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A vocation story of a missionary who worked in Africa


Monique, whose name has been changed at her own request for reasons of anonymity, worked as a missionary in Africa. We record here the story she told in 1973 when an informal contact group in France collected data on Catholic women who felt called to the priesthood. In all 33 ‘vocation stories of Catholic women’ were collected. The collection has not yet been published.

Monique’s story was first printed in ‘Dans les Églises, des Femmes aussi sont ministres’ (= ‘In the Churches, women too are ministers’), Actes du Seminaire, Femmes et Hommes en Église (68, rue de Babylon, 75007 Paris), 1996, pp. 82-85. Translated by John Wijngaards and published on www.womenpriests.org with permission of the organisers of the seminar.

My vocation

From when I was young I observed how priests lived and I wanted to be like them. I purposely arranged the course of my life to be in harmony with this ideal as much as possible. I dreamt of being a parish priest in the countryside. This could not be realised immediately, of course!

I passed through many stages. I became a teacher and was active in my parish. Then, for some time I tried out a religious congregation, one especially founded to help priests in their apostolate. However, I had to leave for reasons of health. I then took up teaching again and started a renewed involvement in a number of parishes. But I kept looking for a more complete dedication.

In 1965 I was offered the possibility of leaving for Africa as a volunteer. Wanting to follow the path which the Lord indicated to me, I accepted the offer. It meant teaching in a minor seminary, catechism, and religious instruction. I tried to integrate myself in the pastoral work of the diocese.

After the first four years I was asked to stop my teaching work so that I could devote myself totally to the Catechetical Centre, especially to do research on new programmes and on manuals both for pupils, teachers and catechists. Fortunately, this also involved practical pastoral work. At the same time, I was secretary of the missionary team in the town: priests, brothers, sisters of that place who tried to co-ordinate their ministry. In all that, I worked with the priests as their collaborator. This came natural to me -- to the astonishment of other women, but in general the priests approved of my attitude.

Appointed ‘parish priest’

The shortage of priests left more and more empty spaces in the country. A district, which had been abandoned since twenty years, saw its population multiplied by the exploitation of oil and this population required a priest. But who could be sent? A priest suggested to the Archbishop that he should ask me to go. I hesitated: I foresaw the solitude and responsibility. I reflected that those people were as sheep without a shepherd, that the Lord asked me to be his representative . . . I considered also that this difficult task might contribute to the access of women to the priestly ministry. I said to the Lord according to the African expression: “See my body, put your Spirit into it!”

Consequently he Archbishop entrusted this district to me of which I am now directly responsible to him, as its parish priest. And the parish of St.Andrew was born, an immense parish, much larger than a French province but less populated.

I have an agreement with Fidei Donum priests [= priests from European dioceses who serve the mission for a number of years] for sacramental services. I need to fall back on them for the power to make the sacrifice of Christ's present, to impart the forgiveness of the Lord and to anoint the sick.

The desire to be a priest, which has never left me, gives me a clear sense of my calling, of a specific appeal of the Lord to me. As with all his other ministers, he wants me to continue the mission he entrusted to the Apostles.

I feel myself profoundly being ‘the priest’ of these people who have been entrusted to me by the Church. Charged as I am to be for them the instrument of salvation of Christ, I want to give my life for them, to be totally at their service, so that they may meet Christ and receive his life. While being conscious all the time of my own limitations, I also see the action of Christ through me. I believe that being a priest of Jesus Christ demands giving oneself totally to his work of salvation. It is up to each person to discern with the Church how this gift can be lived.

My ‘priestly’ ministry

How do I myself attempt to live my vocation in the specific time and place in the Church where Christ has put me?

Every day I pray for these people who have been entrusted to me and I also pray in his name. I attempt to be accessible to them: welcoming, visiting, paying attention to their life, showing fraternal openness, listening always to everything that they like to share with me: questions, worries, mistakes, joys, sufferings, desires . . . Announcing the word of God in the catechism classes and the celebrations takes a lot of my time. In the afternoon I have sessions to form the women. Meetings of young workers during the evenings in the library give me an occasion to show that the good news of salvation extends to the whole of life.

Men, whether young or old, feel as much confidence in me as the women do. I often have profound conversations with them and the men ask me for confession.

One of the other priests passes by according to opportunity, once every two months more or less, to renew my hosts for the Blessed Eucharist, to hear confessions and to celebrate Mass. When coming back after a month of leave, I have at times brought with me on the plane a ciborium full of consecrated hosts, which I then carry by bus or canoe to the villages. Holy Communion is my tool every day. It allows the Christians of the villages I visit to unite themselves to the sacrifice of Christ so that they may experience his love.

I resent it more and more, and with ever greater sorrow, that I cannot respond fully to all the needs of the people in their meeting God. I am thinking of these people who have not seen a priest since many years, those who during the course of a confidential talk confess their sins spontaneously. I would like so much to be able to give them the sacramental sign of forgiveness there and then!

When Christians gather on Sundays or on the occasion of my passing through their village, we listen together to the Word of God, we try to share reflections on it, to celebrate it, but ever more I feel I should be able to continue then, to respond fully to their spiritual need by renewing Christ’s Eucharistic gesture, the living memorial of his love and his sacrifice, the sacramental sign of our communion with him and unity between ourselves.

I would like to be ordained - for the sake of my people

Jesus Christ who knows that people need concrete signs of God's plan and of his action amongst us, has instituted visible sacraments and the Church passes them onto us.

I have a very strong desire - which grows every day in living the mission which the Church has entrusted to me - of being a priest, of being ordained, of being consecrated in my whole being to accomplishing the plan of God among people, of continuing his sacraments, of continuing the gestures of Christ which save and give life. I attempt to give my life every day. From early morning to late at night, my days are filled by the activity of a priest charged with responsibility for a Christian community. I welcome ordination, which would consecrate this life and my whole being in view of this life, in order that it might be the memorial of Christ the "Do this in commemoration of me", the action in his name.

I would welcome ordination even though I am very much conscious of my failings, but I am also becoming more and more conscious of the mission which the Church has entrusted to me. I want to be able to fully accomplish this ministry in the service of my people with regard to all their spiritual needs. I want to be able to help them being sanctified by God so that I may be for them the instrument of Christ’s salvation.

Monique, 1973

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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