Senior Fights for LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Catholic Spaces


Benedict Reilly strives to make the Jesuit community more inclusive. (Courtesy of Instagram)

Benedict Reilly, FCRH ’23, is a senior you can likely find active on Gmail or GroupMe at any given time, promoting the latest opportunity for engagement and community at Fordham. Though, here is a chance that at any moment, you could likely find Reilly anywhere on either Fordham campuses. Despite his many faithful commitments to the Fordham community, if you know him, you also likely know that getting him to divulge any information about himself or his accomplishments is actually a difficult pursuit, his disposition elusive and self-effacing. Committed to several different aspects of the Fordham community, Reilly is involved in Campus Ministry, the Center for Community Engaged Learning, the Rose Hill Society and the Fordham Undergraduate Research Journal, to name a few. Upon meeting with Reilly, there are many paths I can take to highlight some of the incredible work this Fordham fixture has done in spiritual inclusion in his four years here. 

Fordham truly started to feel like home for Reilly while he was serving as an Urban Plunge Assistant his junior year. Urban Plunge, a pre-orientation program for first-years entering Fordham, is designed to orient students to the uniquely relevant needs of the people of New York City. The program, which Reilly participated in as a first-year and then in subsequent years as an Urban Plunge Assistant and a Reflections Captain, helped him finally feel at home in promoting the intersections of faith and justice. Following this experience, Reilly reflected on the Ignatian idiom “bothered excellence” to ponder how he could create “interfaith harmony and queer inclusion,” two aspects of life at Fordham that he felt needed to be enhanced. 

At the heart of pursuing greater interfaith and queer inclusion at Fordham, Reilly reflected on the lack of “home” for students who don’t necessarily identify with the Roman Catholic traditions that Fordham is founded in. Namely, he sought out to find a way to promote faith traditions. “Tradition is an important resource for Fordham, yet there are an infinite number of ways tradition is characterized. It’s important for people to feel connected to the past, present and future in whatever way works for them,” said Reilly. This notion of tradition and the power it has over the possibilities of our future is something that he ponders often. How can we respect tradition while simultaneously encouraging collective growth?

Treading this line of tradition and growth, Reilly set out to create a space he longed for: a home for queer students to explore their spirituality at Fordham. For Reilly, this has principally taken shape in the form of an initiative he started nearly a year ago, the Queer Prayer Project. This project is a collection of prayers and reflections that were submitted by LGBTQ+ members of the Fordham community. In the introduction of the prayer book, Reilly writes that the text aims to “push the boundaries of who is spiritual and who is part of Fordham’s spiritual community.” This has been a profound experience for Reilly, who has worked with every individual to create a form of prayer that was relevant and true to each contributor. An especially memorable moment in this creative process involved working with a fellow student, who wanted to reflect on Whitney Houston’s famous song “The Greatest Love of All.” Reilly remembers this collaboration fondly, as the reflection and prayer only emerged after having a dance party to Houston’s song. The diversity of the prayers that have been included in the Queer Prayer Project only emphasizes the innate beauty and joy of love. 

Since the book’s completion, Reilly has been able to present this emblem of queer inclusion at Fordham to multitudes of people at The Ignatian Family Teach-In For Justice, a conference for all Jesuit high schools, colleges and universities. The resounding support from peers and faculty members at other institutions only further affirms the need for this slice of home to be cultivated and preserved. 

Reilly’s next initiative for queer spirituality at Fordham is already on the horizon. 

According to the Magis website, where all queer spirituality projects and events can be found, Reilly’s next endeavor will take place next spring. From April 21 to 23, Fordham will be hosting Ignatian Q, “a conference creating community, developing spirituality, and affirming humanity for LGBTQ+ students at Jesuit schools.” 

Following the success that his endeavors within queer spiritual visibility have seen, Reilly has also been working to build a more tangible interfaith body on campus. “Campus Ministry is an important resource, but making it more accessible is important; all students deserve access to the resources made available for Catholic students,” explains Reilly. Along with other student interfaith leaders on campus, Reilly holds an interfaith dialogue group biweekly on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. 

With overwhelming support from Fordham faculty and staff, namely Joan Cavanaugh, Fr. Bryan Massingale,  Michael Lee, Ph.D. and Vanessa Rotondo, Reilly has felt supported and motivated to continue to foster a sense of community for queer students at Fordham, though it is certainly not easy to sustain. In all that he does, Reilly is passionate about leading with a “bothered excellence,” encouraging his peers to do the same.