Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Remembering David McCaffrey

By Mary Lynn Murphy

I have been wandering around the house all morning, drying my tears on the hem of my night gown, still not believing that David McCaffrey is gone. I suppose our icons never really leave us, though, and David was without a doubt, one of the Twin Cities icons of the gay rights movement, especially in Catholic contexts. But . . . I won't see his round impish face anymore, won't hear his bird whistles, his hilarious wise cracks, his wonderful singing voice, or his pitch perfect imitations of crusty old clerics from days long past. I won't observe the sideways comments to his partner Michael that crack them both up! I won't receive his understated absolution/apologies after one of our many tiffs, or his consistent affirmation of my role in this work. I will sorely miss David McCaffrey, whose lasting impression on my life dates back almost two decades.

On a late fall afternoon I waited to be buzzed into the massive side door of the Basilica of St. Mary. I was headed for my first meeting with a tongue twister of a group named "Catholic Pastoral Committee for Sexual Minorities" (CPCSM). I could never get the initials or the name straight! And I wasn't all that clear about what this group wanted from me.

I wondered about that as I followed directions down a darkened hallway to a suddenly sunny and laughter filled, man filled room – all seated around a huge oblong table. Smiles surrounded the cookie filled table, amidst efforts to straighten up and act a little more dignified - now that their female guest/potential new member had arrived. They referred to me as their "crown jewel," in that I was an "out" mother of a gay kid, a board member of a Catholic high school, and looking for a way to make a difference. That day I found it.

David McCaffrey and Bill Kummer were clearly the head honchos of CPCSM. They played off one another that day and always, like finely tuned instruments creating warm, informal feelings in that most formal of settings. (The official church was more welcoming of LGBT leaders then, before it became apparent that they weren't going away, and were intent on raising the public profile of the Catholic gay rights struggle.)

David boomed out his personal introduction (in that resonant voice!), relating stories complicated by Bill's frequent interruptions and guffaws from the rest of them. What a crew! Though their work was deadly serious, I have never had more fun at meetings than pounding the table in laughter during the early days with Bill, David, and their brain child offspring, CPCSM. Through that organization and its future manifestations, Bill and David became tag team teachers, mentors, and cheer leaders for a whole generation of people seeking hope.

Despite being a straight woman, I was welcomed into their mostly male ranks, which later opened to all kinds of women, parents, and activists. David and Bill built an impressive organization. When one of them faltered, the other picked up the slack. I used to laugh at their complicated flow charts – that rarely panned out, but kept them busy through long nights of insomnia! The success of their work came not from flow charts, but straight from their hearts. They persevered through all of it, (with great support from the Sisters of St. Joseph), celebrating when things fell in place, and gutting out the disappointments - which were many. From David and Bill I learned that social justice must be a way of life, and that unadulterated passion is the truest catalyst for change.

David McCaffrey was a passionate man. For sure he had a temper, but he gave you an honest answer when you needed it. He had you-know-what's of steel when it came to facing down conflict, and never backed away from a struggle. He spoke out loud against the bigotry of presenters at an Archdiocesan "Marriage Panel" at the University of St. Thomas. It was he who sanctioned the suggestion of a "Die In" at the Cathedral, never fearful of "making a spectacle."

David embodied the deepest sense of justice. He was relentless. At initial Safe Staff meetings with Catholic school administrators, David laid out our objectives with the precision of a Church historian, backed up by solid psychological data, and empathy for kids who were suffering. His professionalism, comfort with Catholic administrators, and obvious good heart helped establish our credibility. His understanding of boundary limits in schools set a professional basis for our effectiveness. His written summaries of the work were impeccable and detailed to the max. That man could write!

David was a man on fire in many respects, and the flames burned bright until the very last minute. He had co-convened Catholics For Marriage Equality MN to fight the anti-gay marriage amendment, and valiantly kept up communication websites despite health that was fading faster than we knew. (He had planned to be the "wheel man" at the Basilica Block Party action, but ended up in the hospital instead). David would have been so pleased with the entire wonderful outcome. Concert goers swamped us for "I support marriage equality" stickers. How thrilled he would be by such a warm response on Catholic soil! He, Michael Bayly, and the Catholics for Marriage Equality folks should take a huge bow for that one!

David should take so many bows for his work both during and before my tenure at CPCSM. Though change within the Church has stalled in recent years, (to David's enormous frustration!) it is coming on steady as a freight train in America at large. David has been an undeniable part of that. The Safe Schools Initiative (in addition to all of the other initiatives David helped launch) extended far beyond the Catholic school doors, and helped lay the tracks for the engines of societal change.

Earlier (in the mid '90s), after his retirement, Archbishop John Roach publicly acknowledged David and Bill's work. From inside the walls of the Cathedral he spoke about CPCSM in words to the affect of: "These are the the people to see if you have questions about homosexuality. Go to them if you need help". I have never forgotten that day. It made David so proud.

Whether building trust with the hierarchy in better times, or launching the Safe Schools Initiative; whether in meetings with the Catholic Education and Formation Ministries (CEFM) of the the Archdiocese (left) or in eloquent writings, personal presentations, and videotaping events; whether verbally archiving CPCSM history, or lying flat on his back "dying in" at the Cathedral; whether facing down opponents at demonstrations and crashed conferences, or counseling those in need and firing up our motley crew, David led the way for change that is finally arriving in American society. This change will someday, thanks to people like David, even arrive in his beloved Church. David was a remarkable man whose tenacity of spirit will probably remain with me much longer than I might ever have imagined.

If there is any justice out there, David is now with his trusted friend, Bill Kummer, and he will be savoring a job well done. I will be calling on David for prayerful intervention as I often have, and I will remember the man who gave his life to his cause, his Church, and to the people he loved.

– Mary Lynn Murphy


David's funeral arrangements:

Visitation: 4:00-8:00 p.m., Thursday, July 14, 2011 – Bradshaw Funeral Home, 1078 Rice St., Saint Paul.

Funeral/Memorial: 11 a.m., Friday, July 15, 2011 at the Church of St. Stanislaus, 398 Superior St. & West 7th St., Saint Paul.


Recommended Off-site Links:
"I Have Never Felt Closer to Anyone in My Entire Life Than to David" – Michael Douglas (The Wild Reed, July 12, 2011).
Sad News – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, July 10, 2011).
CPCSM Co-Founder Responds to "Not Catholic" Assertion
History Matters
CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (Part 1)
CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (Part 2)
CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (Part 3)
CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (Part 4)


  1. Mary Lynn, thanks so much for this wonderful word picture of David. I came very late to the cause, in 2004, after reading the Minnesota bishop's letter endorsing an amendment to the state constitution to restrict civil marriage "and all legal equivalents" to heterosexuals. The meanness and waywardness of that shivered my timbers. David was by that time very frustrated by the withdrawal of pastoral care for GLBT persons but he was always kind to a newly awakened ally.

  2. Mary Lynn, this is so beautifully written. It is a poem to a man we all loved. Thank-you for offering this remembrance of David - its like I can hear him laughing and smiling as I read. I hadn't seen him for awhile and your words capture him so well. Those were crazy times and I miss him crazy a lot. Just as when Bill passed. Your words bring peace... Aimee