Skip to comments.A Ren. in Chicago (The Future of the Catholic Church, or Hegel is Wrong!)
Posted on 09/16/2001 3:40:42 PM PDT by watsonfellow
A RENAISSANCE IN CHICAGO
St. John Cantius Church Becomes a Center for Reverent Masses and Catholic Family Life
By JOHN BURGERSt. John Cantius Church Converts are known for their enthusiasm. Eager to share their newfound Catholic faith with others, many take extra doctrine classes and become better apologists than cradle Catholics. Those who come in contact with them often see anew the things they might have taken for granted. The faith and traditions that converts are coming to know for the first time can shine through them like light through a prism.
The stories of two converts mirror the story of the Chicago church they attend, a church that almost met the wrecking ball only a dozen or so years ago but is now the center of a vibrant Latin Mass community.
What attracted Amos Miller and Amy Lightfoot to the faith are much the same things that revived and rejuvenated the parish of St. John Cantius: a yearning for unchanging truths and values, a grounding in tradition and a reverence for God expressed through the most beautiful music, art and liturgies man has fashioned.
The fundamentalist, evangelical religion Amy Lightfoot grew up with was "an austere faith," said the 38-year-old former nurse. "I equate it to starving yourself to death," she said. "It doesn't have the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. It doesn't have the forgiveness of sins through an institution established by Christ Himself.
"The Washington State native started reading up on Catholicism in late 1999, as hints of something called the "Jubilee Year" squeaked through the din of Millennium madness. Already familiar with Catholic culture and thought from friends' weddings and news about the pope and Chicago's archbishops, Miss Lightfoot also knew there was controversy over contraception, factions in the Church and a tendency in some places to focus on "issues of the day" rather than the eternal verities.
Looking for orthodox doctrine, she figured she could find traditional thought and practice in a church where the Latin Mass was offered. After some persistence on her part, the Office of Divine Worship of the Archdiocese of Chicago "reluctantly" told her about St. John Cantius, she said. "As a fundamentalist, I'd been told of all the horrors of the Catholic Church, the rituals and all. But when I walked into St. John Cantius, I felt I'd come home," said Miss Lightfoot, a sales representative for GlaxoWellcome. "I'd been a Catholic all this time but didn't know it."
What she found at St. John's is what attracts many people from Chicago and its environs--and even from neighboring Indiana and Wisconsin: in her words, "an undiluted statement of values and culture which doesn't change."
She found that the Tridentine Mass, an "unvarying liturgy" with beautiful prayers, regal vestments and other traditional elements, "focuses you." "It's more reverent, humble and asking of forgiveness," she commented. "There's nobody dancing in the aisle or anything to distract you."
St. John Cantius offers a high and low Mass in the Tridentine rite each Sunday, as well as the Novus Ordo Missae in Latin and English.
Like Miss Lightfoot, Amos Miller was baptized at St. John's Church in June 2000. Both attended the adult education classes taught on Sunday mornings by Father Burns Seeley, S.S.J.C., himself a convert and thefirst priest member of a new religious community formed at the church, the Society of St. John Cantius.
Never let it be thought that all Catholic churches are cold, foreboding places, their members unwelcoming to strangers. There's one in the Windy City which is not. And part of the credit goes to Miller, who grew up in a Scottish Presbyterian family that watched Fulton Sheen on television in the 1950s, when he was a youngster. After giving an in-depth tour of the church to a visiting journalist, he was looking forward to spending a leisurely Saturday lunch with his wife, Janet. A couple came into the large Renaissance-Baroque church in Chicago's River West section and Miller, an usher, welcomed them with the same graciousness with which he greets everyone. "Would you like a tour?" he asked the couple.They did.
Many such visitors stand in awe at the 203-foot long edifice. With seating for 2,000 visitors, the church is larger than Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral. But in contrast to the nearly stripped-bare cathedral, one's attention at St. John's is immediately focused on the sanctuary, adorned for a King. And the King in His tabernacle reigns from the center of the high altar.High above, the risen Christ looks out from the apse. When Miller first entered the church about three ago--when his wife wanted to attend a Latin Mass after visiting Italy--he said he felt "an overwhelming presence." When the chanting started in the choir loft, he said, "I couldn't raise my head." The experience had a profound impact on him, and he was drawn back again by what he called a "magnetic pull on my soul."
