Father Bob


St. Mary’s Church in Northampton was served by assistant pastor Robert L. Arpin from 1972 to 1975. St. Mary’s is a Catholic church, and Robert Arpin was a priest. It was in Northampton, he reveals in his memoir, that he began to suspect that he was gay. He took a two year leave of absence from the ministry during which he confirmed that suspicion. Afterwards, he requested assignment to minister in San Francisco. There, in 1981, he witnessed the beginning of the AIDS epidemic among gay men. Diagnosed himself with AIDS in 1987, he became the first Roman Catholic priest to come out as being gay and also as having AIDS.

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FROM “TOM SHEA’S NOTEBOOK”,  Courtesy of the Springfield Union-News, Dec. 29, 1988

Father Bob, as he became known, wrote a memoir with the title of Wonderfully, Fearfully Made.   Published in 1993, the book details some of his experiences in Northampton. The twenty-five year-old Chicopee native was newly ordained as a priest in 1972. St. Mary’s was his very first parish.  A self-described fat and studious only child in an extended family of French-Canadian heritage, he had played priest at age five using Necco candy wafers to give communion. He been educated entirely within the Catholic system, including two seminaries.

Within the first six months at St. Mary’s, he began to question his sexuality. He writes: “I started, for the first time in my life, paying attention to my physical and emotional desires. I started recognizing that I was having fantasies that weren’t all related to standing at the altar and being a priest and that I was attracted emotionally and sexually to other men.” He continues, “This self-recognition came very slowly for me… it was helped along by a series of ministries and events not the least of which was my appointment as chaplain to Smith College (where) I was introduced early in my ministry to the notions of feminism and, in the process, met lots of lesbians on campus.”

Arpin goes on to mention a sudden and rapid increase in gays coming to him for Saturday night confession at St. Mary’s. This culminated in a group of them from the “Gay Student Union” ( probably UMass SHL/GLF) knocking on the rectory door to speak with him. They told Arpin, with thanks, that he was the first priest in the area who hadn’t thrown them out as soon as they identified themselves.

For fear of losing his vocation, he couldn’t come out to these gay parishioners, except, eventually for a very few close friends. When Arpin told his spiritual advisor of his new feelings, he was told him he couldn’t be both priest and gay at the same time. His advisor referred him to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist, after determining that the priest didn’t feel guilty, advised him merely to be “discrete.”

Arpin found his support mostly outside the Valley. He made his way to the Boston chapter of Dignity, the gay Catholic group, where he found other gay and very closeted priests from the region. The stories of persecution by the Church he heard there confirmed his need to stay in the closet, even though it caused him no end of stress to hide those parts of himself.

Being closeted and overworking himself led to recurring bouts of hepatitis during his three year ministry in Northampton. This was the direct causing of his request for a two year leave of absence. Spending this time in San Francisco, supporting himself outside the Church with odd jobs, and getting gay friendly therapy restored his health and convinced him he could be a gay priest. At his request, the Springfield Diocese loaned him to the San Francisco Diocese, where he began a ministry as a hospital chaplain and grief counselor.

Father Bob came out publicly in 1987 after being himself diagnosed with AIDS. When he came out as a priest to the gay community, he began a new ministry. After coming out to Church authorities, including the Springfield Bishop and San Francisco Archbishop, he was supported financially and spiritually by the Springfield Diocese and allowed  to continue the work in California, where he now became an open advocate on a national as well as local level for the treatment, care, and acceptance of people with AIDS. He also continuing his work with the grieving. He died in 1995, eight years after being given a diagnosis which predicted his death within eighteen months.

Sources:

__Arpin, Fr. Robert L. Wonderfully, Fearfully Made: Letters on Living with Hope, Teaching Understanding, and Ministering with Love, From a Gay Catholic Priest with AIDS. HarperCollins Publishers. New York, NY. 1993.

__Shea, Tom. “Tom Shea’s Notebook.” Springfield (MA) Union-News. Dec. 29, 1988. p21.

__Fernss, Susan. “S.F. mourns gay priest who saw no bounds to love.” Examiner. San Francisco CA. May 28, 1995.

 

An Intense Confluence of Radical Ideas: Umass Fall 1971


 

The 1970 co-founders of UMass/Amherst Student Homophile League (see previous posts)  had rapidly moved into other forms of activism creating a leadership vacuum within the group. Kathryn Girard joined the Women’s Caucus of the School of Education and Michael Obligado started, with other more radical SHL members, the local Gay Liberation Front. I stepped into this opening for leadership that Autumn of 1971, editing a few editions of SHL’s newsletter the Closet Door, and ushering the group through the process of getting recognized status as a student group and student senate funding.

