cloth. The process like life was challenging. According to the New York Times:

“To make Syrian purple, marine snails were collected by the thousands. They were then boiled for days in giant lead vats, producing a terrible odor. The snails, though, aren’t purple to begin with. The craftsmen were harvesting chemical precursors from the snails that, through heat and light, were transformed into the valuable purple dye.”

Lydia met the apostle, Paul and, through her conversion, she drew many Europeans to Christianity.

Many of us have witnessed how Michele possessed the rare gift of waiting on the soul and of transforming its wisdom into words, into the royal purple cloth of a radical hospitality for difference, and compassionate action for change in systems of oppression and injustice. Some of her favorite sayings were “Patience in the Spirit” and “Holy Spirit back-up plans.” Michele’s faith was well-honed and she had the flare of a true artist. Here is the opening stanza of Michele’s last poem, When Grief Opens the Doors to the Sacred published in 2017 by Suny Press in Unruly Catholic Nuns: Sisters’ Stories.

When grief opens the doors to the Sacred,
we come to the thinning seasons, summer to Autumn, and then
        to winter
when eternity enters our awareness keenly. We diminish
        somewhat, within the great spaces
of our universe, while parts of our planet enter a resting and
        dying time a fallow time to
prepare, without apology, the renewals of Spring.
Our dying, at any time of year, is like this. It is as if we
through to and reach into eternity, even as our bodies
to their necessities and then weaken toward the moment
of their last breathing. We are held and embraced by
Beyond ourselves. It is time we are slowly coming to know 

Michele’s birth mother was Rose Conery, a single mom. She was fostered by a loving family and adopted at four years old. Sadly, her adoptive parents were abusive of Michele; however, this experience influenced her to become a tenacious diplomat and lover of fun.

Michele attended two convent boarding schools and became an accomplished pianist. After high school graduation and work as a nurse’s aide for three years, Michele registered for a three-year (‘59-‘62) registered nurses program at Holy Cross Hospital in Calgary, Alberta.

Michele writes that she was “privileged to be class president those three years and delighted in experiencing the tremendous loyalty nurses have for each other, their open-mindedness and excellence in nursing.”

After graduation, she worked in general duty nursing at St. Martin’s Hospital in Oliver, BC for a year. “It was a 40-bed hospital and I loved it,” she said, “because I got to do everything. I was generally the ‘in charge’ nurse on whatever shift I worked and I organized staff to attend to a variety of tasks. It was an excellent experience.”
At the end of the school year in August 1963, Michele entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM). Four years later, she completed a BA with an emphasis in Education and taught Grade 7 in Everett, WA for one year, and then grade 10 at Holy Names Academy in Seattle.

“By that time,” she writes, “it had become apparent that I was more suited to teaching at post-secondary levels.”

Because of her writing skills, in 1970, Michele was invited by the Creative Writing Department at the University of Montana to pursue a Master of Fine Arts Degree in the genres of poetry, fiction and drama. She majored in poetry and completed the degree in 1973.

The following year Michele left the SNJM and Montana for the University of Iowa in Iowa City. For the next 10 years, as she worked on her Ph.D. in English Literature, she supported herself working as a nurse, including several years with the ‘Flying Nurses,’ an organization that provided temporary working assignments to under-staffed hospitals in the U.S.A.

In 1985, Michele completed her Ph.D. in English Literature with emphases in Modern British and American Literature, Feminist Literary Criticism and Poetry. It included work on the History of Literature, specifically philosophical and literary criticism of current prevailing artistic practices.

In 1985, Michele returned to British Columbia “to make it my home,” she said. Two years later she became a professor of English Literature and Women’s Studies at North Island College in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island (where she lived for twenty years after a reunion with her birth mother). She was involved in outreach by television to the surrounding areas, which included special services to First Nations communities.

Michele writes: “I was engaged in TV teaching to the entire province by way of a college network run from the University of British Columbia campus. Of special note is my participation in the province-wide Status of Women Committee for the College system. After several years of intensive meetings and labor, we introduced a sexual harassment policy that was accepted by the college union. As a result, the number of harassment cases dropped to nearly zero.”

She retired from North Island College in August 2007.

Michele recounts, “It is evident from my numerous nursing assignments that I spread my wings and flew far and wide. Twenty years in the professorate gave me similar experience intellectually, creatively and procedurally. Of special importance was the outreach to remote areas of the province by way of small learning centers and television teaching. “

In 2004, Michele was ordained a deacon in a ceremony on the Danube River in an initiative known as Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP). In July 2005, she was the first woman ordained a priest in Canada in a ceremony on the St. Lawrence River. A lot of publicity from the Canadian press followed.  Despite the challenges of chronic illness, Michele established three faith communities on Vancouver Island with members of RCWP. She companioned many of the first women and one man in the program of preparation for priesthood. Michele joined the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP) in 2013.

In 2014, Michele moved to Windsor, Ontario where she ministered with ARCWP priests Barbara Billey, Karen Kerrigan, and Jeni Marcus with the Heart of Compassion International Faith Community, and in 2015, after ten years as a priest, she was ordained a bishop within the same association. Michele's role as a bishop was one of the highlights of her life.

In Fall 2019, after the recurrence of an extreme illness with a syndrome from her youth, Michele wrote, “And so I approach the closing of my life with a heart full of gratitude for my life and for the lives of all of you. I send you my heartfelt prayers for lives of peace, hope and justice.”

