Pentecost Sunday, 1970, was the day decreed by Bishop Vincent Leonard for the implementation of the New Order of Mass, the Novus Ordo Missæ, in the churches of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Catholic that weekend was emblazoned with the headline "This is the Day."
That banner headline, however, referred not to the New Mass but to the Bishop's Annual Fund Drive. Judging from newspaper reports of the time, it appears that the imposition of Pope Paul VI's novel rite of Mass was a little-noticed event.
Looking back on the situation that Pentecost Sunday, May 17, 1970, both in the Church and in American society at large, it is understandable that attention was focused elsewhere. The war in Vietnam had expanded into Cambodia, and the antiwar frenzy on college campuses was at its peak. Student protests, riots, vandalism and arson culminated in the shootings at Kent State and Jackson State that May. A month earlier, the near-disastrous Apollo 13 mission survived its crippled journey around the Moon, arriving safely home on April 17. Locally, Three Rivers Stadium, plagued by long delays, labor strife and cost overruns, was finally nearing completion for its opening in June.
In the Church, Pope Paul VI was reacting in "sorrowful amazement" to Belgian Cardinal Leo Suenens, who accused the Pontiff of running the Church in "an authoritarian manner." Twenty-two months earlier, the Pontiff had issued Humanæ Vitæ, provoking adverse reactions that have been described as the most violent attacks on the authority of papal teaching in modern times. On May 15, 1970, the Associated Press reported a statement by Cardinal Willebrands, head of the Vatican's Christian Unity Secretariat, "that Roman Catholics and protestants should cooperate in the training of priests and ministers." The Pittsburgh Catholic printed an article headlined "Why the Baltimore Catechism Must Go." Monsignor Anthony Bosco was about to be named a bishop. And at St. Paul's Cathedral, 20 men were ordained to the priesthood on the Vigil of Pentecost.
Still, the lack of attention given to the changeover to the New Order of Mass seems surprising from 29 years' distance. Buried on page five of the Saturday Pittsburgh Press, alongside the sermon topics of various protestant ministers and notice of a musical program by "The Harmonizing Four," was the small headline "Catholics to Start New Rite of Mass; Pentecost Sunday to be First for Use In Pittsburgh Diocese." Why was this seen as such a non-event?
Evidence exists that greater resistance to the new Mass was expected by those implementing it. Literature distributed in some Pittsburgh parishes in anticipation of the Novus Ordo Missæ warned readers that "Despite the care that was lavished on these new texts, we know that bickering, bitter debate, anger, even open street fighting" were to be expected, before scolding them for "an indefensible attitude of fear and resistance." That same handout went on to confidently predict that "Because of the concern for humanity shown by the Bishops of the Church at the Second Vatican Council, we will find we have entered a new epoch of worship where we will enjoy, as never before, communal richness and individual depth in our celebration of the Eucharist."
In reality, the Roman rite of Mass had already been altered, slowly and incrementally, over the preceding six years. This new Missal of Paul VI was just the latest in a seemingly unending series of visible changes in the Roman Catholic Church. Catholics could now eat meat on Fridays, just like everyone else. Catholic women generally had, motu proprio, stopped wearing hats or veils to church. The Mass, as it was offered in the typical Pittsburgh parish on the last Sunday before the Novus Ordo Missæ was imposed, was already
- completely in English
- offered on a table altar facing the people
- with a novel Eucharistic Prayer replacing the venerable Roman Canon of 1,300 years' tradition
- with the addition of the Prayer of the Faithful and lay lectors
- without the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar or the Last Gospel
- and with Holy Communion received by standing in line.
(There were exceptions, of course, such as at St. Boniface Church, where the Communion rail was in use right up to the merger with St. Ambrose Church in May of 1994.)
