History of Fortunate Families


March Eight religious and lay ministers (including Casey & Mary Ellen Lopata, parents of a gay son) from Rochester, NY attend the New Ways Ministry Symposium. Inspired and committed to do something, the group begins meeting regularly and eventually becomes Catholic Gay and Lesbian Family Ministry (CGLFM) within the Diocese of Rochester.

November CGLFM facilitates a meeting of Rochester Bishop Matthew Clark and gay and lesbian Catholics and their family members to discuss the 1992 Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith letter, “Responding to Legislative Proposals on Discrimination Against Homosexuals.”


July National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian & Gay Ministries (NACDLGM) (Now: Catholic Association of Lesbian and Gay Ministries – CALGM) is founded at a meeting of representatives from thirteen dioceses. Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata are among the twenty-eight founding members. In 1995, Mary Ellen is elected to the first board of directors. She serves on the executive committee from 1997-2003 and as president 2001-2. Since 1998, Casey has served on the Pastoral Resources Committee

October The first national retreat for Catholic parents, sponsored by New Ways Ministry and facilitated by Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent, is held in Stamford, CT. The Lopatas attend and become charter members of the Catholic Parents Network which emerges from this meeting.


Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata are consultants to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and the Family on Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children –AND—Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers, issued in September 1997.


September CGLFM and the Diocese of Rochester formalize their relationship, agreeing that they will mutually consult on LGBT-related matters and that CGLFM will minister with gay and lesbian Catholics and their families on behalf of the Diocese.


March CGLFM and the Diocese of Rochester celebrate a Mass with Gay and Lesbian People, Families and Friends, with Bishop Matthew Clark as presider and homilist. Over 1,300 people attend. Preceding the Mass, CGLFM facilitates a Bishop Clark listening session with lesbian and gay Catholics.


September Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata chair the annual NACDLGM conference. Held in Rochester, the theme is “Imaging Justice.” Protesters outside only make the closing Mass more memorable for those celebrating with Bishop Clark.


July 2001  Seeds of Hope: Compassionate Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Catholics and Their Families—A practical resource manual edited and published by Casey Lopata.

August 2002 More Seeds: A supplement to Seeds of Hope edited and published by Casey Lopata.


October Fortunate Families: Catholic Families with Lesbian Daughters and Gay Sons, by Mary Ellen Lopata with Casey Lopata, published. (Trafford Publishing) This book is full of stories, and includes the results of an in-depth survey of Catholic parents of LGBT daughters and sons.


April Recognizing the unique position parents of LGBT persons have within the Church and society, Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata leave CGLFM and start Fortunate Families as a nationwide resource and networking ministry to, for, and with parents dedicated to seeking justice for LGBT persons and their families.

December Fortunate Families becomes a not-for-profit corporation.


January Fortunate Families adopts by-laws and elects its first board of directors (all from Rochester, NY): Mary Ellen Lopata (President), Tom Ferrarese (Secretary/Treasurer), James Buckheit, Jean Kearse, Casey Lopata, William Pickett, and Rosalie Muschal-Reinhardt.

April Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata receive New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award “For compassionate ministry, personal witness, and national leadership to promote justice for lesbian/gay Catholics, their parents, and families.”

May Fortunate Families awarded a grant from the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters to support a survey of Catholic parents of LGBT daughters and sons, and to help develop a nationwide ministry of Catholic parents.


January Fortunate Families awarded a grant from Mary’s Pence, to support the mission and general operations.

February Receives 501(c)(3) exempt ruling from the IRS.

April Ann Franczyk (MA) joins the Board.

June Tom and Linda Karle Nelson (MI) join the Board.

July Parents Voice Project survey of Catholic parents of LGBT Daughters and Sons launched.


January Fortunate Families awarded a second grant from Mary’s Pence, to support the publication and distribution of the Catholic Parents Voice Project report.

March Fortunate Families Board of Directors attends New Ways Ministry Symposium in Minneapolis. They facilitate a listening session for parents to tell their stories to Bishop (Ret.) Joseph Sullivan of Brooklyn, and Archbishop (Ret.) Francis Hurley of Anchorage.

June Jerry Furlong (NE) joins the Board.

September Parents Voice Project Survey Report of Catholic Parents published, and sent to all U.S. Bishops.



    • First part of the eight-part educational series “Let’s Talk about Homosexuality,” developed by Jerry Furlong, is released on the Fortunate Families website, followed by weekly release of other seven parts.
    • Fortunate Families awarded a third grant from Mary’s Pence, for Board development and leadership.

August Representing Fortunate Families, Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata join a group of prominent Catholic thought leaders to engage in a dialogue that lays the foundation for a long-term strategy to build a pro-LGBT movement within Catholicism. Sponsored by the Arcus Foundation, additional convenings continue through 2013, producing grants from 2010 through 2014 to help Fortunate Families to build capacity for outreach and advocacy.


