Building a Bridge


James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor of the Catholic magazine “America” wrote his book “Building a Bridge” on the relationship between the Catholic Church and the LGBTQ+ community.

St. Norbert College Parish hosted its own discussions on the book and held a Skype interview with Martin on Monday, Dec. 4 in Old St. Joe’s Church at 7 p.m.

The LGBTQ+ community includes individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning or otherwise other than straight/heterosexual or cisgendered. People who place themselves in this community and also the Catholic Church have often felt isolated, discriminated against and “less-than” in their parishes and churches.

Martin’s book seeks to offer support and understanding to these Catholics and to open a dialogue (“build a bridge”) based on mutual respect, compassion and sensitivity between Catholics inside and outside of the LGBTQ+ community and between the Catholic Church and the broader LGBTQ+ community.

Dr. Bridget Burke Ravizza of the theology/religious studies discipline at SNC followed the release and subsequent discussion surrounding “Building a Bridge” over the summer.

“The more discussion around these issues, the better,” Burke Ravizza stated in regard to the book and the parish discussions that came from it. “What he [Martin] is trying to address is how this community often feels invisible. Part of what he wants to do is bring people with different perspectives together to be in a dialogue where it’s not to convince other people [and] it’s not a debate: it’s about listening to other people’s experiences.”

Over the summer,  Burke Ravizza also received a call from St. Norbert alum Travis Vanden Heuvel ’09.

Vanden Heuvel is the President & Chief Operations Officer at TitleTown Publishing, a publishing company based in Green Bay, and the President and Publisher of Peregrino Press, an imprint of TitleTown based in De Pere that focuses on Catholic books.

Vanden Heuvel asked Burke Ravizza if she would be interested in having Martin speak via a Skype interview with parishioners at SNC. Burke Ravizza gave an emphatic “yes.”

The interview with Martin was scheduled for Dec. 4, but Burke Ravizza wanted people interested in the session to have the opportunity to read and talk about the book beforehand.

St. Norbert College Parish was looking for an activity for its Generations of Faith program, an initiative to bring together parishioners of many ages to discuss matters of faith.Burke Ravizza suggested “Building a Bridge” and discussions on it to the parish council, and it was approved.

Burke Ravizza spoke with Dr. Howard Ebert, also of the THRS discipline, to determine the length and focus of the discussions. The two decided that the book merited more than one discussion, so two slots of an hour and a half each in the month of November were set aside.

The first discussion featured Ebert and Dr. Kathleen Gallagher Elkins, another THRS professor who specializes in biblical studies and research. The pair focused on the teaching of the Catholic Church on homosexuality and gay relationships, as well as sections of the Bible that deal with the same topic and different ways of interpreting these passages.

Burke Ravizza and Ebert spoke at the second discussion. This session focused more on an open discussion of the book.

Both sessions drew around 25 parishioners, with those in attendance ranging from college students through middle-aged parents to elders. Both the attendees and organizers of the discussions expressed satisfaction with and appreciation of them.

“I think college parishes and this one in particular need to be presenting the kind of in-depth theological reflection that’s going on with these issues,” said Ebert. “I think it is absolutely imperative that the Catholic tradition, because it makes universal claims about salvation and its role in history, strives to be in constant contact with and inclusive of many different perspectives. Church teaching is best when informed by tradition, the sciences and contemporary thought.”

Austin Walls ’19, who identifies as gay, attended the first discussion held on “Building a Bridge” and expressed his appreciation for this open conversation on the relationship between the two communities.

“I was very uncomfortable at the first discussion because I was the only SNC Student in attendance, but after we started to develop more intellectual and emotional discussions about the topic I did not see this distinction,” he stated. “The discussion started with listing various things we appreciated about each community, but that quickly changed to discussing how we can interconnect both communities and find ways we can break that societal barrier between the two. Those in attendance of the discussion really pushed the topic of developing solutions to this problem.”

Gallagher Elkins commented on the importance she sees in Martin’s book: “In terms of his title and approach…he allows a lot of people to enter the conversation. Respect, compassion and sensitivity means that a lot of different people can have conservation in a productive way rather than convince someone that they’re wrong.”

Asked where she would like to see St. Norbert College and St. Norbert College Parish move in the future regarding the LGBTQ+ community, Burke Ravizza stated that she would like to see the parish investigate and adopt “best practices” used by other Catholic parishes in welcoming LGBTQ+ people and hold more conversations similar to the book discussions in the future, especially if they include the LGBTQ+ Spectrum Alliance, the student organization focused on this community at SNC.

On the same topic, Gallagher Elkins responded, “In part, I would want the college and the parish to have clearer policies that people can be who they are and be safe and welcome: like with jobs and being clear that we have a non-discrimination policy and that we actually mean it. It’s not political correctness; it’s out of our Catholic values that we are being welcoming and hospitable.”

For his part, Walls would like to see the LGBTQ+ community acknowledged and respected by the college, the parish, and the wider Catholic Church.

“These wonderful people are our friends, family, professors, students, staff, loved ones; they are here; and they just want to feel included in this community,” he stated. “I mean, isn’t that what ‘communio’ is truly about? It’s a community united as one. ‘Communio’ challenges us to to follow the example of Jesus by loving one another. No matter who a person loves.”


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