Those Who Serve

The Board of Directors and Ministry Chairs are tremendously generous people who share their faith, energy, talent, expertise, vision and outstanding leadership skills. I have the honor of working with them to implement our vision.

Together we discern, and trust in the Spirit of God to lead Fortunate Families forward.

Stan “JR” Zerkowski
Executive Director

Executive Director

Stanley Francis “JR” Zerkowski

JR is Fortunate Families’ first executive director.

He travels throughout the United States and beyond speaking about LGBTQ+ intentional welcome and LGBTQ+ Ministry within the Catholic Church as he accompanies those discerning intentional Catholic LGBTQ+ Ministry. He leads Days of Discernment and Visioning, Days of Reflection, and leads retreats for parishes, colleges, high schools, teachers, campus ministers and ministries, presbyterates, parish staffs, and communities of consecrated women and men.

A resident of Lexington, Kentucky, he is the founder of Lexington United Interfaith Encounters and Lexington United Interfaith Dialogues. He designed and facilitated Lexington’s 1st Pride Interfaith Service at the Historic Lyric Theater to cap Lexington Pride Month and the Lexington Pride Festival, bringing together more than 26 interfaith leaders: Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, as well as civic and community leaders.

In 2016 in the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, he founded the first LGBTQ+ Ministry at Historic Saint Paul Church which was the foundation for the Diocese of Lexington LGBTQ Outreach Commission, created by Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv. in 2021, now part of the diocesan structure under the Peace & Justice Ministry. He also founded “Together on the Journey,” an LGBTQ+ Family, Friends, and Allies Ministry, now Fortunate Families Lexington. He was instrumental in beginning two LGBTQ+ support groups at Lexington Catholic High School and other Catholic LGBTQ+ Ministry Sites throughout the United States. He serves as a consultant to Catholic High Schools, religious communities, bishops, clergy, and lay parochial leadership.

For years his monthly faith-based article appeared in LinQ, the Pride Community Services Organization of the Bluegrass LGBTQ+ magazine. He has contributed to many publications including Pastoral Liturgy Magazine, Liturgy Training Publications, and Villanova Magazine.

He completed his undergraduate and first graduate degree program in Human Resource Development and Administration at Barry University, Miami, FL, and participated in the REAPS program through Sacred Heart University earning a certificate in Spiritual Direction. After earning a masters degree in Church Management and Administration from Villanova University School of Business, he was awarded the highest honor a graduate student can attain at Villanova University: the Bartley Medallion. He is a member of the honor societies of Phi Kappa Phi and Beta Gamma Sigma.

He has received five Mayoral Proclamations for his interfaith and LGBTQ+ work; was named a Commonwealth Ambassador by the Kentucky Secretary of State, awarded the honorary commission of Kentucky Colonel in 2013, received the Spirit of Lexington Award in 2015, and, in 2017, received the Lexington Fairness’ Jonathan Barker Leadership Award given in part because he “has taken the words of Pope Francis to heart and has worked to build bridges between the LGBT and faith communities.” In 2019, he received the George H. W. Bush Points of Light Award for his work building bridges for both the LGBTQ+ community and the interfaith community in Lexington, KY, and received the Temple Adath Israel Jethro Award for his work building bridges within the Lexington community. In February 2020 he received the Stone Catcher of the Year Award from the Kentucky Partnership for Families and Children, Inc.

He is a past member of the Board of Directors of Lexington Fairness and a current member of the Executive Board of the Kentucky Council of Churches; Diocese of Lexington Stewardship Advisory; Black Faith Leaders of Lexington and Vicinity Subcommittee on Law Enforcement. He is past Vice President and a past member of the Board of Trustees of the Newman Foundation, Inc., and past Chair of the Newman Foundation Distinguished Speakers. Appointed by Bishop Ronald W. Gainer, he served for several years on the Opportunities For Life Advisory Council in the Diocese of Lexington, KY. In 2021, he was appointed to the Mayor’s Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index Workgroup for the city of Lexington, KY, and the Mayor’s Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index Law Enforcement Subgroup. He is a member of the Tyler Clementi Foundation Faith Committee, serves on the CASA of Lexington (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children) Volunteer Recruitment Advisory Committee, and is a member of the Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition Steering Committee. He is chair of the LGBTQ Outreach Commission for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, and director of LGBTQ+ Ministry Lexington. He is a 4th degree Knight of Columbus.

