A new book published by New Ways Ministry presents the personal and spiritual journeys of 23 vowed Catholic religious sisters who identify as lesbian or queer.
Love Tenderly: Stories of Lesbian and Queer Religious is an anthology edited by Sister Grace Surdovel, IHM, who collected the stories from sisters from a variety of Catholic religious communities. Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, a co-founder of New Ways Ministry, wrote the foreword for the book.
The stories describe journeys of struggle and joy, confusion and clarity, oppression and liberation, and the overwhelming experience of God’s love and grace. The book’s title comes from the mandate from the prophet Micah (6:8), “What does God require of you? To act justly, and to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Though in the past decade there has been wider media coverage of gay priests, and of Catholic LGBTQ people generally, there has been little to no public discussion about the lives, struggles, and gifts that lesbian and queer religious women experience.
The nuns who shared their stories in the anthology represent a cross-section of Catholic sisters, varying in ages, communities, ministries, and stages of acceptance of their lesbian or queer identity. Twelve of the authors chose, for various reasons, to write under a pseudonym. All authors were given nine questions to focus their writing, including:
- What is your understanding of sexual shame? Have you experienced this? How and by what means have you been able to grow beyond this shame?
- What part has falling in love/attraction played in your psycho-sexual-spiritual development? How have these experiences influenced your understanding of the vow of celibate chastity?
- Have you integrated your sexual identity with your religious life commitment? If so, how?
- What advice would you give to a woman like yourself who desires to join a religious community?
Chapter titles in the book include: “Unapologetically and Enthusiastically Queer,” “To Be Loving and To Be Loved,” “Coming Out: A Ministry In Itself,” and “Bathed In God’s Love.”
Surdovel said she hopes that people who read the book will have their hearts touched in ways that take them deeper into their own stories of loving tenderly. In the introduction, she expresses the hope that the book will help readers “own, honor, and reverence the story of your life.” Surdovel tells her own story in a chapter entitled “Authenticity.”
In the foreword, Gramick writes, “Lesbian nuns are the Church’s pearls of great price. They are treasures that have been hidden in our convent fields for centuries that are now being unearthed. Public discussion about lesbian sisters will bring these gifts to much deserved recognition.”
Gramick, who has been involved with LGBTQ Catholic ministry for 50 years, added that all who are interested in the intersection of faith and sexuality can benefit from reading the book. “As you turn the pages of this book, you will be climbing into their skin and walking around in it. I believe it will be a transformative experience for you.”
The Institute Leadership Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas gave advance praise for the book, which includes stories by four members in their community:
“The Mercy Community values, indeed cherishes, each member. It is in that spirit that we thank our four sisters who are contributors to the volume, Love Tenderly: Sacred Stories of Lesbian and Queer Religious. We hope that their stories will open hearts and enlighten minds to the sacredness and endless diversity of God’s creation. We appreciate this book that alerts us to the many ways we are blessed and that we need to learn to be more and more inclusive and welcoming.”
Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, said he hoped the book will enlarge the current discussion of LGBTQ issues in the wider church. “Catholics are eager for an open and free discussion in the Church on LGBTQ issues,” he said. “This book of personal stories, told by women who have dedicated their lives to the Church, is a contribution to the conversation from an important Catholic group who rarely have the chance to share their journeys publicly.”
The book grew out of New Ways Ministry’s “Womanjourney Weavings” program, which provides resources for lesbian and queer vowed women, and for the leaders of women’s religious communities. For the past 20 years, this program has provided annual conferences, retreats, publications, networking, and consultation for these groups.
In addition, New Ways Ministry conducts retreat weekends and support opportunities for gay men who are priests, religious brothers, and deacons.
New Ways Ministry has been providing educational and spiritual development programs and resources to Catholic institutions, leaders, and people in the pews for over four decades. In addition to working with parishes, schools, and colleges, New Ways Ministry has always provided a special outreach to LGBTQ priests, nuns, brother, deacons, as well as to the leaders of vowed religious communities.
For more information and to order Love Tenderly, go to www.NewWaysMinistry.org/LoveTenderly.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 14, 2021
Bondings 2.0 blog posts written by Love Tenderly authors
December 8, 2020: “Finding Courage to Speak our ‘Yes’ to God,” by Grace Surdovel, IHM
January 3, 2021: “Celebrating God’s Outrageous Openheartedness on Epiphany,” by Susan Becker, RDC
January 10, 2021: “Jesus’ Baptism Reveals a Rainbow Christ,” by Diane Rapozo, BVM