A Religious Life as a Gay Man
Written for Narrative Journalism Final Project
It was just becoming dark outside. The beginning of the evening. The skies were clear, but Donald Carrier’s mind was not. Carrier walked home from the town center, where he had his first gay sexual encounter. The 14-year-old boy took the back streets where the trees were above him. There were no streetlights in his hometown in Rochester, New Hampshire. Carrier looked at each house to know where he was.
“I think this is a sin,” he prayed.
As he recalls it decades later, the dark sky suddenly flashed with bright lights, like quick flashes from a camera. Carrier was surrounded by lightning, but it wasn’t even raining. It was a warm summer day. He looked down while he talked, and could only see the reflection of the sky on the pavement.
“Is there another way? Is there something else that you want me to understand?” he asked.
The sky cleared, Carrier recalls. There was no lightning in sight. The sky was normal, as if no lightning ever came. But Carrier was in a dark place. He was confused. He felt guilty. He’d never kissed or touched a man so intimately before. The Catholic Church taught him that a man should be with a woman, not another man. “I think I’m doing wrong,” he said.
Then dark charges filled the air again, Carrier described. He thought maybe it was his God telling him it’s okay.
The soundless lightning stopped. Carrier believed it was God’s answer.
“Maybe I’m talking myself into this. Maybe you are angry at me. Maybe this is not what I’m supposed to be doing.”
And the heat lightning started again, Carrier remembers. Carrier thought this was the twilight zone.
“Okay. I liked what happened. What does it mean? What am I going to do? Can I pursue this with you and find answers?” he asked.
The flashes stopped. It was so calm and peaceful that Carrier believed he was surrounded by God.
Carrier saw he was home.
No storm ever came that night.
But Carrier came out to himself and to God.
And he believed that his God accepts him as a gay catholic man.
After high school, Carrier moved to Boston to live with his partner Larry and his partner’s Aunt Harriette. Larry had a good sense of humor. They would travel in his camper to nature sites to just walk around the outdoors. They were never seen in public. Although Carrier loved him, their relationship was not the healthiest. Carrier talked dearly about Larry but understood that he was never comfortable with coming out. Even today, he asked to keep Larry’s full name private.
Carrier studied accounting in Burdette Junior College and worked in a jewelry store, Shreve Crump & Low, as a front desk greeter. The city was new to him so on his lunch breaks, he explored. St. Anthony’s Shrine was the first church he found.
The church had two floors. The first floor had subdued lighting for the confession boxes and quiet masses. The second floor held larger masses with more music. Carrier visited five days a week, went to the 7 a.m. mass and even served in the mass as a communion minister. Larry and Harriette hated the church and thought Carrier was hypocritical for going. They ridiculed him and wanted him to go to mass less often.
“I think they were hoping I would give up and that wasn’t who I was,” Carrier said.
So Carrier approached one of the priests in the confessional box, confessed that he was gay and asked for guidance. “My issue is not being gay. It’s not so much the relationship that I have. It’s I don’t have a sense of how to incorporate my spirituality right now into the relationship, the family dynamics we had going on,” Carrier said to the priest.
The priest looked over and said, “The church is not always at its best when sometimes it sees people struggle.”
Carrier and the priest decided to take spiritual direction meetings. They met almost every week at St. Anthony’s Shrine basement parlor rooms. Carrier built a relationship with the priest for about three years. The priest helped him reconcile his sexuality to his relationship with God and the church.
“I can’t even picture him or remember his name, which is funny because he was so important,” Carrier said.
In the late 1970s, the sisters in St. Clements opened their basement to Dignity, a secret lesbian and gay Catholic Church community where ordained gay priests would minister and give communion. Carrier joined the services.
The nuns believed the community needed a place to able to know that their relationship with God is good. The St. Anthony’s Shrine priest, Dignity, and Carrier’s years of prayer eventually grounded him with his sexuality and relationship with his God. This took 16 years since he first realized he was gay. But that grounding was still to be tested.
Wicker of a Candle
After a night mass at St. Anthony’s Shrine, Carrier, now 30, bumped into two ex-coworkers at Shreve Crump & Low. They were paternal brothers who were considering a religious life in St. Joseph’s Abbey, a Trappist monastery at Spencer, Massachusetts. Carrier was considering a religious life too. The brothers invited Carrier to have supper with them at their North End home, then invited him to join their men’s lay fraternity group with the Trappist fathers.
The fraternity group went on a retreat in the Trappist Monastery. They prayed together and shared each other’s life story. Carrier told the three men that he was gay. He described the weekend as “very loving.” They accepted and embraced him. Six months later, the group continued their relationship with the Trappist fathers. Every Sunday they would have mass together after work then have dinner at the brothers’ home.
One Sunday night after mass, Carrier and the brothers were walking out the door of St. Anthony’s Shrine to head home for dinner when one of the brothers told Carrier, “I have to tell you. I can no longer remain in silence. I need to tell you. I find it an abomination that I stand by to watch you receive communion, when I know you are a sinner.”
