Episcopal Diocese of Rochester
Joy in Christ, a way of life

Philadelphia 11 Reunion / One Priest from our Diocese

Up until the early seventies, some in The Episcopal Church struggled with the idea of ordaining women as priests.  Eventually, an ordination service was held on Monday, July 29, 1974, called The Feast of Saints Mary and Martha, at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, where eleven women serving as deacons presented themselves to be ordained them as priests. These women became be known as the “Philadelphia Eleven.”  One of them, Merrill Bittner served as a Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester.

Merrill Bittner was born in 1946 in Pasadena, California. A graduate of Lake Erie College and Bexley Hall Seminary, she was ordained as a deacon on January 6, 1973, in the Diocese of Rochester, where she served at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Webster, New York. She was 27 when she was ordained to the priesthood in 1974. Like many of the other Philadelphia Eleven women, it was hard for her to find support and employment as a priest in the Episcopal Church following her ordination. Instead she worked in prison ministry and found herself roaming the country in a van working odd jobs before later becoming a career counselor.  In 2001 she reentered parish ministry and has served as a priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Rumford, Maine.  Click on this ARTICLE written by Darlene O'Dell at the National Catholic Reporter about five of them reuniting.


From left: Merrill Bittner, Emily Hewitt, Carter Heyward, Nancy Wittig and Marie Moorefield Fleischer preside at a memorial service for

Alison Cheek Nov. 2 at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Brevard, North Carolina. (Darlene O’Dell)


From left: Carter Heyward, Merrill Bittner and Emily Hewitt Nov. 2 at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Brevard, North Carolina (Darlene O’Dell)