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Kathyrn Girard and I outside the GLF space in the Student Union basement (across from the Hatch) early 1971, photographer unknown

Shortly after I started going to SHL meetings in the fall of 1970, I broke up with my partner Susan  and moved into a rooming house in Northampton. I had to leave the cats and dog in her custody. In addition to a subscription to the lesbian magazine the Ladder, my partner and I had established a mutual correspondence with its editor Barbara Grier (publically Gene Damon). Susan sent clippings of relevant news and book reviews. I contributed black and white line drawings on demand that were published as illustrations under the pseudonym Kate McColl.

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Illustration I did for the Ladder under the pseudonym of Kate McColl. I don’t have the date for this issue.

I sent Barbara a letter telling her of this change in relationship, and also about my involvement with the area’s first gay group, SHL. I think she was in St. Louis, Missouri, working as a librarian and living with a partner, Helen. Her response was, “…enjoy your gay lib play therapy.. but when the boys take over go find a women’s lib groups and educate them…”

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Dictaphone memo sent to me from Barbara Grier dated 11.12.70.

It took an eventful year before I finally understood and took Barbara’s advice. I was, after all, a recent veteran out of Ohio. I was Republican (“I like Ike“) stock and older than most UMass undergrads. I looked around at freshman orientation in 1969, at the anti-war protests, hippies, and drugs, and, when surveyed by the school, projected my four year experience there would make me, in a reactionary way, more conservative. Ha ha!!

I cannot adequately describe the intense confluence of radical ideas flooding the campus (and Valley) at that time, some of which were (literally) hallucinogenic. This was a massive influx that stunned then stirred my brain into bursts of new synapses. Light bulbs turning on, indeed.

Sifting through a book of paper scraps jammed together, I see the autumn of 1971 as being pivotal, not only for my personal identity, but as a further base-laying for Northampton’s unique LGBTQ culture. Three historical developments are apparent then: 1.) An early organizational separation between gay women and gay men; 2.) a wide emphasis on radical (as opposed to reform) feminism that began receiving regular energy boosts from nationally known feminists (and lesbians); and 3.) the melding of these two circumstances that would lead to the emergence of a phenomenally strong and multi-faceted expression of Lesbian feminism.

Several news items of note appeared in the October 1971 Closet Door. There are notices of the beginnings of three collectives. The women’s collective would live together in North Amherst on Leverett Road. They overlapped with another newly forming group, the women’s newspaper collective that was to produce the area’s first feminist newspaper, The Full Moon. The Men’s Collective mentioned was, in fact, gay. Michael and friends rented a large house on Butler Place in Northampton. Included in the newsletter is the invitation to attend weekly parties there after the SHL Thursday evening meetings. I think the cover charge for the parties  helped pay the rent. The guys would show off their latest drag costumes garnered from the free store at the Valley Women’s Center.

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Closet Door SHL newsletter Oct. 1971

I am not sure how it happened but by the end of Nov. 1971 I had written a multipage report on the status of women and activism at UMass which was printed in the alternative campus paper, Poor Richard’s.  In the meantime, I came out to my mother over the phone because I was included in the first mainstream media coverage of the Valley’s Gay Movement, Dec.7 in the Springfield Union. My mother’s response was that she had read something in the Readers’ Digest and would pray for me.

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Courtesy Springfield Union published Dec. 7, 1971.
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Michael and I clowning around in front of the Union photographer, Really? Print this!

I also let it be known in SHL that I would be doing less in the group as, instead, I organized a Dec. 8 first meeting of the Gay Women’s Caucus. The space advertised was JQA lounge near the brand new Southwest residential area Women’s Center, in what, I heard, was a former janitor’s closet. The Caucus was the foremother of the UMass Lesbian Union. The attendance was small and my memory needs to be refreshed by others (Jane? Dale?), but my recollection is that the small size and very wide range of interests meant we mostly met socially with each other rather than suggested potlucks or CR/study/action groups. It was a clear statement, however, that gay women had needs separate from gay men, something that other women outside SHL may have already concluded as they joined feminist groups on campus or Amherst Women’s Liberation.

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schedule of events at the end of 1971 published in an article I wrote in Poor Richard’s

 

The year ended for me with euphoria when nationally known feminist and poet Robin Morgan spoke at UMass as part of the Distinguished Visitors Program. (I would like to know who orchestrated this major funding coup.) Addressing a capacity crowd of mostly women in the Student Union Ballroom, she focused on the current state of radical feminism in the U.S. It was the first of many solo appearances by Robin in the Valley. She had previously visited the Smith Campus at the invitation of undergraduate Sandy Lilydahl in 1968 as part of WITCH, Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell.

