Archdiocese well positioned to carry out Vatican II

| December 16, 2015 | 4 Comments

If Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis were well prepared to implement directives of the Second Vatican Council in the areas of liturgy, social justice and lay involvement, there are reasons: the Benedictines of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Msgr. John A. Ryan and a German immigrant lay woman named Therese Mueller.

“To understand the Church in the Twin Cities, you’ve go to look at the abbey in Collegeville,” said Father Charles Lachowitzer, the archdiocese’s moderator of the curia. He and others credited Benedictine Father Virgil Michel (1890–1938) as founder of the Liturgical Movement in the United States and fellow Benedictine Father Godfrey Diekmann for picking up the banner of the movement upon Father Michel’s death.

By founding of “Orate Fratres” magazine in 1926, sponsoring the first national Liturgical Day in 1929, and experimenting with an innovative Mass in which the assembly responded to the presider using English instead of Latin, the Benedictines were the forerunners of today’s postcounciliar Mass, “stirring the pot before it was to be served,” said Mary Kaye Medinger, a religious educator.

“Because there were plenty of Benedictine priests serving in the archdiocese, that Benedictine legacy was well-planted,” added Father Michael O’Connell, a  longtime priest of the archdiocese.

Father Diekmann’s contribution included leadership in the drafting and implementation of the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” as a peritus during the Second Vatican Council, and he was the founder and member of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy and the Consilium for Implementing the Liturgical Reforms of Vatican II, as well as a consultor to the American Bishops Committee on the Liturgy. He died in 2002.

Early adopters

Father Lachowitzer noted that “Vatican II incorporates changes that were already happening.” The council ended 50 year ago this month.

Father O’Connell, retired pastor of the Minneapolis parishes Ascension and the Basilica of St. Mary, and a former moderator of the curia, recalled an example that illustrated the point.

“In 1949, the pastor at St. Thomas the Apostle in south Minneapolis, Bishop James Byrne, held a children’s Mass in the basement of the church,” Father O’Connell said. “The altar was placed in the center of what was typically the parish hall. I think because of that there was greater participation in the responses the people said — because there was an accent on ‘we’re together,’ not what one individual did to pray.”

And the principle that Father Michel taught — that worship and justice are married — played into Msgr. Ryan’s work in the social justice area.

Msgr. Ryan (1869–1945) taught at the St. Paul Seminary and later at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He preached that the Church had a proper role to play in public affairs. As a close advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he is credited with advocating for New Deal policies that advanced the common good: the living wage, the 40-hour work week, public housing, social security, unemployment insurance and women’s rights in the work place.

Father O’Connell, who was ordained in 1967, pointed out that the pillars of Catholic social teaching were in the encyclicals “Rerum Novarum” and “Quadragesimo Anno” which were written well before Vatican II.

“They were precursors of the documents of the U.S. Bishops on war and peace and the economy when Archbishop John Roach was the president of the U.S. Catholic Conference” from 1980-1983, Father O’Connell said, and the implementation of the social justice activism after the council began more easily because priests in the archdiocese were steeped in justice teachings.

“In 1959-60 at Nazareth Hall [then the archdiocesan minor seminary on what is now the campus of University of Northwestern in St. Paul], I had fabulous social justice teaching, mainly from Monsignor [James] Cecka,” he said. “Father Edward Flavahan taught English literature, and those social justice values were bubbling up through literature.”

He named teachers Herb Slusser [the father of Father Michael Slusser], Father William Bullock [later a bishop] and Father Thomas Conroy. “They all understood the inseparable bond between worship and justice, and that we had to care for the marginalized and the poor,” he said.

Official commission

Vatican II set the stage for a social justice mandate, and among the first initiatives that evolved locally from the council in that area was the Urban Affairs Commission of the archdiocese in 1968, led by then-Father Ed Flahavan, which took on issues of racism, labor strife, low-income housing.

