Colby College Reacts to Sr. Jeannine Gramick's Visit

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sr. Jeannine Gramick’s visit to Colby College in Waterville, Maine, last week, prompted criticism from the school’s Catholic chaplain and a larger conversation on LGBT justice for the campus.

According to the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, Sr. Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry and a longtime Catholic advocate for LGBT peopel, was keynoting a weeklong Pride celebration on campus by talking about “Signs of Hope for LGBT Ministry” in an event co-sponsored by student organizations, interfaith groups, and the Religious Studies department. Yet, Colby’s Newman Center chaplain had a negative reaction to the visit. Julianna Haubner, co-editor of campus’ newspaper The Colby Echo,  reported what happened when she attended Easter Sunday Mass  at the Newman Center:

“It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Until, that is, the last three minutes of the service, when the campus minster and priest announced that this week was Pride Week, and that Sister Jeannine Gramick, a controversial figure, was slated to be the Keynote speaker. They reminded us that Sister Gramick did not speak for the Church, and that if we wanted to hear about the Catholic perspective on ‘same-sex attraction,’ we could meet in the Pugh Center for an event with the Newman Council; I find it only mildly ironic that this was said immediately after another announcement that thanked students for coming, and informed them that the campus ministry was always available for support and guidance in our individual spiritual journeys and relationships with God. A couple of students looked around with discomfort. Another walked out. All I could think was: you were so close. So close to having one Mass that didn’t get political. But, there it was, and here I am.”

In the campus newspaper essay, Haubner, who identifies as an active Catholic, believes the campus minister’s negative comments will alienate students, an experience she herself had:

“I was not taught to discriminate, neither by my parents nor by the people in my congregation…I have a really hard time believing that someone who went up on a cross for three days to suffer and die for us would be okay with someone standing in his name, denouncing others who may have come to pay tribute to that sacrifice. But that’s just me…

“For a split second this Sunday, I thought that even after an hour of praying, singing and receiving communion, I didn’t belong in that chapel because I didn’t agree with one statement that lasted less than a minute. And when I got home, what did I tell my roommates—and later my parents? Not about the nice feeling of being back in church, of having a friend come with me, or of finally feeling connected again to the faith I’ve been raised in; I bitched for 10 minutes about how they had been so close, and blew it.”

Haubner is also concerned that Colby community members are being given a false impression of most Catholics as anti-gay. She cites anti-Catholic Church comments on the campus’  electronic discussion board as evidence of this impression. Haubner asked Colby students to separate how they view other Catholics, or even the Church, from ther comments of campus minister Joshua Houde and chaplain Fr. Paul Marquis.

Haubner was not the only voice joining an emerging conversation at Colby after Sr. Gramick’s visit. In a letter included in the campus’ daily opinion email digest, one student wrote about merging Catholic and gay identities:

“Ever since coming out, I have had a lot of trouble being part of a religion that has spent so much time and money lobbying against my right to love. Despite such internal conflict, I decided to attend Easter Day service at the chapel…before the end of service, both of you, Joshua Houde and Fr. Paul Marquis, decided to take some time to tell everyone not to go to the upcoming pride week keynote speaker, Sister Jeannine Gramick.

“I wish I could repeat exactly what was said, but I was filled with such rage and profound hurt that I could barely control myself while walking out…Fr. Marquis reminding us that the church has ‘forbidden’ Sister Jeannine from speaking publicly regarding Catholicism. Forbidden. Silenced. Censored. Simply because she is talking about something the church lectures on weekly: love…I am struggling to understand why you use your positions of power to openly tell an audience of students, professors, and community members not to attend a lecture simply because it conflicts with your own perception of our religion. Acceptance and inclusion are core values of the church, and the longer you hold out against accepting this, the harder it will be for me and many others to regain respect for our church.”
In an email to Sr. Gramick, Sonya Hagemeier and Emily Schusterbauer, the two students who organized her visit, told her that they are trying “to create an open forum to discuss this issue” at Colby College and are excited by the emerging conversations. Instead of following the priest’s advice to avoid Sr. Gramick and a discussion of LGBT issues, these college students are seeking to create good from a negative moment. That is a hopeful sign for the Church.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
0 replies
  1. Sharon Willey
    Sharon Willey says:

    The “church” in Israel tried to silence Jesus, too. They lose control when the basic message is spoken. That doesn’t mean that we should stop speaking the basic message.

  2. Friends
    Friends says:

    Thanks so much for this article, and for linking Julianna Haubner’s editorial in the Colby College student newspaper. I’ve responded to her experience directly, and you can read my response posted at the bottom of her editorial page, simply by clicking on the link already provided in the article above. I haven’t investigated the background of the chaplain who made those extremely hurtful and unhelpful comments about gay Colby students, but I’m going to do so, and will follow up with a report in a day or two.

  3. Anne Underwood
    Anne Underwood says:

    Colby College is in Waterville, Maine. It’s “rival” Bowdoin College is in Brunswick. Can you do a correction so as to correct any scandal this may be causing Progressive Maine Catholics? J. Anne


  4. Bryan A.
    Bryan A. says:

    A few years ago, Sr. Gramick spoke at Iowa State University and it changed my entire perception of Catholicism. I was raised Catholic but never went through Confirmation because as a teenager I felt the Church left too many questions unanswered. Years later I came out as a gay man and having experienced firsthand the demonizing of gays and lesbians by most christian faiths I never regretted my decision to leave.

    Then one semester at ISU, I took a speech class where one of the assignments was to see an outside-of-class speaker. I had never heard of Sr. Gramick and wasn’t sure what she had to say but I went anyway. Sister Gramick and her message was amazing! Up until that day I had never encountered anyone within a Catholic vocation that actually cared about the gay community or at least openly declared it.

    In short, she has been instrumental in renewing my faith and I am actively pursuing a life as a practicing Catholic (not a recovering one). Sister Gramick is a godsend. I hope and pray that some day the Vatican realizes that too. God bless Sister Gramick and her work!

  5. Joe Sacerdos
    Joe Sacerdos says:

    Fr. Paul: Remember that the biggest homophobes are always the biggest closet cases. We most hate in others what we most fear in ourselves. People comfortable with their own sexuality are comfortable with other people’s sexuality.

  6. Friends
    Friends says:

    Following up: here’s the most complete available online biography and c.v. of Colby College chaplain, Fr. Paul Marquis, who reportedly made disparaging comments about Sr. Jeannine and her pastoral outreach to GLBT students:

    No particular “smoking gun” to indicate that he’s a far-right-wing “Back To The Old Church And Its Ways” zealot, but he was born in 1959, so he’s now in his mid-fifties. He also appears to have been raised in the New England “French Canadian” flavor of Catholicism, which is inherently culturally conservative, and which is especially virulent in places like Maine and Rhode Island. I speak from direct life experience, having been raised and educated in just such a Franco-American parish community myself, in an old Central Massachusetts mill town. I’m sure he means well — but the cultural disconnection between someone with his background, set against the different life experience of today’s young Catholic students who grew up in the suburbs, is fairly drastic.

  7. Friends
    Friends says:

    And here’s some information about Josh Houde, the other member of the Colby ministerial team, who seems to have participated in Fr. Marquis’ disparagement of Sr. Jeannine’s visit:

    Initially, I was under the impression that “Josh Houde” was a student peer minister — which would have been the case here at Newman-UMass. But it’s not true. He’s actually in his late 20s, is married, and has a background in both radio communications and theology. Generationally, he would seem to be much easier to reach with a powerful explanation of the damage that gets done to young college-age Catholics, when they’re subjected to statements which they decode as hateful bigotry against their GLBT friends and peers.

    • Guinevere
      Guinevere says:

      I know Josh Houde personally and he is not a hateful person. He wholeheartedly accepts all that the Church teaches and strives to be faithful to the fullness of that teaching. Both he and his priest are obligated to tell congregations when someone presenting themselves as a Catholic speaker is in open dissent of Church teaching. It’s not an issue of singling out a particular group. For example, an ultra-traditionalist from Detroit is not allowed to speak in our diocese because his extremist views go so far that his message is no longer a Catholic message… and I’ve heard priests comment on it during Mass. I don’t see that as political at all. In fact, it makes sense to me that they made that announcement during Mass for the same reason any announcement is made – the people are there. I am saddened that people took such offense at how Josh and this priest handled the issue, but I cannot believe for one second that it was done with intent to offend, alienate, or reject anybody.

      • Friends
        Friends says:

        Hi Guinevere, and welcome to the Bondings 2.0 site! We’re delighted to have you here. Since you know Josh personally, I suspect that you’re at Colby, and that you found your way here through the link that I referenced in my response to Julianna’s article in “The Echo”. I believe I can speak for the editors, and for most of our participants, in saying that we would be thrilled to have Josh visit our site personally, and give us his perspectives on the matters that we’ve been discussing. Many of us are practicing Catholics, who happen to be in primary spousal or spousal-equivalent marriages or partnerships or civil unions with a person of our own gender. My own beloved soul-spouse, Jeff Mylett, who was “recalled to Heaven” in 1986, happened to be one of the ensemble of young actors at Carnegie Mellon University who first created “Godspell” as a student thesis project, and eventually took it to its highly successful film and Broadway versions. As long as Josh is willing to share his perspective with us in sincere faith and in civil discourse, I think all of us would be delighted to communicate with him personally, and to share our stories with him, and to explain why many of us feel aggrieved when our spousal relationships are “dissed” by high-ranking bishops (and other clergy) in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis has given us great hope and encouragement, with his “Who am I to judge?” observation. But his role-modelling has not exactly inspired a similar outpouring of good will among mid-level clergy, especially among bishops and cardinals, most notably in the United States and in Africa. Blessings to you, and thanks for checking in!


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