Aaron Ledesma, a 2014 Marquette alumnus and author of “The Gay Catholic” blog, received an invitation to welcome Pope Francis to the White House alongside President Barack Obama on Sept. 23.
A White House correspondent called Ledesma on Aug. 13 and offered him the opportunity to hear the pope speak in person. This happened after Ledesma sent the White House a note sharing his life story and thoughts on the papal visit.
“I started crying,” Ledesma said. “I was speechless. I was just shocked that someone even called me.”
University President Michael Lovell will also be at the White House for the pope’s welcoming ceremony.
Ledesma’s blog documents his return to the Catholic Church as a gay man. He was introduced to the blogging platform Medium by his friend and mentor Tim Cigelske, Marquette’s director of social media. Ledesma said he uses the website as a journal for his faith.
“I didn’t expect people to read it,” Ledesma said. “I remember the day I created it, I had just spent a few days going back and forth with my mom about whether or not I should create a blog about this.”
After being invited to the White House, Ledesma said his blog shifted from a personal journal about his faith and sexuality to a platform for him to discuss what it means to be gay and Catholic.
“People are wanting to hear things like this,” Ledesma said. “I think everyone is ready to learn more about what it means to be gay and not just what it means to be gay, but what it means to be gay and Catholic.”
Ledesma joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity while at Marquette. He now works at the organization’s national headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, as a communications manager.
After coming out to his chapter brothers via email, Ledesma received supportive texts and phone calls of encouragement.
“I honestly don’t think I would have come out when I did if it wasn’t for my fraternity brothers,” Ledesma said.
Michael Welch, a senior in the College of Communication and Sigma Phi Epsilon’s current president, knew about the fraternity’s reaction to Aaron’s email.
“Coming out was a big step for Aaron, and I know that he was very nervous to do it,” Welch said in an email. “It’s incredibly important for someone to be comfortable and confident, and I think the fraternity played a big role in this respect for Aaron and many of our brothers.”
Brian Stumph, a junior in the College of Engineering and member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, said brotherly love is one of the fraternity’s core values.
“Aaron told me about how much confidence and strength he received from our brotherly love towards him, and I really believe this assurance he received from Sig Ep has helped him become the confident and successful man he is today,” Stumph said in a message.
While at Marquette, Ledesma also attended Tuesday night Masses at the St. Joan of Arc Chapel. He said the experience impacted his time at the university and made him feel supported. He said Marquette, among other things, inspired him to write the blog about his return to the Catholic faith.
“Marquette changes your life – it changed my life,” Ledesma said. “It taught me how to think freely, to ask myself important questions. Marquette made (coming out) easier for me because I felt safe.”