13 Feb The Odyssey of Mater Dei
By Donna Sue Berry
In 1988 Saint Pope John Paul II founded the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) as a society of apostolic life. The Fraternity has as its apostolate the training of men for service as Catholic priests and the pastoral care of souls. Their particular charism is the celebration of the Mass and the administration of the sacraments according to the traditional Roman Rite.
The FSSP’s first apostolate in North America was established in Dallas in 1991, which became the Mater Dei Latin Mass Community and eventually Mater Dei Parish. Recently, parishioners Mike Drake and Cheryl Truty, and Music Director Kimberly Walters spoke with Regina Magazine about the amazing odyssey of Mater Dei.
Can you tell us how Mater Dei Parish came about?
At the outset of its 23-year (and counting) pilgrimage, the Mater Dei Community was authorized to have Sunday Mass and confessions at St. Jude Chapel in downtown Dallas, and daily Mass at Christ the King Parish. Although meager in scope, this opportunity again to have the traditional Mass in Dallas was cherished by the delighted souls who came regularly from around the Diocese.
No other facilities were made available to the community for about a year, yet the community continued to grow. After that year the Mass location moved to the chapel of the Carmelite Nuns in Dallas, where the community was finally able to meet together over coffee and donuts after Mass!
Mater Dei parishioners collect food for the Carmelites on Easter and Christmas and we do food drives throughout the year as needed. The Carmelites live solely on donations. Our parishioners are very generous.
We understand that the Nuns at the Carmelite Monastery of the Infant Jesus of Prague and St. Joseph played a huge part in Mater Dei’s growth?
How can we even begin to tell you how grateful we are to the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Dallas? They not only allowed us to use their chapel but they provided flowers, candles, use of the grounds for feasts, etc. Mother Celine and Mother Ann Christine always felt the Extraordinary Form of the Mass was a blessing and welcomed us with open arms! They allowed us to save for our future church buildings and most importantly prayed unceasingly for our parish. They call us “Our Tridentines”.
The children used to run to the turn after Holy Mass and ring the bell for the Sisters to come, begging for prayers or to tell the Sisters all of the happenings in their lives. The Sisters in turn would give them Holy Cards and little trinkets. When someone would make their First Holy Communion they would make punch and cookies and put them in the turn for us to enjoy.
This close friendship with the Nuns would last over 17 years! It was so difficult for us to leave them and for them to lose all of the activity our community brought to their lives. We truly love each other very much! Mater Dei parishioners collect food for the Carmelites on Easter and Christmas and we do food drives throughout the year as needed. The Carmelites live solely on donations. Our parishioners are very generous.
SINCE VIRTUALLY DAY ONE, the Mater Dei Community hoped for, prayed for and worked with great anticipation toward acquiring its own church in order to be a full-fledged parish.
How did Mater Dei Parish become a reality?
Since virtually Day One, the Mater Dei Community hoped for, prayed for and worked with great anticipation toward acquiring its own church in order to be a full-fledged parish. Aside from the desire to increase the presence of the traditional Mass in Dallas, this aspiration was also driven by the fact that the community from its inception was only permitted to have Mass and confessions (no other sacraments), and this restriction lasted for 18 years.
In early 1999 it became clear that Mass attendance was so consistently overflowing at both Sunday Masses that a larger location was truly needed. A relocation committee proposed that we look into sharing church space with one of the parishes in the Dallas diocese, if this were amenable to all parties. The chancery office gave its nod to the proposal, but accommodations were never able to be adequately negotiated with a diocesan parish.
In spite of continued overflowing conditions at the Carmelite chapel — many attended Mass standing outside the chapel — no other significant initiatives were undertaken until late summer of 2008. Not long after Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Kevin Farrell as bishop of Dallas in March of 2007, the Mater Dei chaplain, Father Joseph Terra, brought the crowded conditions at the chapel to his attention. With time, Bishop Farrell recognized the need as consistent and growing ever stronger, and he authorized Father Terra to begin searching for an actual church building for Mater Dei. After a number of possible church buildings were identified and researched, Bishop Farrell gave Father Terra the green light to actively plan for the purchase of a church property by the Mater Dei Community in the spring of 2009.
Parochial Vicar Fr. Phil Wolfe, FSSP, Parochial Vicar Fr. Terrence Gordon, FSSP and Pastor Fr. Thomas Longua, FSSP of Mater Dei Parish.
At that point, it had taken 18 years to receive permission to buy a church building. Then what happened?
Upon his appointment to an alternate FSSP apostolate, Father Terra handed the reins and the Mater Dei chaplaincy to Father Thomas Longua, FSSP, to consummate the new church plan. The community bought a church which had belonged to a Korean Methodist community, approximately five miles from the Carmelite chapel.
With patient determination and intense dedication Father Longua led the very significant renovation effort over the following months, and by the grace of God and His Mother, the Mater Dei Community had its first Mass in the new church on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 2009. On the following Easter Sunday, 2010, Bishop Farrell established the Mater Dei Parish in its new church in Irving, Texas.
How has the Mater Dei Parish grown since 2009?
Clearly the greater percentage of the original Mater Dei Community members were steadfast Catholic hopefuls within the Dallas diocese who had been praying and waiting for the return of the traditional Mass for over 20 years. These members had long known the beauty and reverence of the Traditional Latin Mass and were overjoyed at the advent of what to them was a welcome oasis following a long, incomprehensible drought. The last Sunday Mass at Carmel was December 6th with about 320 people in attendance; the first Mass at the new location was on December 8th with over 550 in attendance. And the numbers have only gone up.
