Sister Jeannine Gramick reflects on more than five decades of LGBTQ ministry: “I know about going out on a limb.”

Views Jeannine Gramick, S.L. / July 12, 2022 Print this:
Loretto Sister Jeannine Gramick delivers a keynote address during the Outreach LGBTQ Catholic Ministry Conference at Fordham University in New York, Saturday, June 25, 2022. Sister Jeannine gave a virtual address during the fully-online Outreach conference in 2021. (Photo courtesy of Keara Hanlon)

Lovely flowers and luscious fruits

When I began my LGBTQ ministry more than 50 years ago, my former religious congregation, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, strongly supported me, especially when the Vatican informed them that I was under investigation for my work.

During those gloomy days, I meditated a lot on the words of our foundress, Blessed Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger, who wrote many letters from Germany to her sisters in America as they faced extreme poverty and other dire conditions during the mid-19th century. A portion of one letter, that hangs on my office wall, reads: “All the works of God proceed slowly and in pain. But their roots are the studier and their flowering the lovelier.” 

God speaks to me a lot through these words, particularly as I think of all the challenges that LGBTQ Catholics, their families and allies face in our society and in our church. So often the road in our parish or diocese seems blocked or impassable, but sometimes we feel welcome in a parish (until a new pastor arrives). Perhaps we live in a diocese with a “culture-warrior” bishop; maybe we are irritated, angry or even haunted by words from a 1986 Vatican letter that call a homosexual orientation “intrinsically disordered.”

“History will eventually relinquish our institutional iniquities to the dustbin.”

Knowing church history as I do, I know these hurtful words will eventually disappear from church documents and from the Catholic psyche. This kind of language, a sin, will become lost in Catholic memory, just as we have left behind the horrors of the Inquisition, the Crusades, the persecution of the Jews and indigenous peoples, and so many other heinous crimes committed by our church. History will eventually relinquish our institutional iniquities to the dustbin.

But our sinful church is also guided by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit relies on us to heal the sorrows and cure the ills that we humans face. Pope Francis reminded us of this when he attended World Youth Day in Brazil in 2013. He encouraged the young people to “make a mess.”

He meant that they, and we, must say what is in our hearts and minds. This is the same message he is giving to the whole church as he encourages synods and dialogue sessions throughout the world.

Already, laity, theologians and church leaders in Germany are crying out to eliminate the church’s offensive statements and actions regarding gender and sexuality. But there needs to be a chorus of voices throughout the universal church. Each one of us has a prophetic role to play because the Holy Spirit relies on us to speak up to bring about change. 

“Go out on a limb”

Each person has the responsibility to tell their story, but telling our stories can be very scary. Many LGBTQ people have felt afraid for much of their lives. What will my family say if I share my story? Will the parishioners who know me still respect and include me? Telling our stories involves risk. It can mean going out on a limb with no one to catch us if we fall. 

I know about going out on a limb. After much anguish and prayer, I chose not to collaborate with a 1999 Vatican directive to cease my LGBTQ ministry. I transferred from the School Sisters of Notre Dame (where I would have been dismissed from religious life) to the Sisters of Loretto, who then began to receive a series of dire letters from the Vatican.

But once again, God spoke to me through the words of the wise Loretto Sister (and former superior general) Mary Luke Tobin. “Go out on a limb … that’s where the fruit is,” she said.

“Each one of us has a prophetic role to play because the Holy Spirit relies on us to speak up to bring about change.”

God ultimately takes care of us if we trust, even when we are afraid to speak words or perform actions we believe are right, although they might not guarantee a successful outcome. Speaking our truth, especially when we hold a minority position, following where we believe God is calling us even though the road looks bleak, confronting an unjust situation in church or in society—these and other circumstances seem to put us beyond where “sensible people” go.

But God is always with us. We are called to risk the precariousness of climbing up and going way out on those tree branches because that’s where we’ll find a fruitful reward. 

I received that fruit in 2021, when Pope Francis wrote to congratulate me on my 50 years in LGBTQ ministry. I am so grateful that I followed the advice of wise women in my religious communities.

“All the works of God proceed slowly and in pain, but their roots are the studier and their flowering the lovelier,” wrote Blessed Theresa.

“Go out on a limb … that’s where the fruit is,” said Sister Mary.

Jeannine Gramick, S.L.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, S.L., is a co-founder of New Ways Ministry, which began in 1977. She became a Sister of Loretto in 2001.

All articles by Jeannine Gramick, S.L.

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1 Comment
  1. Thank you for your courage Sister Jeannine!