Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Reen Gutgsell

By Steve Halbig
Reen Gutgsell is shown testifying to the state legislature in support of Indiana's same-sex-marriage ban in January 2014.


The People of Faith feature is compiled by Steve Halbig, who asks a series of questions of people of the diocese – some who have reached the “age of wisdom” and some who are younger.  All will share stories of faith.

This month’s People of Faith features Reen Gutgsell of Holy Family Parish in Jasper.   The retired pharmacist talks about the struggle of living with same-sex attraction, working as a catechist, her faith and the people who have made big differences in her life.

Gutgsell testified against same-sex marriage before the Indiana Legislature in January when the issue and amendment of the state constitution were being debated. She testified that God defined marriage when He created man and woman and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.”  Common sense, she said, will tell you that is impossible for homosexuals.

My name is Maureen "Reen" Gutgsell.  Everyone calls me Reen – many don't even know my baptismal name.  I was born on the Feast of the Assumption and was named by an Irish nun at Memorial Hospital here in Jasper.  Maureen is the Irish name for Mary, and my parents loved it when the sister suggested it.
I belong to Holy Family Parish, am 60 years old and am a retired pharmacist.  I was forced to retire at 54 years old.  I had breast cancer at 47, and the chemotherapy burned my feet.  In 2002 I had metastasis to the ribs and this required an IV drug every month.  That drug then caused the bones in my feet to break.   I kept asking God what He wanted of me when I retired.  Then I fell into the chance to become a catechist.  Now I know why it was His plan that I give up being a pharmacist. 

The greatest challenge of my life was NOT the cancer.  It was accepting the fact that I have a same-sex attraction.  Therefore, I have no children/grandchildren.  However, I have about 30 kids at St. Mary in Ireland to whom I teach religious education, (fourth, fifth and sixth grades) and they are my grandchildren.  I also teach sophomores at Holy Family, and I love it. 
I have been fortunate to have many people impact my life in a positive way.  I guess my No. 1 hero would be my grandfather, William Fritch.  When I was very young he told me that we all come into this world with nothing, and we should leave with nothing.  He was a very successful businessman here in Jasper, owning two furniture factories.  He used much of his profits to help start Holy Family parish, Precious Blood parish and Memorial Hospital.  Both he and my grandmother were very staunch Catholics, loving and living for God with all of their hearts.  In 1953 Grandpa Fritch helped Father Fichter when St. Joseph Church was in dire need of renovation.  His knowledge of wood and architecture was invaluable to the parish. 
I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, and I learned the value of my faith. 

My mother, Louise Fritch-Gutgsell, was the best Catholic religion teacher of all time.  She taught me what the word respect means.  My dad, Mauri Gutgsell, was well-known for his fantastic tenor voice.  For more than 35 years, he soloed the Panis Angelicus at Christmas midnight Mass at St. Joe. 

I have many hobbies – woodworking, gardening, sketching comics, reading and writing, and preparing for my religious-ed classes.  I am working on a kids’ book to take them on a journey through the Old Testament, telling the stories that point to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  I'm going to call it "Journey to the Miracle."  That is my favorite topic to teach as a catechist.  I know that once someone has a heartfelt grasp of knowing it is His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, I doubt they will ever leave the Catholic faith.  

Receiving the Eucharist is my favorite part of being a Catholic; the Eucharist and all of the sacraments initiated by Christ are the crux of our faith.  I caution all that we must put more emphasis on teaching the sacraments in our classes.  The sacrament of Reconciliation is almost a "lost" sacrament, and it is so sad because of its beauty. 

I would say that turning my back on God's laws is my greatest regret (also quitting my piano lessons). The devil had me in his grips for about 10 years.  I never stopped going to Mass, but I was dealing with a lot of confusion. However, because of being able to talk about it with a priest and receiving God's merciful absolution I know that I am okay.
I have a new hobby/addiction -- reading books about the Catholic faith -- particularly about the Eucharist.  I went absolutely wild when I read Dr. Brant Pitre's book, "Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist."  It literally changed my life, and I encourage everyone to read it.

Some of the best role models I have met are the Directors of Religious Ed at the parishes.  I respect those people very much.  Bishop Thompson is the one person who is THE tremendous role model.  I love that guy.  He is so personable and friendly.  I feel that I can talk to him about anything, and he is so respectful of me.  I just appreciate him very much.     
My faith saved me when I was about 15 years old.  I had fully realized that I am a homosexual, and I didn't want to live any more.  My faith told me that life is more precious than anything else no matter how bad things became.  A sad thing is that at age 15, I also felt a call to the convent.  I didn't think that I could do it because of my sexual orientation.  I felt too unworthy to ever be able to be a part of the religious life. 
I struggled through my college days, and trying to achieve a degree in pharmacy was one heck of a ride. Some days I still can't believe I did it. During the spring semester of my sophomore year I began to attend Mass daily.  Purdue's Catholic church is conveniently located right on the campus, and between hiding the fact that I was homosexual and struggling with pharmacy school I could turn only one way – to God.  I prayed and prayed to the Holy Spirit for help, and His love and grace got me through all of it. 
I didn't acknowledge my sexual orientation until I was 38 years old.  I had a lot of work ahead of me, trying to undo the damage from hiding who I was as well as getting past the self-loathing.  It was a difficult time.  People who really didn't know me were saying nasty things to me and about me, but it was my mother who gave me the courage to continue on.  I will be forever grateful to her for her endurance in working with me and helping me.
The Eucharistic Prayer is so beautiful.  It is the longest and the most vital prayer of the Mass.  How many minds wander during that time?  How many really hear the words?  We must pray it along with the priest.  Praying the Eucharistic Prayer is my favorite part of the Mass (second only to receiving Jesus.)  I look so forward to it when attending Mass.
My spiritual life is enhanced when I am at the Adoration Chapel at Precious Blood Church every Sunday morning.  Jesus and I need to have a "face-to-face" talk before I attend Sunday Mass.  It is my perfect hour of the week.  Sometimes I can see the face of Jesus when I stare at the host in the monstrance.  It's so amazing that I can hardly breathe.  I want to fall on my knees and cover my face because I am really in the presence of GodWhat a tremendous price He paid for us to be able to be in His holy Presence.  THAT is what my Catholic faith means to me.  Words cannot truly describe it.

It drives me nuts that some of the kids are now playing sports on Sundays. Society just continues to remove God from its midst.  I'd love to see just one Sunday as it was when I was a kid – no stores open, no sports tourneys.  Just spend the day with family and friends after attending Mass.  Have a big fried chicken dinner at grandma's again.  Life was so perfect back then.
My best wisdom on life – hmmm.  I guess I would say to not make it so complicated.  Get into a Bible study and learn what is there.  I tell my sophomores at the first class of the year:  “The secret to living a good and happy life is not difficult to learn.  It's all about ‘covenant’ and ‘self-sacrifice.’  Learn why we say that God's laws are from His love.  Learn why we say they are NOT restrictive.  Learn all that you can and live it.  Life is not supposed to be comfortable.  (We will have unbelievable comfort in heaven.)  We must give all that we can and do all that we can for others.  Keep God first in your life.  Continue to learn about your Catholic faith.  One could live a thousand years and not know it all.”