Janine Denomme, a committed Catholic who put her faith on the line at the end of her life by challenging the Church's ban on ordaining women, died May 17 at her home in Edgewater. The cause was cancer, according to her partner, Hon. Judge Nancy Katz.
Denomme, 45, was director of youth programs for the Center on Halsted and an active Catholic who served as a lay preacher, church musician, parish council member, spiritual director and religion teacher. In 2007, she learned about Roman Catholic Women Priests ( RCWP ) which, despite the official ban, has ordained over 100 women worldwide. She was ordained in April of this year.
While she was preparing for ordination, Denomme was diagnosed with cancer. Her blog about her experience at CaringBridge.org has attracted hundreds of readers moved by its profound spirituality, honesty and humor in the face of struggle and pain. "My ministry now is writing my cancer journey blog," she said near the end of her life, "asking questions and maybe leading readers to ask them too: how are we supposed to live faith-filled lives in the midst of sorrow? It's the invitation of Good Friday: face the suffering and death at the heart of salvation."
Because the Church excommunicates women who pursue ordination, the Archdiocese has refused to allow her to be buried at her Catholic parish.
Born in Detroit, Denomme grew up in a large family that was very involved with the church. "She always wanted to be a priest," said her mother, Mary Joan, recalling times that she and her brothers played at saying Mass. Denomme majored in religious studies at college and did her PhD in American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, writing about the role of church women in the civil rights movement. She came to Chicago through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and stayed here to work as a teacher at St. Scholastica High School and later at DePaul University.
Denomme was active in the church throughout her life. Over the years her family and friends watched her struggle between her belief that she was called to ministry and the Catholic Church's refusal to open ordination to women. Deciding to accept ordination through RCWP brought her peace, says her brother Mark: "For the first time, she felt she could fulfill her vocation in ministry and not abandon the faith, the rituals, the liturgy she loved."
Although her decision took courage, her friends and family recall Denomme as a gentle spirit who preached love, compassion and reconciliation. "She was a wonderful partner," adds Katz.
Other survivors include her grandfather, Earl VanWassenhove; father, Robert; and brothers Joseph and David.
A visitation will be held 3 p.m.-9 p.m. Friday, May 21, with a wake service at 7:30 p.m. at Drake & Sons Funeral Home, 5303 N. Western. Funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 22, First United Methodist Church, 516 Church, Evanston. The interment will be private. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to: Girls in the Game, 1501 W. Randolph, Chicago, Ill., 60607 or Roman Catholic Womenpriests, USA, P.O. Box 833, Anaka, Minn., 55303.