Auxiliary Bishop John McDowell offers Mass at St. Augustine Church, Lawrenceville, in February, 1970, three months before the Novus Ordo Missæ was introduced in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
By May of 1970 these gradual changes, which had smoothed the way for the uneventful imposition of the Novus Ordo Missæ, had already divided Roman Catholics into three camps. The largest group had accepted the changes, either out of genuine enthusiasm or out of trust and obedience, and stayed in their pews. Many others had already said "enough is enough" and abandoned their lifelong parishes. Of those who left, many simply stopped going to Mass; others sought asylum in Byzantine Catholic parishes. Bob and Maryann Stroyne of Bellevue were among the latter. As Mrs. Stroyne recalls,
We came home one Sunday and I told him—I didn't talk in front of the children—I said "I'm not going back there again," and he looked at me and said "You've got to be kidding" and I said, "No, I'm not kidding."
Mr. Stroyne recounts that
In the meantime, we were talking to other people, other friends. There were a lot of people who did not like what was going on, believe me, but they were taking it and going along. . . We found out that the Byzantine had not changed . . . so we quit and went to the Byzantine for six or seven years. Our daughter Lisa made her First Communion there.
Although they were welcome in the Byzantine Catholic Church, the Stroynes and others like them realized that they had merely found a temporary refuge. Like all refugees, they longed for their birthright. The tide, though, was clearly against them, and the Vatican was hardly in the mood to accommodate their needs and aspirations. To illustrate: in Ottawa, Ontario, Bishop Joseph-Aurèle Plourde allowed the Tridentine Latin Mass to continue at one location until 1974, at which time a letter from the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship, signed by Cardinal Knox and Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, ordered even this small group to adopt the Novus Ordo Missæ. Locally, Bishop Vincent Leonard acknowledged unhappiness and resistance within his own diocese with the issuance of a strongly-worded pastoral letter in January 1971. Bishop Leonard wrote:
It follows that priests who refuse to adopt the new rite or do so begrudgingly and perfunctorily are out of harmony with the church (sic) and disobedient to the magisterium of its head. What makes such an attitude sad is that these same priests seem to feel that they are obedient and loyal to what they call the traditional church while they refuse loyalty to the living church in the world today.
The letter concludes by threatening withdrawal of priestly faculties from those clergy displaying insufficient enthusiasm.
If refugee Catholics had no foreseeable hope of hearing the immemorial Mass with the sanction of the Church's hierarchy, they would have it by whatever means were necessary. The Stroynes were part of a small group of traditionalists that coalesced in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. Their resolve to have the old Mass found its locus on the sunporch of Joann Geibert's large home in the North Hills. There, using matériel rescued from dumpsters by Maryann Stroyne and Dorothy Hollinger, on a salvaged altar, with a priest from another state, a small group of families assisted in the earliest "underground Masses."
For these Catholics, the old Mass was literally a pearl of great price. The cost of flying a priest in from New York each time Mass was offered was borne by just 10 or 12 families. There were personal costs as well. Bob Stroyne admits that the issue of the Mass caused divisions in his family that persist to this day.
Soon they were not content with just having their own private Masses in the Geibert sunporch chapel. As Stroyne explains, "We wanted to get more people. What happens if you become a group that says, 'This is all I want, I'm great, I've got my little Mass, I don't care about anybody else?' That's not the way you're supposed to do things. You're supposed to evangelize and try to get more people to come to this thing. We could've just kept going like we were, but we wanted to build this up."
Apparently the North Hills group did not think they were facing enough hardship already, because they began to advertise their Masses, which were moved to a hotel. Mrs. Stroyne describes Sunday mornings: "Our boys were small then, they had paper routes. They'd get up early Sunday morning to deliver their papers. Then we'd load up the station wagon with everything we needed to have Mass—the altar and vestments and chalice, and go up to the Holiday Inn on McKnight Road to set up a rented room for Mass. Regis and Dorothy Hollinger and their family and our boys would help get everything ready. We'd have to set up chairs for the people—it was so much work."