In November 2022 Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., appointed JR a delegate to represent the Diocese of Lexington at the Continental Phase of the Catholic Church’s Worldwide Synod on Synodality. In February 2023, the leadership of the Kentucky Council of Churches called JR to chair their Executive Director Search Committee.

In May 2023 he earned the certificate in Executive Presence and Influence: Persuasive Leadership Development from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania Aresty Institute of Executive Education.

On 4 June 2023, after completing the formation program, Brother Dan O’Riordan, Marist Brothers USA Provincial, received JR as a Marist of Champagnat.

He attended Harvard University Business School Online through a scholarship awarded by Social Innovation Change Initiative (SICI) Center For Public Leadership and earned a certificate in Power and Influence in Public Impact in October 2023.

On October 13, 2023, he received a handwritten note from Pope Francis. The English translation: “Dear brother, thank you very much for your email. Thank you for your ministry. I pray for you, please continue to do so for me. May the Lord bless you and the Madonna watch over you. Fraternally, Francis”

 

Pastoral Liturgy Magazine published his article “Living Synodality: Parish Discernment and Visioning Ministry” in the March/April 2024 edition.

In February 2022 his first book was published  – COMING OUT and COMING HOME, a Catholic gay man’s journey from marginalization to ministry, with a few miracles along the way. It can be ordered here: www.butlerbooks.com/coming-out-and-coming-home.html

Please email JR directly or call 859.327.1047 to schedule speaking engagements, Days of Discernment and Visioning, educational/development opportunities, media inquiries, etc.

JR can be contacted at jrfflex@gmail.com 

 

 

Stanley Francis “JR” Zerkowski
Director Ejecutivo de Fortunate Families, es residente de Lexington, Kentucky. Es el fundador de Lexington UNITED Interfaith Encounters y Lexington UNITED Interfaith Dialogues. Diseñó y facilitó el Primer Servicio Interreligioso de Pride de Lexington en el Historic Lyric Theatre para culminar el Mes del Pride de Lexington y el Festival de Pride de Lexington, que reunió a más de 23 líderes interreligiosos: budistas, cristianos, judíos, musulmanes, así como líderes cívicos y comunitarios, incluidos el alcalde de Lexington, jefe de policía y jefe de bomberos.

En la Diócesis de Lexington, Kentucky, cofundó y dirige el Ministerio Católico LGBTQ + Lexington – “Juntos en el Puente”, y fundó “Juntos en la Jornada”, un Ministerio LGBTQ + de Familia, Amigos y Aliados, que ahora es Fortunate Families Lexington.

Su artículo mensual basado en la fe aparece en LinQ, la organización de servicios comunitarios de Pride en la revista Bluegrass LGBTQ +. Ha colaborado con la revista Pastoral Liturgy Magazine, Liturgy Training Publications. Completó su pregrado y primer programa de posgrado en Desarrollo y Administración de Recursos Humanos en la Universidad de Barry, Miami, FL. Luego recibió una maestría en Gobierno y Administración de la Iglesia de la Escuela de Negocios de la Universidad de Villanova, recibió el más alto honor que un estudiante graduado puede obtener en la Universidad de Villanova: el Medallón de Bartley. Es miembro de las sociedades de honor de Phi Kappa Phi y Beta Gamma Sigma. Ha recibido cuatro Proclamaciones de Mayoral por sus iniciativas interreligiosas y LGBTQ + y el Premio Lexington Mayoral Good Neighbor; fue nombrado Embajador de la Commonwealth por el Secretario de Estado de Kentucky; y, en 2017, recibió el Lexington Fairness Jonathan Barker Leadership Award otorgado en parte porque “ha tomado muy en serio las palabras del Papa Francisco y ha trabajado para construir puentes entre las comunidades LGBT y de fe”. En 2019 recibió el George HW Bush Premio Points of Light por su trabajo en la construcción de puentes tanto para la comunidad LGBTQ + como para la comunidad interreligiosa en Lexington, KY; recibió del Rabino David Wirtschafter el Premio Temple Adath Israel Jethro por su trabajo construyendo puentes dentro de la comunidad de Lexington. Es miembro de la Mesa Directiva de Lexington Fairness, la Mesa Ejecutiva del Consejo de Iglesias de Kentucky y la Mesa de Síndicos de la Fundación Newman. En noviembre de 2019 fue elegido vicepresidente de la Mesa de Fideicomisarios de Newman Foundation Inc. Es un Caballero de Colón- Cuarto Grado.
Viaja por los Estados Unidos hablando sobre el Ministerio LGBTQ + y facilitando Días de Discernimiento y Visión, estableciendo Sitios Ministeriales en los que las comunidades religiosas pueden responder intencionalmente a la exhortación del Catecismo para tratar a las hermanas y hermanos LGBTQ + con “respeto, sensibilidad y compasión” y ckorear bienvenida intencional y acompañamiento celebrando la dignidad de hermanas y hermanos con demasiada frecuencia en las periferias.

