Shelley Fitzgerald is the guidance counselor at a Catholic school who was ordered to choose between her marriage and her job after the school administration found out that she is married to a woman.
Fitzgerald works at Roncalli High School, a parochial school in Indianapolis. She’s been in her job for 15 years — and she’s been in a relationship with her now-wife for 22 years. But recently, someone faxed the school administrators a copy of Fitzgerald’s marriage certificate, and the school ordered her to either dissolve her marriage or leave her job. Fitzgerald has been suspended — with pay — since the administration learned about her marriage.
Fitzgerald’s case attracted national attention. She has many supporters both within Roncalli school and around the country — but some Catholics say that she deserved to be suspended, because she violated the terms of her contract with the school. Some Catholics have pointed out that Fitzgerald signed a contract agreeing to abide by the church’s teachings on marriage; they also say that Fitzgerald should have sought work at a non-Catholic school if she didn’t want to abide by the Roncalli school’s rules.
Here’s what you need to know about Shelley Fitzgerald:
1. Fitzgerald and Her Wife Have a 12 Year Old Daughter and Have Been Married Since 2014
Shelley Fitzgerald is, understandably, very private about her personal life. For years, she says, she’s been doing her best to hide the details of her life from Roncalli High School. She told WTHR that she’s been worried for years that Roncalli might find out about her relationship. She’s even had to ask her nieces and nephews to keep quiet about her private life. She told WTHR that:
“I have had nieces and nephews and cousins that have gone to Roncalli that before their freshman year I’ve had to say to them, ‘You can’t say anything to anybody.”
But Fitzgerald also says that, much as she loves working for Roncalli, her main identity is as a wife and mother. She has been in a relationship with her wife for the past 22 years. The two married in 2014 and have a 12 year old daughter whom they adopted as an infant.
2. Roncalli High School Says Their Staff Has to Be Role Models and Their Conduct Must Be Supportive of the Teachings of the Catholic Church
The school says that they expect all of their teachers and staff to be role models for the students at the school — and, they say, that means living by the Catholic Church’s teachings in regards to sexuality. That means living by the belief that sexuality is confined to marriage between a man and a woman.
The school wrote, “They [teachers and staff] are expected to be role models and are expressly charged with leading students toward Christian maturity and with teaching the Word of God. As role models for students, the personal conduct of every teacher, guidance counselor and administrator and staff member, both at school and away from school, must convey and be supportive of the teachings of the Catholic Church. These teachings include, but are not limited to: honoring the dignity of each human life from conception to natural death, care for God’s creation, and the belief that all persons are called to respect human sexuality and its expression in the Sacrament of Marriage between a man and a woman as a sign of God’s love and fidelity to His Church.”
3. Fitzgerald’s Supporters Have Started a Facebook Page Calling on the School to Keep Her
On Sunday, somebody in the Roncalli High School community started a Facebook group for people who want Fitzgerald to keep her job. By Tuesday morning, the page had 3,177 followers.
And on Twitter, students wrote about their support for Fitzgerald using the hashtag #Isupportmsfitzgerald. One student, addressing the Roncalli school administrators, wrote, “Dear Roncalli, Thank you for making us sit through multiple assemblies and making it a point to say how Roncalli is SUCH an accepting place and sexuality is NEVER an issue. TEACH WHAT YOU PREACH. WE LOVE YOU SHELLY.”
4. Fitzgerald’s Lawyer Is a Roncalli Alum Who Sends His Own Kids to the School
Fitzgerald has hired a lawyer, David Page, to challenge Roncalli’s plans to fire her. Page is an alumnus of Roncalli and sends his three children to the school.
“She’s wonderful at her job and nothing should stop her from being able to do it. Nothing,” Page told WTHR.
Page said it was too soon to say whether Fitzgerald was planning to sue Roncalli for discrimination. He didn’t rule that out as a possibility — but he said the first step would be to simply sit down and talk with school officials. He told WTHR, “We’d like to sit at the table and say obviously we think there’s a problem. How do we make it better? Where do we go from here.It’s clear some change needs to be made.”
5. Fitzgerald Says She Is a Devout Catholic Who Considers Roncalli School A Second Family
Fitzgerald says she is determined to fight against the options that Roncalli School has given her — she doesn’t want to leave her job, and she doesn’t want to end her marriage.
But Fitzgerald has had nothing but kind words for Roncalli so far. She said she will “trust that God will put the right words in our mouth and at the end of the day, pray for both sides because I know this isn’t easy for the people at Roncalli or at the Archdiocese as well. Roncalli is a great, loving place. I only want to make Roncalli a better place, truly.”
Roncalli is a devout Catholic who graduated from Roncalli school herself. She says that Roncalli is her “family.”
“My identity obviously is to be a wife and mother, but Roncalli is what filled my cup,” Fitzgerald said. “It is family. I grew up here.”