Sr. Luisa Derouen: Ministry on the gender margins

Sister Luisa (left) speaks at a Trans Awareness session for priests and deacons in 2010. (Nathan Schneider)

Sr. Luisa Derouen is a pioneer in the "T" of LGBT ministry. A few women religious are ministering among transgender people today, but Sister Luisa was the first to do so, as early as 1999, when most Catholics were just coming to understand and accept the "L" and "G."

On several occasions over the years, I met and emailed with Luisa, who is a Dominican Sister of Peace, and have been awed by her ministry on the gender margins. I believe our church needs to honor this valiant and prophetic woman who has shown us how to minister to those who are mostly shunned or even vilified.

Let me tell you a little about Luisa first. She grew up in Welsh, a small town in Louisiana, where her only exposure to religious life was a religious community called the Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Dominic. Her teenage years were every girl's dream, and she was grateful to God and to her family for all the blessings she felt. When she got her driver's license at fifteen, she started going to daily Mass and continued for all four years of high school.

Feeling she could love God more fully through religious life, Luisa decided to enter the small, diocesan congregation at the end of her senior year in 1961. Though there were some very difficult years, Luisa says she has never doubted that religious life is where she belongs.

Luisa served in a variety of ministries: parish ministry, vocation director for her community, coordinator of their motherhouse, spiritual direction, retreat work and liturgical spirituality. After Hurricane Katrina forced her to leave the community's house in New Orleans in 2005, Luisa moved to Tucson, Arizona, where she had once been missioned.

By then Luisa had been diagnosed with a severe degenerative arthritis of the jaw and had to limit talking to alleviate the pain. Because of this condition, she retired from active ministry in 2010 and moved to St. Catherine, Kentucky. By then, her congregation had been in dialogue with seven other Dominican communities that led to the birth a new congregation, the Dominican Sisters of Peace, in 2009.

Here is my conversation with her.

Jeannine: What led you into trans ministry and what does it consist of?

Luisa: When I was ending vocation ministry in 1998, I asked my leadership team if I could minister among the lesbian and gay community as I have gay and lesbian people in my family. The leadership team readily agreed, but required that I remain under the radar. At a PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meeting, I met Courtney Sharp, a transgender woman who was recovering from gender affirming surgery. I was impressed by how loved and respected she was by all in the group. She said that acknowledging and claiming their truth as transgender is a profoundly spiritual experience for many transgender people, but there are no spiritual leaders who are willing to companion them. This was 1999. She introduced me to other trans folks in New Orleans, and soon I was being contacted by transgender people from other parts of the country.

As a spiritual companion, I have been present to them on the phone, or by Skype and email, in coffeehouses, restaurants and in their homes, at church or guiding a retreat for them. But mostly, I pray for them and let them know I am praying. 

I regularly attended transgender support meetings. For several years I facilitated a number of Transgender Awareness Evenings by inviting people to meet my trans friends and hear their stories. I mentored a couple of sisters who now do transgender ministry themselves.

Read the full story on Global Sisters Report.

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