Ecclesial Advisor

The Most Reverend John E. Stowe, OFM Conv.
Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky

Bishop John was born April 15, 1966 in Amherst, OH. He attended grade school at St. Anthony of Padua Parish, staffed by the Conventual Franciscan Friars, and Lorain Catholic High School. After a year of community college, Bishop John joined the formation program for the Conventual Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Consolation at St. Bonaventure Friary in St. Louis, MO.

Bishop John was born April 15, 1966 in Amherst, OH. He attended grade school at St. Anthony of Padua Parish, staffed by the Conventual Franciscan Friars, and Lorain Catholic High School. After a year of community college, Bishop John joined the formation program for the Conventual Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Consolation at St. Bonaventure Friary in St. Louis, MO. During the time of his candidacy he began studies in philosophy and history at St. Louis University and completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in each in 1990, after an interruption for his novitiate. He subsequently earned a Masters in Divinity and a Licentiate in Church History from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA.

Bishop John made his solemn vows on August 1, 1992, and was ordained to the priesthood on September 16, 1995.

Bishop John served in Texas as a pastor, Moderator of the Curia, and as Chancellor for the Diocese of El Paso. In 2010, he was elected Vicar Provincial of the Province of Our Lady of Consolation and became Pastor and Rector of the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, OH.

On March 12, 2015, Pope Francis named him the third Bishop of Lexington. He was ordained as the third Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington on May 5, 2015.

Board of Directors

Ed Buechel, Kentucky
President

Ed received his undergraduate degree from Xavier University in Cincinnati and his law degree from the University of Kentucky.

Ed received his undergraduate degree from Xavier University in Cincinnati and his law degree from the University of Kentucky. He practices law in Northern Kentucky. Ed and his wife Kathy live in Edgewood, Ky. Ed and Kathy each have a gay son, and they are very proud of both of them. Ed also has a daughter and son-in-law, and Ed and Kathy have one grandson. Ed has participated in numerous parish activities and is involved in a number of community organizations. He serves as the first lay Chair of St. Charles Care Center, Inc. Ed and Kathy host Catholics Embracing the LGBT Community, a support group for parents of LGBT individuals in Northern Kentucky.

Deacon Steve Hester, KENTUCKY
VICE PRESIDENT

Steve serves a busy, downtown parish in Lexington, KY, and is blessed with a wonderful family, all of whom work tirelessly to keep him in line, especially regarding social justice, fairness, and equality. His is one of the fortunate families, blessed with LGBTQ children.

Deacon Steve and his family have recently returned to the Bluegrass State after spending the past four years in Rhode Island. Steve is back at Historic Saint Paul Catholic Church as Pastoral Associate and is looking forward to continuing the parish mission of reaching out to the marginalized. The message of Jesus is one of Love and Mercy for all God’s creatures, and the role of a minister is to further that message, always.

Steve also serves his parish as a permanent deacon, with an emphasis on preaching, LGBTQ outreach, the Peace and Justice committee, ministry to the homeless, and ministry to the homebound. He also serves on the Diocesan Laudato Si Commission and Deacon Council.
Steve's great joys in life are his children, his lovely wife, long walks with the aforementioned wife, and writing. His first novel, Malchus and Me was published in 2023.

Betty Dirr, Ohio
Secretary

Betty attended Catholic schools from first grade through college. She received an MS in Clinical Nutrition from the University of Kentucky
and worked as a hospital Registered Dietitian until her retirement in 2014.

Betty attended Catholic schools from first grade through college. She received an MS in Clinical Nutrition from the University of Kentucky
and worked as a hospital Registered Dietitian until her retirement in 2014.

She lives in Cincinnati with her husband Mike. They are blessed to have two wonderful children, one of whom identifies as gay and nonbinary.

