Southern Paradox

Southern Paradox

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A Visit With the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter in Richmond, Virginia

By Patrick Clark

With three universities, countless historic sites, and the seat of the Bishop of Richmond, the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia is a vibrant cultural center. Of course it goes without saying that this Southern lady has spent over four hundred years sitting on her seven hills along the James River. Naturally she has quite a few stories to tell.

The Southside is like many of the neighborhoods in the city’s metropolitan area of about one and a quarter million people. It has its old main drag of convenience stores, gas stations, and storefront Pentecostal churches. The residential streets are nicer, generally turn-of-the-century houses with green lawns and inviting porches. Further beyond are the usual sights of suburban sprawl, motels and fast food drive-ins, with a ribbon of Interstate highway connecting the past to the present.

It’s on a winding road off the Interstate, featuring a Victorian hotel, an Islamic mosque, and a planetarium-shaped Baptist church, where one of this city’s more unique stories unfolds. Like a lot of things in the American South, it’s a story of community, faith, and just a bit of paradox.

Like a lot of things in the American South, it’s a story of community, faith, and just a bit of paradox.

St. Joseph’s Church on Buford Road is the home of the Latin Mass in Richmond. Founded in 1991 by as a community for the city’s Catholic faithful devoted to the Latin liturgy, it was originally staffed by Benedictines from the nearby Mary Mother of the Church Abbey. Ten years later, Bishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo invited the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter into his diocese to establish an apostolate at St. Joseph’s.

The church building, which was purchased from a Protestant denomination, was not originally built with traditional Catholic worship in mind. However through the efforts of the clergy and laity, the octagon-shaped sanctuary now features a beautiful high altar, altar rail, side altars, and colorful stained glass. To help incorporate the modern tent-shaped sanctuary roof into the traditional renovations, a local artist was commissioned to paint an icon of the Holy Ghost descending as a dove on the ceiling above the congregation.

Perhaps most endearing are some of the holy images around the church. St. Benedict and St. Scholastica flank the altar of a side chapel, keeping in mind the Benedictine heritage of the parish. A beloved half-foot statuette of the Curé of Ars in a corner niche is carefully covered in a tiny purple veil every Holy Week. An antique statue of St. Anthony holding the Christ Child bears an Italian immigrant name and the year 1924 on the base.

The church building, which was purchased from a Protestant denomination, was not originally built with traditional Catholic worship in mind. Now, the octagon-shaped sanctuary features a beautiful high altar, altar rail, side altars, and colorful stained glass.

But of course the Church is not a time capsule, as the growing parish will attest to. Parishioners of all ages attend catechism classes, potluck dinners, and the occasional square dance. Children join Scouting organizations, perform Shakespeare in the summer, and play soccer after High Mass. Young men learn to serve at the altar and the professionally-directed choir chants majestic Gregorian polyphony.

“The starting point is the Mass.” Says parochial vicar Fr. Karl Marsolle. “That’s our very first mission, to try to make liturgy all that it can be.”

The thirty-year old Fr. Marsolle, a native of the French Caribbean, is currently at his first parish assignment following his ordination in 2012. Part of a new generation of young priests to be formed at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary, the Fraternity’s English-speaking seminary in Nebraska, he understands that healthy parish life and growth stems from the reverent celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

“If you try to focus on that, everything else is given you,” he states plainly. He also sees a hopeful future for both the parish and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, both of which are expanding.

“As far as the future of the Fraternity, we’ve been getting regular vocations.” But he’s quick to remind that, “It’s all God’s grace, it’s nowhere through our efforts.”

Already that grace seems to be working in several ways.

St. Joseph’s is the one of two parishes in the diocese to exclusively offer the sacraments according the 1962 rubrics. The other is St. Benedict’s, a Fraternity parish in the port city of Chesapeake that also began as an indult parish for the Latin Mass. In October 2013, a traditional Eucharistic procession on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach attracted hundreds of faithful from across the state, and slated to become an annual event. Even in tiny Appomattox, a rural community several hours from the state capital, a bi-monthly Tridentine Mass can be found.

It seems like a holy paradox. The Latin Mass playing a crucial role in the revival of local Catholic culture in a diocese once known for “liturgical experimentation.”

The South may just be rising again.

It seems like a holy paradox. The Latin Mass playing a crucial role in the revival of local Catholic culture in a diocese once known for “liturgical experimentation.”

Comments

comments

No Comments

Post A Comment