Kevin Haney, an usher, welcomes visitors next to a bronze statue of St. Peter. The church proudly displays St. Peter in his chair, a sign of the parish's obedience to the magisterium. A world traveler, Miller had been to a "panoply of houses of worship" and considered himself a freethinker who believed in "one great God, a universal Holy Ghost." He had recited the creed before, but when he professed his faith in a "Catholic Church," it was a lower-case catholic. He began to realize there had been elements missing in his beliefs. A keen observer--he is a private investigator by profession--he listened to homilies and asked questions and, for the first time, realized that the Catholic Church is "the complete Body of Christ."Miller, 54, speaks in grateful tones of Father C. Frank Phillips, C.R., who, more than being the pastor of St. John Cantius, is a father to his parish family, giving them solid guidance and direction. And to those who are starving to death on "an austere faith" and those who are seeking "the whole Body of Christ," Father Phillips has provided generously.
"He uses this incredible treasury (of Church teaching, tradition and culture) and has opened it up and said, 'Take all you want from this. Everything that is the Church is here for you,' " Miller said.
St. John Cantius itself had been starving. Father Phillips was assigned pastor more or less in order to close it down. The neighborhood was shot, and the church's two Sunday Masses attracted at most 40 persons. Forty or fifty years of deferred maintenance left the physical plant in shambles. Fifteen radiators were missing, and the heating system was held together with duct tape. A rose window was bowed out from tons of pigeon droppings that had accumulated during the Depression, when the priests raised the birds for food.
"I had no idea how bad it was," Father Phillips said. Fresh from teaching music and religion at Chicago's Weber High School, he felt called to get into parish work, and St. John Cantius was open. "The former pastor was walking out of the provincial's office while I was walking in, and he asked me if I'd like St. John Cantius," he recalled.
Built by Polish immigrants in 1893, the church had a glorious past. At its peak just before the First World War, some 23,000 parishioners each Sunday entered its portals, passing the cornerstone which read, "Awesome is this place: it is the House of God and the Gate of Heaven." The school was brimming with over 2,000 youngsters, taught by 30 School Sisters of Notre Dame.A superhighway cutting through a once solid Polish neighborhood and the flight of families to the suburbs hammered away at the parishioner base. The school closed in 1967, and the neighborhood became crime-ridden. Sunday collections yielded $50 while annual heating bills soared to $42,000.
Arriving on the feast of the Assumption in 1988 Father Phillips seized on the opportunity to make St. John Cantius a viable parish again by focusing on the central action of the Church, the Mass. It would be celebrated with reverence, care and strict attention to the rubrics laid down by the Church. There would be no improvising."In the seminary, I had the good fortune to be trained by Msgr. Martin Hellriegel, the first promoter of the liturgical reform," Father Phillips said. Msgr. Hellriegel, who wrote the hymn, "To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King," instilled in the young seminarian at St. Louis University an appreciation for precision and orderliness in the liturgy.Father Phillips was intent on restoring a sense of the sacred to the liturgical practices.
In January, 1989, he introduced the Latin Novus Ordo on Sundays, to be accompanied by traditional music that was written to glorify God and lift the heart and soul Heavenward. Soon the parish began offering the Tridentine Mass as well.Fr. Frank Phillips C.R. celebrates Mass. Word got out, and Catholics who sought refuge from the liturgical abuses in their home parishes flocked to St. John's. So did the parents of home-schoolers, who were having run-ins with the archdiocesan religious education office. In order for their children to receive the sacraments, they had to agree to things like letting their high school-age youngsters attend coed overnight retreats.Ironically, the archdiocesan Office of Religious Education now rents space in the old parish convent.The Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei, which has lobbied bishops in the United States to grant permission for more Tridentine Masses, was born in the midst of the rebirth of St. John Cantius.
Mary Kraychy, executive director of the coalition--and a parishioner of St. John's--said she and other devotees of the Tridentine Mass were hoping the U.S. bishops would have a plan to implement the 1988 papal directive. They were disappointed when Fathers James Downey, O.S.B., and Dudley Day, O.S.A., then director and associate director respectively of the Institute on Religious Life, came back from the November 1988 bishops meeting reporting that the bishops had no plan.Some of the coalition's earliest meetings were held in the basement of St. John's, which, with the heating system the way it was, was "cold as hell," Will Hegner, a parishioner, recalled."We had to figure out how to make missals for people and how to spread the word," added his wife, Audrey.And, on Dec. 8, 1992, a large group of Catholics who worshiped with the schismatic Society of St. Pius X at their Oak Park mission left over a dispute about the running of the mission and began attending the Tridentine Mass at St. John's. Many have stayed.Father Phillips keeps handy a copy of "The Church's Year of Grace" by the Augustinian Pius Parsch. Using the ideas in this guide to the year's liturgies based on the Tridentine Mass "brings the liturgical life to the people by constant explanation and repetition of traditions," Father Phillips said.