Betty has been with Fortunate Families since 2012.

Fr. Francis Gargani, C. Ss. R., District of Columbia

Francis Gargani has been a parish priest for ten years, in Saratoga Springs, NY and Pittsburgh, PA, after post-graduate studies in Worship at Catholic University, Francis was campus minister at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA for seven years.

Francis Gargani is a priest of the Redemptorist Religious Community ordained in 1971. A parish priest for ten years, in Saratoga Springs, NY and Pittsburgh, PA, after post-graduate studies in Worship at Catholic University, Francis was campus minister at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA for seven years.

Retreat ministry followed at the former Redemptorist Retreat Center in Esopus, NY for nine years, with further post-graduate studies in Spirituality and Spiritual Direction at Fordham University, NY.

After nine more years of ministry focused on social justice, residing in the south Bronx, Francis became superior of the Redemptorist headquarters in Brooklyn, NY also for nine years.

He now resides in Washington, DC, at the new location of the Redemptorist Provincial House, launching into a ministry of evangelization in collaboration with two other Redemptorists.

Francis is past President of “Pax Christi Metro New York,” the international Catholic Voice of Peace, past Board Member of the “Interfaith Assembly on Housing and Homelessness of New York,” past Board Member of the New York Chapter of the “National Pastoral Musicians,” colleague in Iona College of New Rochelle, NY’s “Institute of Spirituality,” colleague of the Inter-faith Seminary of New York, “One Spirit,” recipient of their 2019 “Service to Humanity Award, and original Board Member of “Cave Canem,” North America’s only Black Poets Society. Francis has been Catholic Chaplain at Chautauqua for two previous summers, presenting programs on Thomas Merton and a Just War in the Nuclear Age.

In 2017 he was the pilgrimage leader of the LGBTQ Community to the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ, and facilitated having the LGBTQ community formally welcomed by Redemptorist Joseph Cardinal Tobin.

See Story: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/13/nyregion/catholic-church-gays-mass-newark-cathedral.html

Janice Schwegmann, Kentucky

Jan lives in Cold Spring, KY, with her husband, Joe. They have been married for 50 years and have three grown children and 7 grandchildren.

Jan lives in Cold Spring, KY, with her husband, Joe. They have been married for 50 years and have three grown children and 7 grandchildren.

Jan attended Catholic schools through high school and has advanced degrees in Elementary Education and Music. She was a member of the faculty of St. Joseph School and directed the children’s choir for 30 years. She retired in 2016. She became involved in the LGBTQ+ ministry almost immediately after her youngest daughter came out to her at the age of 30 in 2012.

Fr. Mario Serrano, OFM Conv., Kentucky

Friar Mario has been a Franciscan Friar Conventual since 2003 and was ordained a priest in 2016. He currently serves as Vocation Director and Province Secretary for the Province of Our Lady of Consolation.

Friar Mario has been a Franciscan Friar Conventual since 2003 and was ordained a priest in 2016. He currently serves as Vocation Director and Province Secretary for the Province of Our Lady of Consolation. He is a first-generation Mexican-American; the first in his family to pursue higher education. Prior to his present assignments, he served as Director of University Ministry and Adjunct Faculty in the Theology Department at Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU), Director of University Ministry at St. Joseph University Parish in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Director of University Ministry for the Diocese of El Paso, Texas. Friar Mario holds a B.A. from the Catholic University of America and a Masters of Divinity from the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX. Since 2012, he has been the Spiritual Companion for the HOPE ministry which offers retreats to all members of the Body of Christ who are in need of spiritual healing, especially those who may not otherwise be able to attend a "mainstream/ traditional" retreat and who may require special healthcare services.

Dr. Melinda Moore, Kentucky

Melinda Moore is a Licensed Psychologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Eastern Kentucky University. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from The Catholic University of America.

Melinda Moore is a Licensed Psychologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Eastern Kentucky University.

She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from The Catholic University of America, where she trained in the Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS) and conducted research on CAMS. She regularly trains clinicians in CAMS, as well as advocates on behalf of suicide prevention in her role as chair of the Kentucky Suicide Prevention Group, Inc., a statewide suicide prevention nonprofit.

She has conducted military suicide bereavement research at the University of Kentucky and suicide treatment research at the Robley Rex Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Louisville. Her interest in Posttraumatic Growth emerged from her own experience with suicide and the changes that experience created within her allowing for her current career path and personal interests and relationships.

