For Sr. Mary Kay Dobrovolny, community has been a central component of her coming out journey.
Dobrovolny, a Sister of Mercy, describes herself as “unapologetically and enthusiastically queer” in a new book published by New Ways Ministry entitled Love Tenderly: Sacred Stories of Lesbian & Queer Religious. The book is a collection of personal essays by women religious reflecting on the intersection of their lesbian and queer identities with their vocation as vowed sisters. (For more information on the book, click here.)
Some of the book’s authors shared parts of their stories in interviews with Global Sisters Report, a publication of the National Catholic Reporter. The stories are deeply personal, yet share some common threads. Solidarity with those who forged the path was crucial for Dobrovolny, who pointed to Sr. Janet Rozzano, another Mercy sister who became an advocate for other LGBTQ Catholics after coming out to her own community. Dobrovolny observed, “It’s a heck of a lot easier to come out when there are other folks who are very well loved, cherished, respected folks in your congregation.”
In addition to communal themes, the reflections tell of deep pain from a variety of experiences from sexual assault to rejection from loved ones to depression and isolation. “In the stories we read in this book, we see our bruised selves–the places where we were bruised, have been bruised–and come out of that to a place of more integration,” explains Sr. Mary Kay Hunyady, RCSJ.
This integration is one of acknowledging and loving one’s full identity in all its facets, a process some of the essays probe more deeply. “It’s a whole lot of work hiding from yourself,” said one of the authors who used the pen name Sister Susan. (Twelve of the authors chose, for various reasons, to write under a pseudonym.) But the unfolding of self-acceptance can also lead to a deep joy and sense of vocation. “I love being a sister,” she affirms. “I love the energy that I get from [having found myself] and the energy that community has to offer. And the good news is I don’t have to choose either one or the other. I can have both.”
Prayer and a rich spiritual life are also central to the authors’ journeys. One sister, writing as Sr. Emma, describes a profound prayer experience of coming out as a lesbian to Jesus, who then approached her and lay his head in her lap. This vision “ended with a profound and fundamental healing at the core of myself, freeing me to know in the deepest, truest part of my being that God loves me…yes, God truly delights in me as a lesbian!”
Even as many of the sisters express acceptance in the eyes of God, acceptance by the church has not been a given for LGBTQ Catholics. Ministering to this reality, too, is a goal of the book: “It’s important for people who have been harmed by the Catholic Church to know there’s a distinction between the institution and God,” Hunyady explains.
Love Tenderly is edited by Sr. Grace Surdovel, IHM, assisted by Sr. Fran Fasolka, IHM, who has ministered to lesbian and queer sisters since 1995. New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick, authored the foreword. She is hopeful that it will broaden the conversation about LGBTQ Catholics: “It is about time that we have, on the public agenda, stories about lesbian sisters.”
These essays are sure to offer such opportunities for new discourse on sexuality in the church. They also invite readers to delve into their own authentic and embodied selves. Surdovel writes that her desire for the book “is that your heart will be touched in ways that take you deeper into your own story of loving tenderly. May you own, honor, and reverence the story of your life.”
This profound connection between sexuality and the sacred, made concrete by the sisters’ personal stories are an invitation to rich love of oneself, one’s community, and of the God who created and loved all.
For information on how to order your copy of Love Tenderly (available both in print and in e-book), click here.
—Angela Howard McParland, New Ways Ministry, January 28, 2021