Maria Eitz: A Roman Catholic Woman Priest
Maria Eitz was ordained a Roman Catholic Woman Priest in 2012 in San Francisco. Born in Germany during World War II, Maria immigrated to the United States in 1962. Being called to the priesthood, according to Maria, is “a challenge, an honor, a mission, a responsibility; it is speaking for all the women throughout history before me who wanted to serve at the Table of God.”
Maria converted to Catholicism as an adult after Vatican II, “that wonderful awakening,” as Maria calls it. She earned a Masters in Theology from Marquette University in Milwaukee, a Catholic Jesuit institution. Two Jesuit theologians influenced Maria profoundly: Karl Rahner and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
For over 30 years, Maria was an active member of St. John of God, a Catholic Church in San Francisco, where she served as a lector on liturgy committees and their parish council. Maria also taught theology for many years. In 2009 Maria joined the Sophia in Trinity community, which describes itself as “a Roman Catholic community celebrating a radically inclusive God.” Their presider at the time was Victoria Rue, a Roman Catholic Woman Priest. Maria soon found herself answering her own call to the priesthood. With the support and prayers of her church community, Maria was ordained.
Maria never saw the conflict that her gender might pose. She knows and understands in the deepest part of her the significance of Jesus’ follower Mary Magdalene. According to Maria, “Women priests reaffirm what Jesus set in motion when he entrusted Mary Magdalene with the message to bring the love He lived and taught to all peoples everywhere. Historical evidence confirms that women were an integral part in every aspect of the early Church.”
The documentary Pink Smoke over the Vatican by Jules Hart supports and proves Maria’s statements. The role of women in Christ’s life cannot be marginalized or rewritten. The resurrected Christ appeared first to Mary Magdalene and His mother Mary before seeking out His male disciples. Maria feels that world-wide feminism “adds to, liberates and sets free energies to create change on a cosmic level.”
Maria leads a bold life. Defying the hierarchy and becoming a Roman Catholic Woman Priest is just the latest example of how Maria is willing to work for justice. During the Cold War, Maria was one of a small group of students in West Berlin recruited by British, American and French occupying forces in Germany to reunite children and parents separated by the Iron Curtain. In an operation likened to the American Underground Railroad, Maria made over fifty clandestine operations back and forth to East Germany and other Eastern Bloc countries. Thanks to her, 400 children were brought safely back to the open arms of their grateful parents.
In 1961 three of the five students in Maria’s group were murdered by the East German Stasi. That same year construction of the Berlin Wall began. No longer safe, Maria fled to the United States without word to her family or friends. For more than forty years, she kept these incredible rescues secret, cutting off all ties with Germany. In 2005, a documentary filmmaker who had learned of the operations Maria and her friends had undertaken, contacted her. Maria flew to Germany where she was interviewed and reunited with her younger siblings. Maria wrote about these interviews in her book Ten Days in Berlin.
Maria’s passion to assist young children has never wavered. In 1975 she organized the Orphan Airlift in San Francisco, successfully evacuating hundreds of children from war-torn Saigon. Maria herself adopted four of the orphans rescued from Vietnam and fostered many other children over the course of her life. Her book Dark Rice recounts the adoptions of her Vietnamese children.
In 1979 Maria founded and directed the NGO Medical Volunteers International. Their mission is to bring medical teams to aid and assist refugees, especially women and children, displaced by war and natural disasters in Africa and Asia. Her book Desert Tales is a collection of stories from Maria’s time spent living with the nomadic tribe, the Hadendowa, in East Africa, having led medical volunteers there to assist following a devastating drought.
In San Francisco, Maria founded Respite Care, a non-profit that provides child care, early assessment and interventions for at-risk children and their parents. She was the director for 35 years, retiring in 2011. Maria has received numerous recognitions and awards including the KQED Local Hero award in 2010.
In 2014 Maria replaced Victoria Rue as Sophia in Trinity’s Roman Catholic Woman Priest.
Read more about Maria’s congregation here: www.sophiaintrinity.org