Catholic School Officials Fire Engaged Teachers for Having Out-of-Wedlock Pregnancy, but There’s a Happy Ending December 19, 2013

Catholic School Officials Fire Engaged Teachers for Having Out-of-Wedlock Pregnancy, but There’s a Happy Ending

Remember that innkeeper who told Mary and Joseph they might as well sleep in the stable because there was no room at the inn? That’s what came to mind as I read about Sean Houlihan and Natalie Ferland.

Both were teachers at Lawrence Catholic Academy in Massachusetts, a school describing itself on its website as “a community of believers who strive to permeate the school with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.” Houlihan and Ferland were friends and colleagues for years before they began dating last spring. When Ferland discovered in October that she was pregnant, the pair made plans to marry.

Natalie Ferland and Sean Houlihan (via Eagle Tribune/CBS)

When the school’s principal and the affiliated priest became aware of the situation, however, Lawrence Catholic Academy fired both Ferland and Houlihan for violating their employment contracts, which require them “to adhere to the teachings and principles of the Catholic Church.” Out-of-wedlock pregnancies, even with the sincere intention of marriage, go against Church teachings.

Both Ferland and Houlihan lost their health benefits as a result of their job loss, putting prenatal care for Ferland and the child she carries out of reach. What’s more, being “fired” left a black mark on the pair’s professional records, making it hard to find teaching jobs elsewhere.

As the pair’s lawyer Anthony DiFruscia pointed out, the ultra-pro-life Catholic Church should be glad that a couple with an unexpected pregnancy has chosen “not to abort the child, and the Catholic Church should be happy they wanted to keep another human being on the planet.” Instead, the leaders in this “community of believers” placed the couple in exactly the kind of untenable position that makes abortion seem like the only option for people who literally cannot afford to feed and clothe the child they’re expecting.

The story has a happy ending; with DiFruscia’s help, Houlihan and Ferland managed to hammer out an agreement with the school that allows them to keep their insurance and pay until the end of the school year, giving them time to find work and save money before the baby arrives in June. And the school agreed that, in light of both teachers’ excellent careers, their personnel records should indicate that they resigned voluntarily. As a result, the future looks a lot more promising for them — and their upcoming new arrival — than it might have been if “the love and compassion of Jesus Christ” promised by Lawrence Academy had persisted in its original form.

I guess we can only hope Mary and Joseph had access to a good lawyer.

(Thanks to Jose for the link)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • sam

    Aw, I was hoping by “happy ending” you meant the couple had come to their senses, given up their superstitions, and were going to raise their child with critical thinking skills.

  • Stev84

    At least they fired both of them. That’s some rare consistency in these types of cases.

  • That’s not really what I would call a “happy ending”. Rather, it just makes the entire situation somewhat less unpleasant.

    I’d call it a happy ending if the school admitted it was wrong and gave them back their jobs (right… like that’s going to happen). I’d call it a happy ending if another school stepped in and hired them, making the Catholic school look even more dickish.

  • Lark62

    Love and compassion. You keep using those words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean….

  • Art_Vandelay

    And then aliens show up and burn every Catholic church to the ground, amirite?

  • smrnda

    I’m a bit bothered that schools can demand that teachers abide by their religious teachings outside of school, and the idea that these contracts are accepted voluntarily is bullshit, given a lousy economy and teachers being laid off across the US too many don’t have a choice. Letting an employer have control over a person 24/7 seems excessive to me.

    If the argument is that the schools are teaching Catholic doctrine and therefore, EVERY teacher must teach Catholic doctrine both in the classroom and in their life, I find that a pretty shaky argument. Most teachers are not teaching religion, they’re teaching usual academic subjects. If some teacher actually *explicitly teaches* Catholic doctrine, that’s another story.

    For that reason, I’m fine with someone in HR who is known to belong to a racist society being given the boot or removed from that position since their racist beliefs will affect hiring in a negative way. However, it’s possible for there to exist positions where as long as the person can behave at work, I’d think that the overt racist must be allowed. The racist can scrub the toilets provided they don’t clearly show bias at work, but hiring is an area they shouldn’t be in.

    Contracts of this nature need to be against the law.

