Sr. Jeannine Gramick: Letters from Pope Francis Are Like “Soothing Hand of a Friend”

As part of a Lenten reflection, Sr. Jeannine Gramick has written about the meaning of Pope Francis’ letters to her and to New Ways Ministry, while also providing some insight about her own spiritual life.

Gramick wrote a column in the National Catholic Reporter as part of their “Soul Seeing for Lent” series, picking up the theme of being with Jesus in the wilderness. More specifically, the co-founder of New Ways Ministry explains about her own “desert time. . .initiated by God and expedited by the institutional church.” She writes:

“God called me into an uncharted wilderness in 1971 when I was asked to accompany lesbian and gay people in their quest to find a spiritual home in their own church — the Catholic Church. This was unknown and, at that time, dangerous, parched territory.”

This ministry, supported by her religious community leaders, but opposed by some men in the Vatican, led to Gramick being ordered by church officials not to do ministry with LGBTQ people. Of this experience, she writes:

“I became a persona non grata in church circles. This exclusion was extremely painful because I loved my church and wanted to be respected and valued in it. When I had taught mathematics at a Catholic college for women, I had enjoyed prestige in the academy. Now I was an ecclesiastical outcast, one who was shunned because of notoriety.

“In this new wasteland, I came to know myself more deeply. I now realize that I am often tempted to possess ‘the power and the glory’ of wanting the good opinion of others. In my convent formation, we called this the temptation of ‘human respect’ — the longing to be respected by other human beings. I desired to be a force for good and to make a difference in people’s lives, but I wanted all this while also being loved, respected and understood. But this ‘power and glory’ is not to be found in the desert.”

Gramick calls this time in the desert “the longest Lent of my life,” but moves quickly to explain how it has ended in Easter, “whether it comes in 40 days or 40 or more years.”

The Easter in this case is Pope Francis’ supportive letters to her and to New Ways Ministry. In the correspondence, the pope refers to Gramick as “a valiant woman who makes her decisions in prayer” and told her that her ministry reminds him of “the ‘style’ of God.” Francis thanked New Ways Ministry for its “neighborly work.” Of all this, Gramick writes in NCR:

“I have experienced a ministerial and personal resurrection in my church because of Pope Francis’ recent letters to me and New Ways Ministry. . .

“His letters are like the soothing hand of a friend who has reached out to heal my wounds and lead me out of a long and barren wasteland.

“Not surprisingly, I still need time in the desert to practice self-discipline, to ponder the meaning of suffering, to fast, and to strengthen my resolve for difficulties in the future.”

The NCR essay ends with a personal sharing about how Gramick is moving into a new period of life where she is “running out of steam” due to age despite there being “so much more that must be done” for LGBTQ people. She concludes:

“As I am slowing down, I think a lot about the nuns who taught me in grade school and high school. I am so grateful to them, not only for the Lenten practices they taught me, but also for the solid spiritual foundation they gave me. At the New Ways Ministry office, we often speak fondly about the nuns of yesteryear, whose teachings about discipline and responsibility sometimes seem old-fashioned. We just smile and say, ‘Sometimes the old ways are better.’

“And yes, sometimes the old ways are new ways.”

To view a follow up conversation between Sr. Gramick and NCR’s host of “Soul Seeing for Lent,” Michael Leach, click here.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, April 11, 2022

3 replies
  1. John M. Lee
    John M. Lee says:

    Sr. Jeannine, You have been a marvelous role model for me for decades. As a straight, celibate priest called to an outreach to LGBTQ persons, within a larger, demanding pastoral ministry, I have frequently looked to you for your witness and affirmation that those whom others judge and reject are the very ones with whom Jesus would happily dine.


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