In her last weeks of life, Michele was tended by members of her Windsor faith community and wonderful, local health providers in their Church house in Rhea Lalonde’s apartment alongside the Detroit River. She died peacefully and was received into the fullness of Divine Mystery in Hospice at Hotel Dieu Grace Hospital (the same room in which Barbara’s mother had died two years prior) on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in the early evening of October 11. Rhea and Barbara Billey along with Brittany, a Hospice nurse bathed, anointed and shrouded Michele. After reading Luke 23:44; 24:1-10, a smile appeared on Michele’s face.  She already seemed to be enjoying her new life with our Holy One with Cloud of Witnesses and in the Communion of Saints.

Special thanks to the women of Heart of Compassion who were intimately involved in the care of Michele for many years and at the end of her life: Rhea Lalonde, Sharon Beneteau, Jennifer Harvey, Marg McCaffery-Piche, Kathy Worotny, Sr. Suzanne Malette, SNJM and Barbara Billey. Gratitude, too, for Jeni Marcus, Karen Kerrigan and Sydney Condray, priests with arcwp who kept the prayers flowing in liturgy and outside, as well as the prayers, support and love rendered by members of our international women priest movement.

Michele’s Mass of Resurrection was held on Sunday, Nov 1, 2020 on Zoom.

[Written by Janice Sevre-Duszynska and Barbara Billey, priests ARCWP from information dictated by Michele last year to Marg McCaffery-Piche.

Michele’s memoir, Birdwoman: Memoir of a Migrant Mystic, will be published posthumously in 2021.

Timeline of Catholic Women’s Ordination in the Context of Work by Women’s Ordination Worldwide

Timeline 17

2020 - January 1 - Pope Francis opens the New Year with a strong condemnation of violence against women.  Reminding his audience that the manner in which a society treats women and their bodies is a measure of its level of humanity, he says that in God’s plan of salvation, ‘The rebirth of humanity began with a woman…From her, woman, salvation arose and therefore there is no salvation  without the woman…Women are sources of life…Yet they are  continually offended, beaten, raped, forced into prostitution and forced  to suppress the lives they carry in their wombs….Every violence inflicted on women is a profanation of God, born of a  woman.’  While there are signs of potential progress for women in the Church in his homily — at one point he suggests that women ‘must be  fully associated with decision-making processes,’  he does not address where the Church’s humanity is  in continuing to make women powerless and voiceless in their own church  simply because they are women?   He emphasizes that allowing women to participate in making decisions is because  he believes that women are givers and peace mediators. He argues that  when women give out their gifts, the world becomes more united and  peaceful. Therefore, a win for women is a win for the entire humanity.  But he does not mention woman's place in the Catholic Church and  the reasons they do not have permission to move high up the church  ranks. Catholic conservatives still do not even allow girls to serve at the altar  reserving the role for boys only.

2020 - January - Pope Francis and the Vatican are in the news with the appointment of a woman, Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni, to Undersecretary for Multi-Lateral Affairs.  This is international news, hailed as first and as a signal for more in the way of positive change for women in the Church.  WOW responds: ‘The global Church, and particularly the curia, can only benefit from elevating women into positions of leadership, decision-making, and ordained ministry. However, we long for the day when the bar for celebration is raised. WOW suggest the radical idea that qualified persons are empowered in their work and ministries, regardless of gender. For  as long as the Vatican continues to exclude women from decision-making processes and ordained  ministry, our Church continues to endorse the second-class status of  women wherever they may be.’

See WOW’s Statement here: WOW Statement on Appointment of Dr. Francesca Di Giovanni to Undersecretary for Multi-Lateral Affairs - January 17, 2020

2020 - February 12 - Pope Francis Drops the Ball for Women in His Apostolic Exhortation on Women

Pope Francis releases Querida Amazonia, his Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Amazon in which he completely sidesteps the issue of shortage of priests in the region.  He writes beautifully about the environment but disastrously about women. Presiding bishops  at the October 2019 Synod had signaled a green light for married men in priesthood but kept women’s ministry as deacons marginalised by calling for more study.  WOW responded that, ‘Adding married men to sacramental ministry in the Amazon will further push aside the women the Synod recognised are currently doing the work. This reinforces prejudice and signals the supplanting of women whose spiritual leadership will be sacrificed in the name of God but is for the sake of men.’   In his Exhortation, Francis utterly fails to connect the marginalisation of the environment (a ‘she’) with the marginalisation of women in the world and in particular, women in his own Church.  He endorses the broken concept of ‘complementarity’ as an attempt to justify continuing exclusion of women from priesthood.

WOW’s response: ‘ Astonishingly, Francis holds  up defense of the all-male priesthood on  the untenable foundation of  spousal imagery that says priest stands in  for groom and the Church as  bride. In application, this practice  dramatically underlines how men can  fill all the roles through a gender  fluid pansexuality granted for male  priests.  While the male priest  stands in for groom, he also and stands  in for bride. Women in this  broken view are but passive recipients in  the source and summit of our  faith. Women are categorically unnecessary  for the function of the  Church except for the production of children and  to prop up the man  show. This theory betrays a blind belief in a concept called complementarity   used by the Vatican to claim that women and men are destined for   different roles but which in reality just means men can do everything   and women can only do what the men want them to and that serves them.

[This is the seventeenth
excerpt of a timeline we are serializing here.  For the full timeline, see the Women's Ordination Worldwide website.] photo

Francis, the comic strip  by Pat Marrin October 15, 2020, 2020
National Catholic Reporter

Used with permission

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