In keeping with his vision of restoring the sacred to the Church, Father Phillips revived devotions such as Vespers and Benediction on Sunday, the Corpus Christi procession, Stations of the Cross, Tenebrae, First Friday and Saturday adoration, blessing of flowers on the Assumption and novenas before Christmas and Pentecost.Fr. Burns Seeley, S.S.J.C., distributes Communion Mild-mannered and blessed with a sense of humor, Father Phillips nonetheless is a leader who uses his authority for the good of souls. "A Catholic parish exists to make saints," he states plainly. He insists that a parish be known for the way it celebrates Mass and for its sacramental life.
"You can get the sacraments here at any time," said Will Hegner, a retired engineer.
On a recent Sunday morning, there were three confessionals operating, all with long lines outside them.It is in the family that Father Phillips sees the need to begin restoring the sacred in society and the Church. Toward that end he challenges parishioners to "achieve a greater degree of holiness in their daily life." He admonishes them to "connect the altar in church with the altar at home.""A lot of people today don't say family prayers," he continues. "For many it's because they have no regular place or time to do so. So I advise that they have a special shrine set up for that purpose. And wherebetter to put it than the living room? If there's a sacred presence in your house, you'll be less likely to watch questionable material on television."He and Father Seeley instruct couples preparing for marriage, after a solemnization of engagement ritual in which the man and woman promise to live chastely during the time of their betrothal and continue praying to discern their vocation to the married life. The couples, many of whom met at St. John's, also pray the Novena to the Holy Spirit before their wedding day. There are roughly 20 nuptial Masses a year.
As of a couple of years ago, Baptisms have outnumbered funerals. In the darkest days, there was only one child in the parish; now there are scores. Religious education is of prime importance. Many of the children are home-schooled.
Sally Mordente, who with her husband Joseph, adopted little Gabriel last year, looks forward to raising him in the parish. "I see parents and children at Mass here, and they don't have Cheerios or books or anything else to entertain them," Mrs. Mordente said. "They're trained at home...At churches in the suburbs, children have no understanding why they're there. It's just one more social event where they can eat and talk and play."Dorothy Amorella, director of religious education, explains that she and her husband, Jim, do indeed begin the training at home. Over the years, their nine children have been "taught to love and respect things that deserve love and respect," Mrs. Amorella said. "My kids know that lunch in our house is a little looser than dinner," for example.In church, the "focus is all forward," and the absence of any din of talking removes distractions. Father Phillips encourages parents to take children outside when they become rambunctious--"out of respect for other parents and the child himself," Mrs. Amorella explained. Continue to page 2>> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It's a way parents support each other, added Joan Dziak, who home-schools her five children. "For kids to see everybody sitting in church behaving well is a good outward sign. They learn that other people do this," she said
To teach children to love the Mass, Mrs. Amorella advises parents to "make it as stress-free" for them as possible, but it is important they get the feeling that church is different from any other place. "It smells different, unless you burn incense at home, which we don't," she said. "Everybody's respectful and quiet, and children learn that they don't get away with talking out loud or running around." There should be no toys, but parents should "be creative to help children get through the hour."
At St. John's, "there's enough around them to look at," she said. "And the music helps too." Most Sundays, the Schola Cantorum of St. Gregory the Great renders the propers and ordinaries of the Mass in chant. Once a month, the Resurrection Choir sings settings of the Mass in the Viennese Classical tradtion. Both had been founded by Father Phillips at Weber High School and continue under his direction. On greater feast days, the St. Cecilia Choir sings Mass settings from the Renaissance polyphonic tradition.
Parents like Joan and Dick Dziak find it easy to bring their children to Mass. "We always have to sit up front--at the kids' request," Mrs. Dziak said. "It's such a beautiful Mass, with a lot going on...We've never had to pull teeth to go."
In fact, if one of the children is sick and the family has to attend their local church, the children protest. When they get there, they ask their mother, "Why don't the people dress right?"While speaking to this writer by telephone, Mrs. Dziak had to yield momentarily to her daughter, Anne, 7, who wanted to explain how she thinks "all the pictures and saints are so pretty." She has a particular affection for the stained-glass window of St. Bernadette because of the way the sun shines through it on Sunday mornings. And, she added, "I like Father Phillips' sermon and the choir."
She already knows how to sing the Gregorian parts of the Mass because of a chant class Father Phillips gave for families recently.In the parish religious education program, Mrs. Amorella says that the most important thing she wants to teach is belief in the Real Presence. She also aims to develop a sense of obedience to God out of love rather than out of obligation. She uses the Baltimore Catechism and the Faith and Life series and extra material "that looks like St. John's."
