Sunday, June 5, 1994 found the Latin Mass group with a new home, a new chaplain, and a new name. St. Boniface Church, a 68 year old stone church of Byzantine and Romanesque design in the East Street Valley on the North Side, was the new home. Father Eugene Dougherty, pastor for 24 years of St. Mary's, New Castle, was the new chaplain, taking over from Father Thomas Murphy. And the group of Catholics once called the "Tridentine Community, St. Agnes Parish," or more commonly the "Latin Mass group," was henceforth to be known as the "Holy Wisdom Latin Mass Community."
That St. Boniface Church still stood was as remarkable and unlikely as the return of the Tridentine Mass to its sanctuary that June. Built in 1926 by the German residents of the East Street Valley, and staffed by Benedictine priests and nuns throughout its history, St. Boniface stood in the way of highway plans in the 1970s. The diocese acquiesced in the government's 1971 claim of the property by eminent domain, and sold St. Boniface Church to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot). Despite the fact that PennDot was simultaneously buying up and bulldozing the neighborhood that the parish served, the parishioners soon took every imaginable course of action to save St. Boniface. From petitions to political connections to publicity to prayer, they labored against the odds and the bishop to save their church. Their unceasing efforts, though, seemed destined for failure.
On Sunday, May 25, 1975, a letter was read from the pulpit at every Mass by the pastor, Father Norbert Rupprecht. The letter, from Bishop Vincent Leonard, announced the "irrevocable decision" to close the parish and demolish it. Still they fought, and still they seemed destined to fail. In March of 1977, the parishioners were ordered to vacate the premises by June 1. At the last minute, their prayers were answered with the Federal designation of St. Boniface's eligibility for the National Register of Historical Buildings. Demolition plans were immediately halted, and in 1982 Bishop Leonard bought St. Boniface Church back from PennDot.
After the years they spent defending their beloved parish from destruction, it is not surprising that some St. Boniface natives were less than thrilled to have the Latin Mass Community moving into their church. Only days earlier, St. Boniface Parish was merged with St. Ambrose Parish on Spring Hill, forming the new Holy Wisdom Parish. Father Lawrence DiNardo was the new pastor of the merged parish, with Monsignor Donald Kraus and Father Dougherty assigned as parochial vicars.
There were also some difficulties within the Latin Mass Community in adjusting to the move. There had been the hope and expectation that the Latin Mass would continue to have a church of its own at the new location. At St. Boniface, it was again necessary for the Latin Mass to settle into peaceful coexistence with an established parish, and this time with a parish much more dynamic than that found at the fading St. Agnes.
Not that the move to St. Boniface was without its benefits. The Catechism program was now able to make use of real classrooms in the old St. Ambrose School. At St. Agnes, Catechism classes had been conducted in two large rooms in the church basement, with individual grade levels gathered around folding tables in different corners of the rooms. The facilities at St. Ambrose also included a kitchen and cafeteria where baked goods and beverages could be enjoyed before classes.
Another positive factor for the Latin Mass Community, ironically, was that the highway which once threatened St. Boniface and destroyed the neighborhood now made the new home the most easily accessible, centrally located church in the diocese. For a Mass which is attended every week by Catholics traveling long distances from every direction, St. Boniface is ideal.
In the years at St. Agnes, the Latin Mass group was essentially run by a trio of laymen: Chuck Pavlik, Bob Stroyne, and Dr. Joseph Beierle. Soon after the move to St. Boniface, and with the approval and support of Father DiNardo, a larger organization was established, both to spread the work among more people, and to give some structure to relations between the Latin Mass Community and the parish. Fifteen men were invited to form an ad hoc board in August of 1994, chaired by Dr. Richard Wallace. By October, and after some debate, the decision was reached to form the organization as a non-profit, non-stock corporation. Legally known as "Holy Wisdom Latin Mass Community, Diocese of Pittsburgh, Inc." the articles of incorporation state its purpose as the "Preservation and promotion of the Immemorial Tridentine Mass and Sacraments." Five standing committees were established—Finance, Worship, Education, Membership, and Nominations —to accomplish the two main tasks of the Community: to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass ever more perfectly and beautifully, and to draw more and more Catholics to worship in the Tridentine rite.
October 1994 also saw the departure of Ralph Ruggiero for the seminary of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in Gricigliano, Italy. Mr. Ruggiero, who had served as Master of Ceremonies at both the Chapel and at St. Agnes, gave up his legal practice to test his vocation with the Institute. On November 4-5, the Latin Mass Community held its first Nocturnal Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. November 1, 1994 was the date of the first issue of Communicare, the semiannual newsletter. That inaugural issue included a Parish Census Form and an invitation to the families of the Latin Mass Community to become registered members of Holy Wisdom Parish.
