Rev. Dr. Nancy S. Ledins Ph. D CPE was a warm, huge hearted individual. She was a very fun person, a huge jokester, playful, sarcastic, tried to shock people with her responses. She was humble, Nancy thought her story was old news, but you could sense the presence of God with her. Nancy was always playing pretend, always doing something funny. A kid at heart. She was very serious about her faith, her church considered it a great loss when she passed away.
She was born in Cleveland Ohio on July 27, 1932, with the birth name William F. Griglak. Nancy had a younger brother and older sister who were both very supportive of who she was. Nancy’s parents where both very supportive as well. Her mom was even remembered saying, “Oh how she must have suffered” referring to Nancy in the correct pronouns when discussing how hard it must have been for Nancy to come out. Her dad had a harder time getting her pronouns correct but supported her regardless. She also had the support of her Grandpapa John, though not all the other family members were as accepting during family events. Her Grandpapa John supported her in other topics as well, one being her left handedness. Nancy had a tendency of being scolded when using her left hand since it was looked down on at that time but her Grandpapa John supported her left handedness and always handed her things to her left hand in support of that.
While she was presenting as male, she was ordained as a priest in 1959 with the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, a Catholic religious order. She served as school history teacher and athletic director, as well as an army chaplain in Vietnam. She pastored in Detroit and Colorado and earned a Ph.D. in psychology from Catholic University of America. She also counseled in the field of addiction and directed the Suicide Prevention Center in Pueblo, Colorado. She was an ordained and practicing Roman Catholic priest for ten years, receiving many awards in recognition of her work. She was a published author and is a member of MENSA. She also worked briefly with Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark, who created AEGIS (AIDS Education and Global Information System), an early Internet global informational platform.
In 1969, before her transition, she resigned from the priesthood and married a woman named Dodie, a former nun, the two lived in Indiana. 'It was my last macho attempt to find an answer,' Ledins would later tell The National Catholic Reporter in 1980. The couple would later divorce, leading William Griglak down a path where she would eventually emerge as Nancy Ledins. During this time, she worked as a psychologist at a drug rehabilitation center at a state-run facility, she found meaning in helping others, but struggled with not being able to put a name to her transgender identity. 'I recall from way back that I didn’t know what to call it, but I felt it and knew that you didn’t talk about it,' Nancy told The Reporter in 1979. 'I wanted to be like my sister. I didn’t want to be myself. Women didn’t seem to be hassled like I felt hassled.'
'For the first time in my life, I am running into and not from... What a healthy feeling!' she wrote in a letter to her parents in 1978 as she was beginning the transition process. 'I am now very very glad to be alive... my bucket of tears (and there were many) are over. The sunshine is real.' Her gender-confirming surgery was performed on Holy Thursday 1979 by a surgeon in Trinidad, Colorado, 20 years after taking her vows with the church. After her transition Nancy Ledins made national news as “America’s first female Roman Catholic priest” and “first transgender Roman Catholic priest to have gender confirmation surgery”. Newspapers nationwide covered her transition with headlines such as “The Priest is a Lady” and “Former Father William Now a Woman: Priest’s Sex Change May Pose Test of Church Law.”
After Nancy’s transition the question arose, is she still an ordained Roman Catholic priest? Many people had thoughts on this and she made headlines many times with reporters discussing the topic. Here is one explanation, “Ledins might be the first woman priest in Roman Catholic history in a technical sense...since she never sought to be returned officially to lay status, has never been summarily notified of such by the church and, by the usual understanding of church law, is still a priest – though not a legally functioning one.” Another group said, “The first woman priest came about not through a bishop but through a surgeon.” Another said that “Church officials never formally responded to Ledins' situation, and Ledins has never challenged that silence. She told NCR that though technically ordained, “there is probably a canon somewhere that spells my demise as a priest” if she tried to celebrate the sacraments.
Multiple attempts on Nancy’s life were made following her transition, including being shot at and having her car bombed, along with numerous dead animals being left in the front of her home. In the years after her surgery, Nancy mostly worked in the field of electrology – the practice of electrically removing hair permanently from the body.
