Catholic School in Long Island Rallies Behind Fired Gay Teacher

Michael Califano

A teacher at a Long Island, New York Catholic elementary school says that he was fired after pictures of him kissing his boyfriend were anonymously sent to the local bishop. Many parents at the school are pushing back against his termination.

Michael Califano, a gay man who worked at Maria Regina Catholic School, Seaford, was told that he was being terminated for not following a “Catholic lifestyle and Catholic ethics,” as dictated by the school’s handbook, Newsday reported.

Califano, who was a third grade teacher at the school for two years, said that leaders for both the school and the Diocese of Rockville Centre were aware of his sexual orientation when he was hired, and that his identity was not raised as a concern at that time. He said he followed guidelines of keeping his social media accounts private and did not discuss his sexual orientation in the classroom.

Califano was fired after an anonymous individual sent photos, including images of the couple kissing, to Rockville Centre’s Bishop John Barres. The photos came from the Instagram account of Califano’s boyfriend. Church officials told the fired teacher that there were “things on that account that were inappropriate for a Catholic schoolteacher,” according Califano. “There’s nothing vulgar on that account.”

According to Califano, his termination came directly from the diocese, as the school and its pastor supported him and fought for his position to be maintained. He questions the diocese’s claims surrounding his termination, stating:

“‘They [the diocese] said that I wasn’t living a Catholic lifestyle but didn’t specify what they viewed as a Catholic lifestyle…I go to church every Sunday. I’m very active in my parish because my parish is my school. So from what I’ve seen, and from clearly from what other people have seen, I have been living a Catholic lifestyle. The diocese feels that they can decide differently.'”

Sean P. Dolan, director of communications for the diocese, sent a statement to The Daily Mail denying Califano’s claim. Dolan stated, “For privacy reasons we do not comment publicly on personnel matters, but we can say that the school did not end Mr. Califano’s employment over his sexuality.”

Califano was not only a teacher at Maria Regina, but a graduate of the school, a dedicated volunteer for the school’s theater program, and lifelong member of the sponsoring parish. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Califano and his family also organized a fundraiser each year for a scholarship established in the name of his late father, Michael J. Califano, himself a graduate of the school.

Numerous parents at Maria Regina have voiced their disapproval of Califano’s firing, and they are calling for his reinstatement. A rally in support of Califano with more than one hundred people was held outside of St. Agnes Cathedral, Rockville Centre, with students bearing signs that read, “God loves Mr. Califano, and so do we.”

In addition, a petition calling for his return to the classroom had nearly 27,000 signatures as of January 10. The petition, started by Karen Greenwood, calls Califano “the epitome of someone who should be praised as a role model of the Catholic faith” and names him “an immensely beloved, committed and diligent educator, [who] has been unjustly dismissed from his role at a Catholic School.” According to Greenwood, Califano’s termination “deprives the community of a dedicated servant.”

Other parents started a Facebook group supporting Califano, and some are considering withdrawing their children from Maria Regina in protest, claiming that this move signals the school is not in alignment with their values.

Toni Lichtenberger, whose daughter was one of Califano’s students, says that the teacher was a beloved member of the school’s community. She commented:

“‘This is a witch hunt. . .We pay tuition because we want a certain type of education that aligns with our family’s values and morals. What they just did goes against everything they’re supposed to be learning. These kids are supposed to be learning acceptance and tolerance. And this has gone the complete opposite way.'”

Jackie Califano, the teacher’s mother, acknowledging school leaders’ support of his son, noted that the firing is out of step with Pope Francis. LI Herald quoted her as saying:

“‘[The bishop] said it goes against Catholic ethics. . .It’s just ridiculous in this day and age — and with the pope making his announcement only a few weeks ago (approving blessings for same-sex couples). It’s heartbreaking. You go to Catholic school your whole life, and you’re taught to love everyone as God loves you. And the bishop didn’t show that with his decision.'”

For many in the Maria Regina community, Califano’s sexual identity was never an issue. More pressing to them is the diocese’s treatment of Califano. Their protest against the firing serves as a beacon of hope in a tragic situation.  The LGBTQ-positive community members are showing that despite powerful forces of disenfranchisement,  countless voices of support for LGBTQ+ dignity exists within Catholic communities.

—Phoebe Carstens (they/them), New Ways Ministry, January 11, 2024

1 reply
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    Mr Califano was not terminated for performance issues but rather because he happened to be gay which the Diocese denies. They claim he wasn’t living a Catholic lifestyle. Apparently they thought he was until they were given a photo of him kissing his boyfriend. Now they have 27,000 signatures from families demanding re instatement. Once again , the church has painted itself into a corner.


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