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Queer Saints and Ancestors: Spiritual Practices of Recovery and Imagination with Flora x. Tang

Throughout church history, Catholics and other Christians have turned to the saints as sources of hope, inspiration, friendship, and community. How have queer Catholics turned to a similar spirituality of saints and ancestors to sustain them in their faith and justice? How have stories of queer saints been a source of inspiration, but also a site of contestation? In her presentation, Flora Tang explores how queer Catholics have retrieved stories of queer saints and queer ancestors and guides us through a practice re-imagining the saints and their presence in our lives.

Flora x. Tang is a doctoral candidate in theology and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame, where she writes and researches about post-traumatic theology, queer theology, and decolonial Asian theology. Flora has previously worked as a hospital chaplain, a campus ministry fellow, and a service-learning program coordinator for college students. Her theology and preaching draw from her complex faith journey to and within Catholicism: from becoming Catholic at age 19 after living and serving with Catholic sisters, to deconstructing her faith while living in Palestine, to discovering her own queer Catholic expressions of faith. Flora is committed to reimagining God’s love while standing on the margins of the Catholic faith.

A Queer Blessing – by Flora Tang (2024)

Blessed be God.
Blessed be God’s many names and faces.
Blessed be God in the whispering breeze and the blazing flame.
Blessed be God the mother, who gave birth to the world, and who never fails to listen to the cries of her children.
Blessed be God the father, who adorns himself in glory and radiance.
Blessed be God beyond all genders: God the mother, father, and parent, whose name is simply “I am who I am.”

Blessed be our father Jacob, who wrestles with an angel all night for a blessing.
Blessed be our mother Hagar, who sees God in the desert in times of desperation.
Blessed be the prophets Elijah and Elisha, who swore to one another the oath of love, “as long as the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
Blessed be Mary and Martha, partners and sisters, who rested by one another, loving one another from death to resurrection.
Blessed be Jesus in the poor, in the marginalized, and in the forgotten queer names and faces.
Blessed be the queer spirits, the queer angels, the queer saints, and the queer ancestors, whose intercessions and blessings instill a love within us that transgresses all and consumes all.

Blessed are you:
   you who resist, you who love,
   you who desire, you who struggle.

And blessed am I,
and blessed are we, children of God,
now and forever, Amen. 

Download “A Queer Blessing” by Flora Tang

 

Celebrating Queer Becoming with Barbara Anne Kozee

Content warning: This presentation begins with a discussion on statistics of physical and sexual violence. If you may be sensitive to this type of content, we advise skipping forward to the 8 minute 30 second mark.

Doctoral student, Barbara Anne Kozee, continues FutureChurch’s Pride Month series with a presentation on “Celebrating Queer Becoming.” In her presentation, Barbara brings contemporary queer theory into conversation with the contemplative theology and spirituality of Karl Rahner, SJ to illuminate a liberating pathway forward for all – and especially queer Catholics – based on “becoming.”

Barbara Anne Kozee is entering her third year as a PhD student in Theological Ethics at Boston College. Barb completed her Master of Divinity at Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University with a certificate in women’s studies in religion. Her research focuses on issues of gender, sexuality, culture, and politics with an emphasis on interdisciplinary and qualitative methods.

Additional Resources from this Talk

Working Together: Feminist and Queer Theology in Conversation with Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D.

Mary Hunt, Ph.D. kicks off FutureChurch’s Pride Month series with a presentation on “Working Together: Feminist and Queer Theology in Conversation.”

Dr. Hunt’s presentation names the current lived reality for women and LGBTQ+ people in the Catholic Church, explores the histories and intersection of both feminist and queer theologies, and offers practical suggestions and principles for working together toward justice in the world and church. Dr. Hunt then engages in conversation with several participants.

Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D., is a feminist theologian who is cofounder and co director of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER) in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA. A Catholic active in the women-church movement, she lectures and writes on theology and ethics with particular attention to social justice concerns. Visit the WATER website to learn more about their work and about Dr. Hunt and her publications.

Reading List

Mary E. Hunt (5.4.24) mentioned a variety of foundational historical sources in feminist, liberation, and queer theologies on which current work is built. These sources are meant to be illustrative not exhaustive.