There are 25 children preparing for First Holy Communion. Part of the instuction takes place in church, where children are taught that "the whole focus is toward the altar." St. John's is, in her view, "the largest, most excellent audio-visual you could take a child through." It is brimming with statues, paintings and symbolism. Pupils are shown the baptismal font and asked, "Why is there a wooden carving of Jesus being baptized by John on top of this font?" Children have to be able to recite basic prayers before Mrs. Amorella and know the commandments. Those preparing for First Confession are given a tour of the confessional and then a script to take with them, providing security for what could be a frightening experience.
Using a Mass kit, teachers explain all the elements of the Mass "so they know there's a plan that has to be followed," Mrs. Amorella said. "As with the Four Marks of the Church, if all those elements are not there, it might not be Catholic," she warns them. Father Phillips takes students to the altar, explains the altar stone and the vestments.Fr. Burns Seeley, S.S.J.C., gives docrine class for adults Sunday morning. Pupils become familiar and comfortable with the Novus Ordo because it is the norm, "the Mass the pope says,"
Mrs. Amorella explained. They are taught how the Mass is supposed to be celebrated so that if they see it performed otherwise they can go elsewhere. Mrs. Amorella teaches that reception on the tongue is the most humble way to receive the Lord and that kneeling while doing so is "the best form of adoration."
Youngsters are, of course, not the only part of the family that is important at St. John's. Adult education classes have been held at the nearby Institute on Religious Life, with the late Father John Hardon, S.J., teaching canon law and the catechism. Father Phillips wanted his parishioners familiar with the documents of the Second Vatican Council so they could conduct intelligent arguments about Church teaching and practice
Father Phillips, who keeps his hair close-cropped and wears a soutaine with the black cords of a Resurrectionist Father, greets a visitor in a front office of the parish house. The furniture around him, as throughout the rectory and sacristy, makes one feel he is in, say, 16th-century France. A brass statue of a saint from a later era, the Cure of Ars, looks humbly over the proceedings from a pedestal by the wall. "I bought that in an antique shop," the pastor says. "He was being used as a door stop."
St. John Vianney might not object to such lowly service, but one senses in Father Phillips' tone frustration that so much has been relegated to society's dustbins, attics and closets that should be given more prominence and respect.
Even churches have swept away many of their treasures. Father Phillips has salvaged antique vestments being discarded, for example. Happily, many objects rescued from churches slated for destruction or bought at flea markets are now in use at St. John's--or stored in its modest museum upstairs near the choir loft, waiting to be used in a parish perhaps one day run by the Society of St. John Cantius.The restoration of the church building has included cleaning, repair work and re-gilding of the two side altars, one of which has an icon of Our Lady of Czesctahowa.
The church also employs artists to direct their work to the glory of God and ponders a workshop to teach the liturgical arts. A couple of summers ago, after a heat wave buckled the church's vinyl floor, Father Phillips commissioned parishioner Jed Gibbons, 43, to design and execute a wooden floor containing symbols of Chist's life, death and resurrection. And, to celebrate the Jubilee Year, in which he dedicated the parish to Mary, Father Phillips asked parishioners to donate old gold, silver and precious stones for a "Millenial Monstrance," again, designed by Gibbons, and fashioned in Spain.
"Everything that used to adorn the body now adorns Our Lord," Father Phillips states. The 87-pound, 38-inch high monstrance, which has a detachable segment to be used during Benediction, incorporates rich symbolism. At the base are deer, like those in the Psalm "longing for running streams." One drinks from a fountain flowing from a chalice; the other looks up longingly to the Blessed Sacrament, which is adorned by 72 diamonds, representing the 72 disciples sent out by Christ and, by extension the people of St. John Cantius parish. Supporting this, and reminding one of the parish's dependence on the Magesterium, is a representation of Bernini's baldachino in St. Peter's Basilica, connected to the ornate pulpit of St. John's. The pulpit's four Evangelists remind one of the New Evangelization called for by Pope John Paul II. Above is a gold Eucharistic crown of thorns with 33 rubies, one for each of the Lord's earthly life.
Father Phillips likes to boast that the Society of St. John Cantius is the first religious community founded in Chicago in the Third Millennium. Over the years, about 100 men from the parish have become priests and 200 women have become sisters. In recent years a number of men expressed an interest in the priesthood. "Their bent is a little too traditional for many orders, so we started the Society of St. John Cantius," he said.
One was Stephen Menes, a parishioner since 1992, who left the Congregation of the Resurrection as a novice when the Resurrectionists wanted him to study at the Aquinas Institute in St. Louis, which he said "taught all the latest heresies and psychobabble."
