Marine Veteran & Mother of 4 Elected Bishop for Armed Forces

Ann Ritonia receives one of the two Navy Commendation Medals she earned as a Marine officer | Photo courtesy of Ann Ritonia

By Kirk Petersen

Before she joined the Marines, she was named Miss Teenage Norwood in a Massachusetts pageant. She and her husband had four children during her 17 years in administration roles as a Marine officer, and they endured the relocations and deployment separations that come with military life. She was never in a combat zone, but only because Desert Storm ended before she got there. She commanded an engineering unit of 200 people in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

She left the Marines as a major and became an Episcopal priest, served 12 years in parish ministry, and on March 12 was elected bishop suffragan for the armed forces and federal ministries. Assuming she receives the necessary consents from more than half of all bishops with jurisdiction and standing committees, the Rev. Ann Ritonia will be consecrated on September 30 at St. John’s Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House.

Bishop-Elect Ann Ritonia

“The caliber of our military is just superb, so I want to support those who support them,” she told TLC. The “federal ministries” part of her title involves chaplains in veterans affairs hospitals and federal prisons. She’ll oversee 123 current Episcopal chaplains, and will look to recruit more.

Ritonia grew up in a Roman Catholic family, the eldest of five girls. “Church really was at the center of our lives,” she said, remembering her mother making pans of lasagna to host 10 young people and the parish priest on Friday nights.

“I was a musician in college, I went to New England Conservatory of Music, and had a degree in music education and applied euphonium, which is a small tuba,” she said. “The only playing I could do is in a service band. And I was convinced that I would have an opportunity to play in ‘the President’s Own’ if I joined the Marine Corps, which was not true.” The United States Marine Band, established by an act of Congress in 1798 and known as “the President’s Own,” has played for every president except George Washington.

The Marines sent her to the Armed Forces School of Music, “and I already had a degree in music education, so it was kind of silly. And then I realized I just wanted something larger in my life.” She applied for officer candidate school, and was accepted in 1980 into the first class that integrated men and women.

She flourished as an administrative officer, and twice won Navy Commendation Medals for outstanding service — once while working for the chief of staff at Recruit Depot Parris Island and once for organizational skills and devotion to duty in support of Desert Storm, the 1991 war in Iraq.

Officers who complete 20 years in the military qualify for a lifetime annual pension in the mid-five figures. Ritonia left after 17 years “because I had four kids under 8” and didn’t want to put her family through the stress of another deployment, she said. “It just wasn’t fair to my family, particularly my husband, who really, between he and my parents, really picked up the slack when I had to deploy.”

She had been serving as a lay music minister in her Roman Catholic church, and “I found that I was being called more and more to minister pastorally to the folks in my congregation. And yet I was limited because I was a woman,” she said.

A Roman Catholic priest had suggested she attend seminary to broaden her theological education for lay ministry. As she was exploring that idea, “I met a woman Episcopal priest, who was exercising her ministry in just wonderful ways in a church plant. And she asked me if I would consider becoming her lay family and music minister,” Ritonia said.

“Doors just started opening when I said yes to that. This is how the Holy Spirit works,” she said. Women can get ordained in her adopted church, and she soon discerned a call. She attended Wesley Seminary in Washington and did an Anglican year at Virginia Seminary.

Her husband, Michael, was an operations executive for AOL. He left the company during a shakeup after AOL’s ill-fated acquisition of Time Warner — just in time to be a stay-at-home dad while Ritonia went to seminary.

“We kind of did a flip-flop of roles, which was really lovely. And I’m really grateful,” she said.

Ritonia has served since 2017 as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church and Parish Day School, a resource-size parish in Ellicott City, a Baltimore suburb. She previously served congregations in Maryland, Connecticut, and Virginia. She kept her hand in military affairs in recent years by serving on the chaplain selection board for the ministry she has just been elected to lead.

After decades of relocating around the country for both of her careers, Ritonia doesn’t plan to move this time. She’s 20 minutes from Baltimore/Washington Airport, and she’ll be traveling a lot — but not for six-month deployments.

TLC asked about the transition from the Marines to ministry, noting that the Marines are not exactly a turn-the-other-cheek kind of organization.

“It is something that I struggle with. And, that doesn’t mean that those folks aren’t deserving of care and support in Jesus’ love,” she said. “Sometimes our chaplains provide care to our enemies as well.” Armed forces and federal ministries has been studying just-war theory, so Ritonia will continue to consider the issue.

The position has been vacant since last July, when the Rt. Rev. Carl Wright resigned for health reasons as bishop suffragan for the armed forces and federal ministries. Public Affairs Officer Amanda Skofstad said Wright “continues the process of recovery from a stroke following removal of a brain tumor.”

Ritonia was elected from a slate of three candidates by the House of Bishops, meeting in Alabama. There was a glitch in the balloting, when “it was discovered that a bishop with courtesy seat and voice had voted,” Skofstad said. “The house was notified of what had happened, and the second election had the same outcome as the first.”

The other two candidates were the Rev. Jerome Hinson, captain, Navy Chaplain Corps, and chief of staff for the Chief of Navy Chaplains; and the Very Rev. Michael Sniffen, a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve who is dean of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, and dean of the Mercer School of Theology.

TLC had one more question for Bishop-Elect Ritonia: does she still play the euphonium? She said she hauls it out at Christmas and other special occasions, but “my chops are not what they used to be.” In other words, she doesn’t play as well now as she did in the talent portion of the 1973 Miss Teenage Norwood pageant.


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