Jenny Naughton, California

Jenny lives in Diamond Bar, CA with her husband, John. They have one child, a son, John, who came out as gay on his 19th birthday in 2005. Jenny became active in LGBTQ ministry almost immediately after her son came out.

Jenny lives in Diamond Bar, CA with her husband, John. They have one child, a son, John, who came out as gay on his 19th birthday in 2005. Jenny became active in LGBTQ ministry almost immediately after her son came out. She is active in the Los Angeles Archdiocese Catholic Ministry with Lesbian and Gay Persons on the Leadership Committee as well as the Education Committee. Jenny facilitates the LGBTQ ministry at her home parish, Holy Name of Mary, in San Dimas. One goal in Jenny’s ministry is to make all Catholic parishes a safe and welcoming environment for all God’s children, no matter their sexuality or gender identity.

Christine Zuba, New Jersey

Christine lives in Blackwood, New Jersey, near Philadelphia. She received her BS in Electrical Engineering from Penn State University, and an MBA from Rutgers University.

Christine Zuba lives in Blackwood, New Jersey, near Philadelphia.  She received her BS in Electrical Engineering from Penn State University, and an MBA from Rutgers University.  Christine is employed as a television and radio broadcast equipment sales manager to both regional and national networks. Christine is a member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE) and the Association of Federal Communications Consulting Engineers (AFCCE).

A lifelong Catholic born and raised in northeastern Pennsylvania, Christine has lived in southern New Jersey for over 30 years.   Christine has two grown children, a daughter and son.. 

Christine has been a longtime parishioner of Saints Peter and Paul Church in Turnersville.  As a Transgender Catholic she serves as a facilitator of her parish LGBTQ ministry, Together in Prayer.  Christine is also a Eucharistic Minister, and a member of the hospitality committee.  Christine also participates in other ministries such as Out Catholics of Philadelphia, One In the Spirit (Marlton, NJ), and in the NJ-PA Consortium of Welcoming Parishes, a group of similar ministries across New Jersey and Pennsylvania. 

Ministries

Andy Buechel-Rieger, Ohio
Evangelization Ministry Chair

Andy Buechel-Rieger holds a PhD in Theological Studies from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He has also attended the Universities of Dayton and Notre Dame.

Andy Buechel-Rieger holds a PhD in Theological Studies from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He has also attended the Universities of Dayton and Notre Dame. He is currently Assistant Professor of Religious Studies in the Liberal Arts department of Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Betty Dirr, Ohio
Education Ministry Co-chair

Betty attended Catholic schools from first grade through college. She received an MS in Clinical Nutrition from the University of Kentucky
and worked as a hospital Registered Dietitian until her retirement in 2014.

Fortunate Families Education Ministry Mission Statement

The Fortunate Families Education Ministry serves Catholic LGBTQ+ persons, their parents, families, teachers, and friends who are seeking a better understanding of issues related to the intersection of religious faith with sexuality and gender and/or to become a better ally for the LGBTQ+ people in their lives. We do this through:

  • - Listening attentively to understand questions and concerns, acknowledging and respecting differences and lived experience
  • - Sharing our stories
  • - Guiding seekers to credible sources of information from the biological, medical and psycho-social sciences
  • - Lifting up the voices of those within the Catholic Church who are working to build bridges with the LGBTQ+ community
  • - Collaborating with the other Fortunate Families Ministries

Janice Schwegmann, Kentucky
Education Ministry Co-chair

Jan lives in Cold Spring, KY, with her husband, Joe. They have been married for 50 years and have three grown children and 7 grandchildren.

Jan lives in Cold Spring, KY, with her husband, Joe. They have been married for 50 years and have three grown children and 7 grandchildren.

Jan attended Catholic schools through high school and has advanced degrees in Elementary Education and Music. She was a member of the faculty of St. Joseph School and directed the children’s choir for 30 years. She retired in 2016. She became involved in the LGBTQ+ ministry almost immediately after her youngest daughter came out to her at the age of 30 in 2012.

