Theology of the Body Institute senior lecturer Bill Donaghy chats during a break at his morning. (Catholic Herald photo)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

It is better to be drawn to God than dragged. God put us in a garden, not a lecture hall, because we are drawn by beauty.

In an immersion event on Friday, Feb. 28, Theology of the Body Institute presenter Bill Donaghy shared this observation, and then used the power of beauty to explore Pope St. John Paul II’s teachings on human sexuality through quotes, poems, paintings, sculptures, images of nature and more.

The event opened with an 8:30 a.m. Mass, with Bishop James P. Powers presiding, at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Hayward.
Chris Hurtubise, director of the Diocese of Superior’s Office of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship, which organized the event, said approximately 200 people were in attendance – 30 priests, directors of religious education from across the diocese, Chancery employees and more.

In his welcome, Hurtubise reviewed the structure of the day – two formation blocks separated by an hour for lunch and an hour of Eucharistic adoration – and spoke briefly on the bishop’s “Pastoral Letter on Evangelization” and his Maintenance to Mission initiative. The event was one element of the bishop’s effort to grow understanding of church teachings in the diocese.

Hurtubise then introduced Donaghy, an 18-year staff member of the Theology of the Body Institute who has been, in Donaghy’s words, “deep-diving this teaching for 24 years.”

A lot is going on in the culture today, Donaghy acknowledged. Explaining that he wanted the day to feel like a retreat, a chance for “rediscovering the gift of being human,” he acknowledged the rapid, unprecedented changes that have taken place in the last decade. Inviting listeners to relax “because God is in charge,” he compared a quiet soul to quiet water reflecting the heavens down to its deepest depths. If we are doom-scrolling, he added, “the waters of our soul are going to be choppy.”

Donaghy first encountered Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body teachings when he was 16. “Original Unity of Man and Woman,” the title of the first reflection he read, appealed to the teen because of his parents’ recent divorce.
God makes “amazing mosaics out of the broken bits of our lives,” he said. His father had a reawakening of the faith, while his mother left the church and remarried; Donaghy said even at 54, their parting remains a wound for him.

Discerning out of seminary as a young man, he was doing mission education for the Pontifical Mission Society when he met Pope St. John Paul II in 2000. When he returned home to Pennsylvania, he met his future wife, Rebecca, while she was working at a soup kitchen. The couple has four children.

Theology of the Body sometimes get compartmentalized as “Catholic sex ed,” he said, but first, sex isn’t something you do, it’s something you are. Sex is both a verb and a noun; unlike angels, which are solely spiritual, humans are embodied – both spiritual and physical – and are sexual beings.

Presenting images of the “golden spiral” – plants, creatures and astronomy illustrating the Fibonacci sequence – Donaghy argued the “gratuitous beauty” in nature is an invitation to read the “theology to our biology.”

There’s a hierarchy to the natural world, Donaghy confirmed, and humans are at the top: “We are absolutely a quantum leap above everybody else.”

He addressed a couple of flawed secular ideologies – the notion that humans are destroying the earth and it would be better off without us, and the idea that animals are human equivalents – and said both are wrong, adding that we do need to work on our stewardship of the earth.

Theology of the Body is the catechesis of Pope St. John Paul II, delivered in regular addresses from 1979-1984. The late pope, who said he “fell in love with human love” because he saw God in it, wrote the series of mostly biblical reflections on sexuality, what it means to be human, and how we can be truly happy.

Radiating the beauty of God is how we attract others, Donaghy explained, and showed Greg Keane’s short animated film “Duet” (view at

Passion is the catalyst that moves us into love, but it also moves us into lust. “It gets us in trouble,” he added, but we are not supposed to repress it or shut it down. God gives us pleasures not to trap us, but to give us a gift.

He shared St. Augustine’s quote: “He who is lost in his passion is less lost than he who has lost his passion,” and commented that God never said, “be nice to others as I have been nice to you.” God doesn’t want “nice,” Donaghy said as he concluded his morning presentation; he wants “flaming hot volcanos of love.”

Attendees then ate lunch; an hour of Eucharistic adoration followed, led by Hurtubise, and several priests were available to hear confessions.

Afternoon session

Pope St. John Paul II differentiates sexual drive, an act of will, from sexual instinct, which is involuntary, Donaghy said. Physical attraction, sensuality and sentimentality are the raw material of love; mature love, on the other hand, is willing the good of the other.

Kids, according to Donaghy, are “little saint-makers.”

Comparing the screens in which our culture is so absorbed to Narcissus’ pool in Greek mythology, Donaghy explained that the purpose of religion is to connect. The oft-cited “I’m not religious, I am spiritual” phrasing denies the connection; likewise, marriage is a bond, and one of the problems in our day is “we want to be so free” that we don’t want to commit.

Quoting Pope Francis, “We the women and men of the church, we are in the middle of a love story … and if we do not understand this, we have understood nothing of what the church is,” Donaghy talked about bodily love as an expression of the language of agape, the highest form of love – fire rising up to heaven, and fire coming down.

As humans, we are afflicted with four wounds brought about by sin: The break with God, with one another, with ourselves, and with creation. These relational disruptions arise from an “existential earthquake going on with sin.”

Catholics believe that “matter matters,” he continued. When we sin with our bodies, it affects us. Grace builds on nature, and our faith completes – not competes with – reason.

“Theology designed our biology,” he added, and the word of God – logos, meaning word, reason and plan – become flesh.

After showing a TikTok video of a transsexual, Donaghy traced the trend back to the philosopher René Decartes – who famously said, “I think, therefore I am” – and called it “a bad theory that posits human identity, gender identity, is in the mind.”

It’s “angelism,” Donaghy said, the idea that “I am in the mind, and my humanity is just ‘stuff.’”

He contrasted Decartes with Sigmund Freud, who viewed humans as primarily sexual animals, and said humans are neither just body or intellect.

In our current culture, we are conflating personalities – individual variations in humans – with gender, what Donaghy calls “sexual disorientation.”

He quoted the late Pope Benedict XVI:

“The church represents the memory of what it means to be human in the face of a civilization of forgetfulness …. Just as an individual without memory has lost his identity, so too a human race without memory would lose its identity.”

Donaghy provided a bibliography of resources for parents, teens, families and anyone looking to learn more about Theology of the Body. The TOB Institute’s website is

The Humanum teaching videos used in the presentation are at