At the same time, another band of Catholics centered in Hazelwood was following a similar course. This group came to know each other through their common friend and mentor, Franciscan Father Alois Staskeiwicz. In the early 1960s, they had all been drawn to Father Alois's causes of anticommunism and devotion to the Fatima message. This circle usually met at the home of Mr. and Mrs. O'Donnell in Hazelwood. Charles Heidenreich recalls that they, too, fled to the Eastern Catholic Church. "After much very deep soul searching, what we did to palliate ourselves at least for a while, was that we started going to the Byzantine (rite). We were at peace in a way, but we still had these meetings," at which "we didn't see much possibility that much was going to happen but disaster, and it seems as if it's true. In 30 years the Church went from invincible to so fragmented that the Pope is openly disobeyed and everyone's doing their own thing."
They resolved to try to return to the immemorial Latin rite of Mass. Heidenreich says that "We thought, sure, everybody knows a really holy priest. . . We begged and cajoled every priest friend we had in Pittsburgh, to no avail. Myself and one or two other people, we went over to see the old, old pastor over at St. Boniface, but when we started talking about the possibility of him coming and saying a Latin Mass for us, boy, he threw us out of there—there was no way." The group, now calling itself The Pittsburgh Committee for the Latin Mass, also reproduced and widely distributed a series of letters collectively called "The Destruction of the Mass" by Ann Schuster, a master polemicist. Through the contacts they had made in that project, they sent out a plea across the country for a priest. Finally, their novenas were answered by Father John J. Keane, a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston. On Saturday, February 12, an exhausted Father Keane appeared on the doorstep of the O'Donnell's Hazelwood home after driving down from Boston. The first Mass, attended by a dozen people, was held that day in the O'Donnell's living room. The next day, Sunday, February 13, 1972, the first public Mass was held at the American Legion hall in Hazelwood for a congregation of about 80. A choir, organized by Ann Schuster and Ed Stewart, sang at that first public Mass.
Very quickly, pressure was put on the Hazelwood Legion to get rid of the Latin Mass. Coupled with complaints about the safety of the neighborhood, it was clear that they needed to find a new location. Thanks to Genevieve Welch, arrangements were made to rent a ballroom at the Roosevelt Hotel downtown, where the Mass was first celebrated on March 19, 1972.
Father John Keane continued to fly in from Boston for the weekly Mass, making a commitment for a year of service to the Pittsburgh group. Within a short time, the Committee began to look for a real church building. Charles Heidenreich recalls their audacity: "We had about $75 in our pockets and were looking to buy a church! I used every argument I could think of to dissuade the group, but I was overruled, thank God!" Soon they learned of an abandoned Serbian Orthodox church at the corner of S. 21st and Sydney Streets on the Southside. The owners of the old Saint Sava's wanted a monthly rent of $150, with a year's rent, or $1,800, in advance. The money was put up by John Votilla, a mailman, and the fledgling Latin Mass group had found a permanent home.
The church building was an empty shell, abandoned for years, and the Committee swung into action to clean, paint and furnish it for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Benches, an old altar, and a communion rail were found. Harry Dyga, who worked as a janitor at Holy Family Institute in Emsworth, rescued many liturgical items discarded from the Institute's chapel and returned them to use. The King family obtained the large crucifix which hung above the altar. By Fall of 1972, the newly-named Our Lady of Fatima Chapel was open.
building at S. 21st and Sydney Streets, formerly St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church,
which became Our Lady of Fatima Chapel.
All of this fervor for the Tridentine Mass was not viewed with benevolence by the Diocese of Pittsburgh. In a Pittsburgh Press story about the Chapel on October 14, 1972, Father Keane is quoted:
If you say, 'I'm ecumenical,' be ecumenical for all religions, even your own and especially your own... [T]he bishop, priests and people of Pittsburgh condemn with a severity reserved for the worst of sinners a handful of good souls . . . What is their crime? They meet and celebrate a Catholic liturgy that up until a few years ago was the only one used by the Catholic Church for centuries.
