Mary of Magdala Celebrations: A History with Marie Graf
In those first years of our movement to celebrate St. Mary of Magdala, we were thrilled with each and every new group that participated. We were surprised when we went from celebrations in 23 cities in the first year to celebrations in 150 cities in the second year. And by the fifth year, we counted 224 celebrations not only across the United States, but internationally: in the United Kingdom, Kenya, South Africa, El Salvador, Australia and Canada. And since then, there have been celebrations in countries around the world. We don’t have a final count for this year but we know there will be well over 300 celebrations. We were shocked—but oh so pleased! We really were not sure that a yearly event would be sustainable. But we touched a deep chord—one that twitched and spasmed—one that started a movement we could not have predicted.
And the creativity put forth in these celebrations also surprised us. There were certainly great speakers. There were musical programs. There were liturgical dance programs. There were enactments of women leaders of our church. Scripts were written. Prayer services were offered. But most importantly, people—men as well as women—were engaged in the thought that there is biblical evidence of the importance of women for our church.
And that’s the chord we struck. Women of faith were yearning for a reflection of themselves in church celebrations. They were hungry for role models—they were yearning for hope. And the celebration of Mary of Magdala as the Apostle to the Apostles provided that.
But we also dealt with people who were negative about our celebrations. There was a gentleman who accused me and all the FutureChurch supporters of being wiccan—of wanting to start a coven of some sort because we dared to say that Mary of Magdala was not a prostitute. We were picketed because we dared to speak out about expanding women’s roles in our church—of recognizing the contributions of women in the history of our church. But we persevered— we did not give up because we knew that the chord we had struck had begun to sing a great song—and it took on a life of its own.
Press coverage was surprisingly supportive of our movement. We had people all over the country writing editorial pieces about Mary of Magdala and restoring her rightful place in our church history. And the papers ran them! Over the years, we have had coverage not only in the Catholic publications, but the secular press: the LA Times, the Dallas Morning News, Chicago Sun Times. We have had radio and television news coverage—not just here in the United States but overseas as well.
I feel validation for all the work FutureChurch and supporters have done over these years—our persistence in proclaiming her role as the Apostle to the Apostles—our powerful message that women matter in this church and the need for extended roles in our church. With the elevation of the celebration of St. Mary of Magdala to a feast day—recognition by our church of the importance of this particular woman whom God chose to proclaim the good news of the risen Lord—we now have a glimmer of hope for change that could come. And the announcement by Pope Francis of the formation of a commission to study the possibility of reinstituting women deacons in the Catholic church gives us even more hope for change in the future.
We certainly were not the first to proclaim the true identity of Mary of Magdala as the Apostle to the Apostles. But
I like to think that it was because of the efforts of FutureChurch that we are now celebrating the FeastDay of St. Mary of Magdala. Still, we will continue to be diligent—we take nothing for granted. But we feel the spirit moving and she is helping us build a future church for our daughters and our sons.