Saturday, January 15, 2011

Rejection In July 1968

Maryland Province's Colombiere House
As head of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, which extends from North Carolina to Ohio, the Very Rev. Edward J. Sponga, 50, was, in effect, the Jesuit equivalent of a bishop. Last week Father Sponga quietly abandoned his vow of celibacy to marry Mary Ellen Barrett, 33, a nurse at a Roman Catholic hospital in the Philadelphia suburb of Darby, Pa., and the divorced mother of three children. In so doing, he became the highest ranking ecclesiastic of the 350 or so priests who have left the Catholic Church in the U.S. within the last two years in order to wed. The marriage came as a considerable shock to Father Sponga's fellow Jesuits, none of whom had any clue to his intentions. 
Born in Philadelphia, he joined the Jesuits at the age of 17, earned a doctorate in philosophy from Fordham, and became a strong advocate of reform within the society. In 1957 he was named head of the Jesuits' Woodstock College, where he helped develop a brilliant staff of teaching theologians, which included the late Father John Courtney Murray
Three years ago, Father Edward J. Sponga was named Maryland provincial, supervising 800 priests, lay brothers and seminarians. Sponga first met Mrs. Barrett several years ago, when she came to him for spiritual counseling. She was divorced from her husband last February and was granted custody of the children. Although automatically excommunicated for marrying, he insists that he is "still Catholic" in outlook and will continue to attend Mass. "I had to make a decision between those values I had lived as a priest and new values," he says. "It was a question, basically, , of what I wanted as a person. It's not that I reject the values of the priest hood." Nor does he reject the value of celibacy. "I can see many difficulties," he adds, "if priests tried to operate as married men."
Link (here) to the full July 1968 Time Magazine article.
Photo of Fr. Edward J. Sponga, S.J. (here)


Anonymous said...

To be fair to the man, Catholic priests in the early 60s had been brought up in a world where sexuality was a complete taboo, single-sex high schools, single-sex colleges, single-sex seminaries, and virtually all priests went through life with very pure minds, never really understanding what they'd given up. Some priests were allowed to leave their home without a "minder" to keep temptation away.

Then, in the 60s, the decade of free love, the bans on closer friendships with women were abolished. As they began to understand what they'd forfeited, some decided to take a new course with their remaining years.

I think it's really cheap for people who grew up in a less Victorian society to judge such people too harshly.

Anonymous said...

Not many provincials walk off the job.

Anonymous said...

If I understand you correctly, what you are saying is that Provincials of that age were less human(e) than the run of the mill Jesuit.

Does this speak for or aganst them?