Colin Collette, fired as the longtime music director of Holy Family Catholic Community in Inverness, found a largely supportive crowd at a special Wednesday meeting that was described as being "bigger than at Christmas."
And Collette ended the meeting by telling the crowd how big a loss it is to him -- in a series of recent losses -- not being a part of Holy Family.
The meeting, called the "Town Hall Meeting for Listening and Respect," was first announced in the church's Sunday Bulletin by Father Terry Keehan, who fired Collette two weeks ago after Collette posted on Facebook that he and his male partner were engaged to be married.
In the bulletin, Keehan described the meeting as an opportunity for the church family to share their feelings about Collette's firing.
"We have always been a community that encourages sharing and the spiritual movement that goes deep beneath issues and concerns," Keehan's statement read.
The church's parking lot was filled to capacity. Members of the media were asked not to attend the meeting, and Keehan could not be reached for comment afterward.
After the meeting, Collette said he told the group that he had experienced a lot of loss in his life recently and he thought each one was the worst at the time.
"I thought that was the case when I couldn't go to seminary, I thought that was the case when my dad died. I thought that was the case when my mom died," Collette said. "But now losing Holy Family is, you know, I realized I love Holy Family more than I love myself, and I know loss. This is my home."
Collette said seeing the people come up hour after hour supporting him made him speechless.
Harry and Catherine Burker, a married couple who have been attending the church since it was run out of Fremd High School, said the crowd was 99.9 percent in support of Collette.
"The church was full. It was bigger than at Christmas," Catherine Burker said, adding that the couple supported Collette and wanted him to return to the church.
According to the Burkers, Keehan sat with other members of church leadership in front of the standing-room-only crowd for more than three hours as, one by one, people spoke out against his decision to fire Collette.
Collette attended the meeting with his partner and sat up near the front of the crowd. When he entered the congregation, a majority gave him a standing ovation, the Burkers said.
"It's probably not an accurate cross-section of the church congregation," Harry Burker said, adding that many people who didn't normally attend the church were there to support Collette.
Two people matching that description would be Eric Dziubyk and Matt Kaczor, both 19, who said they are not members of the church but came because they didn't agree with Collette's firing.
"Just the fact that someone can be fired for being who they are is ridiculous," Dziubyk said.
Kaczor said he felt the crowd was very much pro-Collette.
"If someone would have been in support of the church they would have been booed off the stage," Kaczor said.
John Scott, a member of the church, said he saw dozens of people speak and only one man was not overtly in favor of Collette.
"It's very much a pro-Colin crowd in there, and rightfully so," Scott said.
The meeting was scheduled to last only until 9 or 9:30 p.m., but the last speaker -- Collette himself -- did not finish until 10:45 p.m.
Catherine Burker said speakers were encouraged three times during the meeting to keep their remarks brief, but that did not seem to happen.
She added that two women told everyone that they were so upset about Collette being fired that they were quitting the Catholic Church.