Jason Steidl Jack, New York
Theological Ministry Chair

Jason Steidl Jack is a gay Catholic theologian and Assistant Teaching Professor of Religious Studies at St. Joseph’s University in New York. He is an active member of Out @ St. Paul, the LGBTQ ministry of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Manhattan, and is a leader in LGBTQ Catholic advocacy. In January 2023, Paulist Press published his first book, LGBTQ Catholic Ministry: Past and Present. Jason resides in Brooklyn with his husband, Damian.

Jason Steidl Jack is a gay Catholic theologian and Assistant Teaching Professor of Religious Studies at St. Joseph's University in New York. He is an active member of Out @ St. Paul, the LGBTQ ministry of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Manhattan, and is a leader in LGBTQ Catholic advocacy. In January 2023, Paulist Press published his first book, LGBTQ Catholic Ministry: Past and Present.  Jason resides in Brooklyn with his husband, Damian.

Christine Zuba, New Jersey
Transgender Ministry CHAIR

Christine lives in Blackwood, New Jersey, near Philadelphia. She received her BS in Electrical Engineering from Penn State University, and an MBA from Rutgers University.

Fortunate Families Transgender Ministry Mission Statement

The Transgender Ministry of Fortunate Families affirms, accompanies, and supports transgender and non-binary persons of all ages by facilitating respectful conversation between parents, families, pastors, religious and Church leadership.

Church teaching continually develops in response to doctrinal developments, pastoral needs, and the encounter with new scientific and philosophical insights. Pope John Paul II's Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, acknowledges that, “profound understanding of man does not come from theology alone, without the contributions of many branches of knowledge to which theology itself refers”.  Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti, instructs us, “to be committed to living and teaching the value of respect for others, a love capable of welcoming differences, and the priority of the dignity of every human being”.

The Transgender Ministry encourages Church leadership and all people of God to listen to and to understand the personal stories of transgender and non-binary persons, educates and advocates for the health, safety, dignity, and spiritual well-being, for them and their families.

Administrative Support

Shawn Michael Hunter, Kentucky
Administrative Assistant to the Executive Director

Shawn resides in Nicholasville, KY, and is a student at the University of Kentucky’s College of Social Work. He is a member of the Catholic Diocese of Lexington LGBTQ Outreach Commission, the Honor Society of Phi Theta Kappa, The Society for Collegiate Leadership and Achievement, and is the student member of the Bluegrass Community and Technical College Human Services Advisory Board.

Shawn resides in Nicholasville, KY, and is a student at the University of Kentucky's College of Social Work. He is a member of the Catholic Diocese of Lexington LGBTQ Outreach Commission, the Honor Society of Phi Theta Kappa, The Society for Collegiate Leadership and Achievement, and is the student member of the Bluegrass Community and Technical College Human Services Advisory Board.

Finance

John Eipert, CPA, PSC, Kentucky
Finance Advisor

John graduated from Transylvania University.
Following graduation, John became a Certified Public Accountant and began conducting audits of local governments and non-profits. He is based in Berea, Kentucky. 

John graduated from Transylvania University.
Following graduation, John became a Certified Public Accountant and began conducting audits of local governments and non-profits. He is based in Berea, Kentucky.

Bradford Avery Yelvington, Kentucky
Finance Director

Brad is a native of Athens, Texas and lives in Lexington, Kentucky. Brad earned his Bachelor of Business Administration from The University of Texas at Austin. He is the Finance Director at the Child Development Center of the Bluegrass located on the campus of the University of Kentucky.

Brad is a native of Athens, Texas and lives in Lexington, Kentucky. Brad earned his Bachelor of Business Administration from The University of Texas at Austin. He is the Finance Director at the Child Development Center of the Bluegrass located on the campus of the University of Kentucky.

Honorary Members of the Board of Directors

Sister Luisa Derouen, OP

Sr. Luisa Derouen is a Dominican Sister of Peace and has been ministering among transgender people and their families nationally for 22 years.

Sr. Luisa Derouen is a Dominican Sister of Peace and has been ministering among transgender people and their families nationally for 22 years. She has a BA in Religious Studies from Loyola University in New Orleans, LA, and an MA in Liturgical Theology from the University of Notre Dame, IN.

She completed her internship in spiritual direction from the Ignatius Jesuit Center in Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

She has been a speaker and writer on transgender spiritual issues, as well as facilitating many transgender panels. It has been the greatest privilege of her life to know hundreds of transgender people and give witness to the sacredness of their lives.

She has gifted her legacy and ministry to Fortunate Families and our Transgender Ministry upon her retirement January 1, 2022.