  • WallofSleep

    Won’t happen. The RCC has the Gelgemeks watching their back in the interstellar theater.

  • smrnda

    Is the couple even Catholic?

  • The Catholic Church is Pro-Family*.

    * Exclusions may* apply.

    * ‘may’ should read ‘probably will’.

  • newavocation

    Boy, I bet they are in hot water with their parish priest too. So how many hailmarys is this worth? And can the child be baptized in the church?

  • unbound55

    “Instead, the leaders in this “community of believers” placed the couple in exactly the kind of untenable position that makes abortion seem like the only option for people who literally cannot afford to feed and clothe the child they’re expecting.”

    Yeah, the leaders have a really hard time understanding things that aren’t simple black-and-white.

  • Agreed. This isn’t happy, it’s just not as awful as Catholic leaders wanted it to be.

  • Barry Gates


  • God’s Starship

    I’m underwhelmed by this “happy ending”.

  • It’s kind of like using the word “miracle” in a disaster because someone is lucky enough to survive while untold numbers of others are horribly destroyed.

  • Art_Vandelay

  • Gerry Mooney

    Agreed, it’s only a *happy* ending because the school was forced to treat them less badly than they wanted to.

  • Pofarmer


  • Anat

    I hope the couple find employment in a public school. (And I do hope they have the certification and training to do so.)

  • WallofSleep

    Sorry, it’s spelled “Gelgamek”.

  • Malcolm McLean

    A burglar might be caught because he left his fingerprints on the safe. In court, he might argue that had he torched the house, killing the occupants sleeping upstairs, he would have erased the evidence and gotten away with it. So he wants the case dismissed.

    The judge will agree that it’s a such less serious case than the one he might have been facing, but he’s unlikely to buy it.

  • Well, that ought to go down in the annals of unfortunate analogies.

  • Pofarmer

    So, accidentally get pregnant and decide to have the child, get terminated publicly ridiculed, and lose all your benefits. Molest Children and get paid $25,000 in hush money in return for “leaving quietly” or be shuffled off to another Parish after a day of prayer therapy. Does anyone else have a problem with this? Thing is, no Catholics are paying attention.

  • ScottG

    “…their personnel records should indicate that they resigned voluntarily.”

    Something tells me that anyone looking to hire either of them is likely to do a quick Google search and find out about their “resignation.”

    In professional circles, it’s usually called “being asked for your resignation”. It usually comes with the implicit or explicit arrangement for a good or neutral reference for future job hunts, but also explicitly cuts you off from benefits typically given to those being fired.

    Reminds me of a small town in this area where the manager was accused of repeated sexual misconduct (finally caught on video) and was “asked to resign”, but got to keep three months severance pay and six months of health insurance. Nice.

  • Oh but you see, the only way one can accidentally get pregnant is by committing the GREAT AND TERRIBLE SPIRITUAL CRIME of having sex outside of Catholic marriage.

    So they deserve what they get.

    And if the stern-but-deserved punitive action induces them in desperation to commit another GREAT AND TERRIBLE SPIRITUAL CRIME, like abortion, well, free-will, right?

    So they deserve what they get.

  • WallofSleep

    This is totally off topic, but I’m pissed. The Chinese send a rover to the moon and what does American media do? Wax on about how we went to the moon once too, ya know. Forget about the fact that it was over forty years ago, and we’ve basically shit-canned our own space exploration program.

    *sigh* We’re beginning to look a bit like that over the hill loser that hasn’t done shit with his life since graduation, yet all these decades later still thinks he deserves high praise and free drinks for winning that big game his senior year against their bitter rival, Thadutha High. Sad.

    Sorry for the rant.

  • Pofarmer

    Well, ya know, showing love to someone vs Catholic Doctrine. Catholic Doctrine must win. Sometimes I think Catholics are the most heard hearted people I know.

  • Rationalist1

    The only blight on their professional record should be that they worked for a Catholic School. They did nothing wrong except to think the Catholic school would have the ethics of a non religious school. This should be a lesson to everyone who thinks about working for a religious related organization.

  • WallofSleep

    “Sometimes I think Catholics are the most heard hearted people I know.”

    Would’ve been funnier if you had misspelled it as “herd”.

