Gratitude where gratitude is due: My family’s story with the Society of St. Pius X
June 9, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – Sometimes things happen in life that we receive with much gratitude, but we may never make it a point of stressing them. And then comes an occasion which prompts us to do some act of gratitude that was long overdue.
This is how it is with my family's own experiences with the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) over the course of at least the last decade.
The reason why I decided to make now this act of public gratitude is that some of the faithful in Front Royal, Virginia, who have become attracted to the SSPX during last year's lockdown and requested the SSPX open a mission in town are now raising funds so that a permanent SSPX chapel can be built there.
This is my way of trying to help along a little this desirable project.
Why would I do such an act of public support for the SSPX?
Let me tell you a story.
It began more than a decade ago. After meeting my future husband, I became a Catholic in 2004 with the help of a priest of the Fraternity of St. Peter, Father Bernward Deneke, who later also witnessed the sacramental marriage of my husband, Robert, and me. We owe him a lot. And as it is with many converts, they are very eager to bring in more souls into the Catholic Church or to make sure that their loved ones die in the state of grace as Catholics. So it was with my grandfather. He lay dying. He had been a faithful Protestant for decades after having been raised as an Orthodox Christian and showed no interest in becoming a Catholic. Yet, we had to try.
So first we asked some of the traditional priests that we knew in Germany. The problem was that my grandfather lived in a town that was quite Protestant, and the Catholic parish there was so secularized that my mother and I had been quite shocked to see a woman dressed up in a sort of a coarse vestment going to the Tabernacle and doing something. We were glad not to know more of the details.
But in any event, none of the traditional priests we knew better could help. They were all quite far away from my grandfather and they did not see themselves able to make a longer trip.
That is when we decided to call up the closest SSPX chapel in Germany, which was still five hours away from my grandfather. Father Koenraad Huysegems picked up the phone. We did not know each other at all, and I even called from the United States. After I had described to him the situation, his response was: “Shall I go right now?” He would have immediately gone to his car and driven five hours to the north to see whether he could be of any help to a man he had never met.
After arrangements with the family, Father Huysegems arrived a few days later. It was Candlemas. I myself was not able to come, but I received a full report from my mother, who was present, of what had happened. As providence had it, this priest who was originally from Holland spoke my grandfather's native tongue, Serbo-Croatian. My grandfather came from Yugoslavia; he had been a prisoner of war from World War II, had then met my grandmother in the northern German countryside, and stayed.
But so Father Huysegems entered my grandfather's bedroom and unexpectedly greeted him in his mother tongue! He said to him: “I am a Catholic priest. I could either give you the blessing of the Church, or I can receive you in to the Catholic Church.” And, to all of our surprise, my grandfather said he wanted to become a Catholic! For this, one needs to know that he had followed the developments in the Catholic Church over the years. A while back, he had mentioned that he believed that the SSPX were the ones who had kept the Faith entire. I do not know whence he had developed this assessment.
In any event, on that Candlemas, my grandfather became a Catholic, had a full-hearted confession, received Our Lord, and died some three weeks later.
And we owe it to a priest of the Society of St. Pius X whose first prompt response was: “Shall I go right now?”
This story is so touching in light of the many disheartening stories I witnessed in Germany as a convert. I knew another fresh convert who was to die not long after his conversion. As I learned later, the priest who took him into the Church never even heard his sacramental confession! Needless to say, he also did not make it into the hospital to his parishioner before he was to die. What is so piercing about this man's story is that he had once told me that one of the reasons why he wanted to become a Catholic was to go to confession. He said: “I feel I have a very heavy bag that I am carrying around on my back. I so much would like to be freed of it.”
So many souls today are not being tended well by their shepherds. So many sheep out there are lost in the wilderness and no one is present to look for them.
My husband and I have not yet had had the chance to meet Fr. Huysegems; we were in the U.S. at the time. But we were able to thank him over the phone. And now once more we thank him this way.
We met other priests of the SSPX while in Europe, some in Switzerland. We always had the most joyful encounters, with much kindness and lively discussions. Father Stefan Frey, now District Superior of the SSPX in Austria, once even came to visit us with my family when we were back from the United States with our first child, just one year old. Father Frey entered the house, looked at our daughter, stretched his arms out in joy and just stood there and warmly smiled. We will not forget his kindness, either. It was also Father Frey who gave me some personal advice about my life upon which I still sometimes reflect.
In our life here in the U.S., we had a few encounters with SSPX priests, and even two or three with Bishop Bernard Fellay, then-General Superior of the SSPX. Knowing that I was an eager journalist always interested in learning more and understanding more, he took much time to speak with us, even while his assistants politely tried to move him onto his next task! Once I was also able even to conduct a published interview with him.
We also had the chance to meet His Excellency at the newly built seminary in Dillwyn, Virginia, for some of the opening ceremonies. And we had the blessing of his giving the Sacrament of Confirmation to both of our young children.
This story, which is extraordinary in itself since he administered that Sacrament to three children, even though he had just tripped and broken his foot an hour earlier, will always be a very memorable one for my family. (I have written about it here.) Bishop Fellay did not show any pain or disdain, nor did he shorten my lengthy private conversation with him afterwards! And he had not yet even been at the doctor's office!
On the contrary; when he entered the room of his private quarters (he could not easily move down into the chapel), he said, with a big smile: “This is a very good sign, because the devil must be very angry that these children receive the Sacrament of Confirmation today!”
It had been the day of the opening of the seminary, at the end of a long day. A long day also for our son who, during the ceremony of Confirmation, kept moving slightly from one leg to another. I think he was just getting restless!
In spite of the accident and the exhaustion at the end of a long day, Bishop Fellay took the time to explain to the children the Sacrament of Confirmation and what it does to their souls. It was quite beautiful.
As a sort of background information: in all this time, we rarely went to chapels of the SSPX. For years, we went to our local parish's traditional Latin Mass, and later we drove some 45 minutes away from home to a little traditional Catholic community with three fine priests, the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem. (It was there that our son was blessed to receive his First Holy Communion and his first Sacrament of Penance from Bishop Athanasius Schneider!) The main reason for this move was that the mixed community of Novus Ordo and traditional Catholics at home meant that there was not a unified culture and reverence at Mass, with many unruly children whose parents did not seem to think it was important that others at Mass could adore God in quiet reverence.
My husband, who had so greatly helped me become a Catholic, always had a great respect for the SSPX back in the time of the 1988 consecrations of their four bishops. He always held that the way Rome dealt with this case was unjust. In 1987, he went to St. Mary's, Kansas, in order to give a talk to the SSPX community about spiritual childhood and the Christian soldier. (His essay based on that talk can be found in the collection of his essays here.) But in all these years, he very rarely went to SSPX chapels.
One could say that we were grateful friends of the SSPX.
Then came the lockdown last year. Since my husband is advanced in age, we did stay home for nearly two months, until Easter. We wanted to protect our much beloved husband and father.
In the meantime, and unbeknownst to us, a fellow Catholic, fervently desiring not to be cut off from Mass and the Eucharist, had taken an initiative and called Father Steven Reuter in to help. He was then a professor at the above-mentioned SSPX seminary in Dillwyn, Virginia, which is some three hours away from us in Front Royal. He assured us that Catholics in our region could attend Mass every single Sunday during the entire lockdown period. He, together with his generous fellow priests from the seminary, along with some seminarians, came every Sunday to offer two Holy Masses, the Sacrament of Confession, and even to visit the sick.
Many a Catholic in our region who had been critical of the SSPX was touched to witness this generosity and selflessness. One story that made the rounds very quickly in our larger Catholic community was that on Holy Thursday, a cold and windy day, Father Reuter was freezing in the cold while celebrating his outdoor Mass and he was shivering while cleansing his hands after each family's reception of Holy Communion, a form of administering Holy Communion that took altogether more than an hour. Catholics were touched to see this sacrifice of a priest for them, so that they could receive Our Lord.
As it happened by God's Providence, these first “car Masses” took place on the same road our little family was living! At some point, we started to attend these outdoor Masses which were completely in line with official coronavirus rules. Father Reuter and his team touched our hearts immediately, so much so that our children insist that Father Reuter is the best confessor they ever had! His reverence at Mass and his excellent homilies were an inspiration to us. He came to visit our home several times, and each time it was a spiritual and intellectual feast. When Father was not long thereafter called away to another mission, we all were quite sad and distressed. It was as if God had called away from us one of the visiting Apostles. We could better imagine how those communities in early Christianity must have felt when one of the Apostles had to move on to their next mission.
In light of the crisis in the Church, with all the distress and ugliness, we found here a little oasis of faith, with the beautiful liturgy, but also the accompanying practice in the faith, as given to us by these priests. Since then, Father John Carlisle has now taken over this little mission of the SSPX in the Shenandoah Valley, another very fine priest and a former student of Father Reuter's. We are still being taken care of so generously by the priests and seminarians of the St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Dillwyn, with even Father Yves le Roux, its rector, gracing us with his visits and Holy Masses. This work entails for them very busy weekends with many an hour of driving.
Not long ago, when visiting the Seminary, Don Davide Pagliarani, the General Superior of the SSPX, was so kind to visit our community in Front Royal and he immediately touched our hearts with his Italian spontaneity and warmth, as well as his deep Faith and insight. He spent much time with us and even celebrated an early morning Mass in our little chapel.
In my years as a journalist trying to fight the evils of this Bergoglian pontificate and the effects of the Second Vatican Council, my husband had thought it best that we do it for the Church as volunteers. With my husband in the background, counseling and editing my reports, we did not ask for reimbursements. We wanted to help our Church in distress, in gratitude for all that we have received from Our Lord and Our Lady.
Now I would ask you, should you have ever found some worth in my journalistic work, whether you could help give a donation to the fundraising campaign for the Immaculate Heart of Mary chapel in Front Royal. I would be so grateful to know that our family could have a safe haven of the faith, in order to raise our children and to grow ourselves in the faith.
But not only this: may many more souls profit from the witness and the many crosses that the SSPX bore for the whole Catholic Church, unto eternal life and salvation.
For those who have not yet studied the history of the SSPX and their work, I would direct them to Bishop Athanasius Schneider's writings. In this book review here, I quote at length how he describes his own development with regard to his views on this Catholic apostolate. In light of this Bergoglian pontificate, Bishop Schneider admitted that we need to take the SSPX and its arguments more seriously. He wrote in his book Christus Vincit:
With the growing crisis in the Church, and especially given the situation created after the two Synods on the Family, the publication of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’s approval of the pastoral guidelines of the bishops of the Buenos Aires region (which foresee, among other things, the admittance to Holy Communion of unrepentant adulterers), and the declaration on diversity of religions he signed in Abu Dhabi, I realized that we need to take the arguments of the SSPX more seriously.”
This Kazakh bishop has come to see the Second Vatican Council and its aftermath in a more critical light, as well. In a 2018 interview with the National Catholic Register's Edward Pentin, Bishop Schneider revealed what Pope Benedict XVI had once said about the founder of the SSPX, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and what he himself thinks of the Society:
Pope Benedict XVI once said about Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre: “He was a great bishop of the Catholic Church.” Pope Francis considers the SSPX as Catholic, and has expressed this publicly several times. Therefore, he seeks a pastoral solution, and he made the generous pastoral provisions of granting to the priests of the SSPX the ordinary faculty to hear confessions and conditional faculties to celebrate canonically marriage. The more the doctrinal, moral and liturgical confusion grows in the life of the Church, the more one will understand the prophetic mission of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in an extraordinary dark time of a generalized crisis of the Church.
(It seems that since its original publication, this interview has been partially edited. This quote still can be found, however, on Father Z's website.)
But not only this: there is a living cardinal who at this point wishes to remain anonymous who has recently predicted that Archbishop Lefebvre will one day be declared a Doctor of the Church and that he was “prophetic.”
Last, but not least, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has come out in strong support of the work of Archbishop Lefebvre. In September of last year, he wrote to LifeSite’s Stephen Kokx:
I consider Archbishop Lefebvre an exemplary confessor of the Faith, and I think that by now it is obvious that his denunciation of the Council and the modernist apostasy is more relevant than ever. It should not be forgotten that the persecution to which Archbishop Lefebvre was subjected by the Holy See and the world episcopate served above all as a deterrent for Catholics who were refractory toward the conciliar revolution.
Furthermore, this Italian prelate also supports the consecrations of the four SSPX bishops in 1988 which gave them a protective shield from the onslaught of the Modernists:
“And if their [the SSPX'] fidelity made disobedience to the pope inevitable with the episcopal consecrations, thanks to them the Society was able to protect herself from the furious attack of the Innovators and by its very existence it allowed the possibility of the liberalization of the Ancient Rite, which until then was prohibited.”