Rochester woman to become first female ECC bishop

Feb 5, 2018

Rev. Denise Donato
Credit provided

This week, a Rochester woman will become the first ordained female bishop of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC).

The ECC is a branch of Catholicism which broke off from the Roman Catholic Church in the late 19th century over the issue of the pope’s infallibility. 

Rev. Denise Donato, founding pastor at the ECC's Mary Magdalene parish in East Rochester, felt the calling to the priesthood when she was a young girl, but she was raised in the Catholic Church, which does not allow women to become priests.

"And so I had a hard time making sense of it until later on in life. And then became very clear to me that although it was not what my religion taught, it was the direction that I was being called in my life and that was very deep within me."

Rev. Donato will continue to serve as pastor of Mary Magdalene during her six year term as bishop.  In her new role, she will oversee the pastoral needs of ECC congregations in New York Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

Mary Magdalene Church isn’t large enough to accommodate the hundreds that are expected to attend Donato’s ordination, so the ceremony will be held at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church at 121 N. Fitzhugh St. on Friday, February 9 at 6 p.m.

Rev. Donato worked for three years as a social worker after she earned her master’s degree from Syracuse University in 1993.  In 1996, she opened a private family therapy practice in Rochester. In 2001, she earned her Master of Divinity degree from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. 

Mary Magdalene is a parish of 150 "very active" members, according to Rev. Donato. It is the only ECC parish in Rochester and one of about 50 in the U.S. There are other ECC communities in Europe. The church holds the same doctrinal beliefs as the Roman Catholic Church and uses performs the same rituals, but unlike the Catholic Church, the ECC does not recognize the pope as infallible. 

Click on the LISTEN link above to hear Rev. Donato talk about her calling to the priesthood, the history of the ECC, and her new role as bishop.