Besides the mailing list, another enduring practice from the earliest days at Duquense was the "little wicker basket" in the vestibule of the church. Donations dropped in that basket each Sunday helped defray the expenses of the Latin Mass group, both at Duquensne and St. Agnes. Father DiNardo allowed the use of the wicker basket to continue at Holy Wisdom Parish, with the revenues used to underwrite the purchase of vestments and other liturgical supplies, the biweekly bulletin and bulk mail communications, social events, and advertising. The new Board directed that a substantial portion of the donations should be used to advertise the Latin Mass at St. Boniface.
Although advertising in print, on radio, and with specialty items like bumper stickers and auto trash bags had begun in the early months at Duquesne, the board now adopted an advertising strategy in harmony with the concerns expressed by diocesan spokesman Father Ronald Lengwin. As an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review of November 12, 1993, "Catholics Struggle with Malaise," described:
Sixty percent of all Roman Catholics in the 800,000-member Diocese of Pittsburgh seldom or never attend Mass, an issue that dwarfs other controversies the six-county see has faced, the Rev. Ron Lengwin, a diocesan spokesman, said Thursday. . . Although roughly 200,000 Catholics have left the Pittsburgh area over the past 20 years, the apparent indifference of many remaining Catholics has alerted the diocese to the need to evangelize its own people, he said.
In 1994, for the first time, an explicit advertising strategy for the Latin Mass was enumerated. Two of the premises of that strategy were that:
- Virtually everyone who attends the Latin Mass drives past one, or several, or dozens of Catholic worship sites to get to St. Boniface. It takes a major personal commitment for people to become permanent, weekly members of the Latin Mass community, and Catholics who are satisfied with the liturgy in their own parishes are never going to make that commitment.
- By the diocese's own admission, there are roughly 480,000 Catholics in the Pittsburgh Diocese who "seldom or never" attend Mass. Those lapsed Catholics left the Church for many reasons, but if only one out of one thousand was driven away by the changes to the Mass in the 1960s and would come back to the old Mass, attendance at the Latin Masses would nearly double by their return.
The strategy, then, was (and still is) to attract Catholics who haven't darkened the door of their local parish church in a long time. The growth of the Tridentine Mass congregation would be primarily from lapsed Catholics being brought back to the Church, and not by "sheep-stealing" of practicing Catholics from other parishes. Reaching the goal of evangelizing just one-tenth of one percent of those 480,000 Catholics that Father Lengwin expressed concern about has proven to be a slow process, and the "1,000-every-week" attendance figure is still a distant target.
Advertising in the years at St. Boniface has included
Time and again, though, experience has shown that the most effective advertising is the simplest—word of mouth. More first-timers come to the Latin Mass because a friend or relative told them about it than attend in response to all of the advertising media combined.
Within a year, the Latin Mass Community had settled into a steady state at its home in St. Boniface Church of Holy Wisdom Parish. Although fewer major milestones were now reached, there have been plenty of noteworthy and memorable events in the last six years.
On June 11, 1995, Bishop Donald Wuerl came to St. Boniface to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to six students in the Catechism program. Following Mass, Bishop Wuerl received a Spiritual Bouquet from the Latin Mass Community, and met with members at a reception.
In July of 1995, the first annual Latin Mass Picnic was held in North Park. On the First Friday of July, Father Canice Crawford joined the ranks of priests celebrating the Tridentine Mass at St. Boniface.
On Sunday, August 13, 1995, the newly ordained Father Mark Fischer, FSSP, celebrated his first Solemn High Mass at St. Boniface. Fr. Fischer, son of Virginia Fischer, studied at the FSSP's seminary in Wigratzbad, Germany, where he was ordained that July. Fr. Fischer is now the founding pastor of one of the very few Tridentine Mass parishes in the U.S., St. Francis de Sales Parish in Atlanta, Georgia.
In late August, the Latin Mass Community did its part to support the parish festival by working in the Spare Rib Booth for four hot, smoky evenings. On September 10 the choir traveled to Saegertown to sing a High Mass for the Diocese of Erie's Latin Mass apostolate. After Mass, the choir was invited to the Saegertown group's picnic, inaugurating a practice that has continued annually. The Catechism program resumed in September with 64 students, as Dottie Craig turned over responsibility for the program to Geraldine Redic. A Latin Mass chapter of The Holy Name Society was formed in September. In November, the Latin Liturgy Association hosted a speech by Michael Matt, editor of The Remnant. The year finished with the now-customary Solemn High Christmas "Midnight Mass" at 9 pm.