  • Heh. I always chuckle a little inside when I’m with a group of people and someone is telling a story…. and someone in the group has to either one-up the story or interrupt and say, “Hey I did that too!”

  • WallofSleep

    So you’ve met my mom, have you? Heh, let me tell you, if you’ve had a hard day and need someone to talk to, just to get something off your chest, my mom was the last person you’d like to talk to. Unless you want to have your problems or concerns completely ignored while hearing two hours of how she went through some shit years ago that’s not even remotely, tangentially related to the shit your trying to vent. She’s a total vent-blocker. Still love her, though.

  • sane37

    That’s how I decided to read it.

  • Glasofruix

    employment contracts, which require them “to adhere to the teachings and principles of the Catholic Church.”

    Dem’ third world coutry laws… Don’t you have unions to fight that kind of shit? Oh wait, ‘murika is against that too….

  • Rationalist1

    So now when someone says how wonderful the new pope is, this is a story one can relate to them.

    I’m so glad I became an atheist after being raised Catholic. It’s not only a more reasonable intellectual position but a more ethical one too.

  • ‘probably will’ should read ‘absolutely do’.

  • Svelaz

    It’s ironic considered that technically Jesus was conceived out of wedlock as well. Mary got pregnant THEN was told to get married. Plus there is the part of Joseph wanting a divorce then angels seem to dissuade him from doing so.

  • Jeff

    I think it is a genetic thing in mothers.

  • Well, really just the hierarchy and a few old cranky folk. I live in the only US state where the majority of the citizens identify as Catholic, and I can’t think of a Catholic I know personally who wouldn’t find this act to be hard-hearted and cruel just as we do.

    Then again, most rank-and-file American Catholics stopped listening to the church elders a long time ago, a self-inflicted wound made fatal by the Church’s decision to become explicit about rejecting medical contraceptive methods as immoral.

  • “…twenty-five miles, in the snow, without shoes, uphill both ways! (So, no, I will not be picking you up after school. And you should be grateful for your socks.)”

  • Pofarmer

    I’m surely not the only one married into a family that thinks the Church can do no wrong, can stand no criticism, and whose word is divine? Folks who believe, literally, that Mary is in Heaven next to Jesus relaying our prayers to God? Who think that Contraception is an affront to God? Who actually pray for it to stop? Who can’t believe that anyone would criticize Mother Theresa for allowing people to die in pain when they could have been treated? When my Nephews’ graduation shirt was too small, the first thing my SIL said she did is “Start praying to St. Anthony that I would find another one.” I’m not exaggerating, they are that crazy, and my wife thinks that that is normal and good. It’s about to drive me loopy. And no, they weren’t this bad when we first married. Maybe it’s just being in the bible belt?

  • purr

    Both Ferland and Houlihan lost their health benefits as a result of their job loss, putting prenatal care for Ferland and the child she carries out of reach

    I thought that catholics were pro-life? Lack of prenatal care increases the risk that the couple will end up with a dead baby!

  • Pitabred

    They’re pro-life until the baby’s born

  • purr

    Yes, and prenatal care can prevent the ‘unborn baby’ from suffering/dying whilst *in the womb*

    So wtf don’t they care about it while it’s a fetus???

    Of course, protecting fetal life is only important if the woman *chooses* to end the pregnancy. Otherwise the fetus can just fuck off and die on it’s own.

  • Brendan Reid

    Perhaps the Church’s antagonism towards contraception comes from knowing that it might stop God from impregnating a future Mary and Jesus wouldn’t be able to return to do that Rapture thingy?

  • In my experience, practicing Catholics around here are consistent in the sort of authority they are willing to grant the hierarchy. On matters they feel are connected directly to doctrine and spirity-stuff, they listen to the Church with rapt attention. But as soon as the Church ventures its opinion into an area they believe should be none of the Church’s business, the attitude quickly and radically transforms into STFU. This can be a positive thing, as when they refuse to follow the church’s lead on homosexuality, as well as a bad thing, when they refuse to follow the church’s exhortations on the spiritual dangers of wealth and consumerism.

