Elegy for Janine Denomme

It’s a brave new world. I’ve just officiated at the shiva for Janine Denomme, a 45 year old woman who also happened to be an ordained Catholic priest.

I did not have the honor of knowing Janine personally, but I do know she was a profoundly important spiritual teacher to many. She was active in the Catholic Church and served as a lay preacher, church musician, parish council member, spiritual director and religion teacher. And though she was a gay woman, she consistently considered the Catholic Church to be her spiritual home, and had always dreamed of becoming a priest.

Janine was ordained just this last April by Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an initiative within the Catholic Church that seeks to create “a more inclusive, Christ-centered Church of equals in the twenty-first century.”  Tragically, Janine was diagnosed with cancer as she prepared for ordination – but as it turned out, her struggle with her illness gave her a new spiritual calling. She wrote deeply profound reflections on the journey of a cancer patient, primarily through her Caring Bridge blog. I’ve just finished reading “Via Delorosa” – a piece she wrote this past February in which she charts the stages of her chemo treatment using the religious symbolism of the Stations of the Cross.  It’s quite simply as powerful a piece of contemporary spiritual writing as I’ve ever read.

Needless to say, the Catholic Church does not recognize Janine’s ordination in any fashion – and even more painfully, the Archdiocese of Chicago refused to allow her to be buried in her Catholic parish. Her funeral mass will take place in a Methodist church in Evanston this Saturday.

In a final 21st century twist to this story: Janine’s beloved partner, Nancy Katz, is a member of my congregation – and it was my honor to preside over a Shiva service at their home this evening. Truly an interfaith gathering of the most sacred kind.

You can read more about Janine here in the Windy City Times and in this piece from the Huffington Post. May her memory be for a blessing.

7 thoughts on “Elegy for Janine Denomme

  1. Carrie Hirsch

    Dear Rabbi,
    This is a very nice Elegy you have written. While I was not a close friend of Janine & Nancy, I did have the pleasure of having made Janine’s aquaintance thru the Center on Halsted, & from crossing paths with her walking our dogs. She was a very thoughtful, & kind person. One of which the world could sure benefit from having around. She will be sorely missed in her community. Thank you R. Best Regards, Carrie Hirsch (formerly Irv) Yeah, you knew there was a catch.

  2. Jackie Kaplan


    Thank you for summing up the feeling in the room last night so eloquently. As Janine was in hopsice making the transition from this life it felt very much like being in her home she shared with Nancy was being in sacred space. As we honored her with the shiva last night, that feeling of the sacred remained. Thank you and Howard for providing your voice and comfort.

    With deep appreciation that you are my Rabbi. -Jackie

  3. Sue VanWassenhove

    Dear Rabbi,
    Thank you for this beautiful and eloquent tribute to a young woman I am blessed to have known since her birth as her aunt. She would have loved your words and your spirit.

    It’s a comfort to know that her beloved Nancy, OUR beloved Nancy was consoled and lifted by your presence for shiva in their holy place they called home.

    Janine’s memory will always be a blessing to each of us who were fortunate to know and love her, and to the thousands who are and will benefit from her living and loving.

    Blessings to you.

  4. Karen

    I am stunned to learn of Janine’s death. I am a long time parishioner of St. Gertrude’s parish and always loved when Janine was the guest lecturer…something else the Catholic Archdiocese made St. Gertrude’s get rid of because it didn’t follow the rules correctly. I am in tears that our church will not allow her funeral at the place she loved so much or that they will not bury her. I am so very touched to read your blog and am glad that you were of comfort to Janine’s partner, Nancy. I love my church and at the same time am ashamed of some of their stupid choices.

  5. Laura Dundas-Gulley

    I was recently at the Friday night service where the JRC choir sang with the Rogers Park Chicago Children’s Choir and Daniel Wallenberg. When the names of the sick were being read, I heard Janine’s name called. I remember thinking how big and beautiful our community is….the love and caring extending in prayers to everyone…that we are indeed a family, regardless of our differences in religious practice. I am a choir parent, but I am also a member of St. Gertrude Church, Janine’s home parish. I won’t dwell of my reaction to the Archdiocese decision regarding not being willing to allow her funeral Mass to be held in her church, but I wish to tell you how touched I am reading your elegy. Would that our Catholic hierarchy had even a inkling of the love that your “Brave new world” encompasses….Thank You.

  6. Julia

    I am so glad that you did this. In a weird convergence of my work life and my JRC life, I did know Janine. She was a phenomenal woman with a terrific spirit and a gentle and open way of being that made her super easy to know and talk to. At the same time, she was completely and totally passionate about her work and (apparently, for I did not know that side of her) her faith. I know she will be missed terribly in the communities that she touched. The world is lesser place without her in it.

  7. Susan Miller

    I last saw Janine – a woman I liked and admired from the moment I met her in grad school – over ten years ago at a conference. We had not been in touch then, or recently, as I just learned of her death this afternoon.
    In preparation for my summer vacation I was cleaning up my office and found a very old business card of Janine’s – its dog-eared presence testimony to the affection I have always had for her. My google search turned up Rabbi Rosen’s elegy, and Janine’s piece, “Via Delorosa.”
    As it happens, I am on my way to Jerusalem tomorrow. And now I know that I will walk the Via Delorosa with Janine’s memory in my soul, and my fresh grief for her loved ones in my heart.


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