Forbidden Grace: Hildegard von Bingen and A Modern Woman's Call to the Catholic Priesthood


Rev. Shanon Sterringer, Ph.D


Forbidden Grace: Hildegard von Bingen and A Modern Woman's Call to the Catholic Priesthood is a behind the scenes glimpse over the last twenty-two years as Dr. Sterringer has journeyed through degree programs, formation, ministerial positions, and personal tragedies as she made her way towards ordination to the priesthood. It is a narrative of her successes, failures, challenges, and experiences regarding ecclesial leadership as she recognized and responded to her vocation or call. Today she is pastor of an independent Catholic community based in the charism of St. Hildegard of Bingen.  

          This memoir narrates years of painful and uncomfortable experiences, not from a place of anger or resentment, but from a place of gratitude and love. It is a testament of one woman’s decision to risk everything, including years of deep-rooted relationships and a blossoming career to seek ordination as a priest within the Catholic tradition. Her journey took her to Austria, to be ordained on the banks of the Danube River, where the women priest movement began years earlier. The Roman Catholic Church has prohibited women’s ordination for centuries as a result of deeply rooted patriarchy and has shut-down future discussion of the issue.  Despite this magisterial mandate, God continues to call women to this role, and women continue to respond. The call comes through what some describe as an experience of forbidden grace.

          This book is creative non-fiction and weaves together the stories of two women, Hildegard von Bingen and Shanon of Fairport Harbor, both empowered by Living Light (divine presence) to respond to their vocation.  Their stories are told thematically as they align with one another nine centuries apart and in two different places in the world.  The synchronicities that link the two together cut across the restrains of time and space. This book is a story of hope, perseverance, and faith in a world where true Christian love abides, and authentic discipleship is a response of the heart, uninhibited by social and cultural obstacles. A world where women and men participate equally as ordained ministers serving in persona Christi, carrying light out into the world. 

          Forbidden Grace is the story of the remarkable and unique journey of a medieval German mystic called to sainthood and a modern Roman Catholic woman called to priesthood and the unlikely relationship that developed between the two.  Drawing courage from this spiritual relationship, Sterringer offers an honest explanation for what she experienced as a life-long Roman Catholic woman called to the priesthood and why she chose to walk away from all that was familiar and comfortable to follow her vocation.  

This book is scheduled to be published in Fall 2021.