    You get left with a whole lot of people who love Jesus and LOVE Mary, but are fine with gay people and don’t see the disconnect in driving their 5mpg-SUV-that-has-DVD-players-installed-in-it to Church on Sunday.

  • purr

    it’s about bums in seats IE new converts

  • Pofarmer

    Still crazy, then.

  • randomfactor

    At least it gets them out of that horrible employment situation.

  • joey_in_NC

    …and I can’t think of a Catholic I know personally who wouldn’t find this act to be hard-hearted and cruel just as we do.

    I, too, think the terminations were unwarranted. An unplanned pregnancy due to a couple having pre-marital sex cannot be interpreted as a public act of defiance against Church teaching (rather, it should simply be interpreted as people falling into sin, as we all do…even Catholics). On the other hand, a teacher filing for a same-sex marriage license can be interpreted as a public act of defiance, because it is.

    …a self-inflicted wound made fatal by the Church’s decision to become explicit about rejecting medical contraceptive methods as immoral.

    I don’t see simply upholding traditional Church teachings as a “self-inflicted wound”. Yes, many Catholics ignore Church teachings on contraception. But still, there are many Catholics who do follow these traditional teachings. They do exist, and not all of them have double-digit children.

  • Black Leaf

    Pro-family, for certain definitions of family.

  • JaniceInToronto

    That is a lame ending, not a happy one.

  • epweissengruber

    Isn’t the Catholic doctrine that Joseph was taking on Mary as a ward and that there was no sexual union between them? Not that that matters (or that it even happened) but a theological nit-picker would quibble with the opening paragraph.

  • Dave Lanson

    Were Joseph and Mary legally married?


    Can we forget about the Gelgameks for a second?

  • “…to adhere to the teachings and principles of the Catholic Church.”

    As opposed to the teachings and principles of Jesus Christ.

  • MN Atheist

    Shouldn’t they have been sent to the confessional rather than fired? Doesn’t the church preach and preach about the forgiving nature of god and jesus? So I guess god forgives but catholic school principals do not. judge not?

  • Yea, but everyone is a grab-bag of crazy. I mean everyone. So their particular blend is nothing special, and only notable in the contrast it makes between the identity they adopt and the beliefs normally implied by authorities who are charged with defining that identity.

  • Buckley

    Please, please, lets hope they stop believing in this religion nonsense. After what they’ve been through, you can really see Christian love and compassion on full display.

  • LutherW

    Would be best if they actually learned something and saw the fallacy of religion.

  • One might say that the “happy ending” is what got them into this mess.

  • Olive Markus

    100% Truth ;).

  • Olive Markus

    Forgiveness is only a virtue (re: requirement) when the Church wants forgiveness for things like, oh, I don’t know, child rape and enslavement of unwed mothers. Piddly things like that. “We are all sinners,” you know.

    Until someone else “sins.” Then all bets are off.

  • Bob Jase

    I expected that the good news would be that the baby died and went to heaven while the parents joined a monastary & nunnery respectively. Now that’s a Catholic good ending!

  • peknud

    I’m certain there are no divorced people working at that school either.

  • Pofarmer

    Fair enough. What gets me about Marian Doctrine, though, is that it is the theological equivalent of Navel Gazing, and most Catholics never bother to look at where any of it came from. Most of it came from Augustine, and then Jerome, by what they figured must be true because of scripture. Why, the mother of the Son of God would have to be sinless(don’t know why) so she must have been born without sin as well(don’t know why), so, therefore, since she was perfect, she wouldn’t have felt birth pains because birth pains are the wages for sin, and she wouldn’t have died, because she was sinless, so, therefore, she must have been assumed into heaven PLUS, as a bonus, nobody knows what happened to here body, so, there you have it, Marian Doctrine in a nutshell.

  • Mario Strada

    Not before conception they weren’t.

  • Pitabred

    That’s god’s will, though. Medical treatment or no, god’s gonna do what god’s gonna do. But abortions aren’t medical treatment. Because reasons.

  • purr

    Contraception isn’t healthcare either. Because it ‘prevents life from being created’.

  • midnight rambler

    She never even got married to Jesus’ father though.

  • lslerner

    And when the smoke has cleared, the couple can hopefully get jobs at a real school where they teach reality.

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