Early feminist work:

  1. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Woman’s Bible,1895
  2. Valerie Saiving, “The Human Situation: A Feminine View,” The Journal of Religion, Vol. 40, No. 2, Apr., 1960, pp. 100-112, published by: The University of Chicago Press; Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1200194

Basic texts in pioneering feminist work in religion:

  1. Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father, 1973
  2. Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-talk: Toward a Feminist Theology, 1983
  3. Shawn Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race and Being, 2010
  4. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins, 1984
  5. Katie Geneva Cannon, Black Womanist Ethics, 1988
  6. Ivone Gebara, Longing for Running WaterEcofeminism and Liberation, 1999

Key texts for various other liberation theologies:

  1. Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, 1971
  2. James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power, 1969
  3. Nancy Eiesland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability, 1994

Roots of contemporary Queer Theology

  1. John McNeill, The Church and the Homosexual, 1976
  2. Kevin Gordon, Report, San Francisco Archdiocesan Commission on Social Justice’s Task Force on Gay/Lesbian Issues, 1982
  3. John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century, 1981
  4. Bernadette Brooten, Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism, 1996
  5. Sally Miller Gearhart, The Lesbian and God-the-Father, 1973 (see LGBTQ-Religious Archives Network)
  6. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Sensuous Spirituality: Out from Fundamentalism, 1992
  7. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott and Letha Scanzoni, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? A Positive Christian Response, 1994
  8. Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Omni-Gender: A Trans Religious Approach, 2007

Pax Priory Imagines its Next 50 Years in the City

Photo 1: Front view of St. Benedict Center. Pax Priory is on the third floor.

In 1972, Benedictine Sister Mary Lou Kownacki had a vision of bringing the charism of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie beyond the walls of the monastery and into the city. With the support of her monastic community , Sister Mary Lou started Pax Center– a living community in the city of Erie, Pennsylvania dedicated to nonviolence.  For twenty-five years, sisters and lay people served the needs of the city, welcoming the stranger at the door in need of food, shelter, or support. 

During that first era of Pax Center, the community responded to needs that they encountered–beginning a soup kitchen in 1974 that continues as Emmaus Ministries and includes the soup kitchen, food pantry, and other services that provide a more sustainable response to the needs of the city than a doorbell ministry ever could. Pax members created movements for peace and justice that helped shape the thinking of the larger community. As the services and witness provided by Pax became more mainstream and as the community demographic shifted, so has the Pax community itself changed. There are fewer residents now, and they now share three floors of the building with the Benedictine community’s daycare center. Instead of welcoming the stranger at the door like in the early days of the Center, each resident goes out to meet the needs of the city directly where they are. “Internally at Pax we don’t hold that ministry for the city in the way that they did in the seventies, but those ministries continue on their own,” reflects Pax resident Katie Gordon. “Now each of us individually are involved in Benedictine ministries or in local spiritual community, and each of us individually is committed in our own ways and we share the rhythm of life that sustains us to keep doing that work.”

Pax Priory community dinner. Photo courtesy of Katie Gordon.

Currently, there are four women living in the walls of the Priory, ranging in age from 33 to 88. Two of the Pax residents are professed Benedictine Sisters, one is an Oblate of the Benedictines, and one identifies as a seeker. Katie comments on the make-up of the Priory: “there’s this mix of sisters, oblates, and seekers coming through the space and I think it’s a good sign. We are not all necessarily professed sisters but still longing for a community structure to our lives. There is a hunger for this space to exist. The fact that we’re here is (I hope) a hospitality to seekers around the neighborhood or city as well– not only those of us who live here.” 

She adds, “If Pax Priory had a ministry, it would be hospitality for seekers. The gift of a place like Pax or community like this is giving people time and space to connect with Spirit. That’s all it is– time and space.” 

“If Pax Priory had a ministry, it would be hospitality for seekers.” Katie Gordon, Pax Resident

On any given day, friends will be passing through the Priory– some stay for a week, others just for a meal. But it is the hospitality of the residents and the sacred schedule that they keep that offers a moment of respite for seekers along the way. Katie reflects, “our priorities are centered in a different kind of way in the space- in a way that people find to be a gift.” From the twice daily pauses for communal prayer to the intentional meal schedule, the residents of Pax offer each other and guests an invitation to the Benedictine charism. Katie and Linda Romey, a Pax resident and Benedictine Sister, thoughtfully share that core Benedictine ministry is prayer and community. “Everything we do in the city is an outgrowth of our prayer and community. And  so it evolves as our prayer is evolving. Who are we praying for? Who are we sitting in community with? It is a fluid evolving way of understanding our charism, which is that it is going to be open to who is present to us in our prayer and in our community.” 

Given this understanding of charism, the residents live in a perpetual state of openness to the ways in which the Benedictine presence in the city can continue to evolve. From  supporting food sustainability, to new business models, from systems of accountability between neighbors to impact investing, there is no shortage of dreams of how to live into the future. The residents and the larger group of seekers in which they move are actively dreaming and visualizing the continual evolution of their presence in the city.

Residents Katie Gordon and Rosanne Lindal-Hynes, OSB before the 2020 election. Photo courtesy of Katie Gordon.

As Linda considers the role of the Pax in Erie, she reflects, “within the next five to seven years the Benedictine community of professed sisters is going to look really different. So I think it’s great that there’s potentially another way of living this life already at work in the wings. And that’s part of our work– seeing things, and getting enough of the vision out there for others to see it, too.” 