Locally, laymen John Carr and Ron Krietemeyer rose up to become social justice leaders on the national level, following in the footsteps of priest leaders like Father Edward Greszkowiak and Msgr. Francis Gilligan. Carr went on to  direct the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development for more than 20 years.

Faith formation minister Mark Croteau said that Vatican II had “a strong evangelical tone,” expressed plainly as, “’You lay people have got to do the work to bring Christ to the market.’ What Vatican II was calling us to be — to use the word of John Paul II — solidarity with the other human beings on the planet. We are Christ’s voice. We are Christ’s hands.”

Croteau said the Church had that teaching before Vatican II with the words spoken by the priest at the end of the pre-counciliar liturgy — “Ita Missa Est” — in Croteau’s words: “What are you still doing here? Get out there!”

Church of the home

Mary Kay Medinger, founding director of Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality on the campus of St. Catherine University in St. Paul, told of a married couple who also primed the pump for the lay involvement that blossomed with Vatican II.

German immigrants Therese and Franz Mueller taught at St. Catherine and St. Thomas respectively, she philosophy and he economics.

Therese wrote for the Liturgical Movement’s magazine, “Orate Fratres” and published a book aimed at helping parents inculturate their children with knowledge of Scripture and the traditions of the faith, “Our Children’s Year of Grace.”

First published first in 1943, in the midst of World War II, it was reprinted in four more editions and updated by the couple’s daughter, Gertrude, after Vatican II.

“Therese taught that Scripture didn’t belong only Sunday in the church but also in the home and in the fields,” Medinger said.

Medinger described the local Church that is the archdiocese as “complex and diverse,” “a faithful, well-educated laity,” “great liturgical diversity,” “with a passion for social justice this archdiocese has been known for.”

The fact that Therese Mueller taught at St. Catherine with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet is not a coincidence.

“The CSJs have grown up within that local Church,” Medinger said, so liturgical reform, social justice and lay involvement were “woven into that fiber.”

That some in the archdiocese were not only ready for the changes that Vatican II might bring about but were chomping at the bit is illustrated by this anecdote Father Lachowitzer told about one of his predecessors as pastor of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Maplewood:

“In 1964, Msgr. Raymond Rutkowski was on the phone to St. John’s to find out the latest church designs that were being proposed at the council. That’s why there is no Communion rail in the church at Presentation — they didn’t have to take it out because they never built one.”

And the sense of hope that surrounded the council is illustrated by the fact that it saved at least one vocation.

“Vatican II kept me in the seminary,” Father O’Connell said. “In 1963 I was a senior in college. It was a year for very, very strident discernment. I wasn’t sure I was going to stay. There were aspects of the Church I grew up in that were rigid, clerical, unbending, primitive. I wasn’t going to stick around to be part of that.

“We weren’t allowed to read newspapers because there might be women’s underwear ads in them, but someone got a hold of the New York Times with the stories that Xavier Rynne was writing from the Vatican, and we read some of the probable and possible changes. That’s what fired me up. That’s what kept me in.”

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  • Charles C.

    There is always a certain benefit to having an accurate history, but it seems a little late to be assigning blame.

  • Paula Ruddy

    Good history. Thanks, Bob Zyskowski. I’m glad Father Michael O’Connell hung in there. He has been an inspiration to many.

  • Patricia Thornton

    Realistically, we are still waiting for Vatican II to be implemented. Pope St John Paul II cried out to this generation till his dying breath, “read Vatican II!”. Our archdiocese is not outstanding in implementing the Council and sadly, we are not alone.

    • Charles C.

      Dear Patricia Thornton,

      Would you explain what you meant by our failure to implement Vatican II? I wonder what parts of it need more emphasis. I was under the impression that the Pope was asking people to read the work itself because so much was being done under the authority of “The Spirit of Vatican II,” and not because it was in the documents themselves.

      In short, was the Pope saying, “Read the documents because you’re misunderstanding them?”