The senior priest of one of Maryland’s largest Episcopal churches will lead the U.S. denomination’s military and federal prison chaplains.
The Rev. Ann Ritonia, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church and Parish Day School in Ellicott City, was elected Sunday to the position of bishop suffragan for the Diocese of the Armed Forces and Federal Ministries.
The division is responsible for the well-being of chaplains and their congregations within the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. It includes Episcopal chaplains for American military units, including those in war zones, for VA hospitals and for prisons.
The Marine veteran, 65, will be the first woman in the post.
Ritonia was elected over two other finalists at a meeting in Nauvoo, Alabama, of the House of Bishops, a governing body of the church that consists of the denomination’s more than 300 bishops.
The term bishop suffragan in Episcopal parlance generally signifies an assisting bishop. Ritonia will oversee the national church’s chaplaincy programs as a member of the staff of the Most Rev. Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal church.
Like her predecessor, the Right Rev. Carl Wright, an Army and Air Force veteran, Ritonia has a lengthy military background. She spent 17 years in the Marines and Marine Corps Reserves and reached the rank of major before experiencing a call to Episcopalian ministry.
She was ordained in 2008 and has led St. John’s, a parish with more than 800 families, since 2017.
According to her boss of the last half-decade, the Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, she brought an array of talents to her work in the Maryland diocese.
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“Rev. Ann is an accomplished leader in so many ways: as an enlisted Marine and officer, a musician, wife, mother, chaplain, pastor, administrator, and tireless witness to God’s love and justice,” said Sutton, the bishop of the diocese. “And now, in this historic moment, she will become the first woman to represent the Episcopal Church in [this] ministry.”
The denomination’s national leader had similar sentiments.
“I so look forward to working with the Rev. Ritonia,” Curry said in a statement Monday. “We are very fortunate to have her coming on board, and I wish her every blessing in this crucial ministry.”
Her consecration is set for Sept. 30 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington.
Ritonia’s predecessor, Wright, was the first African American to serve as bishop suffragan of the armed forces diocese. Wright, who is also a former rector of St. Andrew in Pasadena, retired last summer for health reasons.
Ritonia did not respond to requests for comment.
Ritonia’s election comes as the Maryland diocese enters the final stages of a nationwide search to replace Sutton, who will retire in September. The four finalists are meeting parishioners at a series of gatherings in the state. The diocese is to choose its 15th bishop during a March 25 convention hosted by Ritonia at St. John’s in Ellicott City.