Katie adds, “Pax Center began as an experiment, and it continues as an experiment. It is an iterative process of becoming monastic community in the city of Erie. I think that’s the best way to understand Pax:  as an evolving, unfolding experiment.” And, fifty years since the experiment of Pax began, it is continuing to live into its purpose in the city of Erie. But however the need may evolve, and however the next iteration of the Pax comes to fruition, resident Priscilla expresses what all of the residents believe: 

“we will continue to know that it is holy to live here.”

Focus Questions

  1. Instead of welcoming the stranger at the door like in the early days of the Center, each resident goes out to meet the needs of the city directly where they are.” – How does your faith community go out to meet the needs of the people in your area?
  2. Pax Priory lives in a “perpetual state of openness” about their community’s charism of prayer and community. What would you say your faith community’s charism is? How has it evolved over time? How is your community ensuring your charism lives on into the future?

Do you know of or belong to a community that you would like to see highlighted? Reach out to Martha at martha@futurechurch.org.

How Do Roman Catholic Womenpriests Contribute to Our Understanding of Church

FutureChurch welcomes co-authors, Sharon Henderson Callahan and Jeanette Rodriguez, to discuss their new book,  Women Called to Catholic Priesthood: From Ecclesial Challenge to Spiritual Renewal (Fortress Press, 2024).

In their compelling and carefully crafted ethnographic work, Sharon Callahan and Jeanette Rodriguez explore the contexts, calls, journeys, spirituality, and theology of women called to priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Posing the questions of how womenpriests’ stories illustrate both ecclesial challenges and spiritual renewal, the authors encourage readers to thoughtfully engage these women on their own terms.

Sharon Henderson Callahan, EdD, is professor emerita and past academic dean of the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University. A scholar of ministry and leadership , Callahan has focused her research on both Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant ecclesial formation.

Jeanette Rodriguez, PhD, is a professor of theology and religious studies at Seattle University. Currently she also serves as Executive Director of the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture at the university. She is a ‘border theologian” studying Christian faith experience among different cultural groups; her books include studies of Haudenosaunee and Mexican American cultural identity.

Both Callahan and Rodriguez have performed qualitative, ethnographic research in locations around the world.

Purchase the book in paperback or Kindle on Amazon. 

Complementarity is the Lie We’re Told

Olivia Hastie Reacts to Harrison Butker’s Commencement Remarks

“We must always speak and act in charity.” These are words that Harrison Butker used in his commencement speech at Benedictine College. In the same speech, Butker commented directly to women and grossly assumed that we are the group of people who have had the most “diabolical lies told to us.” Among these lies, he believes, are career advancement, promotion, achievement, bodily autonomy, and the right to a robust education. 

Butker asserted that “the majority of [the women graduating from Benedictine] are most excited for [their] marriages and the children they will bring into this world” and not  the major accomplishment of completing a bachelor’s degree (which he notes happened during the chaos and pain of the pandemic, but we’ll save a response to that for another article). He highlights how his wife embraced “the most important title of all, homemaker,” and encouraged the students in the audience to lean into their God-given gendered vocation, even if it was something that they didn’t totally enjoy. I’m glad his wife is happy in her role as mother, but it is not for everyone. 

News flash, Harrison Butker, John Paul II is no longer the Pope! It’s 2024 and we know more and better! 

My gut reaction to the speech is anger, because in my niche field inhabited by feminist theologians and ethicists, I receive a brief reprieve from the false assertions of gender complementarity that are still so rampant in this Church. There are amazing women who’ve paved the way for me to be where I am. This reprieve is brief, but it’s there. 

“As far as I am concerned, gender complementarity perpetuates and enables violence against women.”

Most of all, I am deeply saddened that people forget that complementarity is the lie we are told – and not those messages of wholeness and liberation. All people are of equal dignity, and can be whoever  they discern God is calling them  them to be. This is the unconstrained invitation to answer the call to a myriad of vocations, not a singular identity. The harms of gender complementarity extend far beyond the limitation of women to motherhood or homemaker, and may as well be called ecclesial misogyny and inherently anti-woman. As far as I am concerned, gender complementarity perpetuates and enables violence against women.

When listening to Butker’s speech, I couldn’t help but think of my own mother, who, although retired, was and remains  a go-getter. Her vocation to motherhood was not the only vocation she lived, and through my entire childhood, I watched her accomplish nearly everything she set her mind to – big and small. She inspired me to do the same. I am writing this piece about to graduate from Harvard Divinity School and as an incoming doctoral student at Boston College where I will complete my PhD in theology. None of that would be possible without the inspiration of the countless women who answer their vocations to achievement, intelligence, front-facing careers, and/or motherhood (yes, it’s a choice, not a mandate). We need women’s voices everywhere, not just at home.

