She Called Herself ‘The Universal Friend’

Jemima Wilkinson was born in Rhode Island in 1752 of Quaker parents. In 1776 she fell into a trance-like state and appeared lifeless for about 36 hours. Upon coming out of this trance, she declared that she had become another being, a minister of the Almighty sent to preach His gospel and to minister to the spiritual necessities of mankind.  She began calling herself the Public Universal Friend.  Eventually she traveled to all the major cities along the east coast preaching the gospels, talking about women’s rights, and exposing the evils of slavery.

The Friend was finding followers but she was also was the victim of angry crowds throwing rocks. Because of persecution, the Friend and about 280 members of her Society of Universal Friends moved to Western New York State in 1788.  The friend is considered to be the first American-born woman to found a religious movement.  Today, dozens of Catholic Woman Priests around the world stand on the shoulders of women like the Friend, having dedicated their lives to preaching the gospel and bringing hope to those who have none.

All that remains of the possessions of the Friend is a portrait, a bible and a few of her papers.  There is no way to look back and study her thoughts and ideas.  How times have changed in regards to the availability of information and ideas.  Sophia Christi has a website,, where you can look at Toni’s homilies. Also recordings are made of the Eugene Mass.

–Carol Zolkoske

Considering ‘Evangelii Gaudium’

There is already much discussion about Pope Francis’ latest 50,000 word document, Evangelii Gaudium, Joy of the Gospel.  His strong encouragement that Christians take seriously the Gospel mandate to care for the poor and marginalized, as well as his clear example of what caring looks like, is a breath of fresh air in a church that had become an embarrassment of pomp and finery during the last two pontificates.  There is much to be grateful for in this amazing shift of papal priorities.  And yet there is a continuing sadness among women who stand on the ecclesial sidelines waiting to be seen and heard, waiting for their moral agency and vocational callings to be respected and welcomed in the sanctuary of public worship and witness.

A Gospel interpreted so as to exclude women from sacramental ministries to which they are called is not a Gospel of Joy nor does it speak to the continued marginalization and oppression of one half of humanity.  Some say Francis is just laying the groundwork for farther-reaching changes he plans to make in the months and years ahead.  Some say he is trying to unite left and right into one, unified church, and must take his time confronting litmus-test issues of the two former popes.  The “hottest button” in the church, as it is in all traditionalist and fundamentalist groups, is that of women’s rights, agency and power.  There is no escaping this issue, and merely calling for a “theology of women” without listening to the Holy Spirit as She summons women into pastoral and sacramental leadership roles within the church is an evasion of that issue.  We have a right to expect more from the Church into which all are baptized as full members of the Body of Christ in which, Paul says, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free.

Why I Joined the Parish Council

Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Pray without ceasing. If necessary, use words.” I take this statement to mean that our beliefs and our values should come through everything that we do: the way we carry ourselves, how we spend money, the words we choose to speak, and how we treat others.  Yes, professions of faith and explanations of beliefs can be powerful, but the everyday choices – or way of proceeding – may carry even more weight. I believe the same is true for organizations, especially mission driven organizations such as Sophia Christi.  I think that our way of operating and proceeding says just as much about who we are as a community as our mission statement.

Though gathering to share in a justice-centered, inclusive liturgy is what brings the community together, there are many other actions that allow the community to live out its prophetic voice. This belief in the importance of “the way of proceeding” and how it reflects the values of an organization are what motivated me to join the parish council. For me, the parish council is not something “extra” or “separate” that I do for Sophia Christi, it is an inextricable part of my belonging to the community. For me, the meetings are a form of prayer – perhaps less meditative or poetic than other ways – which allow me to consider how the mission is lived and how each decision reflects the community’s commitment to inclusivity, spiritual healing, and the social teachings of Jesus. In sum, the way we pray and the way we make decisions together are essential parts of living out our mission. So pray with the community. Attend a parish council meeting. Donate your time, talent, and treasure. Be spiritually fed by the community. I invite you to find your role in Sophia Christi’s way of proceeding    — Danielle, Portland

Make Your Voice Heard in Rome

For the first time in history, as far as I know, the experiences of ordinary people are being solicited by a pope, a pope who seems genuinely interested in the everyday lives of individuals and families around the world.  As a result, we have an opportunity to voice some of the concerns we have discussed among ourselves for decades, and to share the experiences and insights born of Catholic family life in all its permutations and diversity.

Pope Francis has called an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to be held in October of next year.  Its theme is the Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization.  In preparation for this global conversation, Pope Francis has asked that a questionnaire be circulated as widely as possible to gather input from Dioceses, deaneries and parishes so that local people can respond.  Bishops of England, Wales and others have posted the questionnaire online while Bishops in the U.S. seem disinclined to seek broad-based input from individuals and families themselves.  Lay groups, however, have been inspired to create and circulate surveys to solicit grassroots input in response to the Vatican request.

In a November 16 article in the National Catholic Reporter, Brian Roewe provided a link to two survey possibilities as well as the the original Vatican preparatory document with its extensive list of in-depth questions.  That document can be found at

A coalition of 15 church reform groups, most of them part of COR (Catholic Organizations for Renewal) created and posted a survey online for Catholics in the U.S.  It can be found at    (more…)