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Sister Christine Schenk on the History of FutureChurch Mary of Magdala Celebrations

Sister Christine Schenk, CSJ, co-founder of FutureChurch, shares the story of how FutureChurch’s annual Mary of Magdala celebrations began.

Flashback:  1989-class at St. Mary Seminary in Fr. George Smiga’s class on the New Testament. I was stunned to discover there is no evidence whatsoever that St. Mary of Magdala was a prostitute but ample evidence in all four Gospels that she was the first witness to the Resurrection. But who knew?  No one!  And I vowed then to let people know about her faith-filled leadership if ever I could.

Enter God’s inscrutable providence. In 1997, as director at FutureChurch, I was at last able to fulfill my vow by launching FutureChurch’s international campaign to restore St. Mary of Magdala to her rightful place as the apostle to the apostles.

We asked our supporters to sponsor special celebrations on or around July 22 at which a biblical expert would trace Mary’s unparalleled fidelity in accompanying Jesus through crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection. This would be followed by a prayer service at which a woman would preside, preach and encourage attendees to reflect on their own encounters with, and witness to, the risen Christ.

Our first Cleveland celebration attracted 200 people to a local parish where Fr. Smiga himself spoke. A friend encouraged about eight women from her 12-step group to attend. To my surprise, they wept unrestrainedly throughout the beautiful prayer service created and led
by pastoral minister, Laurel Jurecki, who was clothed in a white alb.

It dawned on me that we were touching something very deep within the Catholic female psyche. A long-buried wound was slowly being brought to the Spirit’s healing light.

Annual celebrations of St. Mary of Magdala exploded after that, going from 23 that first year, to 150 the following year to between 250 to 400 celebrations worldwide in each of the last 17 years. Every summer, thousands of women and men helped correct an egregious injustice done to a great woman leader in our church.  And every summer, more women wept as wounds of unconscious misogyny were healed by the Spirit’s gentle touch.

And now, just two months ago the Vatican actually changed St Mary of Magdala’s memorial to one on par with all of the other apostles.

It’s not often that working to be the change we long to see actually happens in one’s own lifetime.  I am extraordinarily grateful for the providence of God, and for the powerful Holy Spirit energy at work in literally tens of thousands women and men over the past 19 years.  This would not have happened without them.

Margaret Mead is quite correct when she says: “Never doubt that a small number of people can change the world. They’re the only ones who ever have.”  But we have a long way to go before women’s ministry is in on par with men’s ministry in the Catholic Church.  Sadly, misogyny is alive and well and coming to a poll booth near you.

This is where the Holy Spirit comes in to do her thing—but she needs our help.  So I ask you to pay attention to the Spirit’s call within you . Where can you make a difference? Where can you sow seeds for a future you may never see, but one that won’t happen at all if you don’t begin now.

I long for a Catholic church in which all of our daughters and sons are proud to raise their families.  Come Holy Spirit, Renew the face of our church so we may at last proclaim a God in whose image both women and men are made.  Amen.