Fr. James Martin, SJ

Fr. Martin is an American Jesuit priest, writer, and editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America. In 2017, Pope Francis appointed Father Martin as a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications.

Fr. Martin is an American Jesuit priest, writer, and editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America. In 2017, Pope Francis appointed Father Martin as a consultant to the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications. He is a New York Times Best Selling author and frequent commentator on the life and teachings of Jesus, and on Ignatian—inspired by the life and teachings of Saint Ignatius of Loyola—spirituality. Father Martin's outreach to the LGBT community has drawn a strong backlash from conservative Catholics. He is the author of Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.

Bradley Leger, Ph.D.

Dr. Bradley Leger is an educator, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, and liturgical musician based in the New Orleans, Louisiana metro area. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and the Louisiana Association of Spiritual Directors.

Dr. Bradley Leger is an educator, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, and liturgical musician based in the New Orleans, Louisiana metro area. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and the Louisiana Association of Spiritual Directors. He has been involved with LGBTQ+ ministry and professional development dealing with LGBTQ+ issues with various groups for several years. His association with Fortunate Families began over ten years ago, first serving as a board assistant. He is currently a member of the Evangelization Ministry Team and the Transgender Ministry of Accompaniment, walking with transgender individuals and their families. He also serves as a facilitator in the Transgender Ministry of Accompaniment Formation Program. In addition, Brad is involved with another major U.S. Catholic-based LGBTQ+ organization: the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative LGBTQ+ Initiative, which works toward full inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals within church and greater society. He holds degrees in Vocational Agricultural Education from Louisiana State University, Master of Pastoral Studies from Loyola University-New Orleans, and a Certificate in Social Justice from the University of Dayton.

Penny Smith-Bogert

Penny Smith-Bogert lives near Albany, NY and is a retired speech/language pathologist. She is a long-time member of her local Roman Catholic parish and has served as a Eucharistic Minister, Faith Formation Teacher, Confirmation PreparationTeam Member and chaperone to the National Catholic Youth Conference.

Penny Smith-Bogert lives near Albany, NY and is a retired speech/language pathologist. She is a long-time member of her local Roman Catholic parish and has served as a Eucharistic Minister, Faith Formation Teacher, Confirmation PreparationTeam Member and chaperone to the National Catholic Youth Conference. She is currently an alto in the Music Ministry. Penny is a lifelong LGBTQ+ ally and has been active in the Capital Region Pride Center and her local PFLAG chapter. She also served on the Board of Fortunate Families for many years as secretary. Penny is the mother of two adult children, Jessica and Aaron, and recently became the very proud mother-in-law of Tom, when he married Aaron in July 2023.

In Memoriam

Michael J. Iafrate

Michael was a theologian and songwriter from West Virginia and a doctoral candidate at the University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto. He was also a singer-songwriter and old time musician, and his most recent album, “Christian Burial,” was released in 2017.

Michael J. Iafrate was a theologian and songwriter from West Virginia and a doctoral candidate at the University of St. Michael's College, University of Toronto. He served as Co-Coordinator of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) and was the lead author of CCA’s people's pastoral letter "The Telling Takes Us Home: Taking Our Place in the Stories that Shape Us." His writing has appeared in National Catholic Reporter and Religion Dispatches, various journals, and the collections Secular Music and Sacred Theology (2013) and Music, Theology, and Justice (2017). He was also a singer-songwriter and old time musician, and his most recent album, "Christian Burial," was released in 2017. Prior to his untimely death in May 2021, he served as a Theological Advisor to Fortunate Families.

Casey Lopata

Casey Lopata, with spouse Mary Ellen Lopata, was one of Fortunate Family’s co-founders. From 1992 until his death in 2021, he worked in ministry with gay and lesbian Catholics and their families. The Lopatas were founding members of the Catholic Gay and Lesbian Family Ministry (CGLFM) and the Catholic Association of Lesbian and Gay Ministries (CALGM) and charter members of the Catholic Parents Network.

Casey Lopata, with spouse Mary Ellen Lopata, was one of Fortunate Family’s co-founders. From 1992 until his death in 2021, he worked in ministry with gay and lesbian Catholics and their families. The Lopatas were founding members of the Catholic Gay and Lesbian Family Ministry (CGLFM) and the Catholic Association of Lesbian and Gay Ministries (CALGM) and charter members of the Catholic Parents Network.