In remarks made in October 1998, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger claimed that "the Church, in her entire history, never once abolished or prohibited orthodox liturgical forms, something which would be entirely foreign to the Spirit of the Church. . . rites can die . . . but the Church never purely and simply prohibits them." While that statement may in some sense be technically or legally accurate, in practical terms and in the real world of the 1970s, it was far from true. Consider this item from the front page of the Pittsburgh Catholic on June 29, 1973:
Dear Friends in Christ:
There have been many inquiries recently about the practice of permitting the celebration of Mass with a congregation in Latin according to the Missal of Pope Saint Pius V (commonly referred to as the Tridentine Mass). An inquiry addressed to the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship on this point has yielded the information that the Holy See continues to maintain the principle that the only text which may be used is that of the Missal of Pope Paul VI. The Sacred Congregation clearly reaffirmed that it is no longer permitted to use the Latin Rite of the Missal of Pope Saint Pius V in Masses celebrated with a congregation. . .
No permission to celebrate Mass in Latin according to the Missal of Pope Saint Pius V has been granted in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. . . Consequently, the obligation of hearing Mass on Sundays and Holy Days would not be fulfilled by attendance at a Latin Mass the text of which is according to the Missal of Pope Saint Pius V (Tridentine Mass). It can be easily observed that to continue such Masses would be harmful to the pastoral unity of the Diocese and the priest offering the Mass would be subject to canonical penalties.
With kindest personal regards, I am
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Vincent M. Leonard
Bishop of Pittsburgh
At Mass that Sunday at the Chapel, Father Keane said in his sermon that
I am very proud, very honored, and very much in awe of the courageous people who came here this evening after reading the Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper. . . In a world of intolerance, can't the Catholic Church be tolerant of their own? Even if they consider their own as misguided or worse, be at least charitable, kind and sympathetic to those they consider as lost sheep. . . Why bring cannons to bear on the unarmed? My intention in coming to Pittsburgh was on one hand to help the people who wanted the Tridentine Latin Mass and were denied it by their Bishop and priests and on the other to cool the heat of anger, bitterness, frustration and even worse, that these disenfranchised people felt toward all priests, bishops, cardinals and even the Pope himself.
But official disapproval, rebukes, and threats of excommunication did not close Our Lady of Fatima Chapel, which persevered and slowly grew. After Fr. John Keane returned to Boston, the Chapel enlisted the services of Fr. Lino Bordas, a Spaniard who commuted to Pittsburgh from near New York City. Mr. Heidenreich recollects that "He was ideal for our purposes. He would say a beautiful Mass, and he gave short sermons. You can't say much better for a priest." Fr. Lino was succeeded by Father Leo Friedericks, S.C.J. Burdened by poor eyesight and hearing, one Chapel veteran says of Fr. Leo that "all he thought about was saving souls. Even when he went to the barbershop, he was trying to bring people back to the Church." Fr. Leo signed a contract and took up permanent residence in the newly refurbished rectory. With a resident priest, daily Mass was offered at the Chapel. Adult catechism classes were instituted by Fr. Leo as a remedial measure for those whose knowledge of the Faith had suffered during the catechetical experiments of the 1960s.
On September 29, 1977, the Chapel was finally purchased from the Serbian Orthodox for $40,000. The next milestone was the opening of a school in the basement of the church in the fall of 1978. Peggy Wrabley, Dottie Craig, Ann Schuster, Rich Werner, Alice Rich and Father Leo all taught there. Many books used at the school were among material rescued from dumpsters at other Catholic institutions and colleges by the Stroynes. Despite meager pay for the teachers, the school placed a financial strain on the Chapel.
Father Leo Friedericks died on April 16, 1980 as the result of a stroke. His funeral, held at the Chapel, was attended by independent traditionalist priests from around the country. Fr. Leo left his entire estate to the Chapel.
Following the death of their pastor, the members of the Chapel were again served temporarily by Fr. Lino while they searched for a new priest. Jerry Nelson was sent out to St. Mary's, Kansas, to see if he could find a priest. He reportedly found little enthusiasm among the clergy with whom he spoke. Finally, the Chapel received an acceptance letter from Monsignor Kenneth R. Hodgson, who came to Pittsburgh in July 1980.
Although Msgr. Hodgson's closing of the school in 1981 was the cause of some discord and departures, the Chapel continued steadily throughout the 1980s. Among the notable events of that period was a visit by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who came to administer Confirmation at the Chapel.
