Grandmother of women's ordination remembered

by Thomas C. Fox

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Iris Müller, one of the original seven women ordained in 2002 on the Danube River, died Jan. 30. Long time advocate of women’s equality and women’s ordination, Muller’s life story is recently captured in a book written by Gretchen Kloten Minney, “Called: Women Hear the Voice of the Divine.”

In a chapter entitled “Pioneers: Grandmothers of the Return of Women’s Ordination in the Roman Catholic Church,” Minney writes of Muller and her lifetime friend, Ida Raming, also ordained on the Danube.

Minney's book provides a brief background and history of ordination within the church and tells the stories of women feel they have been called to the priesthood. It is published by Wonder Why Publications in Broomfield, CO 80020

The following is taken from the chapter with the permission of the author. (The book is available through Amazon and also through the publisher.)

Iris Muller’ story begins in pre-WWII Germany. Muller was
born an only child in Magdeburg, Germany. Her parents were
Lutherans who occasionally attended church services. During this
time, Iris attended some religious education in school and she still
has memories of her early interest in it. In 1942, school children
were sent to rural camps to protect them from bombing activity.
Although it was counter to Nazi indoctrination, Iris prepared for
and looked forward to her confirmation, and was able to receive
that blessing after the war ended.

During the camp time, a school friend told Iris about meeting
Catholics and going to a Roman Catholic church in the heavily

Catholic Rhineland where she had spent her holidays. The two
decided to attend a Catholic Sunday Mass in a nearby town. This
secret escapade appealed to Iris’ sense of adventure and turned
out to be one of the key religious experiences of her young life.
Even though she was unsure of just what was going on, she knelt
down and was deeply touched by the emotion and comfort she
felt. This was a new and wonderful feeling for Iris and it has never
left her for a moment. In the last years of school Iris knew she
wanted to study theology.

Now the war was over, and in 1950, the German Democratic
Republic, known as East Germany, was established. There was
much about the GDR that Iris was skeptical of. The government
did not tolerate any opposition to the government and its mandates.
Iris held opinions that were not helpful to her plans for college.
Therefore Iris was forced out of school just before final exams.
Fortunately, she heard of a school in West Berlin that made it
possible for boys and girls who had been forced out of school
to complete their exams. The school and this opportunity were
accessible to residents of GDR at that time, and Iris took advantage
of it.

Although many of the students and their families left the
GDR after exams, Iris returned to East Germany because her
mother was still alive. She began studies at a church institute
established especially for those students who were considered po-
litically unacceptable at university. At the Lutheran Theology
School in Naumburg, about forty miles southwest of Leipzig,

Iris took a much deeper interest in mysticism and religious orders.
She was able to go on to study at Martin Luther University of Halle,
a full classical university founded in 1694. It was only possible for
Iris to attend this university because of some relaxation of “the
rules” when Nakita Khrushchev became the first secretary of the
USSR and visited the United States.

After receiving her certificate at MLU, Iris converted to
Catholicism. The consequences of this decision were catastrophic,
but she was“thrilled by the thought of belonging to this community
of faith that truly spanned the whole world.” She had felt for
many years that Catholicism was her spiritual home and now she
was there.

Iris’ father died in a prisoner of war camp during the war, then
between 1954 and 1956, both her mother and grandmother died.
Iris was alone and stranded. There were no opportunities in the
GDR for a Roman Catholic theologian who was not a man. She
was shunned by several of her old Protestant friends, teachers,
and mentors. Iris realized she had no choice but to leave East

Through the mercy of the Catholic chaplain for students at
Halle, Iris first got to the Jesuit College in Charlottenburg in West
Berlin. Afterward she remained at a camp for refugees in West
Berlin until she qualified for emergency procedures and was flown
out to West Germany. The turmoil of the next couple of years was
painful. In being loyal to her calling to become a Catholic and her
calling to be a priest, here she was again a woman without a home.

At the University of Munster there was a hostel for women
students. While Muller was rooming there she met another
women resident studying theology—Ida Raming. This meeting
marked the beginning of a meaningful professional and personal
friendship. Continuing their studies, Raming and Muller shared
their common challenge and became a force for change and
resolution. Having a friend or colleague whose mission is your
mission, whose path is your path, is a powerful gift. The scholar-
ship and intellect that have come from the coalition of these two
indomitable women have given limitless authority and clout to
the women’s ordination movement within the Roman Catholic

Doctors Raming and Muller wrote and lectured through the
seventies and eighties, sharing their wisdom and belief in
equality for women in the Church. By 1986 they were convinced of
the pressing need for solidarity among women theologians who
were called to the priesthood or women who supported that
principle. Together they formed “Maria von Magdala Initiative—
Gleichberechtiging fur Frauen in der Kirche”e.V; Mary Magdalene
Association—Initiative for Equal Rights for Women in the
Church (a registered organization, 1987). The Mary Magdalene
Association strives to overcome the misogynistic tradition of the
Church. The association continues to work to revise the patriarchal
language in liturgy, to establish a level of respect for the vocations
of women to the deaconate and the priesthood, and to correct
masculine depictions of God. But Iris Muller intended more than
such an organization.

During the next years Iris Muller remembers:

Through some inner inspiration I felt the deep
wish to build up a spiritual community with like
minded women, a community in which women
called to the priestly ministry could support each
other in their journey. I had understood that the
first generation of future women will have to face
great difficulties in their ministry on account of
the centuries old ecclesiastical traditions that were
hostile to women.

If such a spiritual community were to be estab-
lished, I would do everything in my power as a
woman priest to confirm my spiritual sisters in
their call and to encourage them to develop their
charism further. Its aim is to further the theolog-
ical research about women, to test the traditional
theology and challenge it in its hostility to women,
and to find new theological formulations that do
justice to Jesus’ message and which agree with our
own time and culture.

Ida Raming and Iris Muller, two educated women devoted to
serving God, suffered for their belief that women and men are
equal in the eyes of God. They have been discriminated against for
speaking out publicly against the discrimination of women in the
Church. Their work has informed the debate and fortified the
determination of women who dream of a Roman Catholic
Church that is women-friendly.

On June 29, 2002, Muller and Raming were ordained with five
other women known as the “Danube Seven.” On December 21,
the Congregation for the doctrine of the Faith at Rome excom-
municated all seven women. In 2006 Ida Raming was ordained
a bishop for Roman Catholic Womenpriests Europe.

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