Meet the Philadelphia 11

by Bill Tammeus

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On July 29, 1974, 11 women became the first to be ordained to be priests in the Episcopal church. The church at first declared those ordinations -- the 11 women in Philadelphia and four the next year in Washington, D.C. -- to be both "irregular" and "invalid," but eventually labeled them valid though irregular. In 1976, the church's national governing body, pressured by wide acceptance of those irregular ordinations, changed the rules and allowed for the ordination of women as priests, not just as deacons. It also "regularized" the Philadelphia and Washington ordinations.

These are the 11 women who were ordained on that day 40 years ago.

Merrill Bittner: A native of California, she earned a college degree in biology and then attended seminary in Rochester, N.Y. After her ordination, she traveled the country in a van for years and later became a career counselor in Maine.

Alla Renée Bozarth: After her ordination, she opened an ecumenical feminist retreat center in Minneapolis. Later she opened such a center in Oregon. She also became an award-winning poet.

Alison Cheek: A native of Australia, she became a teacher at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. Later, she helped found a spiritual center in Maine. She also served churches in Philadelphia and Maine. She's retired to North Carolina, living not far from another of the Philadelphia 11, Carter Heyward.

Emily Hewitt: After her ordination, she went to Harvard Law School and eventually became chief judge of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, from which she retired last October.

Carter Heyward: She taught at the Episcopal Divinity School from 1975 until 2006 and has written 11 books and contributed to or edited several more, including one about another of the Philadelphia 11, The Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Me: The Writings of Suzanne Hiatt.

Suzanne Hiatt: Considered by others in the ordination group to be the prime force behind the 1974 ordinations, she also taught at the Episcopal Divinity School. She grew up in Minneapolis and died of cancer in 2002 at age 65.

Marie Moorefield Fleischer: The year after her ordination, she left the Episcopal church to become a United Methodist. Later she returned to the Episcopal church, which formally recognized her ordination in 1985. She served in the North Carolina diocese and now is retired.

Jeannette Piccard: She was 79 years old at the time of her ordination. She later served as an unpaid pastoral assistant at a church in St. Paul, Minn. She died in 1981 of cancer.

Betty Bone Schiess: After her ordination, she became a chaplain at Syracuse University and later Cornell University, as well as rector of a church in New York state, where she still resides, now 91.

Katrina Swanson: Her father, Bishop Edward Welles of Kansas City, Mo., was one of the bishops who led the 1974 renegade ordinations. She and her husband, also an Episcopal priest, both worked at churches in New Jersey. She died of cancer in 2005.

Nancy Hatch Wittig: She grew up in a Navy family. After her ordination, she served for two decades as rector of the Church of St. Andrew's in-the-Field in Philadelphia. She now is an assistant priest at a church in Lakewood, Ohio.

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