Luisa Derouen prepared this recounting of her journey in August, 2018.
Through the grace of God, I have had the privilege of ministering among the transgender community since 1999.
I was reared, along with my four siblings, in a small, predominately Catholic town. There was no Catholic school, but through the influence of the missionary sisters serving in the parish, from the sixth grade through high school I was active in all parish activities available to a teenager. As was typical at that time, I entered the congregation of these sisters right after graduating from high school in 1961. Taking college courses over several years while ministering in rural parishes, I eventually completed both my BA in Religious Studies and Master’s Degree in Liturgy. In later years I was trained as a spiritual director.
There are lesbian and gay people in my family and for all of my adult life I’ve had lesbian and gay friends. In 1998, as I was ending vocation ministry for my congregation, our leadership agreed to my request to minister among the gay community.
Almost immediately upon beginning this new ministry, I met Courtney, a transgender woman, at a PFLAG meeting. Since this was my first experience of a transgender person, I asked if she would be willing to share her story with me. In that initial conversation, Courtney surprised me by saying, “You get this! We really need people like you. For many of us this is a profoundly spiritual journey but we don’t have spiritual people who understand us and are willing to walk with us.” From that point on the focus of my ministry was not among lesbian and gay people, but with the transgender community. At Courtney’s recommendation, others began to reach out to me. Within a year and a half I was being contacted by transgender people from across the United States and beyond.
I quickly recognized that this new call from God had two dimensions. First, I was to be available as a spiritual guide and companion to transgender people. Most transgender persons with any affiliation to organized religion have been told that to proceed with transition would be a serious sin. My primary message to them has been that when we are moving toward truth in our lives, God is with us and not against us. Truth never leads us away from God.
The second dimension was to be an advocate on their behalf. In a society that does not understand, and too easily condemns them, my passion is to be a witness to the integrity of their lives. I have companioned about 250 transgender people, guiding them in spiritual direction and in retreats, serving at their request as mediator with their families, and sponsoring many Trans Awareness Evenings to provide a forum for people with open minds and hearts to dialogue with some of our transgender sisters and brothers. I have also addressed national transgender conferences on the spiritual issues that arise in transitioning .
While my congregational leaders have supported this ministry from the beginning, I had been asked to minister under the radar for all these years. In 2014 I was given permission to write about my ministry, and be written about as long as I did not identify myself or my congregation. I took the name Sister Monica. But I am no longer hiding. Transgender people are increasingly becoming visible in every arena of life. In some ways this coming into the light is affirming and validating for them. In other ways it places them more in harm’s way. Now is the time for me to stand with them publicly and give witness to their dignity and worth as human beings and precious children of God.
In my fifty-seven years as a sister this ministry is the greatest privilege of my ministerial life. I tell of this in greater detail in the monograph, God’s Hidden People, found below.
Biography Date: November, 2014
- God's Hidden People: A Catholic Sister's Journey with Transgender People
- Luisa's article "The Sacredness of Being Seen" in the Global Sisters Report September 2018
- Sr. Jeannine Gramick's report on Luisa's ministry in the Global Sisters Report June 2018
- Interview with Nathan Schneider published by Al-Jazeera, March 2, 2014
- NPR interview posted on State of the Re:Union, September 30, 2014
- Article by Jamie Mason in National Catholic Reporter, October 9, 2014
- Interview with Renee Gadoua published by Religion News Service, Aug 11, 2015
- Essay by Sister Monica published by US Catholic in the September, 2015 issue
- May 31, 2017 interview with Sister Monica
“It has been my great pleasure to be in touch with Sr. Monica for the past 3 years in the work we share to provide for the dignity of transgender people in the Roman Catholic Church. She has shared with me some of her research on canon law and the mysterious ‘secret letter’ that people wrongly point to as the catholic take on trans issues. I have been inspired by her dedication and follow through in making things happen while remaining almost invisible herself. When I talk to people about her the most common question I get is “How do people find her when they are in need?” My only answer is that I will be happy to share your information with her. I can say the when I needed her, she found me. But then, maybe we both had some help in that department. www.togetherstyle.com”
– as remembered by Hilary Howes on July 3, 2015
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