They Call Her Pastor: A New Role for Catholic Women

Wallace, Ruth. They Call Her Pastor: A New Role for Catholic Women. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992.

Ruth Wallace's widely praised They Call Her "Pastor" is a thorough yet accessible account of the author's research on Catholic parishes administered by lay or religious women. The book breaks new ground in its treatment of a timely and important subject about which little has been written. Wallace, a sociologist, spent a weekend in each of twenty parishes with women pastors, observing and participating in parish life and interviewing pastoral administrators, sacramental ministers, and parishioners. Her discussion of her findings is sprinkled with revealing anecdotes. Wallace begins by placing the appointment of women as pastoral administrators in the contexts of the increasing role of the laity in the post-Vatican II Church, the changes brought by the 1983 revised code of canon law, the current priest shortage, and the women's movement. Due to the convergence of all of these factors, bishops in many dioceses, especially in the South and in the Midwest, have begun appointing women to lead parishes without resident pastors. These women typically have at least some college education. About half had some previous connection with the parish, while the others were recruited from outside. According to Wallace, women pastors build community in their parishes by engaging in collaborative leadership and demonstrating "pastoral heart," a warm concern for individual parishioners. Their availability and lay status also help them convince parishioners to assume responsibility for their parishes. Thus, in her view, the appointment of female pastoral administrators presents an opportunity to restructure the parish in ways that increase lay leadership. Wallace notes that the appointment of lay women as pastoral administrators presents both opportunities and constraints. In order to better support women pastors, Wallace suggests that diocesan leaders permit parishioners to participate in the selection of an administrator, explain the reasons for the appointment to the parish and participate in an installation ceremony, provide mentors for new pastoral administrators, visit the parish as an indication of their support, and ensure the cooperation of the sacramental minister in reaffirming the administrator's authority.