The nation’s first openly gay astronaut recently spoke about her six months aboard the International Space Station on October 10 at her Catholic high school alma mater. Nearly 1,000 students attended from several area schools. However, several schools were notably absent.
Anne McClain came back to Gonzaga Preparatory High School, Spokane, Washington, though her sexual orientation became a sticking point for some local Catholic schools. According to The Spokesman-Review, the absent schools were All Saints Catholic School, St. Charles Parish School, and Cataldo Catholic School, the last of which McClain attended for a few years. Earlier this year, Cataldo students participated in a video chat with McClain while she was still aboard the International Space Station before it became public that she was married to a woman.
McClain’s sexual orientation first became public when a New York Times article revealed she had accessed her wife’s bank account from aboard the station, making her actions possibly the first crime committed in space. Though McClain has cooperated in the investigation and maintained she was only making a routine check of financial records, the news story irrevocably made her sexuality and her marriage public knowledge.
Parents of Cataldo students were reportedly told that since the school would not be participating in the field trip they would have to pull their children out of school themselves if they wished their children to attend. Many upset parents speculated it was because of McClain’s sexuality. According to KREM-TV, the Cataldo Board of Governors released a statement detailing their decision which said that classes are “rarely canceled” for extracurricular activities. They also noted that recent news coverage of McClain’s marriage is “not in accord with Catholic Church teaching on the nature of marriage” and would not prove appropriate for elementary-aged children. However, they added, the decision had nothing to do with McClain’s sexual orientation. “Everyone is a beloved son or daughter of God worthy of love, dignity, and respect,” reads the statement.
The board is comprised of Fr. Brian Mee of St. Augustine Parish, Fr. Darrin Connall of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes and Fr. Kevin Codd of Sacred Heart Parish.
The Diocese of Spokane, led by Bishop Thomas Daly, also released a statement:
“In response to Anne McClain’s presentation at Gonzaga Prep, Bishop Daly has made no declaration whether the Catholic schools in the diocese may or may not attend. In keeping with Catholic education as one of his top priorities, and valuing the principle of subsidiarity, Bishop Daly supports the pastors and principals of schools in making decisions about school activities.”
Meanwhile, Gonzaga Prep was “thrilled” to welcome McClain back onto their campus. School President Michael Daugherty wrote:
“We have invited our local Catholic elementary schools and several nearby SPS elementary, middle school and high schools in hopes that Anne’s accomplishments and will inspire them to pursue their dreams. It is a wonderful opportunity for the Spokane community and we are grateful to be hosting.”
Regardless of the controversy, McClain appeared at Gonzaga Prep for her scheduled presentation. According to KXLY-TV, she delivered an inspirational speech about achieving one’s dreams and stepping out of one’s comfort zone, holding that nothing is ever impossible. She said:
“Twenty years ago, I was on the same starting line as you are. I was no different than any of you, I hadn’t done anything special that would make anyone think I was destined for any high achievement. I was Anne McClain, Gonzaga Prep, Class of 1997.”
McClain gave the students in attendance a simple but powerful refrain to remember when pursuing their dreams:
“I am loved. I am proud of myself. I am brave. I can do hard things.”
—Melissa Feito, October 24, 2019