I fell in love with Robin when she refused to take questions from men after the lecture. I also loved her handling of a student reporter. A few of us sat with her in the campus center coffee shop afterwards, where a male from the Collegian persisted in asking her questions.  My mouth must have dropped open when she told him to “stick his prick in his mouth and sew it shut.” Oh my!

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Photo caption reads “Robin…makes a point about why she feels women.” Massachusetts Daily Collegian Dec. 15, 1971. My guess is that since Robin wouldn’t talk to male reporters they finally got it and allowed a woman to report. From my scrapbook.

A few days later a (first) regional women’s conference was convened at UMass by the Leverett Rd. Women’s Collective. Among the ten scheduled-in-advance workshops was a “gay” one, facilitated by yours truly. Little did I anticipate the explosion of political activity I would be swept into over the coming decade, except I knew it would be with women, with sisters.

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First (?) regional women’s conference 1971.

Sources:

__ McColl, Kate. Illustration. The Ladder. Circa 1970-71.

__Grier, Barbara. Memo note to Kay Raymond. Dated 11.12.70.

__Closet Door, newsletter of the Student Homophile League, UMass Amherst. Oct 1971.

__Bradley, Jeff. “Gay Society Emerging on UMass Campus.” Springfield Union. Dec. 7, 1971.

__Raymond Kay M. “Part II. The Other 42%.” Poor Richard’s: a Weekly Magazine. UMass Amherst. Dec. 3, 1971.

__Spencer, Buffy. “Ms. Morgan Says Women’s Movement Alive.” Massachusetts Daily Collegian. Amherst. Dec. 15, 1971.

__Raymond, Kay(marion) and Letalien, Jacqueline, editors. A Herstorical Chronology of the Valley Women’s Movement, 1968-1978. Ceres, Inc. Northampton. 1978.

__Flyer, mimeographed. Regional Women’s Conference.  UMass Amherst. Dec. 17-19, 1971.

the Girls Club


Gay women were in the minority, by far, in the UMass Student Homophile League and its 1971 spinoff activist group the Gay Liberation Front. One survey reached twenty four women out of a total of one hundred members attending SHL events. It often felt like many fewer women. One of the first things we did independently of the gay men was take a field trip to The Girls Club, the women’s bar in Chicopee that we had heard about.

I don’t recall who got the directions, but they really had to be specific because the place wasn’t visible from the road or otherwise marked.  In time-fuzzed images, I see us entering at the walk-in basement level from the parking lot at that back of a small building that housed another bar up above. I retain the impression that it was near water, and in an industrial area not well lighted, definitely off the beaten track unless you lived or worked nearby.

I later heard it had been opened in the late 1940s specifically as a women’s bar, and remained so until at least 1993 though its name was changed to the Hideaway or Our Hideaway. It was a working class bar with pool table (with tournament sign-up sheet and news of the softball team on the bulletin board), pinball machine, and jukebox all handy to the bar and space for a DJ or band in the next room, with tables around a small dance area.

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the small dance floor at the Girls Club, (Michelle Faucher photo album)

 

The clientele was diverse, though mostly white, ranging from regulars who had been going there for decades to “tourists” like those of us from SHL visiting from what seemed like a different planet. From my own experience in the military, there were probably WAF from nearby Westover Air Force Base in attendance as well. This was, as far as I know, the only lesbian bar in Western Massachusetts at the time, and one of the few in New England outside of Boston.

I later met someone who grew up in the area, the drummer Michelle “Micki” Faucher, who played the Girls Club as part of an all-“girls” (as they were called back then) rock band the Reflections of Tyme. When not playing the Club, the band made music at weddings and other straight events as the Patches of Blue. I’m guessing that this was late 1960s to early 1970s.

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Drummer Micki Faucher playing at the Girls Club with the Reflections of Tyme (sic) . (Michelle Faucher photo album)
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Reflections of Tyme playing at the Girls Club. (Michelle Faucher photo album)
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The Patches of Blue, the band’s “straight” guise. (Michele Faucher photo album)

 

There is a fine novel by Sally Bellerose  called The Girls Club  (Bywater Books, 2011) which accurately includes this very same bar as a not so minor setting. Highly recommended.

Looking for: The names and whereabouts of the other band members, more of the Club’s history.  Recollections anyone? Please comment here or email me (see contact above).

Coming next: “T” is for…

Sources:

__Cercone, G. James. “Survey of 100 Homosexual Members of the University of Massachusetts Student Homophile League (April 1971). For a Sociology 391 Seminar. I only have the pie-chart graph from this.

__Rothenberg, Heather. “Our Hideaway: history and ‘herstory’ of a lesbian bar as a social institution.” Project Proposal. Smith College. September 1998. Project may not have been done, it included interviewing the bar’s owner who had retired to Florida.

__Faucher, Michelle. Photo album undated given to Kaymarion Raymond.