A part-time music director was fired this week from a Catholic parish near Detroit after the archdiocese learned of her marriage to her same-gender partner.
Terry Gonda, who had worked at the St. John Fisher Chapel, Auburn Hills, Michigan for the last 30 years, has been legally married to her partner Kirsti Reeve since 2011 (though the couple shared their first wedding ceremony in 2003).
Gonda was informed of the Archdiocese of Detroit’s intention to fire her through her pastor, Monsignor Michael LeFevre, who has known about Gonda’s marital status for five years, reported The New York Times. LeFevre informed Gonda that the archdiocese had recently discovered she was married and intended to activate its morality clause to fire her. The archdiocese was made aware that LeFevre had known about the marriage for five years and allowed Gonda to continue to work in the parish but proceeded with the termination anyway.
The archdiocese officially terminated Gonda over the phone, after failing to show up in person to a scheduled meeting this week. Instead, a group of supporters gathered to pray for Gonda and thank her for her selfless service before the meeting.
By various accounts, Gonda has been a model employee for over three decades, serving for 26 years as assistant director and the last six years as director of music at her progressive Catholic parish, known for its public stance on social justice. In addition to noting how excellently she performed her formal role, parishioners and former pastors describe Gonda as a fierce defender of the Catholic Church and role model for young Catholics.
Gonda said that the firing has hit her where it hurts most: her heart. She acknowledges that money is not a factor, as her salary was small and not her main source of income. The true pain is how demoralizing it feels. She told The New York Times:
“The dehumanization of this is just not right… my heart hurts because I have an outpouring of love for them. I love them.”
This latest firing of an LGBTQ employee of the Catholic Church highlights the divide between the local faithful parishioner who are in direct human relationship with LGBTQ people and diocesan administrators who continue to distance themselves from LGBTQ people.
Fr. Jerry Brzezinski, the former pastor at St. John Fisher told the Detroit Free Press that he was saddened by the news, calling Gonda a model person with a “deep love of God who enhanced” the parish:
“Everything that I saw of Terry was of God. There was nothing for me to see that was anything different…It didn’t really make any difference one way or another over who you were or what you were about in terms of your lifestyle. She was a good person. Her life was of God.”
Parishioners at St. John Fisher also spoke out against the injustice of the archdiocese’s decision. Parishioner Lisa Brown recalls that Gonda’s “way of accepting people and just being present helped so many young people who were disowned by their own family, or who were not accepted for who they were.”
Sheran Tioran, also a parishioner called the firing “unjust and un-Christian,” recognizing that
“Jesus would not be turning Terry and Kirsti away. He’d be welcoming them with open arms. It’s just ridiculous.”
In a statement to Bondings 2.0, Gonda writes that she and Reeve hold “love, not bitterness” for the leaders of the Archdiocese of Detroit. As a model Christian, she and Reeve pray each night for Archbishop Vigneron and the Detroit archdiocese, who have a history of targeting LGBTQ Catholics for discrimination and punitive action. She said:
“As we pray, our hearts have been filled with joy and forgiveness and we refuse to demonize good men who fully believe are doing what they think is best for the church.”
At the same time, however, Gonda asks:
“How can this be of God? How can causing so much pain and heartache and doubt in the faith be of the Holy Spirit? Why does there have to be a choice between individual dignity and protecting the institution? How do all of us baptized Catholics, humbly come together in the joyous arms of the Gospel, to build bridges and create a healthy church?
This mission to build bridges and create a healthy, inclusive church “is now driving us forward,” says Gonda. Rather than leaving her parish, she plans on continuing her decades-long ministry of welcoming people into the Catholic Church. This Sunday, she will be directing the music at St. John Fisher Chapel as a volunteer, leading off with the song, “All Are Welcome.”
While the Archdiocese of Detroit continues its calculated purge of LGBTQ groups and individuals from its institutional life, Terry Gonda exemplifies the gospel in a radical way—the radical way Jesus intended. It is clear from the testimony of her former pastors, her current parishioners, and her own reflection, that she and Kristi Reeve—together as Catholics united by God in matrimony—have witnessed to God’s love and Jesus’ command that we love one another in an extraordinary way.
When a diocese makes a decision that victimizes an LGBTQ person or community and causes such divisive pain, heartbreak, and confusion, many others are victimized and hurt, too. Terry Gonda and Kirsti Reeve have chosen the path of reconciliation, and, they will continue in their mission to build a future church that is healthy, inclusive, and just. They offer an example of one path forward that people hurt by the church can choose.
Terry Gonda joins the more than 100 church employees who have lost their jobs in LGBTQ-related disputes over the last decade. The following resources are available to learn more about such disputes and how Catholics can take action against the church employee firings:
- For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of church employment issues, click the “Employment” category on the right-hand side of this page.
- For New Ways Ministry’s resources on non-discrimination, church workers, and LGBTQ issues here.
—Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, June 27, 2020