Sister Monica’s Secret Ministry to Transgender People

Philip Scott Andrews / RNS

Sister Monica, shown outside her home, has spent her career ministering to transgender people. Photo via Philip Scott Andrews / RNS

Sister Monica lives alone in a small house at the edge of a Roman Catholic college run by a community of nuns.

She doesn’t want to reveal the name of the town where she lives, the name of her Catholic order, or her real name.

Sister Monica lives in hiding, so that others may live in plain sight.

Now in her early 70s and semiretired because of health problems, she remains committed to her singular calling for the past 16 years: ministering to transgender people and helping them come out of the shadows.

The Wrong Messenger and the Smell of a Neck Bone

Hand illustration, Room27 /

Hand illustration, Room27 /

I am the Dean of Students at Covenant Theological Seminary, the National Seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). I am the pastor of South City Church in Saint Louis. South City Church is a PCA congregation, and it is predominantly white. I am a retired full colonel PCA Army chaplain. I was born and raised in North Saint Louis city. My father now lives in Ferguson, Mo. I am a black man. If that comes as a shock, believe me I understand; it is a shock to me every morning when I wake up and go to work at Covenant Seminary in West Saint Louis County, a mostly wealthy and white suburb. It shocks me every time I walk into my church in South Saint Louis and remember that I am one of only 47 black pastors in my denomination and that I work in a mostly white conservative, evangelical church. I am constantly at the feet of Jesus asking for help in navigating the racial, cultural, and generational waters around me. It is a wonderful opportunity, but it is challenging for someone like me; I grew up believing that white people never really wanted to be in close proximity to black people unless they were the ones controlling the situation. There was also the belief that the only black people who were successful in white organizations were the ones who did not mind being tokens without real dignity in the system. There may be people who believe these things about me. I have even questioned myself as to why I have been given so many opportunities in the PCA. I sometimes don’t like the answers that come to mind.

Recently, a young pastor asked my opinion on cross-cultural ministry. He asked me how an African American got two positions as both Covenant’s Dean of Students and as pastor of South City Church. I explained, “it makes no sense, since so much of the history in our denomination makes me the wrong guy for the job! But through God’s sovereign will, here I am!” His response was, “I guess God always sends the wrong messenger.”

The Beautiful Stupidity of Writing (Part 1)

Photo: Writer, © Sergey856 /

Photo: Writer, © Sergey856 /

I’ve been asked how I knew I was called to be a writer. For me, calling is fairly easy to recognize. If the thought of doing something fills you with equal parts joy and terror, it’s probably a calling. 

There’s more to it than that, I suppose, since the idea of buying a new Tesla sports car fills me with both feelings too, mostly because my wife, Amy, would kill me. There are other elements, like the conviction that our calling should feel something of an identifiable need in the world, and that it should call on gifts we have in a way that is life-giving not just to others, but joyful and life-affirming for us as well.

But the joy and terror thing is a pretty good sign you’re on the right track.

Accompanied by Nones

Brian E. Konkol. Photo courtesy of the author.

Brian E. Konkol. Photo courtesy of the author.

It was December of 2000, but I remember the occasion as if it were yesterday.

It was a few days after Christmas during my senior year of college. I was quite nervous, and I wondered how my friends and family would react. 

How would my basketball teammates respond? Would my roommates treat me differently? And of course, what about my girlfriend? She had no idea our relationship would take such a dramatic turn.

I could hide no longer. I had to be honest with who I was. And so, after a great deal of delay and long nights of nervous planning, I finally decided to share what I had been keeping secret. 

Beginning with my girlfriend, then my parents, brother, sister, and eventually friends, roommates, and teammates, I shared the news: After a significant amount of prayer and discernment, I was no longer planning to attend law school following college graduation, but instead, I wanted to attend seminary in order to become an ordained Lutheran pastor.

As to be expected, I received mixed reactions.

My parents were confused and surprised, as they – like most people – had not perceived me as “religious”," especially not to the point of pursuing ordination. Nevertheless, they accepted the news with delight and affirmation. 

In addition, my girlfriend (who is now my wife) was wonderfully supportive. So was my brother, sister, and closest friends. 

On the other hand, some others were not sure how to react. My friends – mostly uninterested in religion – wondered about future plans. Basketball teammates were a bit uneasy. And even the campus priest and a few professors had an assortment of reactions. While a number of people were anxious and apprehensive, those within my closest circle of friends accepted the announcement with open arms. 

I continue to thank God for such a wonderful web of support.

Finding Your Vocation: Lessons From Jim Forest

Father and son advice, Emese /

Father and son advice, Emese /

An open letter to my beloved sons, in whom I am well pleased,

I'm writing this fatherly letter about the difference between a career and a vocation. I learned this wisdom from Jim Forest, an old man who was a famous peace activist in the 1960s and walked many of the top spiritual activists of the 20th century. He personally taught me some important lessons on vocation that might be very helpful to you, and he specifically had you three in mind when he shared this.

When I say "career," I mean the idea of a job that you work at to make money, get promotions, become an expert, and eventually retire and earn a pension. There's nothing really wrong with having a career, or even a few careers. For example, you could say I was a "career pastor" for 20 years.

But there is something more important that we call a "vocation." A vocation may also include getting a paycheck and going to a workplace, but there is much more. A vocation is a "calling" that can span over many careers. For example, I think by vocation I am called to teach. I did that as a youth pastor, a church-planter, a college teacher, a seminar facilitator, an author, and a publisher. All of those mini-careers are just the platform I used to live out my calling. 

Group House Gives Women a Place to Discern Their Calling as Nuns

RNS photo by Rusty Costanza / The Times-Picayune

Paige LaCour, second from right, hugs Archbishop Gregory Aymond. RNS photo: Rusty Costanza / The Times-Picayune

In what is being described as the first of its kind in the U.S., the Archdiocese of New Orleans has transformed a vacant church rectory into a group house where single women will live together while deciding whether to undertake lives as nuns.

The center, dedicated on Aug. 15, occupies the second and third floors of the St. Rita rectory. Within a few days, two women, then perhaps three more, will move into the spotless rectory, their collective lives to be superintended by two veteran nuns who will show the younger women the dynamics of shared community life.

“How we live in community. How to communicate. How to share,” said Sister Carmen Bertrand, for 48 years a member of the Sisters of the Holy Family.

Beyond orienting them to the rhythms of community life, Bertrand and her colleague, Sister Diane Roche, a Religious of the Sacred Heart, will teach the tenants various modes of prayer, organize occasional retreats, and bring in representatives of other religious orders to present themselves and their ways of life.