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Renate Put's vocation story

Renate Put

This testimony is taken from Zur Priesterin berufen (“Called to be a Women Priest”), ed. by Ida Raming, Gertrud Jansen, Iris Müller and Mechtilde Neuendorff, Druck und Verlagshaus Thaur (Krumerweg 9, A-6065 Thaur, Austria) 1998, pp. 157-161. Translation by John Wijngaards.

I know I have a vocation

My parents come from the Rheinland in Germany and from Holland. I was born in Westfalen during the last year of the Second World War and grew up in surroundings that were largely Protestant.

My German grandmother was “spiritual”, in a very quiet, self evident way. She has given me some of her devotion and sense for spiritual things. After finishing my professional training as a nurse, I entered a Carmelite Convent. After two and half years I had to leave on account of illness. This was followed by a time of confusion. Next to my professional work as a nurse I completed my secondary studies at an evening school. Then I decided to start studying theology. Never in my life have I doubted that this has been the right decision - - even though during my involvement in church service I kept having the feeling that I was not in the right place.

Today I am a member of the St Catherine Werk, a Secular Institute, and I live in Switzerland. My tasks include: being in charge of formation (in religious congregations they would call this being Novice Mistress) and Vicar General. Next to my duties within our community I conduct formation courses for the Church and facilitate religious communities in emergency and renewals, to the extend I have time for this.

When I became 50 years old, I drew up and assessment “where I’m at”. Many issues of my life passed the review. Among other things I have been considering my vocation to be a priest: to be more exact, my becoming more and more conscious of my priestly vocation. I am quoting from the notes I made at the time.

50 years old: “the wise, old woman?”

Often I discover in myself a “wise old woman”. She knows she has been dedicated to God’s service and she tries every day to live from this commitment and involvement, and who tries to make the personally experienced wisdom of God to flow into the encounters and talks of the days. From this connection between past and present arises a fruitful quality of life, that knows it is linked to female spirituality of thousands of years. There are moments when I feel deeply related to the women priests of all cultures and religions. I notice in me the mighty power of God who worked in many women mystics of the Middle Ages. And this divine-creative power dedicates all to God, because all belongs to God - - it is a priestly service.

I recall my experiences as a child. For a long time I lived with my beloved grandmother and went to school from her house. Behind our house stood a barn in which we children loved to play. With some boys and girls we used to play “Holy Mass”. I was always “the priest”. We celebrated with an unbelievable passion. I always thought that with every liturgical service the earth changed. I used to incense everything in the barn with imaginary incense with the awareness of: God is present.

The children who played with me with equal seriousness, have never challenged the role I had chosen - - even though it did not correspond to the role models that were acceptable at the time. The wisdom and knowledge of children is not always that of adults and this wisdom of the child has been assumed in my image of the “wise old woman”. I always wish that the spiritual quality of God’s living power increase in me and further grow. I hope that in the next phase of my life I can even make more out of this presence of God.

50 years: “the woman priest?”

From about 10 years ago I know that I have been called. During some part of my life I fought my vocation, at times more, at times less. My vocation to be a priest is a vocation that goes against the grain. It is a vocation of rebellion against tradition and against masculine theologies of Church ministries.

However, there is also room for a vocation for a Church that will have changed and renewed itself, that will have gone beyond patriarchal and matriarchal theologies and structures.

The men, brothers and fathers, are the better and more powerful people. They occupy the highest places. This is what my women’s history, family history and Church history has taught me. Yes, when I reflect on it: my vocation to be a priest is a vocation against accommodation.

I remember an experience of my vocation. I see myself sitting in the Church in Kastanienbaum/Luzern. I “revolve in my heart” the parish priest, the community and the people I know and all of a sudden I feel in myself a wish so strong so strong that it almost explodes out of me: I would like to celebrate the Eucharist with the people here present. I feel and acknowledge deeply in me: the Eucharist is the sacrament of unity, the thanksgiving for the oneness of God/Christ with us human beings and of human beings with each other. I am overcome with sorrow: only because I am a woman I will not be able to celebrate that oneness.

In this experience I certainly became conscious of something I had carried hidden inside me for decades. The part of my subconscious that likes to accommodate was obviously not allowed to become aware of this vocation, since it implies protest and rebellion. What cannot be, is not allowed: even though it is part of me.

I am experiencing in the Church the same thing that I experience in my own family: I am not right, the way I am. I am not equal to my brother. He has privileges in the family which as daughter do not enjoy.

It was self evident that my brother would learn a profession - - I had to learn a profession against the wish of my parents: they wanted that I would marry quickly, have children and look after them. I resisted such a traditional plan of life as strongly as I could. Otherwise I would have become a very unhappy and - I am sure - also very dissatisfied and “bitter” woman.

All of this was self evident. My brother was allowed to do that which suited his own plan of life and to choose the profession he liked - - there was no question about it - - it was just taken for granted. I was not allowed to do that in my family and may not do the same even in “my” Church, a Church to which I belong and to which I feel called: just because I am a woman.

With gratitude and profound fulfilment I know today: I am right. God gives me the gift of my “being right” and I myself give that gift to me. Since I feel in me the vocation to be a priest, God himself makes me understand: I am right. I have walked a long spiritual way, and I know how to understand my inner experiences and how to do justice to the deep impulses that come from my deepest being. I know from myself and from my spiritual counselling of many people and of whole religious communities, how important it is yes vitally important, to take one’s own vocation seriously. I have known people who because of not having lived their vocation - also the vocation to be a woman priest - have become ill. The certainty grows on me that I would do everything I could to enable me to live my vocation and that of many other women, and to do so with official recognition in my Church. I remember a dream I had many years ago. I am in a large hall. Many brothers and sisters from the St Katherine Werk are gathered, also guests unknown to me are present. We are celebrating a big feast. Then the Pope comes in. He approaches me directly, greets me and puts a stole over my shoulders.

I know that I am right in my vocation to be a priest. The Pope of my dream knows I am right. So far the notes from my retreat. I would like to add that surely the time will come that also the pope and the Church will know and act accordingly!

Yes, they will have to act - - for what will the Church of the future be without its female dimension. Many women know what it means, with great difficulty under pain and crying to give birth to one’s own female identity if they want to live as woman.

The woman Church too is pregnant with her female side - - so I am hoping - - and will have to give birth to her female identity. With all my heart I have great expectations inspite of everything that obviously is still alive in the Church - - I hope it will happen soon.

Renate Put

Overview Signs of a Vocation A woman's journey Steps to take Answering critics Writing your story
Six options for Catholic women who feel called to the priesthood?

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