The Philadelphia Ordinations and Pope Francis in Rio by Alla Renée Bozarth

Alla Renée Bozarth, Philadelphia 11, Philadelphia ordinations

On July 29, 2013,  I read the feminist theologian Mary Hunt’s fine account of Pope Francis’ visit to Brazil, with commentary on his informal conversation with press people on the way back to Rome.

When asked for a statement about the role of women in the Roman Catholic Church, a question which indirectly refers to women in the priesthood and episcopacy, he reiterated the position that the door to the ordination of women is closed. In response, I was inspired to write in the way that most intensely felt responses come out~ as a poem.

As I wrote, I couldn’t help but hear an older poem, “Water Women,” in the background. Perhaps the fact that Pope Francis had been to Rio, the Spanish word translated into English as river, inspired this association. Perhaps it was reinforced because Mary Hunt, whose article had moved me, was the co-founder and co-director of the organization WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual). I wrote the poem “Water Women” a few years after the historical Philadelphia Ordinations, in which eleven women put a significant crack in the stained glass ceiling barrier in the Episcopal Church by being ordained to the priesthood on July 29, 1974. That fait accompli event opened the doors to the ordination of women into all three Holy Orders. The Roman Catholic Women’s Ordination Conference began later that same summer. I wrote “Water Women” in response to a question asked of me and others in a small group of Roman Catholic and Episcopal feminists during a press conference, just as I wrote “Pope Francis in Rio” on the 39th anniversary of the Philadelphia Ordinations because of a press conference, this time with Pope Francis during his flight back to Rome.

I include “Water Women” here as the first in a pair of bookends, followed by “Pope Francis in Rio.” You may also read the poem, “Call,” here. I wrote and read it aloud by outdoor firelight at a gathering of the participants the night before the Philadelphia Ordinations to bolster our spirits. For while we had no idea what would come of it all, we sensed there would be great personal cost to ourselves. And there was.

Water Women

We do not want to rock the boat,
you say, mistaking our new poise
for something safe.

We smile secretly at each other,
sharing the reality that for some time
we have not been in the boat.

We jumped or were pushed
or fell and some leaped overboard.

Our bodies form a freedom fleet,
our dolphin grace is power.

We learn and teach and as we go
each woman sings~ each woman’s hands
are water wings.

Some of us have become
mermaids or Amazon whales
and are swimming for our lives.

Some of us do not know how to swim.
We walk on water.

Alla Renée Bozarth

From Womanpriest: A Personal Odyssey, revised edition, Luramedia and Wisdom House 1988; Water Women, audiocassette, Wisdom House 1990; Accidental Wisdom, iUniverse 2003 and This is My Body: Praying for Earth, Prayers from the Heart, iUniverse 2004. All rights reserved. 

Pope Francis in Rio

Quiero  lío  . . .
he says.
He says it
quite clearly.

In front of more
than a million people
he says it.

In the city named River,
the pope says what is
loosely translated  as,
I want you to make a mess,
or in the street vernacular,
I want you to screw up ~
but what he really said is
those two words,
literally the poetic,
the romantic word for
I desire, and the cracking
concrete word, trouble

There was no menace
or challenge in his words.
They were lovingly spoken.
He meant what he said
in a way suffused with hope
and faith in the listeners
as well as in the living flames
and rushing waters of Holy Spirit.

The good papa,
the hugging papa,
the twinkling, chuckling,
good-natured, humble
man who refuses
the pope’s crown,
the false trimmings,
the scandalous trappings—
he says he wants us
to make trouble . . . 


To whom was he speaking?
The youth? The smart and restless?
Was he saying it to everyone?
Old, young, male, female?
That’s us, Sisters.

Let’s be our holy best
and blessed selves
and show what we
can do.

Quiero lío, he says?
Let’s give it to him.

Alla Renée Bozarth
July 29, 2013

Since the founding of the Roman Catholic Women’s Ordination Conference shortly after the Philadelphia Ordinations, the movement has brought forth many irregularly ordained Roman Catholic women priests who are serving congregations in various nations on both sides of the Atlantic. Is it possible that their ministries will be recognized and celebrated within their tradition in any of their lifetimes?

