Almost two years ago, Ryan Palmer, then a sophomore, attended Campus Ministry’s annual LGBTQ+ Retreat.
The typically-overnight retreat is geared toward LGBTQ+ Catholics and hosts speakers like Michael O’Loughlin, author of “Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear.”
Palmer said he looks back fondly on the experience and noted it allowed him to meet other LGBTQ+ students who shared his Catholic faith. However, he noted that only about 30 students attended the retreat.
“To be honest, it touches a relatively small group of people because so many LGBTQ+ people have already kind of given up on the Church. They already have felt unwelcome,” Palmer said. “For the few of us that are still trying it … it’s very tight-knit, and it’s a really important safe space for people.”
Campus Ministry chaplain to LGBTQ+ students Fr. Joe Corpora, said he’s also observed that many LGBTQ+ people “are beyond the Church.”
“You can’t blame them,” Corpora continued. “A lot of LGBTQ people say, ‘I left the Church because it left me,’ and I understand that, but our hope is that we can provide an opportunity through Campus Ministry to invite people to give the Church a second chance.”
This year, Corpora and Campus Ministry will offer monthly Saturday Vigil Masses geared toward LGBTQ+ students in the Dillon Hall Chapel. This semester’s Masses will take place Sept. 24, Oct. 29, Nov. 12 and Dec. 3, each at 5 p.m.
Corpora said Campus Ministry began holding Masses for the LGBTQ+ community last semester but decided to create a more formal schedule this year.
He said they settled on holding the Masses once a month so students could continue to attend their dorm Masses or other Masses most of the time. However, if he finds that some students only feel comfortable attending the LGBTQ+ Mass and would not attend Mass otherwise, he may add more Mass dates.
“It’s an LGBTQ Mass, but anyone is welcome,” Palmer said. “It’s very affirming of the community, and that’s really great because, oftentimes, it’s really hard to find a community to worship with as a gay person because there are a lot of people, especially at a place like Notre Dame, who are not accepting of you, and you just don’t feel comfortable around them. So it’s really nice to be able to worship in a community of people where you can feel comfortable being yourself.”
Corpora said creating an environment where LGBTQ+ Catholics can feel comfortable being who they are and not feel forced to choose between being gay or being Catholic is crucial. He wants these students not to feel that they have to “fit in,” but rather that they belong.
“When you fit in, you have to sort of change how you are to fit in,” Corpora explained. “But when you belong, you are who you are … and you don’t have to change who you are before God to belong.”
Corpora said while he knows there will be Catholics and members of the Notre Dame community that object to the LGBTQ+ Masses, he is trying to follow a model he feels is inspired by Jesus Christ and the Pope.
“What I would say to anybody is ‘I am trying to follow the model of Pope Francis, who has asked us to accompany people wherever they are in their lives,’” Corpora said. “The most important proclamation of Jesus was not about laws. It was about love and accompanying people in life.”