New York’s St. Francis Xavier Redefines ‘Acceptance’ in the Catholic Church

When Jim Hanlon, a gay New York City nurse, died in 2013 at the age of 52 from complications of HIV/AIDS, his life partner, John Uehlein, had already been director of music ministries at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Manhattan’s West Village for more than 13 years.

It was Hanlon himself who had brought Uehlein back to the church in 1999, after years of spiritual distance. On the day of Hanlon’s funeral, Uehlein sat in the front pew of the church and listened to the bell choir, which he would normally direct. Six Jesuit priests concelebrated Mass, and the parish was packed with friends and relatives.

When the choir played a Celtic tune called “Pulling Bracken,” Uehlein got up and sat back with the choir, in the position that would have fallen to Hanlon, to play his partner’s part. At the end of the funeral, a piece of disco music blasted into the church, and all the attendees erupted in heartfelt applause as Hanlon’s coffin was carried out, Uehlein told NCR.

“He brought me to St. Francis Xavier, at a time when I was probably in one of the darkest periods of my life. Not sure where I was headed, not even living at home, I was living in a halfway house,” said Uehlein.”That funeral was a true celebration of life.”

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