Parish bulletins often tell a person a lot about the atmosphere of a Catholic community. Even in many gay-friendly parishes, pastors and lay leaders are sometimes reluctant to mention, in print, their welcome of LGBT people. A recent example shows how one parish is working at breaking that wall of silence.
St. Francis Xavier Parish, Manhattan, N.Y., has long been known as a welcoming and affirming community. They have marched in NYC’s Pride Parade many times, and they have two strong spirituality programs in the parish, one for gay men and one for lesbian woman. LGBT people are integrated intimately in all aspects of parish life.
Earlier this summer, in the June 22nd, 2014 bulletin of St. Francis Xavier parish, a lesbian couple told the story of their relationship over the course of more than four decades. Entitled “Forty-Four Years of Love and Commitment,” the short piece by Maria Formoso and Joan O’Brien, describes the difficult early years of their closeted relationship:
“We had the lucky fortune to meet in 1968 when we were employed as teachers in a Catholic high school in New York City. We became a couple in 1970 but we never disclosed it to our parents. It was difficult enough for ourselves to accept this relationship since we had been brought up Roman Catholic in Pre-Vatican II. We tried hard to reconcile our faith and our sexuality.
“Other people whom we suspected were gay were secretive and closeted as well, but we were eager to meet folks with whom we could openly share our lives and our values.”
Little by little, they began to reach out to others for support, including other Catholics:
“. . . at Dignity New York, we met Karen Doherty and Christine Nusse, who started the Conference for Catholic Lesbians in 1983. We were astonished and astounded to meet people from all over the United States who were struggling just like us to live their lives as Catholic lesbians.”
After praising a number of Catholic leaders including Sister Jeannine Gramick, Mary Hunt, Sister Theresa Kane, Father John McNeill, Barbara Zanotti, for their assistance in helping them to reconcile their lesbian and Catholic identities, the couple ended their essay with praise for St. Francis Xavier parish:
“Finally, Christmas Eve 1994, we, accompanied by Maria’s brother José, who also was gay, went to the Church of St.
Francis Xavier. Our good friends Anne and Frank Sheridan invited us. We had not attended mass in a number of years because, as lesbians, we did not feel welcome. The church was packed with people, many standing in the back. Sister Honora Nicholson came to our rescue, and we found ourselves seated on the left side of the altar. The service was beautiful. We were home! “
It was so refreshing to read such a positive piece about a lesbian relationship in a parish bulletin. It’s quite an example of acceptance and affirmation, and also a wonderful way to educate the entire community about the lived reality of lesbian lives. It’s a perfect way to let the rest of the parish benefit from the spiritual journey of two of their parishioners.
May other parishes do likewise!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry