After nearly twenty years in Catholic education, Joan Grundy is coming out as a lesbian in her just released autobiography. In the book, A Deepening Life, she tells of being a lesbian employee in Canada’s Catholic schools and shares the quiet ways she helped create change.
Grundy has been a vice-principal at St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Kitchener, Ontario before retiring this year in pursuit of other interests and greater authenticity. In a CTV report, Grundy is clear that working for a Catholic school kept her fearful of being out, but decided to make the revelation at age 54:
” ‘I’d been peeking out of it for quite a while, and it was good to kick that darn door open, right off its hinges…I probably would have been a little bit more vocal earlier, it’s safe to say, had I not been in the Catholic board.’ “
Grundy said she could never been “openly gay in a public way” to students, co-workers, and even her parents for fear of losing her job, even as she privately supported LGBTQ students. In fact, Grundy is clear it took her until she was already teaching and 33 to come out to herself. This situation is tough for church workers she said:
“I talk in my book about walking a tightrope, and I think many senior administrators in Catholic boards walk those same tightropes, because, again, we’re contracted and we need to abide by the official teachings of the church, and it’s not always easy.”
Being in the closet brought shame for Grundy, shame which is “not of God” but rather is “quite suffocating for the soul.” It also “haunted” her that she was encouraging students to be themselves and not doing the same, reported the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Still, the former vice-principal decided she could not abandon the LGBTQ youth in Catholic schools according to The Hamilton Spectator:
“I went into teaching to make a difference in kids’ lives and to turn my back on them didn’t feel right…These students resonate with me. We have a shared experience of pain and hurt. . .
“I have never doubted that God loves me and created me as a gay woman. That is foundational for me…My spirituality is pivotal in how I live. And for those young people, I want them to know they are loved by God, celebrated by God and accepted by God.”
Her biggest push for these students came in 2012, after the regional government mandated all schools, including religious ones, to support LGBTQ students. Grundy came out as gay in a meeting of Catholic school administrators, emphasizing the tremendous harm, sometimes leading to suicides, happening to too many teens.
At St. Mary’s H.S., she introduced the Kindness Matters program to promote fair treatment and helped bring gay alumni back to speak to current students. She also helped by counseling youth.
In this next step of her life, Grundy hopes to help expand teacher training around inclusivitiy, while at the same time supporting LGBT educators, whom she describes as “wounded healers.” She hopes that by opening discussion will encourage more LGBT educators to be out and make students feel safer in schools, particularly Catholic ones where “there’s a lot of fear, a lot of vulnerability.”
Joan Grundy’s story is one that is simultaneously laudatory and similar to so many LGBT church workers who quietly come to the aid of marginalized groups in Catholic schools, parishes, and other institutions. Her fears of being fired for her sexual identity or for having a same-gender relationship exposed are as real. And perpetuating such fear is antithetical to the Gospel.
Grundy’s journey is also a reminder of Scripture’s wisdom that there is an anointed time for all things and that each of us must live our journey to authenticity on our own time, faithful to God’s call for us in each moment.
What is resoundingly clear now is that, for our church, the time has come to end these firings and for schools to say “no more” to discrimination, instead valuing more and more the contributions of church workers like Grundy. Our church is greatly indebted to them, so to Joan and to all who faithfully serve, we say thank you!
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry