As a Sister of Mercy, Janet Rozzano has spent a lifetime focused on compassion and love towards the marginalized. Yet it was not until she was in her 40s and had been a sister for over 25 years that she also began to offer that same acceptance to herself as she explored her sexual identity as a lesbian.
Rozzano is one of 23 contributors to the new anthology Love Tenderly: Sacred Stories of Lesbian and Queer Religious published by New Ways Ministry. The book emerged from New Ways’ decades-long Womanjourney Weavings program, which offers support and promotes dialogue for lesbian and queer sisters and their wider religious communities.
In an op-ed for Reuters, Rozzano explains her long journey to self-acceptance:
“During those years I struggled with a church and society largely silent about and often unwelcoming of LGBTQ+ people. I struggled to overcome my own fears–of disapproval, rejection, internalised homophobia–if I told others I was a lesbian.”
For Rozzano, the uncertainty and anxiety of her coming out journey was compounded by a lack of resources or support at the time. She worried about being an embarrassment to her community or being asked to keep her sexual identity secret. (To read a reflection that Rozzano wrote for Bondings 2.0, click here.)
Sr. Grace Surdovel, a member of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the editor of Love Tenderly, acknowledges this difficulty of the process for many LGBTQ sisters. “But we’re still here,” she told Religion News Service, “we found the support we needed and by God we are going to stay in this church and continue to wrestle with it.”
Many of the authors echo this theme of finding acceptance in their religious communities and claiming their place as LGBTQ sisters. Sr. Jean Christensen credits the Sisters of Mercy for creating a space that invited members to be fully themselves: “There is a different level of acceptance locally than in the broader church.”
Sr. Mary Kay Hunyady of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus agreed that acceptance has increased since she first joined her community in the 1970s. She hopes the stories shared in the book can inspire hope, especially for LGBTQ women discerning a religious vocation:
“Coming together as a community, where we feel the call of God to stay in our orders with our feet firmly planted on the ground, that’s something that’s changed.”
And indeed for Rozzano, the positive has outweighed the difficulties:
““[T]he joys and blessings that have been a part of my story, however, are much more important than the areas of struggle. In this whole process of coming to understand and accept myself as a lesbian sister, I believe I have been powerfully touched by grace.”
Recalling the parable of the lost coin in Luke’s gospel, Rozzano names her LGBTQ identity as a precious gift and the work of the Holy Spirit. “Each new step of my journey is a sacramental reality,” she writes, “a sign that marks and celebrates again the life and wholeness Jesus came to reveal for all.” Like the woman in the gospel story, Rozzano rejoices in her discovery of her authentic self and understands her vocation as a call to continue to stand among the marginalized, including the LGBTQ community. By sharing their journeys, she and the other contributors hope to inspire others to do the same.
Love Tenderly: Sacred Stories of Lesbian and Queer Religious is available in print or e-book formats. For more information about the book or to order your copy, please click here.
—Angela Howard-McParland, New Ways Ministry, February 23, 2021