True Colors

On any average day towards the beginning of a school year, Roncalli high school guidance counselor Shelly Fitzgerald would be in her office, where she has been for more than a decade, waiting for the arrival of a student in need.

 

But on Friday, Aug. 10, her life changed forever.

 

Fitzgerald has worked for Roncalli High School for nearly 15 years. But then Roncalli officials found out she was married to a woman.

 

Upon finding out Fitzgerald was gay, the school gave her four choices: resign; dissolve her marriage; “keep quiet” and work until her contract ended in July or be fired.

 

Fitzgerald kept quiet about her nearly 20-year relationship during her time at Roncalli, never being loud or boisterous to the more than 1,000 students about her marriage to a woman, which the catholic church considers sinful. 

 

The issues started when a parishioner at a neighboring church obtained a copy of her marriage license and turned it in to a local priest. After receiving the license, the priest turned it in to the leaders of Roncalli, who proceeded to share it with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

 

“I think it’s sickening that an individual sought out something from her personal life, knowing that it could ruin her career and everything she had worked for up to that point,” said Roncalli junior, Anna Clodfelter. “It’s disheartening to see that there’s that kind of evil in the world, especially in a church that claims to be loving and accepting to all.”

 

Not even a week after obtaining the marriage license, Roncalli principal Chuck Weisenbach and superintendent Joseph Hollowell, along with members of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis put Fitzgerald on paid administrative leave, forbidding her from entering school grounds.

 

Although the school officials and leaders of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis declined requests to comment, they released a joint statement calling Catholic teachers “vital ministers” in the church’s mission, an expectation outlined in employment contracts.” According to the New York Times it also stated “the belief that all persons are called to respect human sexuality and its expression in the Sacrament of Marriage between a man and a woman as a sign of God’s love and fidelity to His Church.”

 

The love and support of students, both past and present, is apparent the second you step foot on to the school yard. T-shirts from alumni were arranged on the circle in front of the school for weeks after her absence in solidarity with the counselor who had touched the lives of so many.

“As maddening as this whole situation has been, some good happenings have not gone unnoticed,” said Roncalli graduate Max Van Dongen. “Shelly Fitzgerald is a martyr in all of this that is creating a catalyst for change. The support she has received in this time has shown how strongly people feel about the acceptance of same sex marriage. Alumni and current students are coming together to show they are on her side, but at the same time are not doing so to completely run all over Roncalli, but because they want to see Roncalli be better.”

It has been over a month since Fitzgerald was put on paid administrative leave. Tensions amongst the students, staff and leaders of the school still run high as each day brings more unknowns.

 

When will Mrs. Fitzgerald return?

 

What does her leave of absence mean for the school?

 

What does this problem say to the students of the LGBTQ community that attend Roncalli?

 

With Fitzgerald’s future uncertain, students and colleagues stand in solidarity with the well-liked guidance counselor.

 

“Many students have lost a person who meant so much to their success in high school,” said Roncalli senior Dominic Conover. “Sadly, I believe the LGBTQ community is experiencing the most grief and frustration about this issue. We feel as if they do not care about our opinion or our well being. It is very hard to go to a school that fires a gay teacher when you know you identify with the LGBTQ community.”

 

According to Indiana Law, there is nothing that protects people from being discriminated based on their sexual identity.

 

Although Indianapolis has a decree that prohibits discrimination based on sexuality, it does not include the actions of religious establishments.

 

“We firmly believe the church needs to change with the times, if not if risks turning away a whole generation of young Catholics,” said Roncalli junior Maddie Aldrich. “This is our Church too, and nobody gets to pick and choose who is deemed a Child of God but God himself. Who are we to judge other people’s sins when we all commit sins of our own? Also, if we are going to enforce punishment on one person for violating the contract, then we need to check into everyone. It should not be picking and choosing whose sin is worse.”

 

Students who stand in solidarity with Fitzgerald have started a group known as “Shelly’s Voice” that is bringing awareness to communities all over the world.

 

“It is the Mission of Shelly’s Voice to inspire change in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ employee morality contract to allow the LGBT community the opportunity to shine their knowledge and talent as valid employees of the Catholic Church,” Conover said. “We currently are planning community outreach events, meetings with Church authority, and other initiatives to further our mission for change.”