Located in the Village, an historic LGBTQ+ neighborhood in Montreal, St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church continues to extend unconditional love for the city’s LGBTQ+ Catholic community.
When the parish decided they wanted to become an inclusive parish, they were met with mixed perceptions. Some parishioners even went as far as saying that they would not attend “mass with f*gs.” Despite homophobic criticism, Fr. Claude Saint-Laurent made it clear that the parish was a space that welcomed all Catholics, regardless of sexual orientation. Parishioner Yves Côté said that on the following Sunday, “Twenty faithful left after Claude’s sermon, but 40 more arrived. We all talked about how there was a church where gays could feel welcome.”
Saint-Laurent’s efforts to create an LGBTQ-inclusive parish have aided individuals in rekindling their relationships with their faith, and has healed wounds in the LGBTQ+ community. In the 1980s and 1990s, many individuals in Montreal’s LGBTQ+ community were impacted by AIDS. St. Peter the Apostle served as a space for those affected by personal losses to mourn the deaths of their community members. The parish continued to build ties with the community after the AIDS era by holding brunches after Mass, and offering workshop on LGBTQ+ religious themes.
Côté remembers how in 1995, he attended Mass for the first time in decades. He was talking to some friends at a local dinner, and when he had brought up his intentions to attend Mass one of the individuals told him that the church perceives people like him as someone bound to go to Hell. Côté ignored the remark, paid his bill, and left. He followed the sounds of the bells coming from St. Peter the Apostle. Little did he know that his impromptu attendance would result in a 25 year-long bond to the parish. When illustrating Côté’s tale, La Croix International reported that:
“Father Claude Saint-Laurent was celebrating Mass and Côté still remembers what the priest said – that everyone was welcomed: remarried, divorced… or homosexual. ‘I cried for the rest of the service,’ he said. Afterwards the priest spent the evening talking with him. ‘I had forty years of my life to tell him.'”
While recounting his life’s journey through the intersections of faith and sexuality, Côté articulated his struggle to fill the void of losing faith with cocaine and sex work. By the end of his story, Saint-Laurent offered Côté a position as the pastoral animator. Shocked, Côté asked Saint-Laurent if he was crazy, and remembers the priest’s response:
“He told me that I will not be able to judge the people who come to talk to me, because I have been through everything they have been through.”
After accepting the position, Côté remained as the parish’s pastoral animator for the next 25 years, until 2020.
The impact of St. Peter the Apostle has been felt by many. During his time serving as the pastoral animator, Côté has seen it all. La Croix reported:
“There were the young, unhappy homosexual men who came to Mass only out of duty ‘because their parents told them that if they didn’t, they’d burn in hell’. There was a young woman who cried her eyes out when she heard the priest say ‘lesbian’, even though she was forbidden to say the word in her family.”
When it came time for Saint-Laurent to take another pastoral assignment, Côté asked if he could conduct the interviews to ensure the church continued to have a similar effect on rehabilitating the LGBTQ+ Catholic community. Reflecting on the interviewing process, Côté stated:
“‘I would ask them, “Are you comfortable with the fact that there are a majority of homosexuals in this church?” They would say, “As long as we keep it quiet…” They didn’t understand what we were doing here. Until I came across the right one.'”
Fr. Yoland Ouellet, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in French-speaking Canada, became the parish’s new priest. Côté claimed that Ouellet has been able to keep Saint-Luarent’s legacy intact. While reflecting on the trajectory of the church’s impact on himself, Côté recalled how he felt the first time he heard Saint-Laurent speak:
“‘I realized that all those years I had not abandoned the Church of Christ. . .but the [church] of people who were looking down on me.'”
—Anushah Sajwani (she/her), New Ways Ministry, December 15, 2022