Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

2 Female Priests Lead Churches in Metro East

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

2 Female Priests Lead Churches in Metro East

Article excerpt

Both are from Missouri, and both are Episcopal priests newly chosen to head churches in the Metro East area.

And both are women - making history in their new diocese.

The Revs. Virginia L. Bennett and Linda Anne Cornelius are the first female priests to head churches in the 118-year-old Episcopal Diocese of Springfield, which covers most of central and Southern Illinois.

Bennett began a month ago as rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Edwardsville. Thursday was Cornelius' first day as vicar of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in O'Fallon.

"I believe this will be a quantum step for us in ministry in general," said the Rev. Peter Beckwith, bishop of the diocese. "These two are top notch."

He said only a few of the 99 Episcopal dioceses in the United States still do not have women rectors and vicars. The Episcopal Diocese of Missouri has three of each; the first was called about 10 years ago.

A rector heads a self-supporting parish. A vicar leads a mission church, which receives some financial support from the diocese.

Bennett, 49, said she felt a strong call to the ministry when she was a teen-ager growing up in Des Moines, Iowa. But that was in the early '60s before women were even considered for the priesthood.

She married a chiropractor and became one herself, practicing in Canada and Kansas City. After her husband's death, she moved to the St. Louis area in the 1970s and taught at Logan College of Chiropractic and got degrees in nursing and biology. During that time, she married Dr. John Bennett, an obstetrician-gynecologist with a practice in Clayton and St. Charles.

But she kept thinking about the ministry. Her bishop turned down her request to study for the priesthood, but she started taking classes anyway at Eden Theological Seminary and Aquinas Institute of Theology. Eventually, she was approved by her bishop and got several advanced degrees in religious studies. …

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