Wisdom, Heart and Theology: “Creative Sexuality: Memoirs of a Catholic Nun”

By Barbaralie Stiefermann, OSF

Please note: “Creative Sexuality” ISBN #978–1500484668 is available @ www.amazon.com and www.bn.com and other bookstores

Excerpt from “Introduction

“I know all who read this book are wondering why a sister, a celibate, would dare write her memoirs in praise of human sexuality when so much of our Jansenistic and Catholic backgrounds have suppressed sexuality for centuries. Throughout Catholic history, the Church’s teaching on sexual morality was summarized in Canon Law: ‘the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of children. The secondary purpose is mutual support and remedy for concupiscence.’

“Thank God for Vatican II, which deliberately rejected this priority of the procreative over the unitive end of marriage. The 1975 Vatican Declaration on sexual ethics went even further by identifying human sexuality in the unmarried as ‘the source of a person’s most fundamental characteristics and as a crucial element leading to personal maturity and integration into society.’ Wholesome human sexuality fosters creative growth toward integration…

Excerpt from Ch. 9: Tearing Down the Wall of Prejudice

“Donald was a precocious child when I taught him in first grade at St. Irene School. In fact, I could single him out on the first day of school as a bright, creative, and spontaneous child…

“Donald and his classmates had me as their teacher for four of their elementary school years.”

“… Donald graduated from St. Irene’s with honors… In spite of his high school activities… (p)eriodically, he would come to the convent and relate to me what and how he was doing in high school (and college, then career).”

Years later, Donald calls Sr. Barbaralie Stiefermann out of the blue and asks to see her. “I gave him a big hug all the while wondering what this visit was about. My silent questioning was answered shortly after Donald arrived. As we sat sipping Cabernet Sauvignon, Donald cautiously said, ‘Sister, I have always loved you more than any other teacher I’ve had, and I know you loved me as your student.’ I listened intently as he continued, ‘I have something to say to you tonight, and I hope you are going to still love me.’

“’Donald, no matter what you say to me tonight, I will always love you,’ I said.

“’Sister, I am gay,’ he said. What a shock to me! I grasped for words.

“‘Donald, I still love you, but if you are coming for help, I am the person least qualified to counsel you. As a matter of fact, I must confess, I am prejudiced against homosexuals. The Catholic Church’s teachings and the Scriptures have instilled my prejudice,’ I said. Donald could see I was stunned. The student I loved was gay. ‘Now that I have knowledge of your sexual orientation, should that alter my love for you?’ I asked. I sat silently drinking my wine and reached for some chips.

“’Sister, you have taught me many things over the years. Now let me teach you about homosexuality,’ he said. ‘There is a gay bar… not too far from here…’

Of the bar scene, Sr. Barbaralie writes, “I continued to observe the behavior in the bar. Donald pointed out some of the gentlemen: the president of a bank who was also married to a woman, the CEO of a company, gay but also married with children. And, of course, gay, single, men in love with one another. I realized more and more the little knowledge I had on homosexuality was shaped by the Scriptures and the interpretations given by so-called scholars. I, myself, at one time, had written an article in the Warrenville Digest condemning homosexuals and their behavior. I’m sure Donald read that article since he lived in town. I was afraid to ask. I questioned my upbringing. I did not learn this prejudice from my parents. That topic was never brought up in our family in my formative years.

“Donald and I went back to the apartment and continued the conversation. He told me that his family disowned him; he was literally told to get out of the house and never to return. These were good, Catholic parents subject to the same teaching as I. He also related to me how he struggled to identify his sexual orientation by living with a young lady for a year, thinking he was bisexual. He also had a strong calling to the priesthood, but when he shared this with a priest, he was told he may not become a priest because he was homosexual.

“Since Donald had been ousted from his parents’ home at a young age, I asked him how he survived. ‘I went to live in Chicago,’ he said. ‘I was desperate for a job, so I saw a sign at Lyon & Healy’s for someone to demonstrate organs. I applied and was hired,’ he said with a smile. I immediately said, ‘But you’ve never had organ lessons, how did you manage that?’

“’I used to watch you play the organ and learned by observation. And it may interest you to know, that for an entire year, I rebuilt an old pipe organ in one of the Episcopal churches in Chicago. And it sounded fantastic when I finished!’ he said with a smile.

“I was dumbfounded listening to this young man’s struggles. It seemed incomprehensible to me that Donald, who was intelligent, talented, loving, kind, and handsome should ever have experienced so many hurdles in his young life. He was also a deeply spiritual and religious person who, as he said, ‘prayed non-stop to God to help and guide him on the right path.’

“I gave Donald a big embrace that night, and with tears streaming down my face, said, ‘Thank you for opening my eyes, ears and heart tonight, Donald. I will put the Bible aside for now, since it is not a resource in making decisions about issues of sexual ethics. I will read anything I can get my hands on to understand homosexuality. I want to learn more; tonight was only the beginning,’ I said as I held his hand tightly.

“Donald looked at me in a way that only love can convey. For just a moment in his exile, the vision of inclusiveness was imagined. In that moment, the God of Creation spoke and declared to him and me, ‘I have looked out on everything I have made and behold it is very good (Gen. 1:31).’”

Random Quotes from “Creative Sexuality”:

“Learning to live through the winter is a profound part of any relationship. I believe that no community of people is really born until it has worked through tension and aggression. It is when we have worked through these—whether we are a religious community, husband and wife, or collaborators in work—that we find each other in a new way. Love finds faith and hope only when we have faced pain together, the pain that perhaps is never completely dulled, the pain that is not an impurity, but an essential part of the precious metal of love.

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“In my wisdom years and as a woman religious who has given 63 years of her life to the Catholic Church, I am deeply concerned about an institutional investment in a closed theology about God and Jesus that is not open to what scriptural scholars and 21st century scientists have to say about the universe. Hasn’t the Church learned from its treatment of Galileo and de Chardin? My theology teacher at Alverno College, Father Raymond Parr, taught many years ago: “Theology is not authenticated by conformity to the past, but by relevance to the present.”

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on November 11, 2014

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