The memo also didn’t make it to Little Rock, Ark., where Tippi McCullough, 50, got the ax after 14 years as an English teacher at a high school affiliated with the Sisters of Mercy. This was in October. Her crime, too, was to take a relationship that Catholic co-workers apparently knew about and formalize it. She told me last week that she and her longtime partner had even been overnight guests on the school principal’s houseboat. But when school officials learned that the couple had just been legally married in one of the New Mexico counties where that’s now possible, they told her they had to let her go, though she hadn’t announced the wedding or given any signal that she was going to be more public about her partnership than before.
Her dismissal upset some school employees, one of whom apparently gave The Arkansas Times remarks that another Francis — Msgr. Francis I. Malone, a local priest — made in a faculty meeting afterward. “The devil is real,” he reportedly said. “He goes after people like you and institutions like this one.”
“Don’t give in to him,” Malone added. “Rise up above this like the good and decent people God has made you to be.” In a subsequent exchange with the newspaper, Malone didn’t deny those remarks but said that they weren’t meant to characterize McCullough or her situation.
McCullough said that she was struggling to reconcile the stated mission of the Sisters of Mercy with how she was treated. “Our whole school is founded on the mercy values,” she told me. “Things like the recognition of the intrinsic worth and dignity of each person and respect for varied religious traditions and beliefs.” But that recognition isn’t “applied equally to everyone,” she added. “That’s the hardest thing for me. And I loved teaching there.”
McCullough recently took a new job with Little Rock Central High School, which, she proudly noted, was an important theater in the struggle for civil rights. Still, she feels a profound loss, and is drifting away from a church she loved. I asked her if she’d known how the school would react, would she have married anyway?
Yes, she said. A thousand times yes. She’s finished with one-half openness or three-quarters openness or whatever calculation she’d made. “As I told the principal, I’m 50 years old,” she said. “I’m tired of this. I’ve tried to play this game my whole life. I don’t want to do it anymore.”