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  • Pamela S

A Minister by Any Other Name

Updated: May 25, 2022

The Immaculata at the University of San Diego

I had a humorous interaction with my dental hygienist today in between the times she had instruments in my mouth. I told her I had to change my appointment due to a class, so she asked me what I was studying. I gave my usual general answer of theology. She then asked, "Oh, are you going into ministry?"

I suppose I was a bit distracted, since I misunderstood her question. I replied that I was already in ministry, being involved in religious education and formation. She shook her head, and further attempted to clarify by repeating, "No, I mean, are you going into ministry?" There was a blink-blink moment between us. Then I registered what she meant, and said, "Oh! No, honey, I'm Catholic. That's just for the boys." We had a good laugh.

It is really interesting how often I get this question in some form or another when I tell people what I am studying. I find it odd, this go-to assumption. Usually they word it by asking if I plan to be a pastor. I smile at what my pastor would think of me trying to take his job. A job which, by the way, I would never want.

My hygienist was not really that off-base asking such a question, since I am in classes with seminarians at my school which is now the seminary for our diocese. There are about a half-dozen seminarians on track with me, and I am so impressed with these bright, passionate young men. I am enjoying getting to know them, and it is good for them to be in class with such a wide range of lay persons--many of whom are women. Their formation takes many years and has a varied landscape, but for now, we pursue the same education.

After we had our laugh, I told my hygienist that Catholics probably define ministry more broadly, and that all the pastoral ministry roles in my parish (outside of clergy) were held by women. I'm not sure if I was trying to justify to her that it was okay that we could not hold the clerical roles. But it really is okay. The only men on staff at my parish are the clergy, the facilities manager, and the bookkeeper. Probably the majority of key volunteer positions are held by women as well. And the school? All women. From my vantage point in my small corner of the universal Church, women have a voice, are well respected, and keep the fires of faith burning. So am I going into ministry? I think I will keep to my original answer: Yes, I am already there.

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