Passion to Evangelize Drives New Ordinariate Catholic Communities

Young Catholics, invigorated by the ordinariate’s English-Catholic expressions of faith, are actively ‘church-planting’ and inviting people into their fledgling Catholic communities.

Above, Bishop Steven Lopes administers the sacrament of confirmation during a pontifical Mass at St. Alban's Fellowship in Rochester, New York. Below, singers join in choral Evensong at Our Lady of Walsingham Cathedral in Houston.
Above, Bishop Steven Lopes administers the sacrament of confirmation during a pontifical Mass at St. Alban's Fellowship in Rochester, New York. Below, singers join in choral Evensong at Our Lady of Walsingham Cathedral in Houston. (photo: Bishop Lopes, A.C. Smith Photography; Evensong, courtesy of Our Lady of Walsingham Cathedral )

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — At 22 years old, Sarah Rodeo, a Catholic graduate student at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, is engaged in work more associated with evangelical Protestants than Catholics in the Northeast: building a new church community from the ground up.

Rodeo belongs to the Ordinariate Fellowship of Connecticut, one of the nascent groups that aspire to become an official community-in-formation for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, a diocesan structure established by Benedict XVI that reunited the Anglican patrimony to the Catholic Church.

The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter is one of three established dioceses under the Holy See that reintegrate the Anglican patrimony with the Catholic Church. In North America, the ordinariate began with a wave of Anglican and Episcopal communities that entered into full communion with the bishop of Rome. But the ordinariate is seeing its own communities grow, and new communities develop, through active evangelization built on common prayer, fellowship, hard work and perseverance.

Rodeo is busy fundraising and spreading the word through print and social-media campaigns. She joined the Ordinariate Fellowship of Connecticut in 2017, after she learned about the community, which met monthly to pray Evensong — a form of vespers in the Anglican chant tradition — at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in West Hartford. The group was founded by Eric Whittaker, a parishioner from Our Lady of Walsingham, the ordinariate cathedral in Houston, Texas, who worked with music director David Garrido to put together the evening services. Thanks to some of the Dominicans of the Eastern Province stationed in New Haven, they will have a regularly monthly ordinariate Mass according to Divine Worship: The Missal, starting Sept. 29 at St. Joseph’s Church.

“We have a lot of young-adult interest,” Rodeo said, explaining that many people are drawn to the beauty of restored “English-Catholicism” in the ordinariate.


Meet the Ordinariate

Bishop Steven Lopes, the head of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which covers North America, spoke about its mission and ministry at a Aug. 25 “Meet the Ordinariate Night,” a meet-and-greet event sponsored by the Fellowship of St. Alban, an ordinariate Catholic community based in Rochester, New York. Bishop Lopes explained that the ordinariate “flows from the ecumenical vision of Benedict XVI,” who taught “the unity of faith allows for a diversity of expression of that faith.” He said Benedict XVI, when he established the ordinariates through the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, recognized the Anglican patrimony is a “treasure to be shared with the whole Church.”

“He is saying there is something about the way the faith was lived, celebrated and expressed in an English context that is actually an enrichment for the whole Church,” he said.

“It is something true, it is something good, and it is something beautiful.”

He also added the ordinariate serves the mutual enrichment of the Church in a pastoral sense. Ordinariate communities, he said, have “a sense of parish as family” by not only worshipping at Mass together, but spending extensive time with each other in fellowship over coffee hour.

“It is kind of expected that you stick around after Mass; no ducking out the side aisle,” he said.

The Catholic Church today, he said, has to figure out how to form “intentional communities” within a large parish setting, and the ordinariate helps contribute to that discussion.

“The feeling of anonymity in Church is the death knell of faith, particularly for millennials,” he said. Many feel that “if it doesn’t matter if I’m there [at Mass], then it doesn’t matter if I’m not there, and I have better things I can do on Sunday.”


Anglicanorum Coetibus Society

One of the engines of the ordinariate’s development and growth is the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society (ACS), which has a mission to nourish and pass on the Anglican patrimony within the Catholic Church.

