Paulist Fathers Expelled from Newman Center as New Bishop Shifts LGBTQ+ Approach

The Paulist Fathers who served at St. Thomas More Newman Center until the end of July 2022

Paulist priests who have long headed ministry at The Ohio State University’s Catholic Newman Center have been removed by a newly-appointed bishop. It was a surprise move that some believe signals a more conservative approach to LGBTQ+ issues in the diocese, such as when the words “All Are Welcome” were removed from the Center’s signage.

St. Thomas More Newman Center, which ministers to students and others at the Columbus, Ohio, school, has been run by the Paulist Fathers for 66 years. For 25 years, they have been listed by New Ways Ministry as one of three LGBTQ-friendly parishes in the Diocese of Columbus.

For many, the decision to terminate the Paulists’ presence came as an abrupt surprise, according to the National Catholic Reporter. Bishop Earl Fernandes of Columbus was installed on May 31st, and a month later, he appointed a diocesan priest to head the Newman Center. His existing record on LGBTQ+ issues is negative, including a book he authored which endorsed the ban on gay men being accepted to seminaries.

Paulist Father Ed Nowak, who directed the Center, said the decision was “devastating.”

“In a diocese that is short of priests and personnel, to lose three able-bodied men overnight does seem unconscionable, and people are questioning that,” Nowak told the Columbus Dispatch.

Some think that new attitudes to LGBTQ+ issues in the diocese are part of the reason for the change.

According to NBC News, “many members of the Newman congregation say they believe the Paulists were asked to leave as part of a national conservative trend because the Newman Center opens its arms to the gay community.”

“Jesus spent a lot of time with the outcasts, the lepers, the prostitutes, and publicans,” Paulist Father Vinny McKiernan said. “So what’s wrong with dealing with the outcasts in the cast of characters of Jesus?”

A potential sign of such a shift also came this week when the words “All Are Welcome” were removed from the Center’s signage, prompting more questions about the future of ministry there.

LGBTQ+ parishioners have expressed dismay in response to the bishop’s decision. Joseph Gentilini is a gay man who has attended Mass at the Newman Center for over fifty years, including for over forty years with his partner.

“Where are they going to bury me?” he asked. “Do I have to deny who I am, or give up my partner? That’s not going to happen, so where do I go? My whole heart was just sucked out of me.”

However, Fernandes denies that the changes have anything to do with the Paulists’ welcome to LGBTQ+ Catholics, citing evangelization and vocations as his motivations for the order’s removal.

With the new diocesan leadership will come more lay movements, including new groups such as Courage and Opus Dei. Courage is a Catholic ministry to lesbian and gay people which promotes chastity by adhering to a 12-Step approach to sexuality. Opus Dei is an international lay Catholic organization which promotes a conservative, pre-Vatican II approach to faith and ministry.

“I would not feel comfortable anymore in a place that sanctioned Courage,” Gentilini told NCR. He does not know where he will go to Mass now that the Paulists have left the Newman Center as of July 31st.

Hundreds of people signed a letter asking the bishop to reconsider his decision. Many took the opportunity to thank the Paulists for encouraging their lives of faith.

As the Paulists look for new places to go, they have been moved by their parishioners’ and former students’ testimonies and letters of support. 

“To know how big an impact we’ve had on them is just so overwhelming,” Nowak said. 

Only time will reveal the new direction of the Newman Center in Columbus. The outpouring of support for the Paulists from the Columbus and Ohio State communities is a testament to the depth of their ministry’s impact on so many Catholics’ lives of faith.

Grace Doerfler (she/her), New Ways Ministry, August 16, 2022

12 replies
  1. DON E SIEGAL
    DON E SIEGAL says:

    So sad it is disgusting. With events like this unseemly act of exclusion of the LGBTI+ community and the denial of the truths of Vatican Council II how is there any hope that the Synod on Synodality will have any meaningful change in our Church? The small group of German speaking bishops seem resolute in their call for a change in how same-sex relationships should be recognized in the Church. Is the Church heading for a tipping point?

    Reply
  2. Dana e carr
    Dana e carr says:

    The bishop notes there are new young priests coming to serve the Newman Center. It is interesting to note the number of new priests and the country of origin.

    Reply
    • Paul
      Paul says:

      Youth doesn’t mean they are welcoming or open to others or are of a Vatican II spirit! Age necessarily has nothing to do with it!

      Reply
  3. George J Morris
    George J Morris says:

    I was a graduate student at OSU in the summers of 1994 and 1995 and our dorm was a short walk to the Newman Center. All these years later, I remember the wonderful sense of community there. Although LGBTQ+ issues were not as much in the forefront as they are now, I definitely felt that it was a welcoming place where everyone would feel accepted. How sad that the diocese doesn’t think that way.

    Reply
  4. Thomas Bower
    Thomas Bower says:

    How does a bishop remove a sign “All are Welcome from a previously Catholic center. Does he not realize he is rebuking Christ’s own words. What sort of snakes (Courage and Opus Dei) is the bishop giving to the students at OSU when they have asked for bread? Pray for his soul.

    Reply
  5. Vernon Smith
    Vernon Smith says:

    I went to Ohio State for my undergraduate degree about 40 years ago, and the Newman Center was my community of worship for four years. Although lgbtq+ issues were not in the forefront in those days (they weren’t in most places), it did not matter. The Paulists and the Newman Center strongly communicated to the student community that all were welcome, without a sign or a rainbow flag. It was so palpably evident the moment you walked into the center, that they need not say anything. It was a spiritual breath of fresh air for me as a very young man yet to go through my own coming out process. I now know that experience was essential to my own spiritual and mental health, allowing me to grow and embrace my true self. The Paulists were central to creating such a welcoming place, and I have no words to adequately express the sadness of this news, and the grave disservice done to the student community at OSU.

    Reply
  6. Joseph Sankovich
    Joseph Sankovich says:

    The best way to respond to bishops is with your wallet and checkbook. It is most unfortunate that bishops, especially conservative new ones, don’t have any idea of the financial independence of a significant number of gay men/women.
    There are plenty of charities addressing gay needs, i.e. AmFar, long in the battle thanks to Elizabeth Taylor in fighting for HIV resolutions; and The Point Foundation, an organization that is devoted to supporting young gay men and women with college tuition assistance, two organizations I’m proud to both support and recommend as a wonderful and healthy alternative to American bishops who still have logs in their eyes.

    Reply

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