There was a long pause when Carrier recounted this moment. He had tears in his eyes when he looked at the door where it happened.
“I felt like I was blindsided to say I didn’t see this coming. I just looked and said, ‘I don’t know what to say or do right now about that,’ and I just excused myself and said ‘I cannot go with you tonight home and be with you in prayer. I just need to have some time to… I just need some time away to think.’ “
When you light a candle in a dark room, you can see the wick emit a little glow. Carrier described this as the wick in his heart. “This is as far down as my faith would go. To look over and say it is almost gone. That I don’t know if I could believe anymore, and I didn’t,” he said.
Carrier doubted his relationship with God for three days. He decided to put his faith on the line and prayed for a sign to either continue as a gay catholic man or to believe he is a sinner who needs to be different. He called the brother and sought counseling with him through a nun. She said she would refer them to a different priest. And when Carrier heard the name of the priest she mentioned, he knew he was in good hands. Out of all the priests the nun could say, she mentioned a gay priest Carrier knew from Dignity. Carrier believed it was his God giving him approval to be gay.
“Suddenly the wicker that lived in my heart was more of just a real glowing light, where it was just there. Radiating,” Carrier said as he felt his heart warm up. “It was sensual. The body has sensations that we’re talking about something going on spiritual where you know I don’t have to doubt again about this part. That part’s secure.”
He never doubted his faith with his God again. Carrier decided to pursue a religious life in Weston Priory, a Benedictine Monastery, in Vermont.
Sacraments of Service
Carrier loved being in Weston Priory. He loved chanting in the woods, surrounded by nature, while being involved in a lot of social justice work. However, a month later he met Thomas French in a gay bar at Provincetown, Massachusetts. Carrier said he was confused by his God that after 20 years of denying the Sacrament of Holy Orders, suddenly a new man enters his life.
He believed that his God was playing around his head. He wondered what would a religious life be. The Benedictine Monastery allows him to leave the world behind, but was there a way to be in a “pseudo cloistered community?”
One year later, Carrier, 32, had to make a decision. Weston Priory was waiting for him to make a decision to move onto the next step of spiritual life, while French was waiting for him to take the next step in their relationship.
“I just feel that I’m going to learn something more here [in his relationship with French] than I’ll learn if I close myself out from the world in this community,” he said.
Carrier married French in Melrose, Massachusetts in the woods.
The Pillar of St. Cecilia’s
Carrier has served as a communion minister in every church he’s been in. Since 2007, Carrier organizes the Eucharistic mass and does altar service in St. Cecilia’s for every 11:15 am mass. Carrier is also an active member of the Rainbow Ministry, the LGBT catholic ministry of St. Cecilia’s. If Carrier sees something that needs to be done, he does it. He sweeps the floors, changes linens, and helps decorate the church for Christmas.
“Talk about a generous spirit,” said Father John Uni. “He always guides and sees the needs of everyone, especially the LGBT. He’s an eye-opener.”
Sometimes the Rainbow Ministry group members have breakfast together at Trident Booksellers & Cafe. “Don can tell some of the funniest stories,” Melon Regis said. Years ago, Carrier asked Regis if she wanted to be in the altar service with him. She said yes and he trained her. She’s been doing altar service since.
“He’s definitely a pillar of the St. Cecilia community,” Kevin Finni said. “He’s really involved and does it very well.” Finni was a former communion minister together with Carrier. Carrier always visits him before mass and asks how he’s doing.
“As Jesus said, ‘Treat others as you want to be treated,’” Carrier said. “And that’s something I feel is a part of who I am. I can’t separate that. They say you’ve done something. I’ve done really nothing other than what is natural for me.”
A Full Prayer Life
Carrier is now 66 years old and works as a mental health counselor. He has an accounting associate’s degree from Burdette College and two master’s degrees in holistic and spiritual direction from Lesley University and Boston College. He always wears his favorite LGBT Fleur De Lys dark blue cap over his bald head. His husband got him the cap in New Orleans. They’ve been married for over 35 years now.
“I am confident in being catholic and gay because I’m coming closer and closer to a place where I don’t have to defend myself against anyone,” Carrier said.
Carrier calls himself a faithful dissenter, a person who challenges and stands up against the Church’s teachings and hierarchy, but still loves the church. He constantly talks to Father Uni and works hard in the Rainbow Ministry to make the church more acceptable to the LGBT community. He feels that it is a cycle where he has to give back to what he believes, his God gave and taught him throughout his life.
“He helps in the church because I think he sees the hope that if enough people get involved, then the image would be created that these [LGBT people] are good people, they’re not throwaway people,” French said. “Donald is a good person and he wants to help in that process. I think he does that through going to church, being an example.”
“I am of two ways of being here and as I grow older I want to say I don’t want them separate I think that they can be together,” Carrier said.
It took him a long time to let go and believe that he can bring his sexuality and faith together. His husband really helped him and eventually give the attitude that now he can say today, “You know I can. I have a full prayer life. “