A former school teacher, Mayr-Lumetzberger came under the spotlight after she and a group of other Catholic women announced they had been ordained as priests by a retired bishop on a boat in the middle of the Danube.
The so-called Danube Seven have inspired at least 100 other women to follow in their footsteps. In 2003 Mayr-Lumetzberger took it one stage further by being consecrated a bishop.
She told The Local that there are very few women priests practising in Austria as the Catholic Church is so powerful here that it can be a difficult life for someone who chooses to make a stand. “You have to be very strong,” she says. “Many women don’t want to be in the spotlight and don’t want to be attacked by the press.”
She says that in Austria and Germany she is now very well accepted and is asked to say mass and conduct weddings and funerals at churches and abbeys.
She has ordained women priests herself, mainly foreigners, although she won’t say where they are from for fear of exposing them.
Pope John Paul II, in 1994, told Catholics that not only were women excluded from the priesthood (because Jesus was a man and the reasoning is that the priest stands in the place of Jesus) but also that the question should not even be discussed.
However, Mayr-Lumetzberger believes that Pope Francis is very much in favour of women’s ordination. “So much has changed in the last 12 years, previously no one even spoke about women’s ordination and now it’s something that people are speaking about openly, all over the world.”
“I was ordained by Argentinian bishop Antonio Braschi, the Pope is Argentinian and I believe sympathetic, and there is a Spanish priest in favour of women’s ordination who is very close to the Pope.”
Mayr-Lumetzberger grew up in a Catholic family in Linz and as a girl, all she wanted was to be an altar server. Her uncle, high up in the local church, allowed her to do all the things the boys did, but she couldn't wear an altar server's vestment because she was female.
As a teenager, she became a nun, but her order wouldn't let her study theology, sending her off instead to train as a nursery teacher.
She left her order in 1981, but carried on teaching in a Catholic school and being involved in her local parish. Today she does faith-based work near her home in Pettenbach, Upper Austria, with the sick, bereaved, and those on the margins of society.
After leaving her order she met her husband, Michael, a historian. He had been married before and had four children. Their wedding was not in church – because he was divorced – but they had a party in the parish house afterwards.
She never lost her belief that God was calling her to the priesthood and continued teaching and working in parishes, and increasingly answering requests to lead liturgies herself. She even ran courses for women who felt called to the priesthood.
She further antagonised the Vatican by being consecrated a bishop. The ceremony took place in secret and she will not name the male bishops involved in her consecration in case they are disciplined by the Vatican.
Mayr-Lumetzberger says that she has a good relationship with the official church, and that she is in contact with the bishops in Austria who do not treat her as an outcast. “We have unofficial networks – many of my peers are now in top positions in the Roman Catholic Church.”
She is, she says, a feminist, but in “a friendly, non threatening way. I want to cooperate with men in a peaceful way but I believe women should be treated equally.”
Photo: Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger