Happy Mothers Day!
When the history of the Catholic LGBT movement is written, a major chapter of it must be devoted to Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, a pair of Catholic parents of a gay son, whose journey of understanding and acceptance led them to ministry with other parents, and eventually the founding of a national network called Fortunate Families. Last weekend, Catholics from around the country gathered in the Lopatas’ hometown of Rochester, New York, for a dinner celebrating their retirement from leadership in Fortunate Families, as well as the 10th anniversary of this network of Catholic parents of LGBT people.
During the event, the history of the Lopatas’ ministry was recounted, going back to 1992 when they attended New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium on Lesbian/Gay Issues and Catholicism, in Chicago. The couple attended the meeting with six other pastorally involved people from Rochester, and they returned home fired with enthusiasm to start pastoral outreach to LGBT people, and particularly, their parents. Their efforts eventually led to the establishment of the Diocese of Rochester’s Catholic Gay and Lesbian Family Ministry.
A few years later, the Lopatas were instrumental in helping to establish the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian/Gay Ministries (NACDLGM), and in 1998 they organized and hosted the group’s national conference in Rochester, one of the most successful meetings the organization has ever had. (NACDGLM is now known as the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry.) Throughout the 1990s, the Lopatas were tireless in their education, support, and advocacy ministry for families. They served as consultants on the U.S. bishops’ 1997 pastoral letter, Always Our Children.
They published several resources including a book, Fortunate Families: Catholic Families with Lesbian Daughters and Gay Sons, and a manual entitled Seeds of Hope: Compassionate Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Catholics and Their Families. In 2004, they established Fortunate Families as a nationwide resource and networking ministry to, for, and with Catholic parents of LGBT people. In the following year, New Ways Ministry presented them with its Bridge Building Award, “for compassionate ministry, personal witness, and national leadership to promote justice for lesbian/gay Catholics, their parents, and families.”
Fortunate Families is a member of the Equally Blessed Coalition, which also includes Call To Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry. Representatives from each of these three other coalition partners were on hand in Rochester to praise and thank the Lopatas at their retirement party. Jim FitzGerald, executive director, represented Call To Action; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, represented DignityUSA; Francis DeBernardo, executive director, represented New Ways Ministry. Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and Father James Schexnayder, founder of NACDLGM were unable to attend in person, but they each sent video testimonials about the Lopatas’ contributions to the Catholic LGBT movement. You can view Sr. Jeannine’s video here:
Emails and letters from parents and pastoral ministers, as well as testimonies from Fortunate Families board members, were also part of the evening’s festivities. Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word presented the Lopatas with a memory book, and New York State Assemblyman Harry Bronson gave them a resolution from the legislature in honor of their contributions.
The Lopatas are leaving an indelible mark on our church because they have helped to affirm and empower so many parents, and LGBT people, as well. Catholic parents are among the most passionate and persuasive advocates for LGBT people in the church. Their natural love for their LGBT children motivates them to work to make sure that they are treated in the same way as their heterosexual children are treated.
For some parents, it takes some time to adjust to the new information that their children are LGBT. Support from other parents who have gone through the same experience is often the biggest help for those who are just learning about a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Parents of LGBT children are a true gift to the church. The journey of love and acceptance that Catholic parents go on is the same journey that the entire church eventually will need to go experience. So, all in the church, particularly pastoral ministers and bishops, can learn a lot from these people that God has made so fortunate.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry