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Seeds of the Ordinariate, Part One: Our Lady of the Atonement, San Antonio
By Randy Sly
December 29th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
While we await the announcement of the new Ordinariate for the United States, let's take a look at a couple of the trailblazers who, as a part of the Pastoral Provision, established Anglican Use as a part of the fabric of Catholic life in America. The seeds of the Ordinariate have been planted for a long time.WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - With just a few short days before the official announcement of the new Anglican Ordinariate for the United States, I wanted to take some time to review some of the important developments that led to this momentous event, whose seeds can be found in the Pastoral Provision from Pope John Paul II in 1980.
Anglicans becoming Catholic is not new. It has happened often in the years since Henry VIII broke off relations with the See of Peter and took the reins of a "new" jurisdiction. Even former Anglican clergy had been received and ordained into Holy Orders - including Blessed John Cardinal Newman, who is now on his way to canonization.
But with the "pastoral provision," the Holy Father allowed diocesan bishops to establish Anglican Use parishes within their jurisdiction and to ordain former Anglican priests who are married, as Catholic priests. Such dispensations had been granted since the mid-20th Century to Anglican and Lutheran clergy on a case-by-case basis, but the provision set a formal mechanism in place to undertake this work.
Two of the earliest Anglican Use parishes under the provision were in Texas.: Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston and Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio. Recently I had a chance to talk with Fr. Christopher Phillips, pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement, about the early days of Anglican Use.
Fr. Phillips was an Episcopal priest in Rhode Island when he sensed a call to respond to the Pope's invitation through the Pastoral Provision just after it began. Contacting the local Catholic bishop, he was told that this could not happen as the bishop and the bishop of the Episcopal church diocese had an agreement prohibiting the either from taking one another's clergy.
Not too long after that he received a call from a small group of Episcopalians in San Antonio, Texas who asked if he was interested in moving down there and beginning Pastoral Provision parish. The group was even able to scrape together a small salary to support the mission.
Along with his wife and young family, Fr. Phillips moved to San Antonio in January, 1982 and began the process of exploration with the bishop of the Archdiocese. He was ordained in August of 1983 and Our Lady of the Atonement Anglican Use parish was erected.
The parish began meeting in a rented space from a Catholic church in downtown San Antonio. Since most of the group was from the north side of the city, they were always amused to wave at each other on the interstate as they drove down from Mass.
"We were later able to move to the chapel of a convent on the north side," Fr. Phillips commented. "We also were able to find six acres of property and began to think about our own building."
That six acres has now grown to 25 acres with both a church and a K-12 school on the property. Fr. Phillips recently celebrated his 28th year with the parish.
Their building was completed in 1987 with 40 families in attendance. Seven years later, in 1994, Atonement Academy was started with 66 students, fulfilling a dream the parish has had since the first day of their founding in 1983.
From the beginning Atonement Academy was committed to an educational program that was both Catholic and Classical in approach.
Fr. Phillips stated, "Many of the students came from families with no religious background. They were just looking for a good school. Later they, along with their families, began to attend church.
"We are not a selective school. We take everyone who wants to come here. For our parish families, finances will not stand in the way of children receiving a Catholic education. We give away over a quarter of a million dollars in scholarships."
"Spiritual, intellectual and physical all are important components in a well-rounded education," he said. "We even have the three aspects modeled in the building architecture.
"Mass is celebrated every day from the school and it has been that way from the very beginning. Every student must be involved in the choral music program so every child learns to sing properly, all of our kids know how to chant, how to sing in a choir. We have 11 choirs in the school and each one takes their turn in the Mass."
Education is vitally important at Our Lady of the Atonement. It is not seen as an optional activity but as one of the core pillars of their parish mission.
Fr. Phillips explained, "When we look back at the beginnings of the Catholic Church in this country, the council fathers gathered together in Baltimore. They mandated that every parish must have a school and must make it available to all their people.
"In fact, they were forbidden from building a church building until they had built a school building. They were expected to worship in that school building until they could afford to build the church. The school had to come first."
"One of the main apostolates for the church is education. Is not just about teaching them arithmetic; it's about forming them as Catholics and that includes a high standard of intellectual formation, teaching all the stuff they need to learn as far as math and science, too. But all within the context of the completeness of their faith! How can you educate a child without referring to God and what God has done in our lives? You're only forming half the child."
The school understood that the high school years were critical in the formation of Catholic young people. With students opting to attend public school after eighth grade, Atonement Academy expanded their program to include K through 12.
One distinctive of the school is its classical approach. Dorothy Sayers, one of the pioneers of this method used to say that a child formed through the classical style of education could never be swayed in their faith or worldview. Fr. Phillips agreed.
"I have seen it here. (When our students go off to college) they know how to defend their faith, how to stand for the dignity of life. We have prepared our students to have their faith tested."
I asked Fr. Phillips what it was like to be an Anglican Use parish before the Ordinariate, especially in the early days of the Pastoral Provision. He said one word, "Lonesome."
As the first Anglican Use parish not only in the diocese but nationally, no one had ever done this before. And the other parishes in the archdiocese were not so sure what to think about this group. They didn't understand what had taken place and were a bit suspicious even to the point that some questioned whether they were a "real" Catholic parish.
The parishioners at Our Lady of the Atonement worked very hard to integrate into the life of the archdiocese and their commitment paid off. They are now highly regarded among their sister parishes in the San Antonio area. The school's reputation also helped a great deal.
The parish has also established a reputation in the local area as a welcoming community and much of the growth has come from former Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians who experience something familiar. They are able to sing hymns they know and many of the prayers are familiar since Anglicanism has had such an influence on many denominations.
"They come initially because they are angry about something," Phillips explained.
"We have a great RCIA program. The anger dissipates and they see the positive things about becoming Catholic. People have said to me, 'Even if every ill of the Episcopal Church were healed, we would not go back. We are Catholics.'"
The Ordinariate in America is a very exciting prospect for Fr. Phillips. He sees this as the opportunity to see Anglican patrimony more fully expressed through this new jurisdiction.
"The Holy Father has now told us to bring in these gifts," he explained. "Pope John Paul II said this through the Pastoral Provision, now Benedict is saying this to the whole world, 'Bring in these gifts, nurture them and share them with the Church.' That is one of the things in 'Anglicanorum coetibus' that is very strong. This is a treasure to be shared with the whole church."
For the Ordinariate, Our Lady of the Atonement is am example that the trail has been blazed and Anglican Use does work.
"When you look at a parish like ours you get a snapshot of what an Ordinariate parish will look like in 30 years because we have had a full generation growing up in this church. I'm now beginning to baptize the babies of babies I baptized earlier in my ministry, so we have a whole generation that has now been raised in this.
"Looking out over congregation one day at a weekday Mass, I thought to myself, 'There were only a few people here, maybe three or four, who have even set foot in an Episcopal Church.' The vast majority of the people have just known this parish as their parish. They have always been Catholic but with an Anglican twist."
Like the other Anglican Use parishes, Our Lady of the Atonement uses the Book of Divine Worship, which is a form of the Anglican liturgy, which has been approved by Rome. The Mass is celebrated "ad orientem" (to the east) with the priest facing the altar and facing with the people.
In addition to the Anglican Use Mass, the parish also celebrates a Latin Mass on Sunday evenings and for the school on Friday morning.
Our Lady of the Atonement Parish currently remains a part of the Archdiocese of San Antonio and under the Archbishop. In order for them to become a part of the Ordinariate, they would have to first receive permission from their archbishop as well as permission from the Ordinary to enter.
Part two of Seeds of the Ordinariate will feature the St. Thomas More Anglican Use Society, headed by Fr. Eric Bergman.
On January 1, 2012 the Anglican Ordinariate and the Ordinary will be officially announced. Catholic Online will have all the details.
Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and the CEO/Associate Publisher for the Northern Virginia Local Edition of Catholic Online (http://virginia.catholic.org). He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.
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