Born in South Africa on 7 December 1940.  Both parents very Catholic, my
mother from an Irish Catholic family and my father from a German Catholic
background.  Attended Catholic schools run by Dominican sisters.  Our home
was deeply religious:  daily Mass was encouraged, family rosary in the
evenings, which we hated, Stations of the Cross on Fridays in lent, weekly
confession, Sunday Mass was never missed, nor was Benediction on Sunday
evenings.  First Communion and Confirmation days were big occasions. As a
child I accepted it all as part of normal Catholic family life.

What affected me most deeply was the Church's teaching on birth control
and the ban on the use of contraceptives.  My parents kept staunchly to
Roman Catholic rules and the result was that I am the eldest of twelve,
six girls and six boys.  Money was our biggest and most crushing ongoing
problem ... who can afford twelve children?  As I entered adolescence, a
profound rebellion burnt within me but my anger at that stage was directed
against God rather than the Church.  Why, I raged, did God make rules
which caused women so much suffering?  Although I blamed God, even at a
young age I understood something of the injustice and oppression against
women which is so much part of our patriarchal society and church.

Naturally, from an early age I was a surrogate mother for nearly all my
siblings.  It was a role I increasingly resented and as I moved through
adolescence, I resolved that I would never have a child.  My mother seemed
to be forever pregnant.  In my final school year, she was pregnant yet
again.  I desperately needed to get away from home.  Although I was in the
university-entrance class, there was no possibility of my attending
university or college because we could not afford it.  My parents wanted
me to get a job and stay at home to help.  The only honourable way out
seemed attractive to me:  enter the convent.  
Indeed, it was not merely an escape, for religious life truly seemed 
a worthwhile way of spending my life.  I said I wanted to join the Dominicans 
and my parents were predictably proud of me and only too willing 
to have a daughter a nun. There were others at home to help with the family.

I entered the noviciate of the King William's Town Dominicans in January
1958 and was happy there.  A few years later I went to College and then
University, where I did a Arts degree and qualified as a teacher.  
For many years I taught in various Dominican Convent High Schools 
and was School Prinicipal, or Deputy, for seventeen of those years. 
During this time, we Dominican sisters became very involved in justice issues 
as we started opening our schools to children of all races, 
thereby breaking the law of the country.  
They were dangerous years but they helped to prepare me 
for present struggle for justice for women in which I have become involved.

At the age of 39, I was given the opportunity of going to Rome to study
theology.  A new world opened up for me.  Rome was exciting, theology
wonderful.  I completed the Baccalaureus Theol. and then the Licentiate in
Theology.  My dissertation was on the topic of Liberation Theology as
applied to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.  I was also
becoming more aware of gender issues and the discrimination against women in the church.

Back in South Africa, I worked as a theologian, giving retreats,
conferences, workshops.  Constantly I found myself being marginalized or
discriminated against because of being a woman, and this by both women and
men.  My awareness of the injustice meted out to women in church and
society was heightened.  Racism and sexism:  both of these carry similar
marks of injustice, discrimination, marginalization of one group by
another and both are equally damaging because they involve enforcing a
system of the denial of basic human rights.

Then came two years in Canada and the U.S.A., during which time I did
further studies in theology and spirituality in preparation for a
doctorate.  I was also involved in some pastoral ministry, including
spiritual accompaniment, conference and retreat work.

On my return to South Africa, I was invited to join the faculty of St John
Vianney Seminary in Pretoria.  For nearly seven years I worked there,
teaching theology, spirituality and homiletics.  During this time I also
worked on my doctoral dissertation and finally obtained the Doctorate in
Theology in 1996 through the University of South Africa in Pretoria.

I was also elected onto the Leadership Team of the KWT Dominicans for 
the  northern part of South Africa and served on this team for six years.

1994 was a watershed year in South African history:  apartheid came to an
end and all South Africans, of all races, embarked on a new experience of
nationhood, equality and justice for all.  It can be done!

In 1998 I resigned from the seminary staff.  I wanted to work for justice
for women in the church and could not accept that women are excluded from
priesthood.  What I saw and experienced at the seminary had shown me the
havoc that patriarchy and hierarchy have wrought in the Church for
centuries.  I was convinced that women could and should offer a different
model of priesthood within the Church.  Rome was becoming more and more
intransigent in its attitude to women's ordination.  We would have to take
matters into our own hands.  In the years of apartheid in South Africa, we
learnt that sometimes the only way to change an unjust law is to break it,
particularly when it is a law that denies people basic human rights. 
Much of our Canon Law discriminates against women, most especially Canon 1024, 
which states that only a baptized male can be ordained in the Roman Catholic Church. 
(Recent statements from the Vatican have not only rubber-stamped this canon but 
have forbidden discussion about the topic of women's ordination and 
there has even been the declaration that women will never be admitted to priesthood!)

On leaving the seminary, I obtained a lecturing post St Augustine's, 
the Catholic university in Johannesburg.

Then in 2002, I read in 'Publik Forum', a German Catholic journal, about
Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger and Dr Gisela Forster, who were speaking out
boldly about women's ordination.  With great excitement, I read of their
ordination, together with five other women, on a ship on the Danube on 29
June 2002.  I felt great bondedness with these courageous women and was
delighted to meet Christine and Gisela in Germany in August 2002. 
 I told them of my longing for ordination and my desire to be actively 
involved in the struggle for justice for women in the church.

Christine and Gisela kept in touch with me by email by email and we began
to discuss the possibility of my ordination.  Since I have a doctorate
in theology and taught for seven years in a seminary and for four years
at a Catholic university, they felt I did not need any further training
before being ordained.  My great dilemma was:  should I ask or inform my
Dominican Leadership Team that I wanted to be ordained a priest?  As the
leadership of a pontifical congregation of women religious, they could not
possibly give me permission.  On the other hand, I had been a member of
this Dominican group for 45 years and I deeply longed to be ordained as a
Dominican woman.  My love and loyalty for my Dominican family was very
strong in me.  I decided it would be good to ask a small group of selected
people, mostly of them Dominican women, to accompany me on a discernment
process about my ordination.

What I did not know was that Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger and Dr Gisela
Forster had been ordained to the episcopate by some bishops who felt it
was urgently necessary that there be women bishops who can ordain other
women to the priesthood.

The opportunity for my ordination came rather sooner than I had
anticipated. I was invited to attend a Women's Synod in Barcelona in
August 2003.  Christine, Gisela and Adelinde Roitinger, who had also been
ordained on the ship on the Danube, were all coming to the Synod.
Christine and Gisela informed me that they themselves could ordain me and
offered to do so in Barcelona.

It was too late to enter into the group discernment process which I had
been planning.  I had to make a decision, not about whether to be ordained
but about whether I should accept the offer of being ordained in
Barcelona.  My heart called me strongly and clearly to go ahead. I decided
not to tell anyone.  Informing my Leadership Team would put them in an
impossible position.  Many of my friends might have asked me to wait.  But
I was 62 and had waited so long already.  It seemed a Godsent opportunity,
too good to miss.  And I believed that if there was any group of women
religious who could accept me as an ordained woman priest, the KWT
Dominicans could do so.  They are known in South Africa and much further
afield as a group of prophetic women of vision who are willing to take a
stand for justice on many issues and they have a strong awareness of
gender issues and the need to take a stand for the equal dignity of women
and men in the church.  Perhaps they would find a way of walking this path 
with me, although I knew it would be an extremely difficult challenge, as
indeed it was for me.

I was ordained as a priest during a private ceremony in Barcelona on 7
August 2003.

When I returned to South Africa the following week, I informed my
Leadership Team and everyone else. Consternation, bewilderment,
excitement, dismay, pain, horror. joy ... all of these reactions came from
various quarters.  The Leadership Team found it very hurtful that I had
not asked or informed them, but had made such a momentous decision on my
own.  The bishop of Johannesburg was informed and he in turn informed 
the papal nuncio in Pretoria.  My leadership team took advice from various canon lawyers. 
 I was given a chance to retract, to "repent", but when I refused to do this 
(how could I?) I was asked to request to leave the KWT Dominican Congregation 
and I signed the necessary papers, which would go to Rome.  
I had hoped that I would be granted some years of exclaustration, 
during which time we could perhaps have worked something out.  
But this option, they said, was closed to me because I would not reconsider. 
This was not, however, possible for me.  Within the very depths of myself 
I was convinced of the rightness and the irrecovability of what I had done. 
My whole life's journey had led up to this point.

Bishops Christine and Gisela invited me to take over the running of the
Training Program for women who want to be ordained.  I accepted and now I
spend my time between Austria and Germany, organizing the Training Program
for women and a few men. The movement is growing. 
There are about 25 women participating in the program and 
almost daily there are requests for information and expressions of interest 
from both women and men.  We experience a great deal of worldwide support 
and are richly blessed as we move forward in taking a stand for the equal rights 
and dignity of women in the Church.
Dr. Patricia Fresen