Oral History

Karen Doherty

  Listen to the interview.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

  Read a transcript of the interview.

  Read Karen Doherty's profile.

Biographical Notes

Note: This autobiographical essay was contributed by Karen Doherty as a supplement to her interview. Further biographical information can be found in each of three books listed below.

1988: Karen Doherty and Dr. Lori M.
I was born in Elizabeth, NJ on July 6, 1952. I was baptized at the same church where my father served as an altar boy, and my mother and father were married—St. Genevieve's in Elmora. My religious heritage is a fusion—I have as many Protestant as Catholic forbearers and relatives. My mixed background has served me well. The Episcopalian part has saved me from some of the extreme kookiness in Catholicism; but it is the soaring, passionate spirit in my Catholic faith that inspires me and thrills my heart. I love being Catholic.

Early 1990s: Karen and Robert at Mt. St. Helens
After graduating from Princeton High School in 1970, I went to Trinity College in Washington, DC. Trinity was a wonderful place for me. It was a physical and psychological oasis in the middle of a bustling urban environment. It solidified my foundation based on Catholic values, but also prepared me to dive into the world. As a student in a Catholic women's college, I felt a sense of worth as a person, and confidence in my thoughts and opinions. I also took for granted the leadership capacity of women.

At the end of my sophomore year I married a student at Georgetown Law. After graduation, we moved to Juneau, Alaska. I worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and became very involved in the Alaska lands legislation. I lived an outdoor life and had a lot of adventures canoeing, boating, camping and exploring.

Protest at US Conference of Catholic Bishops' Meeting
I learned a little of the Tlingit (Indian) language and culture. At 24, I was adopted during a potlatch, by a family in Angoon, the most traditional of all the villages. Angoon is located on Admiralty Island, known as "Bear Fort Island" in Tlingit. Admiralty Island then had the largest concentration of brown bears and bald eagles anywhere in the United States. My everyday world included whales out in the bay, eagles soaring overhead, bears fishing salmon from pristine streams. Southeast Alaska is wild and vast and awe-inspiring. I told my son I hoped we could travel north together someday. I said on that land he would get to know the best of me, and he would also see where I felt closest to God.

1980s: Pride Parade in NYC
The marriage had problems and in 1979 I divorced and removed to New York City. It was a horrible, painful transition. I hated the city and missed the mountains. I had every intention of returning north, but I fell in love and never went back.

In May of 1980, I met C.N. at Dignity/NY. We became lovers, and partners in working for Catholic lesbian visibility and community. In 1983, we founded the Conference for Catholic Lesbians (CCL).

C.N., co-founder of CCL (no date)
In 1987 I first met my spouse, Dr. Lori M. She then lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and had a 3 ½ year old son, Robert. Robert and I started out playing with forts and dinosaurs, and progressed to Cub Scouts, Little League Baseball and ice hockey. Robert calls Lori "Mother" and me "Mom." He has his mother's intelligence and intuitive understanding of people, and my love for the outdoors, collectibles, wild, faraway places and dogs.

1957: Around First Communion
Lori and I recently purchased our first house, a 80 year old Craftsman bungalow in Greenport, NY. We are having loads of fun fixing it up and I am kayaking all over Hallock's Bay. I don't have the exciting adventures of my Alaska years, but I enjoy the feel of the paddle in my hands, the sun on my hair and wind in my face.

One of the things I am most proud to be part of now is the Living Word project. I volunteered to be a participant in Shelley Jackson's book, Skin. (You can read more about this project at http://ineradicablestain.com/skin.html.) I wanted to be a Word for several reasons. I love books, and words. I have been mentioned and quoted in books, but I have never really been part of a book. I also felt it would be a tremendous spiritual experience to be connected in such a way to other people, other words, and the story. A condition to being a Word was to have a word from the book Skin tattooed on my body in a book font. I chose Garamond. I believe words are gifts of the Holy Spirit. The word I was given is "You."

Thank you for reading my story. Please feel free to write to me if you would like to do so. I can be reached at blueduck11944@gmail.com or via the Forum at http://cclonline.org. You can also find her blogs at Nihil Obstat and Green Canticle.

Additional Resources

Titles with chapters devoted to Karen Doherty

  • Barbara Zanotti Hope, A Faith of One's Own, 1984 
  • Raymond Holtz, Listen to the Stories: Gay and Lesbian Catholic Talk about Their Lives and the Church, 1991 
  • Jane Redmont, Generous Lives, 1992

Titles with references to Karen Doherty 

  • Nat Hentoff, John Cardinal O'Connor, At the Storm Center of a Changing American Catholic Church, 1988 
  • James A. Autry, Confessions of an Accidental Businessman, 1996

CCL Collections 

The Conference for Catholic Lesbian (CCL) records, including the CCL newsletter, Images, has been donated to Marquette University Archives and will be available for research as soon as they are processed.

The CCL website can be found at http://cclonline.org.  It includes an archives of Images articles, an online blog, and a bulletin board called, The Forum.