    • Fortunate Families is awarded a grant from the School Sisters of Notre Dame to help develop and produce resource materials and experiences for Catholic parents who volunteer to be “parent peer listeners” – later to be called Listening Parents.
    • A major article featuring the story of Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, and the work of Fortunate Families, appears in the National Catholic Reporter.


January Fortunate Families introduces the nationwide Listening Parents Network – Catholic moms and dads of LGBT children who volunteer to field phone calls and e-mail messages from other Catholic parents who may “just need someone to talk with” in a safe and confidential way. Names and contact information for 49 Listening Parents are publicly listed on the Fortunate Families website.

April Fortunate Families celebrates its 5th anniversary, having grown in five years from a Rochester-based ministry with national connections to a network of some 2,500 parents, family members and allies, found in 50 states and several other countries.

July Michael Harmuth (CA), Myrna Ohmann (MN), and Deb Word (TN) join the Board.

September The Listening Parents Network nearly doubles to 94 parents (66 households) in 26 states, three Canadian provinces and 50 dioceses. Mary Ellen Lopata steps away from the Board president position held since the ministry’s founding in 2004 and is replaced by Casey Lopata.



    • The Listening Parents Network expands again – now numbering 123 parents in 90 households in 28 states, three Canadian provinces and 61 dioceses.
    • Fortunate Families launches a Facebook site.

July Rebeca del Cristo (FL) joins the Board, providing Latino/a representation. Linda Karle Nelson becomes Board president.

September Fortunate Families joins with Call To Action, Dignity USA and New Ways Ministry to form the Equally Blessed coalition. This significantly increases Fortunate Families’ visibility.

October “Joining Hands – Reaching Out,” the first parents’ conference sponsored by Fortunate Families, is held in the Chicago suburb of Techny, IL. More than 50 parents and allies from 15 states and Ontario, Canada attend the program, which is highlighted by nationally-prominent speakers.


February Fortunate Families hires part-time office assistant.

March As an Equally Blessed partner, Fortunate Families co-sponsors the first-ever Congressional Briefing that presents positive Catholic perspectives on LGBT equality to federal legislators and their staffs.


    • The Listening Parents Network now has 135 parents in 28 states, 64 dioceses – and even Nicaragua.
    • More parents fluent in Spanish join the Network. Spanish translations of some materials are placed on the website.
    • Tom Ferrarese (NY) and Beth and Tony Garascia (IN) join the Board.
    • Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata receive DignityUSA’s President’s Award for Extraordinary Leadership as Founders and Co-Directors of Fortunate Families.

September Board member Deb Word tells her story at one of a series of four conferences put on by a collaboration of Roman Catholic and non-denominational divinity schools, entitled “More Than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church.” Her presentation is later included in a book of the same name, with the sub-title “Voices of our Times,” published in 2014.


January The Listening Parents Network now totals 143 parents, including five who have transgender children.

March Fortunate Families begins Twitter “tweets.”

July Ed Buechel (KY) joins the Board.

November Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata are joined by their gay son Jim as guests on the DignityUSA webinar series “Queer Catholic Faith.”


    • Fortunate Families is awarded a grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation for 2013 to provide interactive events where Catholic parents of LGBT children can gather to build community and learn strategies to advocate, in their faith and civic communities, for justice for and affirmation of LGBT persons.
    • Since the ministry’s founding in 2004, complimentary subscription to the newsletter has grown to more than 3,300 subscribers.


January The Fortunate Families Newsletter is published under its new name, “Voices for Justice.”


    • Over 625 campus ministries are added to the newsletter distribution list.
    • A Parents’ Gathering is held in Pleasanton, CA.
    • Fortunate Families blog launched.
    • “If the Church Is Serious About Welcoming Gays…” by Mary Ellen Lopata and Marianne Duddy-Burke (DignityUSA Executive Director) is published in the April 5 New York Times.


    • Deb Word becomes Board president.
    • In Minnesota and Michigan, Listening Parents join in public advocacy for marriage equality.
    • A Parents Gathering is held in Cincinnati, OH.


    • Jenny Naughton (CA) joins the Board.
    • A new every-other-month electronic communication, “The Families Forum,” is introduced.

October Parents’ Gathering is held in Flagler Beach, FL.

November Parents’ Gatherings are held in Detroit, MI and Atlanta, GA.

December Fortunate Families awarded grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation for 2014, extending the Parents’ Gatherings for another year.



    • Fortunate Families begins a transition to full-service, day-to-day, central office support provided by the Association Development Group (ADG), a management company.
    • The Listening Parents Network now has 147 parents in 103 households (including six that are Spanish-speaking and five with transgender children), in 30 states, two Canadian Provinces, and Nicaragua, covering 68 dioceses.


    • Lisa Covington (IN) joins the Board.
    • Dignity Minneapolis, Fortunate Families, and Call To Action Minneapolis collaboratively sponsor a gathering of parents in Minneapolis.
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