What Authenticity Looks Like

Written by Melissa Kessler, MA, PCC

Last week, my dear friend and colleague of 17 years, Terry Gonda was fired from St. John Fisher Chapel as their music director because she is married to a woman – something that has never been a secret. The Archdiocese of Detroit (AOD) terminated her employment under their morality clause. Terry has led their music program for 36 years, and she has been married unofficially to her wife Kirsti Reeve for 17 years and legally for 9 years. This newsletter is not about the injustice that has happened to Terry, but rather her response to it, which is the greatest demonstration of love and grace I have witnessed in a long time. We can all learn from her example during these trying times where many people are lashing out in rage against injustice.

Terry is one of the most kind and forgiving people I know, and her response shows just how authentic she is as a leader and a Christian. She doesn’t just talk about love and kindness. She lives it, regardless of her circumstances. In Terry’s words, “My heart just hurts because I have an outpouring of love for them. I love them. I believe that they believe they’re doing the right thing – they’re trying to protect the church.” In fact, Terry is making sure that people know that harassing the church with phone calls and other unkind acts of aggression are not standing with her. She says, “Yelling just creates walls and walls have no ears.” Terry is handling this situation just as I would expect, by being her true self and being peacefully relentless. I don’t know many people who would have the inner strength to do this, especially considering all she has done for her church for more than three decades. Her service goes far beyond creating music. She has served in ministries to mentor youth, save lives, bring people to deeper faith, and help many remain Catholic.

I wanted to share her story because I think it’s truly a beautiful example that we can all learn from. Regardless of what is going on around us or injustices that we may experience, we always have the ability to choose kindness, love, and grace. We are in control of our actions, and how we respond says everything about who we are. It is during the darkest times that we show our true selves. Do we choose to be the light that continues to shine, or do we succumb to the darkness by perpetuating hatred and intolerance? Terry chooses to be the light, and I hope we all can do the same.

Terry’s story has been featured on the local news, the Detroit Free Press, and The New York Times. (You can read the full story and watch her formal response by clicking on these links.)

 “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“Heroism is the triumph of spirit over circumstance.” – Neil A. Stroul, PhD

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