Change afoot at Most Holy Redeemer
5/7/2012 9:22:00 AM -California Catholic Daily
Fr. Steve Meriwether is being replaced as pastor at San Francisco's notoriously "gay-friendly" Most Holy Redeemer Church.
Fr. Meriwether, whose pastorate began in 2004, had been reappointed to serve a second six-year term in 2010. No reason was given for his early departure in a two-paragraph story announcing the change in the May 4 issue of Catholic San Francisco. The archdiocesan newspaper did not say where or if Fr. Meriwether was being reassigned or whether he left his position for other reasons.
Fr. Brian Costello, currently serving as pastor of San Francisco's Star of the Sea Church, will replace Fr. Meriwether effective July 1, according to Catholic San Francisco.
Whether the change will result in a different direction for the renegade parish remains to be seen, especially since the selection of pastors for Most Holy Redeemer appears to be handled differently than in other parishes.
Fr. Meriwether is the third pastor (plus one administrator) to serve at the parish since 1982. On page 27 of Fr. Donal Godfrey's Gays and Grays: the Story of Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, Fr. Godfrey reports a 1982 discussion regarding a new pastor for the parish. He quotes Deacon Laurence Rolle, then serving at MHR:
"'They came from the chancery, the personnel board, to ask questions, to see whom to send. We have to replace Fr. Moriarity, they said; 'What kind of pastor do we need in this parish?' I said, 'The parish is gradually becoming more gay. These are the demographics of the area. This needs to be thought about in making this decision.' There was absolute stone-dead silence in the room... and the meeting went on to another point... Fortunately, Archbishop John Quinn was well aware the question needed to be asked, and chose a man who turned out to be especially suited to the new sociological profile of the parish. Under Father Anthony McGuire -- 'Fr. Tony -- the parish was reborn... Anthony McGuire became the ninth pastor of Most Holy Redeemer parish in 1982."
On page 48 of Gays and Grays, Fr. Godfrey confirms the suspicion that parishioners at Most Holy Redeemer seem to have played a larger than usual role in the selection of their pastors. He quotes Fr. Randy Calvo (now Bishop of Reno), who served at MHR: "One of the first encounters I had was with Jim Stultz, President of the parish council at the time. He came to me and said I'd like to interview you before you get to the parish... I remember one thing he talked about. He criticized someone who gave a homily at MHR bashing people for going to the gay baths, and all that."
It was during Fr. McGuire's pastorate that the transformation of MHR to an openly gay parish began. In 1990, Fr. McGuire was replaced by Fr. Zachary Shore, who served until 2002. It was during Fr. Shore's pastorate that s/m leather groups were first documented to be meeting in the parish hall, and an open "leatherman," Patrick Mulcahey, served as vice-president of the pastoral council. It was also during Fr. Shore's pastorate that the church began to participate collectively in San Francisco's 'Gay Pride' parade.
Here is a passage from page 112 of Gays and Grays regarding participation in the 'gay pride' parade: "But it was a first for a Catholic parish in San Francisco. Parishioners who marched were unsure what to expect, some expected the worst, but found themselves moved by the overwhelming response of the crowd. Since 1998, taking part in the Pride Parade has become an MHR tradition. Shore's semi-tacit sanctioning of a parish presence in the parade lent the Church's legitimacy to this event of the gay community..."
Fr. Edward Phelan replaced Fr. Shore, serving as parish administrator from 2002-2004. In August 2003, the San Francisco Faith reported that Fr. Phelan participated in the 2003 "Gay Pride" parade.
In 2004, Fr. Meriwether took over. Readers of CalCatholic are familiar with Fr. Meriwether's pastorate: the hosting of obscene bingo by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the blessing of parishioners on their way to the Gay Pride Parade, the hosting of drag shows, of leather s/m groups, of anti-Catholic speakers, the presence of openly same-sex "married" persons and open "leathermen" serving in liturgical ministries.
MHR's new pastor, Fr. Costello, has previously complimented the renegade parish in the Castro. In the August 16, 2009 parish bulletin of Mater Dolorosa Church in South San Francisco, where Fr. Costello was then serving as pastor, Fr. Costello reproduced a letter that had been published in the Most Holy Redeemer bulletin the previous week.
The letter was by a person from Southern California who had been visiting San Francisco for "Pride weekend." Fr. Costello thought it "a wonderful letter" and noted, "I hope what was said about Most Holy Redeemer can also be said about Mater Dolorosa as well."
Here is part of the letter:
"My daughter and I were visiting from southern California last weekend (pride weekend). I am a cradle Catholic and belong to a wonderful church in Yorba Linda: St. Martin de Porres. I just wanted you to know what a wonderful experience we had in your church. Although we goofed up the time and came late to Mass, we were made to feel welcome by the friendly greeter at the door who showed us where to enter and not feel disruptive. Three separate people came up to us and spoke to us, welcomed us, invited us to fellowship downstairs after Mass. The beautiful feeling of inclusion and spiritual peace is palpable in your church. The music was incredible. Singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in church is something I will never forget...."
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