Sister Luisa Derouen, OP, has been ministering to transgender men and women since 1999, though she has not always been able to be public about the work she was doing. In an interview with New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, for Global Sisters Report, the Dominican Sister of Peace discusses her evolving ministry, her hopes for LGBT Catholics, and why she is now able to let the world know about her pioneering ministry.
Sister Jeannine, another woman who has been ahead of the Church when it comes to ministering to LGBT Catholics, introduces Sister Luisa, and what her work has meant to the transgender community, by saying:
“I believe our church needs to honor this valiant and prophetic woman who has shown us how to minister to those who are mostly shunned or even vilified. She said that acknowledging and claiming their truth as transgender is a profoundly spiritual experience for many transgender people, but there are no spiritual leaders who are willing to companion them. This was 1999.”
Early in her ministry, Sr. Luisa’s community asked that she not be public about her work. She obliged, even going so far as using the pseudonym, “Sister Monica.” However, in the almost twenty years that Sr. Luisa has spent ministering to the trans community, her community changed its mind about anonymity. She is now supported in her ministry as an open and public venture. She says:
“There may be some sisters in my community who don’t approve of what I’m doing, but no one has ever said that to me, nor have I heard that from anyone. Over the years, increasing numbers of my sisters have contacted me as a resource for themselves or someone they know, who needs guidance of some kind with a transgender person. The sisters recognize that we all need to learn more about transgender people and stand with them. They have consistently thanked me for leading the way. A consistent comment from both supporters and detractors has been ‘If what she’s doing is God’s work, why are they hiding?’ That is a valid question.”
Sr. Luisa is humble in describing her decades-long ministry of being present to transgender men and women throughout their spiritual and physical journeys. She observes that most transgender people already have a relationship with God:
“As a spiritual companion, I have been present to them on the phone, or by Skype and email, in coffeehouses, restaurants and in their homes, at church or guiding a retreat for them. But mostly, I pray for them and let them know I am praying. Transgender people who contact me already know and love God, but there is a strong societal and religious message telling them they cannot be transgender and faithful to God at the same time.”
She discusses the rocky relationship that many transgender people have had with both God and organized religion, sharing the story of a man who contemplated suicide after coming out to his Catholic family:
“Brian and his spouse went to Mass and prayed the rosary together every day. For many years he fought against a persistent knowledge from within himself that he was transgender. Finally he could no longer pretend to be who he wasn’t. Because his family had a very difficult time with his transition, he thought that perhaps he should do as Jesus did — choose to die for the sake of those he loved. He was overwhelmed with guilt for their pain and thought it was his fault. He spent many hours with God. He finally came to understand that Jesus didn’t choose to take his own life. Jesus loved us to the point of dying and really meant it when he said, ‘I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.’ It is our false self that must die, never our true self.”
Sr. Luisa credits the work that Pope Francis has done to include members of the LGBT community, and other marginalized groups, as part of the reason she is able to be more public with her own ministry. However, she does not think the pope goes far enough when it comes to being open and accepting of the LGBT community, especially transgender folks. She gave her view of the papal approach:
“What’s most important for Pope Francis is to engage the person. We’re familiar with some of his favorite metaphors for a culture of encounter — the church as a field hospital and the shepherd having the smell of the sheep. Repeatedly he returns to the theme of seeing people as they are, listening to them, having compassion and empathy. This should come before any litmus test of doctrinal orthodoxy if we are to know how to be the presence of Christ for them. However, Pope Francis, like many people, defaults to the doctrinal approach in instances when he has not had enough experience with people who challenge general beliefs.”
Sr. Luisa remains hopeful for the future of her ministry and the acceptance of transgender people by individuals and the Church as a whole:
“I hope people will say, ‘Wow, this sister really loves transgender people and has invested much of her life for them and with them. This challenges me to examine my own prejudices about transgender people.’ I hope minds and hearts will be open to learn about transgender people and to seek out opportunities to meet them, if possible. I pray that your readers will see transgender people as God sees them. That means to see them as the persons they are.”
Sr. Luisa’s work remains a bright spot in the LGBT Catholic community. Her continued work with transgender men and women is a presence that is sorely needed in a Church that is quick to dismiss those who are different.
To read the entire interview with Sr. Luisa, click here.
—Kaitlin Brown, New Ways Ministry, June 24, 2018