St. Bernadette Parish, located on the northwest side of Milwaukee, is a warm and friendly community that opens its doors to all who enter. The parish’s mission statement highlights that the parish “is a welcoming Catholic faith community, empowered by the Holy Spirit to help bring about the Kingdom of God, through worshiping in sacrament, teaching the Word and serving as Jesus did.”
Welcoming and lovingly serving every person remains at the center of its mission regardless of race, nationality, sexual orientation or gender identity. In December 2017, the Rev. Gregory Greiten, the pastor of St. Bernadette, came out as a gay priest during the weekend Masses. On that Sunday morning, one of the parishioners stood up in the middle of the homily and shouted, “God bless you, Father!”
The congregation applauded his honesty, integrity and openness to live his life in truth, as they came to powerfully understand how crushing it was for him to be silenced about his sexual orientation. By his witness, the invitation was extended to others to always live their life in truth as well. The same loving, welcoming spirit was extended even wider to embrace the LGBTQ Catholic community in a more inclusive way.
As a part of Respect Life Month, in October 2022, the parish community offered an LGBTQ+ Mass of Celebration and Inclusion. The invitation was shared throughout the archdiocese to celebrate the lives of LGBTQ individuals, listen to their stories and honor National Coming Out Day, on October 11.
Father Greiten’s opening words to the assembly welcomed the LGBTQ community, their allies and all participants. “I love you. You are loved. You are beloved. You are holy. You are made in the image of God.” Like other leaders working for greater acceptance of LBGTQ individuals in the Catholic Church, he knows firsthand the isolation, judgment and rejection shared by individuals who have experienced non-welcoming communities of faith.
Father Greiten pledged during the liturgy that he would seek out LGBTQ Catholics and their supporters who have walked away from the church. “I will spend my priesthood, and every remaining day, searching after the lost sheep. I will find them. I will welcome them. I will tell them I love them.”
Hailey, a 22-year-old woman, spoke during the liturgy about her struggles to accept herself as a transgender person growing up in a traditional Catholic family and attending an all-boys boarding school.
After sharing her story at Mass and reflecting upon her experience at St. Bernadette, she remarked, “I still have a lot of shame about who I am and that has been extremely difficult to overcome. …But the outpouring of love and compassion from other people. just meant so much to me because I had never experienced something like that before. I never knew what it felt like to be loved by so many people for who I am and not be ashamed of myself.”
The loving kindness and support helped her to feel normal and loved for the first time in her transition. While sharing her story with the community meant the world to her, her story, in turn, deeply touched the hearts of those who were present, giving them a glimpse into the journey and challenges of transgender individuals. Hailey has found a new spiritual home, accepting her and loving her for the person God created her to be.
Deborah and Kim Cavaliero-Keller, a lesbian couple from Good Shepherd Parish, in Menomonee Falls, Wis., also shared their story as a married couple who believe in their mission to create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ people in the Catholic Church. Kim asked everyone to build “a larger table instead of making marginalized people feel less-than.”
When asked if the parish has a ministry or outreach for LGBTQ Catholics, Father Greiten responded that there is no specific group for individuals to join at St. Bernadette. Rather, there is an entire parish community that wants to welcome you and to have you be an integral part of it. One of the parishioners commented, “This is the parish community that I always want to belong to and support. All are truly welcome here!”
At the same time, the parish also encourages individuals who want to belong to an LGBTQ ministry to visit the Gay and Straight in Christ (G.A.S.I.C.) group at Good Shepherd Parish. The G.A.S.I.C. group meets each month to support and affirm LGBTQ persons, their families and friends, and those who wish to stand in solidarity with them in Christ.
An 18-year-old college student from St. Bernadette said that the Mass of Inclusion was “unconventionally compassionate” for the Catholic Church and was an example of what the church truly can be. Following in the footsteps of Jesus who commanded us to love one another, the pastoral council, the parish staff and the parishioners are embracing their mission to build the Kingdom of God by serving others.