LGBTQ students and allies staged a peaceful protest outside their campus parish because a Mass celebrating solidarity with the LGBTQ community was substantially changed from their original plans.
The Spectrum Alliance at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, protested outside Old St. Joe’s church while a Mass intended to be part of the Norbertine college’s first-ever Coming Out Week had its theme changed. Spectrum Alliance had planned a number of events celebrating the LGBTQ community, and “Mass Celebrating Solidarity” was intended to kick off the week.
Students had been anticipating celebrating Mass with the wider community in a show of unity with the LGBTQ community. They say administrators changed the theme of the Mass because of the “Catholic religion not agreeing with the theme of the event.”
Administrators disagree with this assessment from students, while acknowledging the original details of the planned Mass were changed. Julie Massey, the Interim Vice President for Mission and Student Affairs, told Fox 11 News that the Mass was still happening, but:
” ‘Some elements that were originally envisioned and hoped for, as they got reviewed it was decided that they needed to be adjusted.’ “
Massey added that the parish did not think it was appropriate to promote or advertise the rest of the events for Coming Out Week, but that she and the college were looking forward to those events.
Students from the Spectrum Alliance interpreted that message as one of exclusion. They felt that by removing the theme of “solidarity” from the Mass, the college and the parish were not welcoming the LGBTQ community.
Students chalked the area outside the college parish, with messages including “Gay is Good,” “Love is Love,” and “God made me this way.” Randi Groff, the group’s president said they came together “to spread messages of love and inclusion and to you know let everyone know that they are welcome here because we weren’t allowed to celebrate within the church so now we are celebrating outside.”
One particularly poignant message drawn on the church sidewalk preached, “Communio Means Everyone.” St. Norbert’s website highlights its guiding spirit and tradition as one of Communio. Communio is “the word for the deep sense of community” found at St. Norbert, “lived through open dialogue, consultation and collaboration. Communio encourages us to respond individually and collectively to the needs of our local and global communities.”
Instead of flatly opposing a Mass celebrating solidarity with the LGBTQ community, the St. Norbert parish community should have consulted with the Spectrum Alliance about their concerns and tried to find solutions that would be satisfying to both groups. They could have chosen to hear the needs of the LGBTQ community and responded as ambassadors of God’s universal Love to their students. They could have built a bridge. Had they done so, they could have avoided making a vulnerable group of students feel excluded from the celebration of the Eucharist–the sacramental reminder of that universal Love.
In all of our communities–Catholic schools, parishes, hospitals, and organizations–we should be inspired by the charism of St. Norbert and be willing to be moved out of our comfort zone, and even to sacrifice, in order to meet the needs of our LGBTQ community.
This post is part of Bondings 2.0’s “Campus Chronicles” series on LGBTQ issues in Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog by clicking here.
—Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, October 20, 2019