On Saturday, June 27, approximately 150 individuals, mostly parishioners of St. John Fisher Chapel in Auburn Hills, gathered outside after mass to rally in support Terry Gonda. Days earlier, Gonda had been officially fired from her job as music director at the church for being married to her wife, Kirsti Reeve. Their marriage was not news to anyone at the church — including its pastor, Monsignor Michael LeFevre — it was the Archdiocese of Detroit that decided to activate its “morality clause.”
Carrying signs with slogans like “What would Jesus say?” and “Who am I to judge?”, members of the crowd expressed grief, anger and confusion regarding the AOD’s decision to terminate the employment of a particularly beloved member of the church family since her college years in the 1970s.
Colleen Sanders, who has been attending St. John Fisher for 30 years, said it was unfair.
“I’m here to support Terry and the gay community,” Sanders said. “My sign says, ‘Love is love.’ It doesn’t matter who you’re married to. So I just get kind of frustrated with this kind of stuff because a person’s private life and who they love shouldn’t have any bearing on their employment. To me, it doesn’t make sense.
“I don’t think there’s gonna be any change, because the Catholic Church is so old and antiquated and hierarchical,” she continued. “They have a lot of man-made rules that — even though I am Catholic and I call myself a Catholic — I don’t agree with. But we do need to show our support so that people know that this isn’t just an individual incident, this is something that’s happening everywhere. And especially the timing with the Supreme Court, just saying you can’t do this, and then the church being exempt — that just seems not right.”
Linda Andrews said she has known Gonda for many years through the church’s young-adult program, which serves those ages 18 to 35. She spoke of her personal experience with Gonda’s love for, and commitment to, their church and its members.
“I’m here because Terry has brought many people back to their faith,” Andrews said. “When I went through a crisis in my life, she was there for me, too. She spent 30 years working with all different people from all walks of life making sure that they felt like they had a place to call home.
“I think that in particular, anybody that felt any kind of resistance from people in the world, whether they felt that they had questions about faith or questions about who they were, if they felt ridiculed by people, if they grew up being bullied, she always had something to say to make them feel like this church was their home,” she continued. “And I always felt like I was proud to come to a place where they felt people were safe here. She was a big part of that.”
The rally began with a song by Gonda, followed by a prayer and prepared remarks.
Listen to Gonda lead the crowd in song here:
Individuals from the crowd were then invited to the mic to express their feelings for their former music director. Gonda’s remarks, excerpted and paraphrased, follow:
“I am devastated and sick in my soul at having to step down from ministry in the very parish that has loved me, shaped me, and grown me into the leader that I am today,” Gonda said. “And that the reason given on June 12 for my removal is my legal vowed commitment to Kirsti, a woman who has modeled God’s unconditional love for me for 26 years.”
And yet, she said, they hold love, not bitterness for the AOD’s leaders. They “refuse to demonize good men who we fully believe are doing what they think is best for the church.” Further, she asked the crowd not to attack the church or its leaders by calling them bigots or homophobic.
“I am the Catholic church,” she emphasized. “And our loving faith family at St John Fisher is the Catholic church.”
The question, Gonda said, that moves her and Reeve forward is, “How are baptized Catholics to come together and build bridges to create a healthy church?”
In conclusion, Gonda echoed the sentiment of the day: “There must be a better way.”