It is true, “we must always speak and act in charity.” When I looked up the dictionary definition of “charity,” I came across two applicable definitions: kindness and tolerance in judging others, and a love of humankind. There is little kindness in constraining women to one vocation, and in my opinion, a deep hatred of non-men in gender complementarity. An agapeic trinitarian God of love does not desire anyone to enter a vocation that doesn’t feel right for them or an identity that does not make them feel like their truest, holiest self.

As a woman preparing to walk across the graduation stage next week, I pray for all graduating women: That you feel celebrated for your accomplishments, who you are in this moment, and all you are becoming. The world needs your voice, and less of Harrison Butker’s. 

Journeying & Singing Together

Reflection by Jane Varner Malhotra

Early in May I embarked on a pilgrimage with FutureChurch to civil rights sites of the South, following in the footsteps of our Black Catholic foremothers in faith. When I signed up for the program, I wasn’t really sure what it would be, but something about it drew me in. I am one of the leaders of a home mass community in Washington, DC, and have noted the lack of diversity among us and wondered about it. I work at Georgetown University where we continue to study our racist past and vestiges of it that emerge today. I lived in the South in my teen years and have a fondness for it. And one of the pilgrimage leaders was Dr. Kim Harris, professor of African American Thought and Practice in the Department of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University in LA, where my son just completed his first year.

Like many, I have a special place in my heart for Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, an ancestor who I encounter in prayer, who encourages me to keep singing and moving my white ass in mass and enjoy my faith and my church with my whole self. I have a call to priesthood and as a Catholic woman that’s complicated, but she offers us all an example of joy and boldness and creativity that I wanted to explore more as part of this journey. I was honored to meet women who knew her and shared stories about her on the trip, helping to bring her to life for me.

On the final day of our journey, we visited Professor Sheleen Jones at Xavier University in New Orleans, the only Catholic HBCU in the country. She is a sculptor and invited us into her classroom/studio, where she shared a replica of her beautiful Sister Thea Bowman relief, which she defined as “a sculpture married to a wall.” She invited us into her process by having some of the pilgrims help her peel off the soft silicone mold to reveal the cast metal underneath.

FutureChurch group poses with Sheleen Jones (standing behind the bronze relief) at her studio at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans

There in the studio Dr. Harris led us in song with “Wade in the water” and I felt the energy shift as it did every time we sang. How can I explain with words the way singing freedom songs in unison brought us together on this pilgrimage, and helped soften the sting from visiting civil rights museums and learning about lynchings, mass incarceration, family separations during slavery and today through systemic racism and white supremacy in our country. The singing was a true grace, and I thank Dr. Harris for her patience with us as we learned to listen, to become pliable but powerful like the silicone mold, and follow her lead in song.

This reflection is a bit all over the place, which is how I’ve felt since returning home. So far, the memories that keep resurfacing are the sacred stories–those in the museums, the ones we read ahead of time from M. Shawn Copeland and Bryan Massingale and others, and the ones from fellow pilgrims about their lived experiences of racism in their youth to today. One of my favorite museum stories was in Montgomery, AL, at the Rosa Parks Museum. There we learned about Jo Ann Robinson, an English professor at Alabama State College. The night after Rosa Parks’ arrest, she and another professor and two students made 35,000 mimeographed flyers to launch what was to be a one-day Montgomery bus boycott. Seeing the mimeograph machine in the museum took me back to Catholic grade school in Indiana and the intoxicating smell of the fresh ink before a quiz–how did this humble piece of equipment help dismantle a system of supremacy?! Awe-inspiring. Jo Ann kept a low public profile during the boycott so as to keep her university job, but she and so many others did a lot of work behind the scenes to support the massive movement that would last 13 months and at last bring about integrated seating for the city’s notorious bus system.

Another powerful experience that stays with me was the National Memorial to Peace and Justice in Montgomery. From their website, “The National Memorial is a sacred space for truth telling and reflection about racial terrorism and its legacy.” The unspeakable horrors of lynching are spoken so that we don’t wish them away but allow instead the deep discomfort of confronting, knowing, aching, lamenting, and opening to the divine consolation that can come from that experience.

There’s much more to share about this powerful, humbling, transformative journey and I’m deeply grateful to our leaders Myra (our tour guide), LaVaughn (our intrepid bus driver), Kim, Kayla, Russ, Deb, and others who taught us along the way–especially my fellow pilgrims who shared the experience with me. This included tears, confusion, hope and laughter, shame, inspiration, and thank God, a lot of spirit-filled singing!


Jane Varner Malhotra is a writer, artist, and community organizer. She is co-founder of Washington Home Inclusive Monthly Mass, whose mission is to make visible and known women’s call to Catholic priesthood.