Dr. Nancy S. Ledins, PH. D was in the forefront of the electrology profession for almost thirty years. She held four Doctorate Degrees which benefited greatly with knowledge and wisdom. She was an electrology instructor in Colorado, Arizona, S. Carolina and California, lectured internationally (United States, Canada, Japan, Europe). She conducted the first scientific survey of the needle electrology field (1982). She was the first Chairperson of the newly developed International Board of Electrologist Certification (IBEC), working with Educational Testing Service (ETS) in developing and then monitoring the Certified Professional Electrologist (CPE) credentialing for seven years running. She was editor and originated the Journal of Electrology (JOE). She chaired the committee in establishing the norms for continuing education in retaining the CPE through the Continuing Education Review Committee (CERC). She wrote her own electrology textbook, authored and published many articles on electrology and was awarded an honorary Life-Time CPE by the American Electrology Association (AEA). In addition to teaching, she had private practices in electrology and psychological testing and counseling. She was awarded honorary membership in the Electrology Association of North Carolina (EANC). Through the dedication of Dr. Ledins, much was accomplished to bring the profession to a level of respect and recognition by the FDA, FTC, CDC, established national certification and worked with states to secure licensure.
Nancy would later move to Charlotte, North Carolina in 1996, working as a tax preparer, but the church was always in her heart. That's when she discovered a welcoming community in Wedgewood Church, where she shared with congregants her life story and often help lead the worship. Nancy didn’t seek to continue serving as an official priest following her transition, but ministered in these, her later years. In 2014, on the 55th anniversary of her becoming a Catholic priest, Nancy led Wedgewood in a prayer, stating: 'Lord Father, my special thanks for the gift of ordination and ministry over the years... and thank you for letting me be here. Amen and amen. Alleluia.'
Nancy become involved in Wedgewood about 5 years before she passed away but the congregation loved her while they had her. She was most passionate about worship and fellowship. She was considered a pioneer, a matriarch, and a confidant for people. There were a few trans people in congregation and she meant a lot to them. She was social animal, loved being around people, very humble, loved to participate but never wanted to be in the spotlight. “This is my calling” she would say. She was involved in everything from preaching (specifically the Easter sermon), singing benedictions, baptizing, serving communion, attending the monthly visitor’s supper, in fact she was always the one who said the prayer at this event. She was a story teller, funny and deeply theological, her stories always had a message. Nancy was incredibly involved at her church and will be remembered. She died on July 18, 2017, at age 84 in North Carolina. The church is currently working on planting a garden in her honor and is accepting donations. Their plan is to allow anyone who is lacking funds to be able to have their ashes scattered there for free, a gesture they hope will keep the love of Nancy around for longer.
To feel the essence of Nancy, check out this video: Nancy singing benediction in Latin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZCf4UsZqvQ
This biographical statement written by Nicole McKnight from these sources:
Nancy Ledins became first transgender Roman Catholic priest in 1979
Transgender woman who made headlines when she became America's first female Catholic priest after a sex change in 1979 dies aged 84
Church to celebrate life of Catholic priest who found peace as a transgender woman https://www.charlotteobserver.com/living/religion/article162652798.html
Transgender Woman’s Ministry Continued Long After She Left Priesthood https://www.newwaysministry.org/2017/09/12/transgender-womans-ministry-continued-long-after-she-left-priesthood/
Electrolysis Association of North Carolina https://www.electrolysisassociationofnc.net/nancy-ledins
Nancy Ledins: Advocate https://aumag.org/2017/05/26/nancy-ledins-advocate/
Interview with Rev. Chris Ayers, co-pastor of Wedgewood Church in Charlotte was Nancy’s pastor and has a huge digital archive of original documents by and about her which he happily looked into to help finish up this profile.
Biography Date: February 2019
“Rev. Dr. Nancy S. Ledins | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed April 19, 2021, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/nancy-s-ledins.