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Dissident female priest Mary Ann Schoettly dies at 71

 Female priest Mary Ann Schoettly holds mass at the at the Walter C. Lynch Senior Center in  Sparta New Jersey.
Female priest Mary Ann Schoettly holds mass at the at the Walter C. Lynch Senior Center in Sparta New Jersey.
Photo Sophia Inclusive Catholic Community

Mary Ann Schoettly was considered a woman's rights advocate and pioneer by her supporters and colleagues. In her community she was known as the retired Newton High School biology teacher who loved to spend time in her garden. To the Roman Catholic Church she was a radical who was ordained as a priest in a dissident ceremony six years ago and excommunicated. Michael Corso, her co-pastor of the Sophia Inclusive Catholic Community in Sparta, confirmed Scholettly died Tuesday, reports

In 2009 the group Roman Catholic Womenpriests ordained Schoettly and four other women as priests. All the women who underwent the ceremony were excommunicated from the Church. The women refused to accept the decree. According to the Womenpriests organization there are 150 female priests in the US and 188 throughout the world.

During the “Year of the Priest” celebrations at the Vatican in 2010, Schoettly and four other women held signs advocating for women to be accepted as priests, drawing a considerable amount of international attention at the time. After being detained by officers in St. Peter’s Square, and held in custody for several hours, Schoettly told reporters, “They’re worried about five women? I thought, ‘It says something. I’m not sure what.’ ”

Original news reports at the time quote Schoettly’s, favorite saint as Mary Magdalene, her favorite scripture passage is from Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." She said she would like her future congregants to call her Mary Ann and that her hidden talent was watercolor painting. She even gave some tips for attracting hummingbirds, such as hang feeders in early May and to keep the nectar fresh.

According to her local church, Schoettly received graduate degrees in theology, science and in administration and supervision. She also earned certificates in pastoral care and spiritual direction. After the trip to Rome Schoettly became quieter about her ministry, but remained enthusiastic and dynamic in her community. She was actively leading her congregation, performing baptisms, and weddings, until she becoming ill a few weeks ago.

Corso said, “She may have only been a priest for six short years, but she really acted as a priest for much longer before that. Her legacy will live on long after her.” Schoettly is survived by three adult children. The wake for Mary Ann Schoettly will be held at the Smith-McCracken Funeral Home in Newton on Sunday, from 1 to 4 p.m. A memorial service will be held at the Newton Presbyterian Church at 10 a.m. on Monday.

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