Intercom Feature Articles
Deborah Rose-Milavec: National Leader of Future Church and Associate of the Sisters of Charity
By S. Mary Ann Flannery
In March, SC Associate Deborah Rose-Milavec joined other women of Voices of Faith at the Vatican for a storytelling and conversation series highlighting women’s resilience and courage.
Only a short distance from the shores of Lake Erie, in Lakewood, Ohio, in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, is the international headquarters of Future Church where Deborah Rose-Milavec directs a staff in research, program design, advocacy, workshops, parish assistance on ecclesiastical matters, and international support of individual communities seeking leverage and ways to assist the Church in making the Eucharist available to everyone.
A mother of six and grandmother of 13, Rose-Milavec came to her position through mega doses of determination and a well-rounded education, both formal and practical. She earned a degree in International Studies from Wright State University in Dayton and a master’s in theology from United Theological Seminary (Dayton) after which she became executive director of New Choices Domestic Violence Prevention Agency and Shelter in Shelby County, Ohio. Later she became program director for the American Friends Service Committee and then vice president and project director of Catherine of Siena Virtual College, where she developed courses for women in Third World countries and which were accredited and accepted by standard universities.
Deborah Rose-Milavec is the executive director of Future Church, an organization (headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio) that seeks changes that will provide all Roman Catholics the opportunity to participate fully in Church life and leadership.
“I traveled to Africa, China, the Philippines, India, South Africa while working for the university and I met premier women leaders of the Catholic Church in India who developed a ‘Gender Policy of the Catholic Church in India.’” She lowers her eyes and then looks thoughtfully at the wall facing us and tells the story of a Muslim woman beaten by her brother for what he considered her disrespectful behavior against the faith. “Incidents like this inspired practical course development in areas such as domestic violence and safety of women in addition to theology.”
Rose-Milavec points to a brochure with the Mission Statement of Future Church which states the organization “seeks changes that will provide all Roman Catholics the opportunity to participate fully in Church life and leadership.” That means, collaborative structures for worship, organization, and governance; a return to the early tradition of married and celibate priests; the recognizing of male and female leaders of faith communities; and regular participation in Eucharist for all Catholics, according to its Vision Statement.
“I am heartened,” she adds, “by the models now emerging from courageous leaders in the faith like Fr. Helmut Schuller of Austria and retired Bishop Fritz Lobinger of South Africa who are developing models of ministry that include intentional communities and the ordination of elders, men and women, and in some cases ‘groups’ to serve as clerics in these communities. Traditionally structured communities in religious life and in the clergy are diminishing while younger Catholics are looking for ways to live a faith enlivened by more inclusive participation. I see this commitment among the young when I go places.”
Rose-Milavec points to the Association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP) whose membership of 1,200 is growing steadily and has made a formal relationship with Future Church. They plan on holding listening sessions for women in parishes throughout the U.S.
Pope Francis also gives her hope. “He said, ‘Go where they are’, meaning the unaffiliated, the estranged, the disengaged.” Under the Pope, a discussion has been opened to explore the possibility of ordaining women to the deaconate. He allowed S. Carmen Sammut of the Union of International Superiors General to be the first woman to attend the Synod of Bishops in Rome.Under the guidance of S. Louise Akers, Rose-Milavec became an Associate member in Cincinnati, a natural outgrowth of her work in Women Speaking Justice, an advocacy group in the city. She takes strength and inspiration from the charism of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, foundress of the Sisters of Charity whose sense of an emerging American Church in the 19th century led her to encourage her Sisters of be “Daughters of the Church,” leaders in serving through education, social work, and nursing. At the same time, Elizabeth’s central focus was on the Eucharist, probably the singular reason for her conversion to Catholicism. No wonder she is a model for Deborah Rose-Milavec whose efforts to provide and expand the availability of Eucharist for all is a ministry so needed in today’s Church.