During the years when the Episcopal Church hierarchy refused to recognize us, I called myself and my sister priests River Women, River Priests for the River People~ those who were freed by rejection simply to serve souls and welcome them to the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries. Being marginalized allowed us to move in the creative flow that became a strong current, the river of life leading us through into the future and making it possible for us to find each other, both in the flowing waters themselves and on holy ground along the river shore all along the way. That’s where the most creative and most interesting people were, and when we shared our stories even as we made new ones together, we thrived.

Dancing toward the Promised Land, Alla Renée Bozarth  My Blessed Misfortunes, copyright 2013.

Near the end of the Philadelphia Ordinations’ silver anniversary service after Holy Communion, the choir of the Philadelphia Church of the Advocate sang uplifting songs and I broke into a spontaneous dance of thanksgiving in honor of Miriam, the dancing prophet, remembering her song of Thanksgiving.

 Dancing toward the Promised Land

I, Miriam, took my tambourine
and finger cymbals with me
out of the land of slavery
with its daily insults and petty
exemptions, and so remain always
ready to dance on the long, long journey,
dance at every victory, beginning with
surviving the Passover, then the strange
occurrence when the Red Sea dried beneath
our feet as we ran, safely passing over the narrow
strip onto the Sinai Peninsula, all the way out
from the land of longing toward the storied memory of Home.

I danced to the song that spilled out of me,
loud up to Heaven, rejoicing on hopeful feet,
rejoicing with arms flying through warm air like wings,
and water followed me all the way through
the great desert, to keep the people faithful and alive.

God knows it may take a long time to return.
It’s been five hundred years, after all.
A long time gone, but our stories keep it alive
in our hearts. I wonder if I’ll live to see it from
the mountains across River Jordan. I wonder
if I’ll be an old woman, and dance down
the side of Mt. Nebo with arms wide open,
heart fluttering strong, leading the way
with cymbals and songs into the Promised Land.

Alla Renée Bozarth
My Blessed Misfortunes, copyright 2013.

 Alla Renée Bozarth is A Russian, Celtic, Osage American mongrel poet, Episcopal priest, Northwestern University Ph.D. in performing arts and Gestalt psychotherapist soul caregiver who lives at the foot of Mt. Hood in Western Oregon. She has published 20 prose and poetry books on feminism, spirituality, grief, hermeneutics of performance and most recently the Vietnam War— and 4 audio albums, with 14 more large poetry collections and 2 CDs ready for publication. Alla has written award winning poetry for over 40 years. Her poems are widely used all over the world, often in collaboration with visual artists, singers and dancers. For permission to reprint a poem, please send Alla your request at

21 thoughts on “The Philadelphia Ordinations and Pope Francis in Rio by Alla Renée Bozarth”

  1. Beautiful, powerful post, Renee! It is wonderful to hear your voice. May your words resound, inspiring people (and Pope) to change and dance.

    Years ago, I exchanged letters with you by post or what I call earthly mall. It is good to meet you here again.


    1. I remember our correspondence very well and just this week recommended your books to a friend. I sent her your Mary/Martha scene and Irish redhead that she is, she loved it as much as I do. What joy to see how prolific you are. Your books are wonderful. Thanks so much for your greeting here.


  2. Brava! If I were a member of the Roman Catholic Church, I might find this pope more modern and trustworthy than earlier popes, especially his predecessor, who had been head of the 20th-century version of the inquisition. But I’m not Catholic and I don’t trust any pope to be more than his office lets him be. No matter how friendly he is. Lovely poems. Keep writing.


  3. I’ve enjoyed your poems for many years now, and I loved reading two new one here at FAR (I remember the “Water Women” from earlier). Thanks for their uplifting movement towards a feminist future. Please join us here and post more often.


    1. Thanks so much for your sweet invitation. I love receiving these daily posts which are consistently fine and often outstanding, thanks to FAR’s excellent editorial eye and ear. Please do visit my blogs and posts for many, many more poems, and check out my Interview and Books pages. Go to
      and to view the single theme blogs [about the connection between Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party” and the Philadelphia Ordinations, for instance, and a long poem about the Vietnam War, a tribute to the fifteen women Nobel Peace Laureates, the Black Madonna, the women killed by patriarchy because of their gifts, and so on], in addition to the “Words and Images Welcoming Light in the Wilderness” 20 thematic posts, click on the View Profile at the bottom of the right hand menu. Blessings to you, Nancy! Viva, and Write on!


