Casey Lopata, who along with his wife Mary Ellen Lopata, founded a national organization for Catholic parents of LGBTQ people, passed away at the beginning of May after a long illness.
The Lopatas were the founders of Fortunate Families, which they established as a network of Catholic parents of LGBTQ people. The purpose of the organization at its founding was to provide support to Catholic parents who were learning about their children’s sexual orientation and to advocate for justice, equality, and pastoral ministry for LGBTQ people in the church.
I met Casey and Mary Ellen in October 1995 at a retreat New Ways Ministry sponsored for Catholic parents who were coming to terms with their children’s gay or lesbian sexual orientation. The Lopatas had already walked that journey more than several years before, and Sister Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent, New Ways Ministry’s co-founders, encouraged them to network and support other parents who were just learning about their children’s identity.
Casey had a particular gift for helping the fathers come to accept their sons and daughters. After his family, his faith, and LGBTQ equality, Casey’s greatest passion was baseball. His extensive knowledge of the game, the teams, the players, and statistics allowed him an easy entree to start up a conversation with the dads.
Educated and employed as an engineer, Casey also had a Master of Divinity degree from St. Bernard Institute in Rochester, New York., where he and Mary Ellen lived and raised their family of four children, including Jim, their gay son. After attending New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium in 1992 with friends from Rochester, they returned home to start the diocese’s Catholic Lesbian and Gay Family Ministry. In 1997, at New Ways’ Fourth National Symposium, they led a workshop on family ministry. At the Sixth National Symposium in 2007, they facilitated– a listening session for parents with Archbishop Francis Hurley and Bishop Joseph Sullivan whose hearts were changed by the power of the parents’ testimonies.
Casey was an avid collector of information about Catholic LGBTQ issues. He was extremely conversant with church documents concerning LGBTQ topics. The archive of materials he collected helped him produce a popular resource binder Seeds of Hope that assisted parents and pastoral ministers in their advocacy for LGBTQ justice and ministry. He also assisted Mary Ellen in the writing of a book they published, Fortunate Families, based on the research she had done as a master’s degree student.
The Lopatas were active in the establishment of the National Association of Catholic Lesbian and Gay Ministries (now defunct), and they organized and hosted the annual conference for the organization in 1998. They were instrumental in the formation of the Equally Blessed coalition, which included Call To Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry.
In 2004, New Ways Ministry presented its Bridge Building Award to Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata to honor their work in raising up the voices of parents of LGBTQ people in the church. The accolade also noted their many efforts to open up communication channels between the LGBTQ community and the church’s institutional structures and leaders.
Casey was an avid fan of Bondings 2.o, and he was one of the first subscribers in the early days of the blog. Along with Mary Ellen, he also contributed several times to the blog: a post on the 20th anniversary of Always Our Children, a post commemorating Fathers’ Day, a post on establishing pastoral ministries for parents of LGBTQ people, and a post about the importance of parental support for their LGBTQ children.
In 2014, the Lopatas retired from leading Fortunate Families and were feted by Catholic LGBTQ leaders and others at a celebration in their honor.
Casey often joked that if it hadn’t been for their gay son, he and Mary Ellen would have had nothing to do in their retirement. The life of the Catholic LGBTQ movement has been greatly enhanced through Casey’s participation in it. His contributions were many and were very effective. His undying loyalty to the faith and to the church inspired him to want to make Catholicism a much more welcoming place for LGBTQ people and their families.
At a New Ways Ministry workshop that Casey attended, I once asked participants for their favorite scripture verse or passage which gave them strength for the journey of LGBTQ ministry. Casey’s answer was: “Human beings look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Casey’s life was an example of striving to live into that virtue. He always tried to look at people the way God looked at them—with loving parental eyes. Our church is a better place because he lived that way.
St. Casey Lopata, pray for us!
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 13, 2021
Casey’s obituary can be found by clicking here. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, memorial gifts can be made to Families with Dignity. Please make a notation that the gift is In Memory of Casey Lopata. You can also mail a memorial donation check to Families with Dignity, c/o DignityUSA, PO Box 376, Medford, Massachusetts 02155.