Cardinal George has been supportive of the new community and gave it his approval as a public association of the faithful, the first stage in becoming a religious order. That was on Dec. 23, 1999, the feast of St. John Cantius, a 15th-century Polish philosopher who embraced the spirituality of St. Augustine. It also was, as Menes points out, the day before Pope John Paul opened the Holy Doors of St. Peter's Basilica, initiating the 2,000th anniversary of the Birth of Christ. "So the Society of St. John Cantius is the first order of the Third Millennium in Chicago," said Menes, 36, who is joining the group.
The cardinal recommended that the members be formed as Canons Regular following the Rule of St. Augustine. There is emphasis on community prayer and apostolic work--in that order. "Even in religious communities, the basic elements of communal life are gone today," Father Phillips said. "The apostolic life has taken precedence over the community life, but the community life and prayer should support the apostolate."
The apostolate of the Society of St. John Cantius, not surprisingly, is the restoration of the sacred. Father Phillips tells aspirants that he needs priests willing to be good confessors and be obedient to liturgical norms. They will celebrate the Tridentine Mass, but not exclusively. In fact, in addition to being trained to celebrate the Novus Ordo, the men might also be able to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in order to respond to needs of the Byzantine Catholic Church.
This spring, the community had four men studying theology at Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., and one at Magdalen College in New Hampshire. Priests from various dioceses have expressed interest in joining.
At St. John's, novices receive formation instruction from Father Seeley and Father Thomas Nelson, O.Praem, director of the Institute on Religious Life. Those in formation include Brothers Joseph Pietrzyk, formerly a corporate lawyer; Daniel Ahearn, who is mechanically inclined and put together the church's new carrillon system, and Daniel Wagner, who grew up on a farm in Wisconsin with 17 brothers and sisters."He knows about community life," Father Phillips quipped."I'm very impressed with their spirit of charity and zeal for the liturgy," commented Father Downey, 80, whom Father Phillips invited to live at the parish.
Other priests who sometimes visit the parish and celebrate Mass there include Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry, Father Day and Father George Rutler. Noted speakers in a conference series have included Francis Cardinal Arinze, Msgr. Richard Schuler, Alice von Hildebrand, Donna Steichen and Sister Margherita Marchione
The restoration of the sacred at St. John's has been accompanied by--perhaps helped spur--a restoration of the area. Where once it was chancy to walk around after dark, luxury apartments are being built, bringing back a small geographical parish community. Still, St. John's has become a center for the Latin Mass and traditional Catholic life, and though only a four-minute subway ride from the downtown Loop, many people drive from up to two hours away. They come for Mass and stay for classes in doctrine, Latin and Greek, sodalities, browsing in Seat of Wisdom Library or simply socializing in a cafe downstairs .
Most importantly, perhaps, the parish has come back to life and is giving life to all who ask: cradle Catholics, converts and those returning to the fold, such as the lapsi for whom the St. Monica Sodality prays its weekly Novena. The attention to the liturgy and rubrics, whether it is in the Tridentine Mass or Novus Ordo, is not a question of "going back to some distant day of nostalgia," said Mary Kraychy. Rather, recovery of the sacred--in the faith, the traditions and the arts--represents the future of the Church, the thing that will hold it together as the "AmChurch" continues to splinter.
"What's been done at St. John Cantius will be exemplary to other parishes," she said.
FOR MORE INFORMATION St. John Cantius Church 825 N. Carpenter St. Chicago, IL 60622 (312) 243-7373 www.cantius.org
Although it's only a sidelight, one sentence struck my eye: "A superhighway cutting through a once solid Polish neighborhood and the flight of families to the suburbs hammered away at the parishioner base." Michael Jones has been writing about the destruction of the ethnic Catholic parishes in the big cities by the federal government. This appears to have been deliberate policy, to fragment certain voting blocs. It's great to think that these urban communities are making a comeback.
God Bless +
Still have my bi-lingual missal - perhaps it will be back in use soon.
Speaking of recovering Catholic treasures, I have an exquisite rosary of green Czech glass and brass, fitted into a tiny matching case adorned with Our Lady of Sorrows under an oval glass bevel. When I converted, I took it in to have Fr. Phillips bless it. He asked where I had gotten such a nice antique rosary, and I explained that I had found it for a couple of dollars lying in a pile of junky costume jewelery in a resale shop. This answer appeared to give him real pain ... he actually said "Stop, don't tell me more!" He has a true calling to restore the beauty of sacred worship to our Church.
Sed seriously, I enjoyed the post.
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