January 1996 began with another event hosted by the LLA. The famed Welsh author and President of Una Voce International, Michael Davies visited Pittsburgh between blizzards to give two talks on the Protestant Reformation in England. As if he were not held in enough affection by his traditionalist audience, Mr. Davies won their hearts even more by sporting a Steelers necktie at the evening lecture.
In February, a near-impromptu speech was delivered after High Mass by the late Dr. William Marra. Bob Stroyne arranged this event when he happened to see Dr. Marra, who was teaching for a semester at Franciscan University of Steubenville, in the vestibule of church one Sunday morning.
In March of 1996, the Seminary-Scholarship Fund was established. The two initial goals of this fund were to provide a scholarship to St. Gregory's Academy for any young man of the Community who was considering a priestly vocation, and to collect funds for the seminary of the Institute of Christ the King, where Ralph Ruggiero was studying. In three years, the fund had collected and distributed over $20,000 to those two initial recipients, as well as to the FSSP and the St. Joseph Foundation.
The month of May saw the first road trip for the Latin Mass Community, when Todd Wilson made last-minute arrangements for a bus trip to New York City for the first Solemn High Pontifical Tridentine Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral since Vatican II. The 36 Pittsburghers in attendance at the Mass, celebrated by Alfons Cardinal Stickler, were part of an overflow crowd that drew national media coverage, including the front page of the New York Times.
In September, a small Pittsburgh contingent joined in the inaugural Pilgrimage for Restoration in Auriesville, New York at the Shrine of the North American Martyrs. The Latin Mass Community has sent a chapter of pilgrims to this event every year since then.
The Auriesville event models itself on the famous 70 mile Paris-to-Chartres pilgrimage held each year at Pentecost. Pittsburgh has been represented at Chartres every year since 1994, with a unit ranging in size from one to six pilgrims. Eric Frankovitch's string of six consecutive Chartres pilgrimages is the longest running of any American, aside from Michael Matt.
June 8, 1996 was memorable for the largest First Communion class to date, with 13 children receiving the Holy Eucharist for the first time that day after a year of preparation by Sister Estelle.
In 1996 and '97, the Latin Mass Community celebrated the 60th Anniversary of the ordination of three beloved priests—Father Murphy in 1996, and Fathers Marcel and Carey in 1997. With the increasing age of the clergy came the first drop in the number of priests offering the Latin Mass, when Father Carey retired from service in September, 1997. Less than a year later, on May 27, 1998, Father Marcel Pasiecznik died in his sleep. Father Marcel's passing meant the loss of a faithful confessor for the Latin Mass Community. Another loss, expected to be temporary but which turned out to be permanent, occurred when Father Reginald DeFour returned to his native Trinidad in 1997 for a year's sabbatical. Father DeFour was reassigned by his bishop, also a Holy Ghost father, to stay and work in his homeland. Pittsburgh's loss was Trinidad's gain, as Father DeFour has already established a Tridentine Mass Community in his own country.
Two more Latin Mass "missionaries" from Pittsburgh are Richard and Rita Wallace, who have helped establish the Latin Mass Community in their new home of Sarasota, Florida. Dr. Wallace resigned as president of the Holy Wisdom Latin Mass Community on January 1, 1997, and since then the Wallaces have helped build Latin Mass attendance in Florida to over 300 during the winter.
In October 1998, a group of 30 pilgrims made the long journey from Pittsburgh to Rome to join in the Masses, seminars, and banquets celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of Ecclesia Dei and the founding of the FSSP. The Holy Wisdom Latin Mass Community was the largest overseas parish group to attend the events in Rome. Fathers Dougherty, Murphy and Myers joined this historic trip.
Just four months later, the Latin Mass Community was surprised by the announcement in February of 1999 that Father Eugene Dougherty was retiring from his position as parochial vicar. Happily, Father Dougherty agreed to stay on as Chaplain of the Latin Mass Community.
After ten years, the Latin Mass Community at St. Boniface has reached a mature plateau no longer marked by many firsts, or by rapid growth. It is fair, after a decade, to judge this tree by its fruits:
Those, in brief, are the visible measures of the efforts of so many individuals these last ten years, many of whom have been named here, but many more of whom have not. The most important fruits, of course, are those not seen—the inestimable graces that have flowed from the Masses that, in the end, are the reason for all the efforts.
Finally, then, what are the prospects for the future? Are there goals yet to attain? What achievements might be listed in the 25th Anniversary booklet?
Most of these are matters beyond the control of anyone in the Latin Mass Community. In the announcements before each Latin Mass, the request is made to "Pray for the continued success of the Latin Mass here at St. Boniface." That, at least, can be done; He who hears those prayers must move those in authority to allow the Latin Mass Community to grow even further. Ora et labora: pray and work, and trust in Him.
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