Patricia Fresen, Doctor of Theology, a Roman Catholic woman bishop, and a Dominican nun for 45 years in South Africa, grew up under apartheid and experienced South Africa’s conversion under Nelson Mandela. She illuminates the parallels between sexism and racism and by extension all oppressive systems:
Both racism and sexism give all power and privilege to one group of people to the exclusion of the other group. Both racism and sexism are horrendous systems of injustice. Once one becomes aware of the injustice . . . one cannot go back. We learnt, in the apartheid years, that sometimes the best or even the only possible way to change an unjust law is to break it.
Fresen experienced the wrenching loss of having to leave her beloved Dominican community to be ordained a Catholic priest and then bishop at the urging of a male bishop who realized the need for women bishops, specifically a speaker of English.
For years Patricia had longed to be a priest, and she immediately recognized the morality of the Danube Seven’s action. Her diocesan superiors sent her to Rome to study for a licentiate in theology in preparation for teaching seminarians because they recognized the need for a female presence in the lives of seminarians. In Rome the young men turned to her for tutoring in the courses, recognizing her superior grasp of the material. People told her their problems, even their sins, and wanted her to be the one giving absolution.
As she returned to South Africa to teach in the country’s only seminary in Johannesburg, she felt the acute irony and hypocrisy of the Church’s discrimination against women. In one incident, a priest on the faculty invited her to give a homily in observance of women’s day. Seminarians hissed as she approached the pulpit. She never spoke and, to his credit, the priest-presider removed his vestments and refused to continue with the Mass.
Dr. Fresen left the seminary, moved to teaching at the university, and subsequently met two of the Danube Seven, who offered ordination to her. She felt sure her Dominican community would stand behind her decision to become a Catholic priest, but they insisted on a dispensation from her vows as a Dominican, an extremely painful part of her past.
Six bishops were in attendance as Patricia Fresen was ordained a bishop and brought into full apostolic succession. As she was bowing her head for the laying on of hands, she saw on the floor in front of her the falling tears of the bishop laying his anointing hands on her head. Presently Fresen resides and works in Germany but is sought around the world as a speaker.
For more see: The Lady is a Bishop and Santa Barbara Independent