REV. DR. SYDNEY JOAN CONDRAY

“Now, in the shadow of your presence, I shout with overflowing happiness!”
(* Ps 63, Condray, Sydney. O Gracious One. 150 Psalm Inspired Prayers)

Rev. Dr. Sydney Joan Condray ARCWP (August 3,1939 – June 6, 2024) blessed our world as an adventurer, activist, author, mother & grandmother, creative artist, farmer/gardener, contemplative and woman priest.

Sydney was ordained a priest in 2017 by the late Bishop Michele Birch-Conery, in Sylvania, Ohio, through the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. With her wonderful woman priest “lips and actions, she declared Holy Mystery’s wondrous goodness”. (*Ps. 119),

Much earlier Sydney manifested bold actions with art, using mediums such as ink drawings, pastels, oil paintings, sculptures, and needlework. Her love of beauty is captured in this prayer, “you are all the colors of the rainbow delighting the eye.” (*Ps 45) She used her artistic gifts as an art therapist with the state of New York in the late 1970s, working with youth who had substance abuse issues and developmental disabilities. More recently, in the late 1990’s, Sydney began working in a Northwestern Ohio Developmental Center, eventually becoming Director. Where she co-created with and may have reflected upon The Holy One. “You provide for all needs and take care of the little ones” (*Ps 145)

Sydney’s spiritual gifts attracted her to The Carmelites where she became a lay member in the 1960’s. Her community pointed her to “seek happiness only in Gracious Mystery to receive your most heartfelt desire.” (*Ps 37) Informed by her contemplative mysticism, she sought and recommended Thin Places, where the veil between Holy Mystery and our earthly realm almost disappears. We visited the campus of Lourdes University in Sylvania, Ohio. Like a pilgrimage, we walked by the buildings with larger-than-life mosaics of Saints Clare & Francis and prayed in the Portiuncula replica on campus.

Then returning to her thriving backyard, the encounter continued, as we reminisced with a glass of wine. Sydney was a talented gardener and farmer with abundant fruit bearing trees and bushes. Her lush garden was where she might say, “you bring forth a great harvest of blessings in due season.” (*Ps 45) I never left her house without lots of fruit and berries.

The fruit of her wisdom developed over the years. Sydney worked and volunteered for those in need in various capacities. She received her doctorate in College Administration from the University of Toledo. However, when doing her internship she decided to write her dissertation about Campus Ministry. Sydney was inspired to write “A Research Agenda for Campus Ministry for the Next Decade”. (University of Toledo, 1993) Perhaps in this work she saw, “young women and men dancing their praise of The Gracious One. (*Ps 68) Sydney also wrote two books — Assembled in Christ: 44 Liturgies with Lay Presiders, published in 1993, and O, Gracious One: 150 Psalm-Inspired Prayers, which was published in 2005. The psalms quoted in this remembering are from Sydney’s book of Psalms.

In the ministries of her later years, she volunteered mostly for refugees, helping them settle in the United States. In doing so, Sydney brought this prayer to life, “you give hope to the hopeless and respect to the downtrodden.” (*Ps 69) Furthermore, she lamented over her local environment. “The earth, the air and the many waters are not valued anymore.” (*Ps 74) Therefore, as a contemplative activist, she was delighted when The City of Toledo gave almost human rights to Lake Erie. She was also pleased to do her part in the Re-Tree Toledo program. We can imagine Sydney agreeing with the psalmist who said the trees clap their hands!

I was fortunate to meet Sydney in the early spring of 2015, at The Holy Spirit Community in Toledo while the late Beverly Bingle RCWP was their priest. During our years of formation and early priesthoods we enjoyed many adventures along with Bishop Michele Birch-Conery. We traveled to Albany, NY and on the way home we stayed at a B & B with vineyards. We joked about being like Lucy and Ethel crushing those grapes to make grape juice. Kinesthetically calling to mind, “Crops grow and provide for humankind including wine and beer to bring cheer! (Ps *104)

We found abundant cheerfulness in the spring and summer of 2017. Originally, Sydney’s ordination was to be on Kelley’s Island in Lake Erie, but it was too cost prohibitive. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a day with Dagmar Celeste, who had a retreat center there and gave us a unique tour of the island. With Dagmar, Michele, Sydney and I reminiscing about The Women Priest Movement, Kelley’s Island became a Treasure Island! An island is a place to ponder, “Gracious God, your loving providence surrounds us.” (* Ps 73)

Savoring more goodness about five years ago, near Sydney’s 80th birthday, Sydney, Michele & I sat in a Chinese Restaurant in Windsor, Ontario. Knowing, “Even in old age, they shine with goodness, (*Ps 92) I decided to ask Sydney to tell me about her life. She was most enthusiastic remembering a family vacation that she took with her three kids, Cate, John & Michael in 1976, in one of the vans she and her husband converted for travel. They drove 13,000 miles (Grand Canyon, Disneyland, Montana, The St. Louis Arch and finally, white water rafting in West Virginia) from east to west and south to north all over the United States. I can still see Sydney just beaming with joy as she retold that adventure! Maybe she thought, “if I flee to the ends of the earth you are present with me”. (*Ps 69)

Unfortunately, Covid and time caught up with Sydney and she was not able to do as much as she had wished. I am pleased to know that Sydney and her family gathered in her wonderful Toledo backyard for The Solar Eclipse in April 2024. Marveling at this sight perhaps she recalled, “You hold the Sun on its path and the moon on its course. (*Ps. 19)

Sydney is now in The Community of Saints where together they pray that “Our Gracious One would bring forth years of peace upon this troubled world.” (*Ps 61) I am grateful that my friend’s heart no longer must “yearn for her Gracious One like long separated lovers aching for each other”. (*Ps 63)

If I had my way, Tish Rawls, Beverly Bingle, Michele Birch-Conery, Sr. Sue and I would pile up in one of Sydney’s converted vans. She would be the driver of course! We would travel on a Sydney-style celestial adventure. At each sacred pause, we would celebrate our escapades with a guitar Mass because Sophia Spirit is a movin’ all over this land! Along the way, we can hear her say classic “Sydney-isms” like, “Round-to-its & Keep on keeping on.” And her favorite, “Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise!”
May it be so!

Dear Sydney, Rest in Power!
“And you walk with all beings through death to new existence.” (*Ps. 104)

With tears of love & gratitude,
Rev. Karen Kerrigan ARCWP
July 5, 2024