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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

My life as a gay ND alum and a faithful Catholic

My life as a gay Catholic man, father, husband and Domer started many years ago being brought up in a traditional middle-class Irish Catholic family in the suburbs of Boston. Both my parents were school teachers who strongly valued hard work ethic, advanced education and bringing their children up in the Catholic religion. My life’s path was to study hard, get into a good college, get married and have children. This was not thrust upon me, just assumed. Does this sound familiar?

While attending Notre Dame back in the mid ’70s, I thoroughly enjoyed attending Mass in the basement of Alumni Hall with my dorm mates. Mass at ND was a true community event that provided time for reflection and a break from the hectic study and social schedule. I truly feel I was spoiled by that experience.

After graduating, I followed the expected path: obtained an MBA, got married, had a child and settled into a “normal” life of working hard and advancing up the corporate ladder. After about eight years of marriage, I began to suspect that something wasn’t right. After much soul searching, I realized I had to be truthful to myself and my family.

Fast forward 25 years. I am now married to my husband. My daughter, who graduated from ND in ’07, is married to another Domer (BTW, a girl she met freshman year in Cavanaugh) and they have a beautiful little 13-month future Domer, class of ’36 (I hope). I also have the privilege of being the national chair of the LGBT Alumni group of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s GALA ND/SMC. Did you even know one existed? Many don’t!

The way I practice my faith these days is to believe and act as we were taught growing up: to be honest, treat everyone with respect, show love and compassion especially for those less fortunate and most of all to try to help others build a better community. It is with this strong belief that I desperately would love to see the Catholic Church be so much more inclusive of people like myself, my daughter and her family and the many other Catholics who also happen to be part of the LGBT community as well.

Why do I feel so strongly about this? Because I have personally seen the impact of the current state of intolerance. My own daughter-in-law was forced to leave a teaching position at a local Catholic high school because she was gay. My granddaughter will not be brought up in the Catholic faith because her two mothers are not welcome. Can you imagine? What a shame.

I encourage our school, Notre Dame, as the premier Catholic institution of higher education in the U.S., to use its position of influence to take the lead amongst its Catholic peers and step forward with words, action and deeds to more fully embrace LGBT Catholics. Take Pope Francis’s own vision during this Year of Mercy and become more merciful and inclusive. Embrace his wish for more tolerance and love and move away from the fear and distrust so often taken with the LGBT community.

What does this look like? Think of the image of our own University president emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh fighting for civil rights in the ’60s. His unabashed vision and drive to push for equality for all humans, regardless of their background or skin color. Like Fr. Ted did in the ’60s, Notre Dame should speak out against the firing of teachers, coaches, even cafeteria workers who lose their jobs in Catholic schools simply because they are gay (it is happening ever day). Notre Dame should encourage greater tolerance and publicly condemn hatred and bias demonstrated by groups who disenfranchise LGBT individuals and seek to pass laws not only limiting rights, but in many cases, removing rights.

Why should Notre Dame take this leadership role? Because at Notre Dame, we love tradition. We have a tradition of being leaders, not just in the classroom, on the playing field or in the boardroom, but in the way that Catholics and all individuals across our country live and treat each other.

To encourage the pope’s vision of greater inclusion and compassion, GALA ND/SMC is sponsoring a “Pilgrimage of Mercy” in New York on Sunday. This pilgrimage is similar to ones that have occurred on Notre Dame’s campus and across many cities. The goal is to celebrate the pope’s message and call upon Catholic leaders everywhere, including at Notre Dame, to hear his words and follow his lead. My hope is that his message is heard, and someday I can see my granddaughter not only graduate from Notre Dame, but have her entire family be welcomed into the Catholic Church.

Jack Bergen

class of 1977

Sept. 26

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.