New Hampshire's only female Catholic priest shares her struggle

Last modified: 2/26/2015 7:26:37 AM
On Tuesday, Franklin Pierce University hosted a showing of the documentary “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican,” which chronicles the journey of women priests. Following the showing of the film, The Rev. Theresa Chabot, the only female ordained Catholic priest in New Hampshire, was on hand to speak to the crowd and answer questions from the audience.

Chabot of Manchester has always been deeply involved in the Roman Catholic church. And for a long time, she felt a call to devote her life to the church, but not as a nun — as a priest. The ordination of women as priests is viewed as a taboo practice by the majority of the church, including its leading figures, and the penalty for attempting to ordain a woman and for a woman to attempt to receive ordination is automatic excommunication from the church. The penalties for these women are very real, said Chabot in a phone interview on Tuesday.

“I have known for quite some time that I was to be a priest,” explained Chabot. “But I didn’t know what that looked like.” Chabot even considered leaving the church to become a minister in another Christian sect, but eventually decided that her calling really was within the Catholic church. “The bottom line is that I’m a Roman Catholic woman. That’s what I knew I was called to be,” said Chabot.

Kathryn Mathews, a Franklin Pierce University sophomore from Cherryfield, Maine, who is Catholic, attended the event. In an interview Wednesday, she noted that she had never before been aware of this movement of women priests.

“All my life I’ve only known men who were priests,” said Mathews. “This was the first time for me, meeting a woman in the Catholic religion who was ordained as a priest. Maybe that’s what the Catholic religion needs. Maybe these women have a different view.”

Lindsay Sweet, a Frankin Pierce junior from Oxbridge, Massachusetts, said she is used to seeing female church leaders from her experience growing up Episcopalian religion. “I always grew up seeing it,” said Sweet of female ministers. “It’s hard to grasp the fact that women aren’t allowed to do this and there’s still this barrier. I don’t think that there should ever be barriers like this.”

It was not an easy decision, nor a smooth process, said Chabot. “I lost friends, and I lost friends that I thought would be supportive that weren’t. It’s been a very painful process.”

Chabot, a part of a movement of women priests, was ordained by a bishop in good standing of the church in 2010, and since has been operating as a priest since. With no church or rectory to support her, as well as the inclusive nature of the women priests movement, have her masses looking very different than other churches.

Like many woman priests that lack a church, Chabot has been working in the model of a “home church” holding mass in her own Manchester home, or at times the homes of her parishioners. Her congregation is small, said Chabot. Though she has no church, she performs all of the sacraments, performs weddings and baptisms and receives confession, all of the functions of priesthood.

The church has threatened excommunication for those that attend masses officiated by female priests, and many of those that worship with Chabot were people that were somehow disenfranchised or otherwise ostracized by the Catholic Church. But because of that, everyone who comes to her mass wants to be there, said Chabot, and the small numbers creates an atmosphere of fellowship, even though many of her parishioners travel long distances to attend and might not have any other connections with their fellow church-goers.

Chabot and other women priests practice an inclusive type of worship, welcoming all walks of life and accepting of parishioners from other religions, and of all sexual orientations, genders and economic classes.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.


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