By 1984, Our Lady of Fatima Chapel had been home to the Tridentine Latin Mass in Pittsburgh for twelve years. On October 3, 1984, the first concession to "the Mass that would not die" was promulgated by authority of Pope John Paul II. Quattuor Abhinc Annos, issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship on October 3, 1984, granted Rome's explicit permission for bishops to allow the celebration of the Tridentine Mass. This document, however, was remarkable in its restrictiveness and resulting ineffectiveness.
It is not surprising that the members of Our Lady of Fatima Chapel were unimpressed by a document that offered them far less than they already had built for themselves. The terms of Quattuor Abhinc Annos stipulated that the Tridentine Mass should only be available to the members of groups who expressly request it from their bishop in writing, not to Catholics at large. Such indult Masses were not to be held in parish churches, and could only take place on days explicitly permitted by the bishop. The practical ineffectiveness of the 1984 indult is illustrated by that fact that, after four years' of existence, it had resulted in weekly Tridentine Masses in only two dioceses in the U.S.—Corpus Christi, Texas, and San Diego, California.
There was no granting of the 1984 indult in Pittsburgh by Bishop Anthony Bevilaqua. Father Lawrence DiNardo recalls that there was no petition by a qualified group for an application of the indult here. At least one member of the Latin Mass Community, however, reports that he did in fact write a personal letter of request to Bishop Bevilaqua, who declined it.
Despite its uselessness in practice, Quattuor Abhinc Annos did serve the purpose of acknowledging that the classical Roman Rite of Mass, the Missal of Pope St. Pius V, which had been effectively banned for fourteen years, was regaining some legitimacy in the eyes of the Roman hierarchy.
In the years 1984-88 the Vatican, fully aware of the failure of the first indult to reconcile either Archbishop Lefebvre's Society of St. Pius X or independent traditionalist groups like Pittsburgh's Our Lady of Fatima Chapel, continued to study the matter. The suppressed report of a 1986 Commission of Cardinals, directed to study the results and restrictive conditions of the 1984 indult, reportedly contained these points:
- On the question of whether Pope Paul VI authorized the bishops to forbid the celebration of the traditional Mass, the Commission reportedly was unanimous that the Pope never gave bishops such authority.
- On the question of whether priests have the right to celebrate the traditional Mass in public and in private without restriction, even against the will of their bishops, the Commission replied that a priest cannot be obligated to celebrate the new rite of the Mass and that bishops cannot forbid or place restrictions upon the celebration of the traditional Mass, whether in private or in public.
- The Cardinals then went on to lay down six 'norms' to provide for the co-existence of the traditional with the new liturgy. The essential point was that any priest may celebrate Mass either in the vernacular or in Latin, and that for any Mass celebrated in Latin, with or without a congregation, the celebrant has the right of freely choosing between the Missal of Paul VI (1970) or that of John XXIII (1962). The celebrant is to observe the proper rubrics of whichever missal he is using and follow the liturgical calendar of that missal.
It is not difficult to understand why the opponents of the Tridentine Mass would want to prevent the issuance of such a report.
During the late spring and early summer of 1988, a near-rapprochement and subsequent breakdown of talks between the Vatican and Archbishop Lefebvre's Society of St. Pius (SSPX) resulted in the issuance of Ecclesia Dei adflicta, the document which marked the effective beginning of the return of the traditional Latin Mass within the structure and with the sanction of the Church. This letter, issued motu proprio (of his own initiative and authority) by Pope John Paul II on July 2, 1988, begins by lamenting the unauthorized consecration of four bishops by Archbishop Lefebvre, declaring it a schismatic act incurring for those involved the penalty of excommunication. Only in the second half of the document does the Holy Father express his will, in phrases that have become so familiar to devotees of the old Latin Mass, that bishops "guarantee respect for their rightful aspirations," by clearly requesting that
Moreover, respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See, for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition of 1962.
Unlike the indult of four years earlier, this letter from the Holy See would bear fruit in Pittsburgh. Catholics who had been unwilling to attend a Tridentine Mass outside of the diocesan structure would soon have their twenty-year-old desires fulfilled.
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