II: In the Beginning

In the seven months following the promulgation of Ecclesia Dei in July 1988, and possibly because of press coverage of the events involving Archbishop Lefebvre, about a dozen Pittsburgh-area Catholics independently wrote to the bishop requesting that he implement the Pope's wishes. Marie Handlow was one of those petitioners seeking the old Latin Mass. A long-time parishioner of St. Mary, Help of Christians Church in McKee's Rocks, Mrs. Handlow had been happy at her parish: "Until that time we were kneeling for Communion and had a very orthodox Novus Ordo Mass. So I was willing to go along with that," until a new pastor instituted the modern methods of Communion and other changes. Mrs. Handlow's letter requesting the Tridentine Mass received a reply from a chancery official who "assumed, I don't know why, that I was from Our Lady of Fatima, which I wasn't. And I took great exception to that, because my whole feeling was, 'Do you think they're the only people who are discouraged, or are looking for the renewal of the old Latin rite?'" Mrs. Handlow did receive a subsequent apology from the official, and was invited to a meeting at the chancery in March of 1989.

Mrs. Handlow asked if she could bring others to that meeting, "because I was not writing solely for myself. There were many other people who felt the same way I did, but no one had taken the initiative to write the letter." She was told that the meeting was only for petitioners, who would discuss the matter with three priests - Fathers Lawrence DiNardo, Eric Diskin, and Robert McCreary. Obediently arriving alone, Mrs. Handlow was surprised to find not the dozen letter writers, but 77 people who had, by one means or another, learned of the meeting.

The indignance expressed by Mrs. Handlow at an official's inference that she was from the Chapel, and her statement that "many other people felt the same way I did," raise the interesting question: Why did some traditional Catholics not avail themselves of the Tridentine Masses at Our Lady of Fatima Chapel? Dr. Joseph Beierle gives his point of view:

It was not my intention to worship in the catacombs again. The early Christians had already done that; there was no reason to do it again. We had a legitimate demand, and I was ready to wait until the Church would again allow us the [Tridentine] Mass. That's the one I wanted—one that was licit as well as valid. A lot of people were satisfied just having a valid Mass, and then making the arguments about liceity. But if you don't have to make the argument, why bother? Why not just get the genuine article?

I have no doubt of the personal holiness of these independent priests who were saying the old Mass. They acted at great personal cost, and their cause was just. I have no doubt that they were sincerely fighting a real injustice—the denial of the Tridentine Mass to people who had a right to it. In the short run, they may have righted the wrong; in the long run, there's still a problem. The problem is that there have always been injustices and abuses in the Church, and there have always been reformers fighting to correct things. But whenever reformers take it upon themselves —no matter that they may be the holiest people around—to act outside the authority of the Church, sooner or later they, or their followers, end up in a split from the Church. In the end, all we have to rely on is the Promise of the Keys that Christ made to Peter.

That crowded initial meeting at the chancery ended with the diocese promising to further study the desire of those present for the Tridentine Mass. On May 31, all those who attended the March meeting, both invitees and gate-crashers, were sent letters from Father DiNardo announcing that the Traditional Mass would return to the Diocese of Pittsburgh beginning on Sunday, June 11, 1989, at two locations: the chapel at Duquesne University and Saints Peter & Paul Church in Beaver. Each also received a four-page letter from Bishop Donald Wuerl (printed in that week's Pittsburgh Catholic) explaining the ground rules and conditions for the Latin Mass. Just as the Pope's original 1984 indult for the Traditional Mass was quite restrictive, Bishop Wuerl's original terms were much less generous than those that the Latin Mass Community operates under today:

- the Mass was to be offered only twice a month, on the 2nd and 4th Sundays at 3 pm.

- no Latin Mass on Easter, Christmas or any other Holydays of Obligation

- no funeral Masses or other sacraments

Bishop Wuerl's letter also stated that "The use of the Tridentine Mass is intended as a concession to respond to the spiritual needs of particular individuals in the diocese" who "must be recognized as practicing Catholics who have active membership in one of the legitimate parishes of our diocese." They were expected to attend Mass at their home parishes the other 28 Sundays of the year.

Duquesne Chapel

The first Mass at Duquesne was, of course, a happy, crowded affair, with about 300 people in attendance, including a number from Our Lady of Fatima Chapel. The celebrant was Father Joseph Kopecky, with Father Jim Reiter as acolyte. Although those who attended recall that the Mass at Duquesne was offered very reverently, Chuck Pavlik observes that

You can't just say, "We're going to have a Latin Mass" after 25 years and expect it to be the beautiful Mass that it once was. Initially, the diocese provided us with a celebrant, a church and a Latin missal. We had to go back and work out all these different things. We had no choir, no choir director, no organist, nothing like it is today. Twenty-five years had passed, and people didn't remember exactly the way everything was supposed to be. We kind of struggled through the Masses.

There were many problems to be overcome or endured. The location and time of the Mass at Duquesne were the first problems; by 3 pm, the closed-up chapel had baked in the sun to a nearly unbearable temperature. Parking was scarce, and elderly Catholics who attempted the steep walk up the Bluff from Forbes Avenue nearly succumbed to the climb. Sis Pavlik sums up the problems: "It was in the summer, it was one of the highest elevations in the city, and by midafternoon it was hot, and at that time of the day, if you have a family, you're supposed to be home cooking. The women complained that they had to go home and feed their husbands, they couldn't go out at three in the afternoon for Mass." Chuck Pavlik also remembers: "They didn't have an altar rail at Duquesne chapel, and the older women had a hard time getting up and down for Communion."

Though the diocese had not requested help from the laity in organizing and running the Latin Mass, out of necessity volunteers stepped forward. Pavlik recalls, "It was mostly women that helped out . . . like Tillie Weber, Margie Geiger, Mary and Theresa Koshut. These were friends of ours who saw that we were trying, and they also wanted the Mass." Volunteers brought in upright fans and extension cords to battle the heat. Bob Rotz from the Chapel began to serve Mass. Within a few weeks, people began to recite the Rosary before the Mass. Chuck Pavlik had asked the diocese for the list of people at the March meeting, but was denied access to it. "We said, well, if we don't have the list, what we'll do is get everyone to sign in when they come to Mass. We brought our card table and a book and started our list." Ten years later, that list has 1,600 names on it. Pavlik also recalls, "Margie Geiger set up to give out literature, rosaries, scapulars. We just gave it away, and then someone said we should put out a basket for donations. I remember the first basket, I think we had $17."

Realizing that attendance might grow if more people learned of the Latin Mass, the first advertising was done on WPIT radio in September 1989 using funds from the basket. Sis Pavlik describes how they also tried to buy a newspaper ad: "We tried to get an ad in the Pittsburgh Catholic. We actually sent them a check with an ad, and they sent the check back. They said we weren't allowed."

At Sts. Peter & Paul Church in Beaver, the first Latin Mass attracted about 600 faithful. Just as in Pittsburgh, there were problems, but different ones. Dave Ciccone recalls: "The church is built like an ampitheatre auditorium - the altar's low and the seats are high. It's more set up for a stage play. In fact when I walked into the church, that's one of the first things that I noticed, and I thought to myself, it's not going to work here."

Many people who were present report that attendance at Sts. Peter & Paul was harmed most not by the modern architecture, but by an unfortunate incident at one of the first few Masses. The priest who had been assigned to say Mass that day chose to use his sermon to harangue the faithful for wanting to attend the Mass of the Ages. Bernice Hall of Beaver says that "He was more or less making fun of the people who wanted the Latin Mass, because they were going 'backward instead of forward.' After that, the people just kind of dwindled off." Witnesses report that people walked out during the sermon because of the words of the priest.

In Pittsburgh, despite the efforts of volunteers, attendance began to dwindle. After five months and ten Masses, a small group met on a weeknight at Duquesne to discuss the situation. It was clear that the Traditional Mass was in trouble—attendance at Duquesne was down by half, and the situation in Beaver was even worse, down to 75–100 people. "We were worried if it would survive, or if they were going to keep it going. The conditions were a lot of the problem. That's when we decided to have a meeting. Three people from the Chapel offered to help us, so that our Mass would survive. The people from the Chapel wanted our Mass to survive, I don't know why, but they came over to help us," Pavlik says.

Chuck Pavlik drafted a five-page letter after that meeting, which he presented in person to Bishop Wuerl at a reception following the annual Red Mass on November 1. He wrote: "We would like to report to you that the conditions we are encountering are worsening and the support we are receiving is deteriorating. We started with a large group of enthusiastic people. Many of the people expected perfection in the Mass and became disenchanted with the way it went. They expected it to be the beautiful Latin Mass it was before. The conditions of the Mass are the biggest obstacle that we have encountered." Pavlik recalls that "We wanted a priest to coordinate our efforts, we wanted a parish setting, and we wanted a reasonable time for Mass."

Although Pavlik received no response to his letter, the diocese was apparently evaluating the situation. In December of 1989, Mass was cancelled on the fourth Sunday of the month because Duquesne University was closed for Christmas vacation. Chuck Pavlik then received a phone call from Father Thomas Murphy with the news that as of January 1990, the Latin Masses would cease at the two original locations, to be replaced by one Mass every Sunday at St. Agnes Church in Oakland. The first act had drawn to a close.

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