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Shelia Flynn | Wednesday, February 18, 2004

He had remained silent for decades, but in April 1996, he wrote the letter.An outcry replaced the silence, and David Garrick’s life, as he knew it, began to unravel. Eight years later, Garrick is no longer at Notre Dame, is no longer a priest and has disappeared from the spotlight. The last major interview with Garrick was printed in the National Catholic Reporter in 2001, and The Observer was unable to contact him for this story.But many still remember his role in shaping Notre Dame history.Garrick was a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross. He had been a rector ofKeenan Hall. He was an assistant professor of theater and communications, he wore his hair a little long, and he wrote poetry.He was also gay, and he admitted his homosexuality to the entire Notre Dame community in a letter printed in The Observer Viewpoint section on April 9,1996.”I could not teach people in the Church about gay people if I didn’t come out myself,” Garrick told The Observer in a 1998 interview. “I had to back it up. I could not lead a double life.”The letter came against a backdrop of controversy about homosexuals at Notre Dame. The early 1990s were filled with protests and rallies. In 1993, GLND/SMC was told to leave its designated space in the Counseling Center. After that decision, Garrick said, he knew he had to publicize his homosexuality.He wanted to be a role model for young, Catholic homosexual students – because he had never had one. Throughout his adolescence, teen years and college experience (Garrick graduated from Notre Dame in 1966) he had never come into contact with anyone to whom he could look for advice and examples about how to live a both gay and Catholic life. And he wanted to be that person for struggling students.”Without good role models, young people fall into despair. I want them to know that other futures are available to them,” he told The Observer.In his letter, Garrick maintained that he had honored the priestly vow of celibacy, and he outlined a personal theology that discussed living with homosexuality.Soon, though, he said his life at the University changed. “I haven’t had any priestly duties on this campus as of April 1996,” Garrick said in 1998. “No men’s dorms have asked me to say Mass, and only two women’s dorms have – that’s devastating for a priest.”Holy Cross officials, however, denied that Garrick had been relieved from any responsibilities based on his sexual orientation.But Garrick said the ostracization became so bad that he felt compelled to announce his resignation from the University in March 1998. He also described his resignation as a protest of the University’s failure to implement a non-discrimination clause against homosexuals. Garrick’s departure spurred an explosion of protest, petitions and rallies, but the administration continued to uphold its stance against the inclusion clause – a which still does not exist.The Holy Cross order agreed to send Garrick to Los Angeles to work in the AIDS ministry, but he was told that he would have to find another job outside the priesthood within 10 months of his arrival in California. For his own part, Garrick did not exactly make excessive efforts to assuage tensions – he continued to put books on the order’s tab and took a $2,000 trip to complete an epic poem, NCR reported.Consequently, in June 1999, Garrick left the order and began hunting for employment while continuing another project – he was writing a play about homosexuality, he told the NCR in November 2000.”It would have made more sense financially to take a computer job someplace,” Garrick said. “Or I could put on this damn play.”So Garrick took a job, which paid $6.60 an hour, as a Pinkerton security guard for “The Tonight Show.” He finished the play, “A Difficult Patient,” and enlisted the sponsorship of the local chapter of Dignity, an organization for gay and lesbian Catholics. Because the play was non-profit, the actors’ union provided equity actors and managers, who worked on the production for $7 a night in exchange for the opportunity to showcase their talents, NCR reported.”A Difficult Patient” follows the story of a young homosexual man in the early 1970s and his anti-gay, oppressive psychiatrist. The play opened in November 2000 and was scheduled to run for 10 nights but closed early due to lack of attendance, NCR reported.The failure left Garrick $15,000 in debt, and without employment – again. Because he left the Holy Cross order, he will receive no pension at 65. His decision to be open about his life destroyed it, as he knew it, and alienated him from the Notre Dame community he loved.Where Garrick lives now is largely unknown. All that remains at Notre Dame is memories of what he tried to accomplish with a letter to the editor.”My hope was that, if my experiment with the truth worked that more experienced, happy, Catholic adults would come out to help the young people,” Garrick told The Observer in 1998.His experience, though, dashed that hope, along with his generous, idealistic wish for younger Catholics.”Adults,” he said six years ago, “are punished for coming out here.”