Providence Associate Stephen Modde on finding a safe and welcoming community
For several months in the weekly Providence Associate emails, I’ve seen an invitation to share in “Get to know a Providence Associate.” I’ve read some interesting stories, but I said, “No I don’t need to do that.” Recently I have been thinking, “Maybe!” Now here I am writing some of my story. My motive, I hope, is not personal catharsis. Hopefully my sharing here enables others to affirm their own stories and realize the ways of Divine Providence.
Give it a try
About five years ago, Sister Carol Meyers called me saying, “Why don’t you become a Providence Associate?” My immediate response was, “Oh no. I’m a man, I’m gay, and old!” A few weeks later, Debbie Dillow, one of the co-directors of the Providence Associate relationship with the Sisters of Providence called me. She said there are all kinds of associates and invited me to give it a try.
I grew up in Belgique, Missouri, a small town 70 miles south of St. Louis. The youngest of five children, I was one of three girls and two boys. I interacted well with my three sisters. Perhaps that’s a reason why I’m an associate with a women’s religious order. From my 4th grade to high school senior years, my father was sick with tuberculosis. Two of my sisters also had TB, and a sister later died of leukemia at the age of 27. Mom and I ran the household.
After a year of college, I joined the Passionists congregation. After nine years and the changes of Vatican II, it was clear to me that a contemplative order was no longer a good fit for me.
I then worked as a religious education coordinator at a Chicago parish. During that time, I became acquainted with the Bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin. He invited me to his diocese to decide if I wished to be ordained.
In 1971, I was ordained to the priesthood for the Green Bay diocese. For nine years I was an associate pastor and high school and college teacher. In 1980, I answered an ad in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) for a Campus Ministry Director and Instructor at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC). After an interview process, Sister Kathleen Desautels offered me the job. My experiences at the Woods were some of my best years in priesthood. Prior to this, I had never heard of the Sisters of Providence. At the Woods, I liked working with them and identified with their concept of Church.
At the same time, I was dealing with my increasing awareness of being gay. A few years prior, while studying at Boston College, I became aware that I was gay. Thus, at SMWC, I tried to do my job as a secretly gay priest. The director of the psychology department, to whom I confided, directed me to some excellent counselors. I ultimately decided that I could not be secretly gay. I needed to work out my gay identity in the world. Thus, in 1986, I left Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and moved to Chicago. Sister Denise Wilkinson, then the dean of students to whom I reported, suggested that there be a public gathering whereby I would bid farewell. I declined as I wanted to quietly depart.
In retrospect, perhaps I should have accepted her invitation. But that was 1986. Attitudes about priests departing, as well as homosexuality, were different then. One memory I recall was in one of my morality classes, about 1982, I invited a gay man to speak. That day people filled the classroom to standing room only. This obviously was a topic of great interest. Now, some individuals from the Woods who I have kept contact with, say, “We always suspected you were gay.”
Fast forward. In Chicago for 22 years I worked in human resources at five hospitals and medical centers. A vice president of human resources, at age 65 and burnt-out, I retired.
For six years I’ve been married to Ray, a wonderful man. When we met, I did not know that he also was an ex-priest. Our backgrounds make for interesting discussions about Church.
Recently, I read that Catholic gays seek out communities where they can be safe and secure. That is one main reason why I like being a Providence Associate of the Sisters of Providence. Being a Providence Associate has enabled me to grow spiritually and feel more at home as a Catholic gay person. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and I have become great friends. For several months, I’ve been part of a Providence Associate book discussion group that focuses on racism. Also, I am a member of St. Gertrude parish in Chicago, a gay-friendly church where I lector and am a Eucharistic minister.
Room for growth
I am glad to be a Providence Associate and hope that I don’t alienate others with my out-there gay stance. I end by referring to a recent NCR article. Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the Vatican Synod of Bishops, recently stated that when it comes to hot-button issues such as the reception of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and the blessing of same-sex couples, discussion cannot be limited to doctrinal concerns. They must also include pastoral considerations. “What has the church to fear if these two groups within the faithful are given the opportunity to express their intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience?” he asked. “Might this be an opportunity for the church to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking through them also?”
Thank you for sharing your story, Stephen! I am happy you have found a safe and welcome home with us!
Thank you for sharing part of your journey, Steve. Thank you, too, for being a loving, inviting and welcoming presence while serving at SMWC. Those are your spiritual gifts…along with your sense of humor! What a joy it is to be in the Providence Community with you now.
Thank you for your honesty and courage to share your inspiring story with us. I’m thankful that, although it wasn’t possible to be open about your truth and remain in the church priesthood, Providence nevertheless ensured that you continue to offer your priestly gifts!
What a wonderful story, Stephen! It is an honor to serve as a Providence Associate alongside you!
Steve, it’s been wonderful getting to know you and Ray. I am so happy you were companioned by Sister Carol. She brings the heart of the associate relationship to life. Thank you for your inspirational reflection.
As a student of Steve’s at SMWC in the mid-80s, I continue to appreciate all that he taught me and the ways he helped me grow. Bravo Steve!
Thanks for sharing your story! We have limited opportunities to really “meet” all of you who choose to journey with us. You are Exhibit A for the spirit of hospitality!
Steve, it is wonderful to be on life’s journey with you and Ray. Thank you.
I enjoyed your sharing here Steve. The photograph of you with three women I admire and respect very much brings to mind the true gift your time of service at SMWC was and is. I look forward to many years of crossing pathways with you and coming to understand Providence more deeply.
Steve, my prayer for you and Ray is for you always to have a place to be at home. Thank you for being our associate, a privilege for us.