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13 July 2005

JSU Alumna Ordained as First Female Priest in American Catholic Church

Rev. Maureen Sullivan

Sherry Kughn
News Bureau

The Rev. Maureen Sullivan of Jacksonville recently became the first female priest with the American Catholic Church, a denomination formed in 1999 that is based on the Roman Catholic Church.

Rev. Sullivan, an alumna of Jacksonville State University and the University of Alabama, also works as a social worker with the Cleburne County School System, and she is a wife, a mother of four children and a grandmother. She will schedule her new responsibilities around her job and family, especially on the weekends and during the evenings and summers. She will serve as head of her congregation, will counsel with church members, and will serve as chaplain of the Health Services Center in Hobson City.

The Rev. Sullivan credits her studies at JSU as a major influence in her life. When she moved to Jacksonville during the mid 1990s because of relatives living here, she had never finished college and was not sure what to study.

“I also lacked self respect about thinking I could make a difference,” said the Rev. Sullivan, who said that also working at a job she did not like motivated her to visit JSU. She ended up talking to a counselor in the Department of Sociology and Social Work who suggested she take one course to see how she liked it.

“I was locked in,” said the Rev. Sullivan. “I loved it.” The Rev. Sullivan had plenty of experience serving others even since her youth: She was a nun in the Roman Catholic Church while in her twenties.

The Rev. Sullivan earned her bachelor’s degree in 1999 and earned a master’s degree in social work in 2000 from the University of Alabama.

Five years ago, she met several members of the American Catholic Church while in Virginia when her sister suffered an aneurysm. The love they showed the family, and their inclusive ideas on church leadership impressed the Rev. Sullivan. After the crisis, she learned more about the church and decided to study to become a deacon. She knew at the time the church was seeking women to study for their priesthood.

“I didn’t know I would be the first,” said the Rev. Sullivan, “but I knew I could be.”

The American Catholic Church began in 1999 by the Most Rev. Lawrence Harms who lives near Washington, D.C. The church celebrates the same seven sacraments and many other practices of the Roman Church, but it holds broader views about who can be a member and serve in leadership roles. It welcomes married priests, women priests, gays, lesbians, and divorcees. The Rev. Sullivan misses ties to the church in Rome, but she does not foresee changes in their views of female roles in the church.

The Jacksonville congregation, named the Holy Spirit American Catholic Church, met for the ordination service and the first mass led by the Rev. Sullivan at Silver Chapel at McClellan, with about 40 in attendance. Many of those present for the occasion were family members and clergy, but about 10 visitors from the community attended.

”During the Mass, I broke down after saying the words of consecration,” said the Rev. Sullivan.  “I broke down because it was such an incredible joy to take such a part in this mission. Jesus said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ And I did. Until now, the words of consecration have been said exclusively by males. Today, women were invited to carry out the man datum, as equals in the sight of God."  

She hopes others who are interested in embracing a more open Catholic Church will visit the church’s  website at, contact her at 435-2238, or e-mail her at She hopes to attract those who need healing from past problems with their spiritual lives and those who want a loving church family.

The church will continue to meet in the Sullivan’s home until they find another place to worship. Meetings are on Sundays at 11 a.m., and Bible studies are on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. She hopes to schedule other activities as soon as the church grows, maybe a Sunday evening liturgy for  college students.

"I’m open to whatever schedule comes about,” she said.

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