In 2003, the book Fortunate Families, written by Mary Ellen Lopata with Casey Lopata, was published. The book shares the stories of, and offers guidance to, Catholic parents of gay and lesbian children, and outlines what these families want and need from their Church. The following year, they founded the organization Fortunate Families to focus on ministry with parents on a national level, retiring from the board in 2014 after guiding and growing the organization through its first decade. They continued to serve on the organization’s Advisory Council in the following years.

Casey had a master of divinity degree from St. Bernard’s Institute in Rochester, N.Y. His full obituary can be found at https://www.anthonychapels.com/obituaries/Casimer-Casey-Lopata?obId=20986594.

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a retired auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Detroit, died April 4, 2024. He was 94. He served as an adviser to the executive director of Fortunate Families from 2017 until 2022. Bishop Gumbleton was born Jan. 26, 1930, and grew up in Epiphany Parish on Detroit’s west side. On June 2, 1956, he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Detroit, and on March 8, 1968, Pope Paul VI appointed him the 10th auxiliary bishop of Detroit. He was consecrated on May 1, at that time the youngest bishop in the country.

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a retired auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Detroit, died April 4, 2024. He was 94. He served as an adviser to the executive director of Fortunate Families from 2017 until 2022.

Bishop Gumbleton was born Jan. 26, 1930, and grew up in Epiphany Parish on Detroit’s west side. On June 2, 1956, he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Detroit, and on March 8, 1968, Pope Paul VI appointed him the 10th auxiliary bishop of Detroit. He was consecrated on May 1, at that time the youngest bishop in the country.

A champion of social justice causes, Bishop Gumbleton was one of the most prominent Catholic leaders to speak out against the Vietnam War and became the founding president of Pax Christi USA, an American Catholic peace movement that calls for non-violence and the abolishment of nuclear weapons. He traveled the world, speaking out against wars and meeting victims of violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Israel, Palestine, Colombia, Haiti and Peru. For his lifelong effort to promote peace and harmony, Bishop Gumbleton received the 2007 Detroit Spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. Award, in addition to several other honors from universities and nonprofits.
Inspired by the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s and the 1971 encyclical Justice in the World, Bishop Gumbleton spent his life promoting peace, nonviolence, human rights, and equity. He traveled around the world to engage with and learn from people in impoverished and war-torn regions, and he was devoted to his neighbors and parishioners in Detroit. He was beloved for his gentleness and humility, and respected for his deep integrity and commitment.

“Bishop Gumbleton took the gospel to heart and lived it day in and day out. He preferred to speak the truth and to be on the side of the marginalized than to tow any party line and climb the ecclesiastical ladder. When it came to speaking the prophetic word he was unafraid and lived with the consequences. I pray for more shepherds like Tom Gumbleton who lived the spirituality of nonviolence in all contexts. It is kind of fitting that he shares the anniversary of death of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.” said Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv.

Our Founders

Casey & Mary Ellen Lopata

Casey (deceased) and Mary Ellen Lopata are the parents of four children, including a son who came out to them as gay at age 19. They began ministry with gay and lesbian Catholics and their families starting in 1992. The Lopatas were founding members of the Catholic Gay and Lesbian Family Ministry (CGLFM) and the Catholic Association of Lesbian and Gay Ministries (CALGM) and charter members of the Catholic Parents Network.

Casey (deceased) and Mary Ellen Lopata are the parents of four children, including a son who came out to them as gay at age 19. They began ministry with gay and lesbian Catholics and their families in 1992. The Lopatas were founding members of the Catholic Gay and Lesbian Family Ministry (CGLFM) and the Catholic Association of Lesbian and Gay Ministries (CALGM) and charter members of the Catholic Parents Network.

In 2003, the book Fortunate Families, written by Mary Ellen Lopata with Casey Lopata, was published. The book shares the stories of, and offers guidance to, Catholic parents of gay and lesbian children, and outlines what these families want and need from their Church. The following year, they founded the organization Fortunate Families to focus on ministry with parents on a national level, retiring from the board in 2014 after guiding and growing the organization through its first decade. They continue to serve on the organization’s Advisory Council.

Mary Ellen holds a master’s degree in liberal studies with a focus on homosexuality and the family. Casey held a master of divinity degree from St. Bernard’s Institute in Rochester, N.Y.