WASHINGTON — When Father Scott Hurd, vicar general of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter — a home in the Catholic Church for former Episcopalians and Anglicans — reflects back on 2012, he points to a period of rapid and exciting growth marking its first year of existence.
On New Year’s Day 2012, Pope Benedict XVI erected the ordinariate, which allows former Anglicans to retain certain treasured traditions within the Catholic Church. It was created in accord with Anglicanorum Coetibus, the Pope’s apostolic constitution permitting former Anglicans to come into the Church corporately instead of as individuals.
On the same day, the Holy Father named Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, a married Catholic priest and the former Episcopal bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rio Grande, as the first ordinary.
Newspapers have since featured stories of former Episcopal churches being received into the Catholic Church as groups in Masses that included Vatican-approved prayers that they had long cherished from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, a landmark of the English language. "The joy and blessing of all these people being received into the Church is at the end of the day what this is all about — it is about unity in Christ," Father Hurd said.
Father Hurd is a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington who has a three-year appointment to serve as vicar general to the ordinariate.
The ordinariate recently received an especially high-profile former Episcopal priest, Larry Gipson, former dean of the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Ala., and also former rector of the 8,000-strong St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, where former President George H. W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, were among his parishioners.
The former Episcopal rector, who holds a master’s degree in divinity from Yale University, hopes to become a Catholic priest.
The Chair of St. Peter is one of three Anglican ordinariates.
The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, under the patronage of Blessed John Henry Newman, one of the great English converts, was established in the United Kingdom in 2011. (A group of Anglican nuns just joined the Church in the Walsingham Ordinariate.) The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross, under the patronage of St. Augustine of Canterbury, was established in Australia in June.
The Chair of St. Peter also administers a newly created ordinariate deanery in Canada, which Rome approved in December. Msgr. Steenson appointed Father Lee Kenyon, a former Church of England priest who brought his entire Anglican parish into the Catholic Church in 2011, as dean of Canada’s new Deanery of St. John the Baptist.
"It has been an amazing year," said Susan White of Arlington, Va., a former Episcopalian who is active in the ordinariate. "Every time I turn around, there is news of more folks, clergy and lay, swimming the Tiber, their carefully preserved Anglican treasures tied to their backs to offer to Rome. We are so blessed to be able to bring our riches with us."
Eric Wilson, a former Episcopalian who now attends St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Bladensburg, Md., echoed that sense of gratitude: "It’s been a tremendous blessing this year to experience firsthand Pope Benedict’s vision for Christian unity being lived out on a daily basis."
St. Luke’s parishioners entered the Church last summer, after an intense period of discernment.
"Whether it’s the many holy priests we’ve seen ordained or the hundreds of converts growing in the faith, the ordinariate’s success has exceeded all expectations — a sure sign that the Lord is at work," Wilson said.
Looking forward, Father Hurd said, "To a certain degree, next year will be more of the same. There are communities in transition, and some still in discernment [as to whether to become Catholic and part of the ordinariate], and we have a second wave of clergy aspirants who are starting the process."
As of late December, the ordinariate included 1,600 laypeople, 28 priests and 36 communities. There are 69 additional applications from men who hope to become Catholic priests of the ordinariate.
Deacon Ken Bolin, 38, a West Point graduate and military chaplain who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, is among those candidates who have already completed their priestly formation and expect to be ordained as Catholic priests through the ordinariate this March.
Currently stationed in Anchorage, Alaska, he hopes to be ordained in March. He is especially excited that he has been granted permission to be the priest who performs the rites of initiation when his wife, Sharon, and their three children are welcomed into the Church.
The ordinariate makes it possible for married former Episcopal and Anglican clergymen such as Deacon Bolin to become Catholic priests. But, eventually, the ordinariate will have a celibate priesthood.
The ordinariate — which is something new in Church history — also devoted 2012 to establishing legal and organizational policies to build a foundation for future growth. It will soon have income from parish assessments similar to diocesan assessments.
"Now that we have reached this point, we will be on a firmer financial footing," Father Hurd predicted.
Father Hurd stressed that the generosity of Catholic dioceses and ordinariate staff members — many of whom work without pay — has made the ordinariate possible. He expressed gratitude to the U.S. bishops for their financial and spiritual support.
While some ordinariate priests, such as Father Mark Lewis of St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Bladensburg, Md., who is renowned for his preaching and the high caliber of music at his church, are able to function full time as clergy, others mostly rely on income generated from work in Catholic institutions such as schools or diocesan offices.
"Anyone who puts forth an application to become an ordinariate priest must have an adequate source of income to take care of his family," said Father Hurd.
While the ordinariate has spent a lot of energy on establishing a secure foundation, it has been buoyed by many promising developments. Recently, it received an anonymous donation of land to build its first chancery. The donor spent $5 million to purchase five acres adjacent to the ordinariate’s principal church, Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston.
The ordinariate is seeking additional donors for construction of the chancery. It currently operates out of a small office at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, where Msgr. Steenson teaches theology, with most of its small staff scattered around the United States. Father Hurd said that quite a few members of the staff have donated their time free of charge.
The ordinariate is planning a pilgrimage to Rome for priests and families in February. "We will set out to discover the apostolic foundations of the Church of Rome, to participate in the wonderful tradition of Lenten stational Masses organized by the Pontifical North American College and to meet some of the architects of the ordinariates," Msgr. Steenson reported.
He also expressed the hope that the pilgrimage to Rome would include an opportunity to thank the "Successor of St. Peter himself for the gift of Anglicanorum Coetibus."
A symposium on the ordinariate is planned for February at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, who played an essential role in establishing and supporting the ordinariate, and Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and secretary to the Anglicanae Traditiones commission, will be featured speakers.
"The three ordinariates operate under the aegis of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith," explained Father Hurd, "and for Archbishop Müller to make his first U.S. visit as head to the symposium is not only a great honor for us, but also a vote of confidence for the great things that have happened over the last year."
Charlotte Hays writes