Jane Via

Photo: Alessandra Petlin

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From Prosecutor to Pastor
Jane Via, PhD
67, San Diego

When Jane Via, PhD, says "Jesus was a feminist," it's clear she doesn't mince words. She first found her voice as a lawyer and eventually worked in the San Diego County District Attorney's Office. But before law school she'd earned a doctorate in theology. "I couldn't go to seminary because I'm a woman," she says, "so I figured a PhD was the next best thing." Via had converted to Catholicism as a young woman, but took issue with the church's stance on abortion. When she signed her name to an ad in The New York Times in protest, the local bishop received orders from the Vatican to bar Via from speaking in any church forum, including the theology classes she taught part time at the University of San Diego, if she didn't recant. (She didn't.) She longed for a parish for Catholics who, like her, loved their church but chafed at its policies. She wrote to the Roman Catholic Womenpriest movement, which ordains women and advocates for the church to recognize female priests, and was ordained a deacon on the Danube River a year later. Then she cofounded the Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community; "I called our approach 'radical inclusivity' and welcomed anybody," Via says. Before long, she was ordained a priest by Womenpriest. Her bishop again demanded she repent. She refused. After a second battle with cancer, Via stepped down to become pastor emerita in 2014. She feels her law career readied her to take on the church: "Someone who can prepare and defend a case—that's the kind of woman this movement needs."