With marriage equality now legal across the United States, but yet with so many debates and controversies, particularly Catholic ones, still raging about the issue, it might be good to step back a second and reflect on the question “What makes a family?”
New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder, did exactly just that recently in a National Catholic Reporter essay with a title that is the very question “What Makes A Family?”
Sister Jeannine reflects on this question by examining the lives of a Catholic lesbian couple that she encountered this year, Honour Maddock and Kathleen Kane. In one sense, the essay begins on the note of what does not make a family, exemplified by Kathleen’s marriage to an emotionally possessive man:
“Kathleen loved being a mother, but her husband wanted her entire attention and resented the time she spent with their children. Their relationship grew strained, and they became increasingly quarrelsome with each other. . . .”
After her husband left the family, without letting anyone know he was doing so, Kathleen met Honour, who became an emotional support to her and her three children after divorce. They eventually come to recognize a new dimension in their lives:
“Throughout this time, Honour was her lifeblood. Kathleen felt joy whenever Honour was around and missed her when they were apart. After some time they both came to realize that their companionship had blossomed into something deeper.
“ ‘Our wonderful friendship evolved into the beautiful love we’ve now shared for over 30 years,’ Kathleen told me. Although neither Kathleen nor Honour had ever been in a lesbian relationship, they wanted to be committed to each other.”
Because of concern for how people would treat their children if the two women moved in together, they waited until the last went off to college to do so. But when they did, their home became
“not an exclusive one; [it] was always open to others in need.”
They took in a teenage granddaughter who had been sexually abused and helped her recovery and adjustment to adult life. They took in Kathleen’s mother for ten years when she had become unable to live on her own.
And at the heart of their relationship is their faith:
“ ‘I’ve always had a deep, visceral connection with my Catholic faith,’ Kathleen said. ‘I’m not sure that the church will ever change its views about lesbian and gay people, but I firmly believe my relationship with Honour is a blessing God bestowed on me. All the opposition we encountered from society and church teachings could never shatter my trust that our love is a gift from God.’ “
For Sister Jeannine, reflecting on the life of Kathleen and Honour helped her understand what is at the essence of family:
“I think about [Kathleen’s] life with Honour and their time with Kathleen’s mother and granddaughter. For most of their years together, Kathleen and Honour had no marriage license and they had no biological children from their union. What they did have was the deepest kind of love I have encountered — the love of sacrifice for each other, for those they care about, and for those in need, the love of putting the other’s happiness and welfare first, the love of common spiritual values, the love of feeling uniquely blessed by God because of the other.”
There is a lot more to this lovely story, and so I recommend reading the entire essay, which can be found by clicking here.
I pray that our Catholic leaders will open their minds, hearts, eyes, and ears to receive stories like this one–especially as they prepare for the fall’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and the Synod on Family in Rome.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry