National Catholic Register


New Latin Mass Orders Making Pa. Diocese a ‘Spiritual Powerhouse’

Scranton bishop looks to papal directive in welcoming two orders

BY Joseph Esposito

August 09-15, 1998 Issue | Posted 8/9/98 at 2:00 PM


SCRANTON, Pa.—Nestled between rugged mountains and old coal mines, northeastern Pennsylvania seems an unlikely magnet for attracting Latin Mass orders. But in the 1990s the Diocese of Scranton has welcomed two orders, largely as a result of Bishop James Timlin's encouragement.

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, founded in 1988 in Germany, was invited to establish its American headquarters near Scranton six years ago. Then, in May of this year, Bishop Timlin solemnized an entirely new order, the Society of St. John, at an impressive ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Peter. The bishop said, that with the introduction of these two orders, “We are blessed with a spiritual powerhouse here.”

The antecedents of these developments go back to the apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei, which Pope John II issued in July 1988. In it, the Holy Father said, “To all those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition, I wish to manifest my will to facilitate their ecclesial communion by means of the necessary measures to guarantee respect for their rightful aspirations.”

Within three weeks of the issuance of the letter, the Fraternity of St. Peter was founded. The Fraternity pledges its “fidelity to the Roman Pontiff, the Successor of St. Peter.” In addition to its international headquarters in Bavaria, the Fraternity now maintains apostolates or centers in six European countries and the United States.

The Fraternity celebrates the Mass according to the 1962 liturgical missal. Bishop Timlin noted, “Their charism is to minister to those people who find great spiritual value in the so-called ‘Tridentine Rite.’” In addition, the Fraternity is committed to vocations, parish work, and establishing schools.

When the Fraternity approached Bishop Timlin in 1992 to locate its American headquarters in his diocese, he was most receptive. In an interview with the Register, the bishop said, “If the Holy Father wants us to do this, the discussion is ended. I'll follow the Holy Father. Whatever he says, goes.”

The prelate also spoke about the Latin Mass practitioners as being another example of the heterogeneity of his 10-county diocese. One half of the parishes are ethnic parishes — a practice that goes back to the days when European immigrants flocked to neighborhood churches that retained familiar ties to their homeland.

Bishop Timlin, who has been the ordinary in Scranton since 1984, said, “There probably is no more ethnic diocese in the country. So we are used to living with this kind of diversity. One more doesn't make that much difference.”

The Fraternity opened a seminary and headquarters in a large, old orphanage, owned by the diocese in the town of Elmhurst. The seminary is now scheduled to move elsewhere because of its cramped quarters; the Fraternity is very much alive and thriving.

Bishop Timlin also asked them to run a former Lithuanian parish, St. Michael's, in Scranton. Eight Masses are offered each week at the church, and all except one is in Latin.

“They have the indult to use the old rite,” the bishop noted.

Because the Fraternity of St. Peter supports education, it is not surprising that another contribution is administering St. Gregory's Academy, a boarding school for boys in grades 8-12. The school, which was founded in 1993, now has reached its optimal enrollment of 60 students, drawn mostly from the east coast, but also from the rest of the United States and Canada.

The academy, which is housed in the same building as the Fraternity of St. Peter, is strongly grounded in faith.

“The foundation of the academic and social life of St. Gregory's Academy is Catholic prayer, the heart of which is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” according to its handbook.

Alan Hicks, the headmaster, is a product of the Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas. He calls the St. Gregory's curriculum a “well-rounded, broad-based liberal” one. Latin and religion are taught throughout all five years. Literature and the arts are emphasized. The only electives offered are French and an advanced tutorial in mathematics.

Hicks notes, “We are trying to form the boys. We are not trying to form them merely on an intellectual plane,” however. “Music has a very formative effect on the soul,” so that is encouraged. Farming on the campus's 200 acres also is emphasized. Extracurricular activities include a juggling troupe.

The curriculum is taught by instructors who are equally versatile. The headmaster said, “I tried to get faculty members who are well rounded with active intellectual and spiritual lives. I want my teachers to teach as wide a variety of subjects as possible.”

There currently are six full-time and four part-time teachers.

Just as the Fraternity of St. Peter offers an alternative to modern liturgical practice, St. Gregory's provides an attractive choice to those Catholics parents who are looking for a different educational option for their boys. Hicks notes interest in the school has grown at the same time that there has been an explosion in home schooling.

“I think modern education in the United States is bankrupt,” he said. “Anything which provides an alternative is a good thing.”

Obviously pleased with the contribution made by the Fraternity of St. Peter and its boys academy, Bishop Timlin was receptive to yet another overture made by those attracted to the Latin Mass. In October 1997 he welcomed a new order, the Priestly Society of St. John. It was quickly approved by the Vatican, and a Solemn Pontifical Mass and Ceremony of Approval and Establishment was held May 24,1998, the feast of Mary, Help of Christians.

Several of those associated with the new Society were part of the Society of St. Pius X. The order was headed by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre of France, who was excommunicated by Pope John Paul II in 1988. The order's problems related to disobedience and, specifically, to lack of support for changes brought by the Second Vatican Council.

Bishop Timlin said that these priests “wanted to get their situation regularized. They wanted to get themselves back into the Catholic Church in full standing.”

Referring to the Holy Father and Ecclesia Dei, he said the guidance was clear: “Be kind to them, be generous. I don't see why I shouldn't be. It's a pastoral decision to take care of these people.”

Before a large crowd at the diocese's cathedral, Bishop Timlin read his decree of erection of the Society of St. John as a clerical association. He noted that this was done “having fittingly consulted the Holy See, and after studious and most diligent consideration and assiduous prayer to the Father of light.”

With the new order came five priests, two deacons, two acolytes, one lector, and five postulants. These men and those who follow will be governed by a founding document, a combination mission statement and strategic plan, which explains the goals and methods of the Society.

The new association will rely on Church tradition, including the Latin Mass, to inspire piety, evangelization, and Catholic leadership in society. There is a commitment to ideas espoused by several Church traditions, including those of the monastic orders of the Middle Ages, the Order of St. Jerome, the English Oratory of John Henry Cardinal Newman, the Benedictine community of Cluny, the order of St. Martin of Tours, and the Rule of St. Augustine.

The Society of St. John also is housed at the former orphanage in Elmhurst. Not surprisingly, they have been interacting with the Fraternity of St. Peter and, more especially, with St. Gregory's Academy. In fact, one teacher at the academy, Tony Myers, became a postulant of St. John's in May.

Myers, a former military officer, serves as a spokesman for the Society. He told the Register that the Society has ambitious plans, especially concerning its commitment to education and communal living. Many of those associated with the new Society are graduates of Thomas Aquinas College of Santa Paula, Calif. — as is Myers — and they have been studying and planning ways to establish a similar college in the Scranton area.

Dr. Ronald McArthur, founder and former president of Thomas Aquinas College, has been meeting with the Society and developing “in-house” tutorials in expectation of creating a curriculum for a new institution. The order also has discussed the possibility of a girls' boarding school.

Another important goal of the Society is communal living, particularly in the medieval mold. As such, they are searching throughout northeastern Pennsylvania — between Scranton and Binghamton, N.Y. — to find up to 1,000 acres to develop a Catholic community.

Myers says many have expressed interest in moving to this proposed community, which would emphasize agriculture, craft trades, and — above all — a commitment to living the faith. Such a town will be designed and buildings constructed in a way that will glorify the Lord.

Joseph Esposito writes from Springfield, Virginia.