MATER DEI IS NOW ABOUT 1000-1100 PEOPLE ON A SUNDAY; with the new place in Fort Worth and a new building in Irving, this number should at least double over the next decade. — Pastor Fr. Thomas Longua, FSSP of Mater Dei Parish.
Do you find fallen away Catholics returning to the Faith at Mater Dei? What about converts?
As the availability of the Mass began making itself known throughout the area, new members from all around the Dallas diocese and also from the neighboring dioceses to the east, south and west came to Mater Dei and fell in love with the pearl of great price. Some were fallen-away Catholics returning to the Faith. Many were converts, most of whom testify that their conversions would not have been were it not for the integrity of worship they found in the Traditional Latin Mass.
We have many parishioners in their 70’s and 80’s and many more in their 20’s and 30’s. One thing that we are NOT short on at Mater Dei is CHILDREN! We have so many couples that have been blessed with many. Plus we have lots of young couples who are open to life and ready to start, or starting, their own families.
MANY OF THOSE WHO CAME TO MATER DEI WERE CONVERTS, most of whom testify that their conversions would not have been were it not for the integrity of worship they found in the Traditional Latin Mass.
We understand that you have a magnificent Choir and that they have a recording available.
We do! We have a rich choir history that dates back to the very beginnings of Mater Dei which included several members who had sung in choirs during the 1950’s and ‘60’s. Under the direction of Mrs. Rita Pilgrim, the first Mater Dei members united to resurrect polyphonic Masses in the Carmel chapel as well as learning Gregorian Chant Masses. In the spring of 1993, under the direction of Fr. Michael Irwin, FSSP, Mrs. Pilgrim, and many of the Mater Dei choir travelled to Rome to sing in St. Peter’s Basilica. Years later, Fr. Christopher Hathaway, FSSP, and a handful of men from the choir joined together to form the Mater Dei Men’s Schola for the purpose of more adequately singing the Gregorian forms of the Mass propers. This group was expanded under his successor by Fr. Joseph Terra, FSSP. In January 2012, under the direction of Mrs. Kimberly Walters a women’s schola was formed. She also formed the first children’s choir program which has about 60 children involved. The Mater Dei choir has truly come into its own since the Mater Dei community became a parish with all choirs having regular weekly rehearsals. All the choir members are amateur and volunteer parishioners with a passion for the rich sacred music tradition of the Catholic Church. Today the Holy Week Triduum at Mater Dei is fully celebrated with all sung propers and renaissance polyphony. Mrs. Walters also introduced the beautiful tradition of sung Tenebrae in 2011 because of her own desire to bring its tradition to Mater Dei from where she learned it at Mater Ecclesiae Parish in Berlin, NJ. The choirs have released their first professional CD, “Lux in Tenebris”, of music sung at the parish in fall 2014. It is a compilation of chants and polyphonic motets (mainly from the Renaissance era). The CD is available through Amazon and CDBaby, as well as digital download sites such as Google Play and Spotify. Their next CD should be released in September 2015 and will include Advent and Christmas music.
ONE THING THAT WE ARE NOT SHORT ON AT MATER DEI is children. We have so many couples that have been blessed with many. Plus we have lots of young couples who are open to life and ready to start, or starting, their own families.
What kinds of organizations, societies or prayer groups do you have at Mater Dei?
We have many organizations such as our Pro Life group, Rosary makers, Knights of Columbus, a huge Homeschool Group (we also host two very strong and large homeschool co-ops), an active youth group and the Blessed Frassati Group for adults, a men's group, landscape committee, Altar Society, two children's choirs, Knights of the Altar, a Seniors' group, etc.
Is there a unique tradition of Mater Dei’s that the congregation is active in?
For about 17 years we have had an All Saints ‘Stump the Sisters’ gathering at Carmel where all the children dress up as their favorite saint to stump the Nuns. The Nuns have yet to lose at guessing which saint the children have chosen. Our May Crowning is a huge event! We had over 100 children last year where each of the girls wear a crown of flowers and the boys carry flags around the grounds at Mater Dei. There are always two First Communion girls that crown the two statues of Our Blessed Mother.
Q. Cheryl, could you tell us what it means to you to be a parishioner at Mater Dei Latin Mass Parish?
We were blessed to experience our reversion when our children were young, some 22 years ago. Our family has attended the Extraordinary Form of the Mass at Mater Dei for about 18 years. Our five sons have had the privilege of serving on the altar as altar boys.
We live 75 miles from Mater Dei but feel blessed that God has allowed our family to grow up with the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and its full liturgical life which has in turn shaped our lives. What Mater Dei has done for us, by the Grace of God alone, was to create a truly Catholic environment, bringing us in contact with other families whom we have shared life experiences with as we help each other on our path to Heaven. Our parish is our family.
Q. Father Longua, what would you like to add about Mater Dei that you would want our Regina subscribers to know?
There is talk now of building a larger church building on the same site, and we are blessed that Bishop Olson in Fort Worth is soon to open another Latin Mass parish in the metro area. The community now is about 1000-1100 people on a Sunday; with the new place in Fort Worth and a new building in Irving, this number should at least double over the next decade. Pray for us.
To contact Mater Dei:
Mater Dei Latin Mass Parish
2030 State Highway 356
Irving, TX 75060
Phone: (972) 438-7600