“There’s a great interest in the ordinariates and our Anglican patrimony that Pope Benedict described as a ‘precious gift’ and a ‘treasure to be shared,’” explained Deborah Gyapong, president of the ACS. “That passion animates the society, but our focus is also on evangelization and deeper conversion to the Catholic faith.”

Gyapong said the society helped in the development of a devotional, called the “St. Gregory Prayer Book,” which is in the process of being published. It also encourages the development of Anglican Patrimony Groups, which aspire to become ordinariate communities in formation.

“Our interest is not in studying our patrimony as some kind of historical society, but in keeping it alive because of its beauty, its truth and its goodness,” she said. “Our liturgy, our daily offices, our high sacral language and our community life have helped us grow ever deeper in our Christian faith.”

Eric Waltemate, a chiropractic doctor in St. Louis, Missouri, is part of a similar effort called the Anglican Patrimony Community of St. Louis that hopes to attract enough eligible members, such as current or prospective Catholics from Anglican, Episcopal, Methodist, or African Methodist Episcopal churches (either a Catholic group with members from those English Church backgrounds, or an Anglican, Episcopal, Methodist or African Methodist Episcopal congregation) to form an eventual ordinariate Catholic community. Waltemate said he has already been in contact with “current Anglicans and former Anglicans and Episcopalians who are now Catholic” who have expressed an interest.  

Their group has a monthly Sunday Evensong, organized by half a dozen members, followed by fellowship time. Waltemate said they started a few months ago, praying together out of his office, until moving to Epiphany of Our Lord, the archdiocesan Catholic parish that hosts them now. He said the collaboration has been fruitful, and the group is discussing the possibility of adding a Matins service on First Saturdays. Waltemate said the ordinariate provides not only ecumenical unity, but also enriches Catholic life and evangelization.

“The ordinariate has preserved many customs lost since the 1970s, such as Ember Days and other traditions Catholics used to do,” he said.

“And it has opened my eyes, as I’m reaching out to people I wouldn’t have 10 years ago.”


Personal Evangelization

The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter has 34 parochial communities at various stages of development and three new communities in formation, as well as one religious institute in formation. It has 74 priests and 12 deacons (10 permanent and two transitional).

Bishop Lopes said the ordinariate’s class of seminarians continues to grow in size (eight) and is receiving requests from Anglican clergy to join the Catholic Church through the ordinariate.

At Christ the King Church in Towson, Maryland, the parish began in the Charismatic Episcopal tradition. Father Edward Meeks, who led his congregation into the ordinariate in 2012, told the Register the congregation has doubled in size to about 300 persons, 20% of whom are under 18 years old. He explained that a lot of their ministry involves awakening the faith of Catholics who are looking for “friendship with God and intimacy with Jesus, but don’t know how to get there.”

He said many young couples bring other young families into the ordinariate through “personal evangelization,” through the women’s Bible study, or the men’s prayer breakfast, or the First Saturday devotions.

“Fellowship time is a really big deal for this parish,” he said. “People stay because they really enjoy each other’s company.”

Father Charles Hough IV, the rector of Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, told the Register that the ordinariate cathedral parish and shrine has come a long way since it began in 1984 as a pastoral-provision parish with a community of 12 people. Father Hough said the congregation’s most challenging time of growth was in those early years. Today the parish has approximately 650 families, double the number from six years ago.

Father Hough said Our Lady of Walsingham has seen many Christians come into the Catholic Church by attending the ordinariate’s Evensong services.

“Some feel the yearning of the Holy Spirit to want more,” he said.

The ordinariate allows many Catholics to deepen their faith through the experience of the English spiritual patrimony, Father Hough said. But some people received through the ordinariate eventually go to other parishes because they feel God calling them to that expression of the faith.

“The places that are growing in the ordinariate have fostered good relationships with the local diocese,” he said. “We’re all in the vineyard together doing God’s work.”

Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff reporter.

This story was updated after posting.