  4. I do so love the story of Miriam’s dance. There are times when words just will not do, no matter how beautiful the words are. So many women’s stories from long ago seem lost in time. As we recapture them from a dim memory in our hearts, we add centuries of agony and slow recovery to the tales. We need more poets like you to help our hearts remember.


    1. Find “Passover Remembered” via the link below, about two-thirds down. Click your Edit function and then Find, type in the the poem, click until the third click shows you the actual poem. A few lines to echo your own sensitive thoughts following the link, MaryAnn . . .

      . . . Do not hesitate to leave
      your old ways behind—
      fear, silence, submission.

      Only surrender to the need
      of the time—to love
      justice and walk humbly
      with your God. . . .

      You will learn to eat new food
      and find refuge in new places.
      I will give you dreams in the desert
      to guide you safely home to that place
      you have not yet seen.

      The stories you tell
      one another around your fires
      in the dark will make you
      strong and wise. . . .

      I will give you dreams in the desert
      to guide you safely home to that place
      you have not yet seen.

      The stories you tell
      one another around your fires
      in the dark will make you
      strong and wise. . . .

      Sing songs as you go,
      and hold close together. . . .


  5. In the Mormon faith, one of the former leaders of our church President Gordon B. Hinckley, when asked by a reporter if the policy excluding women from priesthood ordination could be changed, said, “Yes. But there’s no agitation for that.” We at are responding to that challenge, just as our Roman Catholic sisters at the Women’s Ordination Conference are answering Pope Francis’s call, “Quiero lio … ” Thanks for your thoughtful post, Renee.


    1. I admire holy agitators. You are so dear to God’s Heart when you raise your voices in truth and demand positive change for the greater good. I’ll be praying for your sustained strength as you push onward for wholeness in your tradition . . . As it says in my “Thirty-one Commandments or Flavors of Grace” [see my Books blog under “Wisdom and Wonderment,” 1993:]
      ~sometimes we have to “raise hell, for heaven’s sake.”


    2. Lorie, here is a link to excellent work done by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: “Mormon Women in the History of Second Wave Feminism.”

      I have been remembering the heroic work for the ERA of Mormon feminist activist and writer Sonia Johnson in the late seventies. She is a prolific writer of radical books still available: “From Housewife to Heretic,” “Telling the Truth,” “Going Out of Our Minds: The Metaphysics of Liberation,” and others. I also recommend the work of playwright/poet/philosopher Carol Lynn Pearson’s fine work in the arts as a Mormon feminist and great woman of Spirit. She hasn’t stopped her feminist productivity since the seventies. Her latest book is called “The Hero’s Journey of the Gay and Lesbian Mormon.”

      Be inspired and encouraged in your own spirit, which can never be bound by any external system or institution.


  6. Alla, You are am amazing person, and I am totally honored to have heard your story!! Thank you for all you’ve done in the world.


  7. Making trouble in a loving, even exuberant way has been the hallmark of Alla, a national treasure. Her latest poem emphasizes the positive about Pope Francis, who may yet surprise us by curbing the dreadful power of the Curia. I look to the nuns rather than the priests to save the RC’s from their medieval horror chamber, with its rejection of the spiritual wisdom and power of women.


    1. Amen to that, Fred. Your own witness as a relentless activist for justice as the decades fly by remains a constant inspiration that, as Barbara Harris still says, A Luta Continua~ the Struggle Continues, and in fact, it’s something to live for. I know you will speak out and write about matters of injustice on all levels of human experience, including our treatment of Mother Earth, until your very last breath. You are a blessing, dear Brother.


  8. Today I discovered by happy accident that my poem, “Water Women,” put to music by Joan Szymko and performed under the direction of Eliza Rubinstein at a special July 1, 2018 concert in Portland, Oregon by the Orange County Women’s Chorus, is now on youtube. I was not able to attend either the premiere performance in March 2017 in Huntington Beach, California or the Portland concert when the Chorus was on tour, which makes it particularly wonderful that I can at last see as well as hear the artists singing it now. I can see, hear and feel the music coming up all the way from the soles of the singers’ feet, and with the force of life itself in their voices, they create an acoustic radiance together. With joy I post this during the last week of Women’s History Month!

    Card or wall hanging available at


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