Churches’ Women Leaders Inspire Faith in Their Ability

March is International Women’s Month. And South Pasadena has reason to celebrate.
Women are full-time ministers for the first time in the 100-year histories at Calvary Presbyterian and St. James’ Episcopal churches; and at Holy Family Catholic Church, a woman has been parish life director since 2008.
None of these are new appointments, but it is special to see three women named to lead their respective churches.
The Rev. Millicent Dailey passes history every time she sees the photos of those men who proceeded her — the images are hung, one by one, down a corridor at Calvary Presbyterian.
She laughed about her photo definitely being different and is aware of her status as a stained glass ceiling breaker, and also as a role model. She doesn’t necessarily believe in gender stereotyping.

Rev. Millicent Dailey

Let’s just say that you can learn a lot about people by how their words are reflected in the comments of others. The people I talked to say these women have made an impact on their congregations.
Calvary congregant Pat Martinez-Miller praised the way Dailey “interprets the Bible as it is being played out in today’s world.
“She works hard to get into the top issues of the day and takes them to a place of empathy.
“In addition to being a woman, she is a young woman and she is perhaps more in touch with the issues and concerns of younger families. She speaks the Word in a way that resonates with younger members while still being relevant to older parishioners.”
Holy Family’s Cambria Tortorelli and the Rev. Anne Tumilty of St. James’ both came to religious vocations later in life.
Tortorelli worked in European sales and marketing at the BBC in London and managed an English school in Japan before immigrating to the U.S. in 1994.
Tumilty worked for a variety of health management positions before getting a Master of Divinity degree.

Tortorelli began life in the Anglican Church, while Tumilty was originally a Catholic. Now, Tortorelli is the Catholic and Tumilty is the Episcopalian.
Dailey got her calling at age 15 after being actively involved in her church’s youth group and the larger Presbyterian Church. After college, she attended Princeton Theological Seminary. It was at Princeton that she met her husband, who also is a minister. She jokes that she has been a minister longer, and sometimes is the source of advice.
She delights in — and fosters — a feeling of family at Calvary.
“I love being here so much,” Dailey said. “Every church has its own personality. This is a family-oriented church because it feels like a family.
“People care about issues. There is such an honest diversity of opinion. And we are blessed to have fantastic music.”
The tie that binds these three leaders is their ability to communicate their message. That is what comes through in conversations with congregants.

Photo courtesy Holy Family Church
Cambria Tortorelli is the parish life director at Holy Family Church.

“For a long time, Cambria has taken these themes of being welcoming and being progressive beyond the parish,” said Diana Mahmud, Holy Family parishioner and South Pasadena mayor pro tem, who knows a thing or two about successful leadership. “She has reached out in new and different directions.
“Being a woman increases the level of compassion. The hierarchy of the church has declined to come to grips with the current and increasing shortage of priests by providing a path for women to enjoy all the rights and privileges currently enjoyed by male members of the clergy.”
Mahmud cited Tortorelli’s “common touch,” which she displays by attending all the Christmas and Easter Masses — letting everyone know that that they are welcome.
St. James’ member Marianne Grant said the same is true of Tumilty in terms of offering inclusiveness.

Photo courtesy St. James’ Episcopal Church
The Rev. Anne Tumilty preaches at St. James’ Episcopal Church.

“As a woman, she brings a softness and a sense of realism and pragmatism that can help both less and more experienced Episcopalians/Christians to identify things that they can actually do at whatever point they are on in their spiritual journey. And she makes sure that they have an advocate, partner, comforter in Anne,” Grant said.
There was an interim woman minister before Tumilty arrived, and Grant said that served as a first step toward getting the St. James’ congregation ready for a full-time woman priest.
“When Anne arrived, there were some people who weren’t happy about a woman priest,” Grant said. “Some of them did leave and, in typical Anne fashion, she made friends with those who did leave. Some came back.”
Tumilty said she has mentored many young clergy, both men and women. “When I was first ordained a deacon, my first call was from a woman who had been raped. And I held her in my arms. This is what a woman clergy can do that might be harder for a man,” she said.
“God created us man and female, and we minister as people who follow Christ.
“I think we lead with our strengths. Men may have other strengths, but both are needed, which is why I have male and female clergy on my staff.”
Tortorelli is the lay leader of a large parish that includes a priest minister. The parish life director has the responsibility for the overall day-to-day pastoral administration of the parish. The various ministries of the parish are coordinated through the director’s leadership. She also acts as a unifying presence within the faith community. And those are just some of her jobs.
“If someone had told me what I would be doing today when I was working in Japan, I would have thought you should be in an insane asylum,” she said.
“But God has a sense of humor.”
This was a whole new system for Holy Family, and there has not been a long history of the plan around the country, Tortorelli explained, adding that Monsignor Clement Connolly helped make people more willing to try the idea.
“I’m by nature a collaborator. I recognize my own strengths as well as my weaknesses,” she said. “I’m a collaborator who can make a decision.”
She too feels the attention of those women and young girls who want to find a leadership role in the church.
“I am standing on the shoulders of those women who have carried me forward, and I am preparing the way for future generations of women to take an expanded role,” Tortorelli said.
These three women perhaps will act as a base for three more female priests, ministers and lay leaders who end up running congregations in South Pasadena or some other city.
One thing I’ve learned is these three have definitely made converts.
“We have always looked at a man’s perspective,” Martinez-Miller said. “The church is not so different in that it is changing like the rest of society.”
To which I can only say, “Amen.”