Ludmila in Cleveland, Fall 1997: (L to R) Sheila Daley (CTA),
Ludmila Javarova, Dan Daley (CTA), Miriam Therese Winter, Christine
Out of the Depths:The Story of Ludmila Javarova, Ordained Roman
Review by Fran De Chant
Sister Miriam Therese Winter's remarkable book, Out of the Depths,
details the first complete account of a piece of history destined
to shake the allegedly immutable foundation of the Roman Catholic
priesthood. Circumstances that led a bishop of the Czech underground
Church to secretly ordain a woman is the story eagerly awaited by
many who had gleaned only parts of it. At the center is the learned,
intensely private, deeply spiritual and duly ordained Ludmila Javorova.
I count myself among those who were fortunate to meet this extraordinary
woman when she visited FutureChurch leaders in a private meeting
in Cleveland in 1997.
How this book came to be written is itself an odyssey. In 1992
a delegation from Women's Ordination Conference and the Quixote
Center undertook a visit to the Czech Republic. They had read a
1991 New York Times article reporting that women and married priests
and deacons had been ordained to serve the Czech underground church
suffering under communism. With the help of a Czech priest, they
traveled to Brno and met about 20 members of the underground church
who questioned them about the purpose of their visit. After the
meeting a woman invited the Americans to visit her apartment to
continue the discussion. It was Ludmila Javorova. Over the next
48 hours, she shared her story on the condition that her name be
kept confidential. After another visit to Brno in 1996, Ludmila
cautiously agreed to visit the U.S. on the condition that her visit
would be private.
In the course of Ludmila's travels in this country, the late Bishop
Francis Murphy from Baltimore listened to her account with warmth
and support. Sister Chris Schenk was instrumental in bringing Sister
Miriam Therese Winter and Ludmila together in Cleveland. A few nights
after a random meeting of the two across the aisle of a train to
New York, Winter experienced a sudden awakening from her sleep and
knew she would write Ludmila's story.
Winter then journeyed to Brno and with the help of translators,
unraveled an unusual sequence of events. In the process, a friendship
was forged between the American Medical Mission Sister and the gifted,
reticent woman whose life's story would turn a world of established
notions upside down.
Ludmila's family traces its origins to Monrovia in Czechoslovakia.
Born in 1932, her early life in a family of eight girls and two
boys was hard-working, faith-filled, and marked by devotion to home
and duty. The German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939 transformed
daily life into a struggle for survival. Following the end of World
War II, Communist domination imposed civic and religious oppression
so severe that the region still struggles to recover after more
than a decade of freedom.
Against this background of religious repression (known as the Totality),
Felix Maria Davidek experienced his call to priesthood and was ordained
in 1945. Later imprisoned by Communist authorities for 14 years,
he was consecrated bishop of the underground Church by Bishop Jan
Blaha in 1967. These facts are well documented, approved and recognized
by the Vatican, under Pope Paul VI, as part of a complex effort
to preserve an autonomous Church behind the Iron Curtain.
Likewise, there are facts supporting the Vatican's knowledge and
approval of numerous ordinations of married men among the underground
Church, a branch of which was known as "the Koinotes"
during this period. Unfortunately, secrecy necessitated by the harshness
of the Communist regime has blurred documentation of ordinations
of several women. At last, Ludmila has revealed her story of a nighttime
rite of laying on of hands, witnessed only by Davidek's brother,
followed by a private first mass and the new priest's first blessing.
A priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek....
The remainder of Ludmila's story is marked with dignity and sadness.
When he ordained Ludmila, Davidek intended that she would serve
women inmates in Communist prisons who were deprived of sacramental
ministry. Although she waited daily for her arrest, Ludmila never
was taken to prison, leaving her in a marginalized situation. She
was a priest, yet not known as one, even to her own parents. Ludmila
could exercise her ordained calling only in private or by keeping
her priestly faculties unknown to those she ministered to - an unbearable
In Out of the Depths Miriam Therese Winter simply and elegantly
relates a remarkable story, often in Ludmila's own words. By book's
end, I sensed that I was looking for, but did not find openly stated
what Ludmila would say to women who presently seek priesthood in
the Roman Catholic Church. Would she encourage them to follow in
her footsteps? Would she point them down a path that would subject
them to the humiliations she suffered and the ostracism that stills
shadows her? Or might she advise them to wait for the sea-change
in the Church's world-view that surely must come?
This reader views Ludmila's sacrifice as virtual interior martyrdom.
I am certain that she would want to make smooth the way of women
who will come after her. In her own words, "I didn't aspire
to power, I didn't do it to compete, I just wanted to serve. I wanted
only to make the life of others lighter. I believe that the essence
of the Gospel is to make the yoke light for people and I wanted
She has helped. The repercussions of her ordination are profound.
In the official Church, resistant as it may seem, her life and her
words must make a difference. Surely her witness will bear the fruit
of a host of other easier witnesses.
May she, Ludmila Javorova, experience in her lifetime the recognition
of her ordained calling This book, most truly written "out
of the depths" of a priestly woman's striving and suffering,
is a landmark beginning.