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Leaving decades of memories and family history behind proved a wrenching process for Regala, especially since it was a choice she never imagined she’d have to make. She reflects that her support of marriage equality shouldn’t have come as a surprise, after all, considering her previous voting record. Regala’s public support of the LGBT community can be traced back to 1996, when, in her second year as a state legislator, she delivered a speech to colleagues on the House floor in opposition to Washington’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Around that same time, a friendship with Sen. Ed Murray, a longtime champion of gay rights and lifelong Catholic, was fostered. Regala remembers that she and Murray would attend Mass together when the archbishop was passing through Olympia, choosing seats front and center so that, despite differing views on some social issues, it was clear that their faith was important to them and, in Regala’s words, “they weren’t going anywhere.”
John F. Kennedy famously proclaimed in his speech to Protestant ministers in 1960: “I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.” Regala’s public career over the span of two decades — work that has focused on education, family welfare, conservancy, and repeal of the death penalty, among other issues — followed that same faith philosophy. Though her Catholic faith shapes her sense of self and informs her decisions, its role stops there. As the elected representative of all constituents within the 27th District, Regala believes that it would be a betrayal of public trust to vote on policy according to the dictates of any special interest or organization, faith-based or otherwise.
For Regala, changing locations for attending church hasn’t changed the essentials of her own faith, described simply though meaningfully at different points during our conversations as her “personal connection to God.” Yet the process of rediscovering a community to celebrate this personal faith with has proved an enlightening journey, in that she has continued to learn about herself and others along the way. Parishioners at St. Leo have also affirmed their decision through smiles, embraces, supportive words. The first morning in late winter that Regala and her husband arrived for Mass at their new parish, the visiting priest, the Rev. Peter Byrne, S.J., Assistant to the Provincial of the Jesuits' Oregon Province, delivered a homily of outreach and personal challenge that, as Regala recalls, couldn’t have been more timely or applicable to their situation. Byrne’s message explored the consequences that can and do occur when walls of division, physical or otherwise, are erected between people or groups of people within any given community.
Byrne told the story of a beloved Quaker nurse who died at the end of World War I in a Polish village. The parishioners asked their priest if she could be buried in the Catholic cemetery, the only one in town. The priest, feeling that the rule that only a Catholic could be buried in the cemetery must be obeyed, suggested the nurse be buried just outside the cemetery’s fence instead. The next morning, the priest discovered that the fence had been moved around her gravesite, so that she could be included among those she had served. Love had had its say. Byrne later explained, “Now this all flowed from the Gospel text of Jesus always stretching the boundaries to include those who were outcasts. It is this moving of the fence … that is the call of the Gospel.” The homily confirmed for Regala what she had sensed in the deepest part of herself: she was right to trust her own conscience. Christ didn’t build fences. Neither would she.
Before leaving St. Leo's, Regala gestures toward the stained glass windows, reflecting that “sometime I should take a closer look at these.” Etched in the lower portion of each kaleidoscopic pane is the name of a long-ago patron or patrons who once graced the life of St. Leo’s. The names preserve a sense of identity and tradition that hint at the city’s beginnings, when Tacoma was known as the City of Destiny because trains for the Northern Pacific Railroad ended their westbound trips here; rimming the worship space, they are vivid proof of humanity’s collective yearning to participate, to be remembered, to belong intricately. For Regala, commitment to stretching and deepening connectedness to God and obedience to Christ’s teachings to love and serve others have ultimately found ample room for growth and nourishment here.
Somewhat serendipitously, Regala discovered only recently that her great-grandmother was married at St. Leo in 1885, only six years after the church’s founding (albeit at a different site). Her great-great-grandmother was also an early parishioner; after a little more archival digging inspired in the weeks after our conversations, she learned that the funerals of other long-ago relatives took place at St. Leo as well. Such realizations have infused Regala’s arrival here with an unanticipated sense of homecoming, as though the journey forward is also a circling back, an unexpected, long-awaited return.
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