Immaculate Heart Homeschoolers Father Mazzuchelli Field Trip

Saint Augustine’s in New Diggings is a restored pioneer church in a former lead mining boom town. It was built by Father Samuel Mazzuchelli. This was the first stop on today’s field trip for the Immaculate Heart Homeschoolers, a local Madison, WI-area group. It was my pleasure to get to go with them.


George Burns is a Knight of Columbus of the Mazzuchelli Assembly. He was involved in the process of the church’s recent restoration and he gave a talk about Father Mazzuchelli, how he came to Wisconsin from Italy as a young Dominican friar and became an astonishingly energetic and productive missionary and builder of churches [click to read the story of Fr Mazzuchelli that I wrote for children--it's also a useful introduction to him for adults]. The Knights of Columbus restored this precious building to original condition. They’ve done an amazing job; next they want to build a visitor center.

People in St Augustines

Mr. Burns told us the choir loft is very strong to this day because it is supported by ONE huge solid log that spans the whole width. You just cannot get logs like that now!

beginning of Mass back straightened600

Then something happened that hadn’t happened quite like this since 1925 at Saint Augustine’s Church… and that I’d been hoping for since the first time I’d visited there on a pilgrimage with my parish in 2012…


…a Traditional Latin Mass, very much like this altar was intended for when Father Mazzuchelli built it! Two homeschooled boys were servers. We also had a seminarian of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter with us, Jonathan Heinricy.

versus populum altar

Even though the historic altar that Father Mazzuchelli celebrated Mass on was lovingly restored, nowadays when a priest wants to say Mass he puts this wooden structure over the Communion rail in order to use it as a temporary altar for Mass facing the people.

preparation of gifts


Before Mass Jonathan the seminarian realized Father Alex hadn’t brought any bells, but he had a good idea. The church itself has a bell! He asked George Burns, the good Knight of Columbus. George was happy to ring the old bell during the Consecration. George hadn’t been to the old Latin Mass since he was a boy.


All of us…

George Burns600

And George, who was taking our picture in the other picture.


Next we went to Saint Patrick Parish in Benton. This was another parish Father Mazzuchelli founded, and where he spent the last years of his life together with the first Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, whom he had founded and who ran a girls’ school in Benton called Saint Clara Academy. Two nice Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters spoke to us about their beloved founder. This is the Mother of Sorrows Chapel, where they have another one of Father Mazzuchelli’s original altars (yes there’s a little table altar in front of it that is the one they use for Mass… with some older Catholics there’s a huge taboo against having Mass with the priest and people facing the same way toward God while we worship Him together).


Father Mazzuchelli was very devoted to the Seven Sorrows of Mary. Here is a little image that he kept in his room, which is now in the museum at Sinsinawa Mound.

Father Mazzuchelli was very devoted to the Seven Sorrows of Mary. Here is a little image that he kept in his room, which is now in the museum at Sinsinawa Mound.

And this statue is a very fine marble carving of Our Lady of Sorrows that was sent to Father Mazzuchelli by the famous French Dominican preacher Lacordaire, is in the reliquary chapel at Sinsinawa. (obviously, not a good photo. Sorry.)

And this statue is a very fine marble carving of Our Lady of Sorrows that was sent to Father Mazzuchelli by the famous French Dominican preacher Lacordaire, is in the reliquary chapel at Sinsinawa. (obviously, not a good photo. Sorry.)


Behind the Church is Father Mazzuchelli’s grave. Sister prayed the prayer for his beatification by heart, and we prayed with her. I like very much to visit this grave and would have liked to linger a bit, except that then it began to rain (briefly).



We all hurried over to Father Mazzuchelli’s historic rectory, where there is a little museum to visit. But not everyone can easily hurry. Here is a small lesson in Christianity.

walking from cemetery 2


It didn’t rain for long! Here’s the little rectory, where Father Mazzuchelli died.

Kids OL rosary chapel

Next stop, Sinsinawa Mound, the motherhouse of the Sinsinawa Dominicans, which had originally been the site of an attempt by Father Mazzuchelli to found a seminary. That’s the famous round chapel in the background (built by Mother Mary Benedicta Larkin in the early 60s–and I’ll have you know Mother Benedicta was a good sister). We visited the museum exhibit about Father Mazzuchelli here, which has the most remarkable artifacts of his life, and I think they have even kept making some refinements to the presentation. Something got mixed up about our appointment and unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to pray with Father Mazzuchelli’s penance chain, as I had done on a previous occasion. Certain of the numerous dear little children (these are large families) were getting tired by then and not minding. This was a long but fulfilling day. I got to have some Mound Bread (cinnamon bread to be exact) on the way home.

Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible and so lovely, especially Bobibeth and Father Alex Navarro, as well as those who gave us tours and assisted us at the locations–and thanks be to God.

Some may also be interested in my article that was in the Madison Catholic Herald about Father Mazzuchelli and the New Evangelization.

Professor Phyllis Zagano and whether Jesus conferred the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Orders on the Apostles at the Last Supper


[Update: Phyllis Zagano has made some comments below the article in reply. Also, Father John Zuhlsdorf has posted about this on his blog, and his commenters, particularly Father Augustine Thompson, O.P. offer some useful input over there. Zagano has not replied to an email inquiry about whether Fr. Augustine's interpretation is correct, of her meaning in denying Jesus conferred Holy Orders on the apostles at the last supper.]

So, I found out some time in mid May that there was going to be a free internet course on the topic of “Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future” led by Phyllis Zagano, a writer for the dissident publication National Catholic Reporter and a Religious Studies faculty member at Hofstra University, which has a Catholic Studies program.

I am very interested in this topic, though my firm and considered opinion is that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer sacramental diaconal ordination on women. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis taught this definitively in regards to priestly ordination (in other words infallibly, which Zagano and others wrongly deny–and yes she did insist to me OS is not infallible teaching) particularly on the basis that Christ chose men only to be his apostles. The Apostles were those on whom he first conferred the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, encompassing all the orders of deacon, priest and bishop, at the Last Supper. If Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is right that only men can be priests because that is Our Lord’s will and His Church is not authorized to do otherwise, then the same logic leads many of us to conclude that it also appears Our Lord desired to confer diaconal ordination on men only (the Apostles, first of all). The uncontested existence of a female role of deaconess in the early Church, similar to deacons but ministering to women, and commissioned by a similar but not necessarily identical ceremony, is not precisely evidence of the sacramentality of that role. Cardinal Muller, Prefect of the CDF, who clearly does not believe there have ever been or ever will be sacramentally ordained women deacons, said last year, “One would have to prove that a specific, non-sacramental ministry for women analogous to that of women deacons in the Early Church was necessary today.” He doesn’t think they are needed; I don’t either.

So I signed up for the course right away. In the first week of June Fr Zuhlsdorf came upon an announcement of the course and also promoted it on his blog. He and Zagano, while alphabetically close, have a long-running… antagonism.

The other faculty listed for the course include Deacon Bill Ditewig and Gary Macy; Ditewig (former USCCB permanent deacons staffer, banned from speaking on Catholic premises in the Diocese of Philadelphia due to his promotion of women deacons) stated in a comment on Father Z’s blog that he and Macy are not involved in the course but permitted Zagano to use their videos and writings. Besides their lectures, other audiovisual contributions include short statements in favor of “women’s diaconal ordination” including by Sister Sara Butler which sounds like it may be a cherry-picked excerpt from a longer talk (Zagano labels her Doctor Sarah Butler and uses a photo of her in lay clothes and congregation medallion) [Update: Phyllis Zagano states that her colleague Sara Butler gave permission to use the audio clip and supplied the photograph... but more about Sister Sara, who does not think exactly like Phyllis Zagano, at the end of the post] who thinks women deacons can be complementary to men deacons (she is the author of a book upholding the teaching that the Church cannot ordain women priests, and once gave a talk in the chancery auditorium of the Diocese of Madison on that topic which I attended. I remember she asked for a show of hands by the large audience the result of which seemed to surprise her: the clear majority felt that the main, strongest reason why only men can be priests is because a priest is an image of Christ who is the image of the Father and is the Bridegroom of the Church, whereas her opinion and that of a lesser number of the audience was that it was mainly because Jesus had simply opted for men only as apostles), and the rambling Dr Dennis Doyle of the University of Dayton who basically just endorses that it is “necessary”.

The teaching assistants listed for the online course seem to be mostly Hofstra University folks, though Professor Zagano stated to me that the course, which is announced on her faculty pages on the Hofstra website, is not part of the Hofstra Catholic Studies program. The actual management of the course on women deacons appears to be mainly by Phyllis Zagano and Anne Southwood, the Voice of the Faithful national Treasurer, also listed on the VOTF site as the contact person for “Universal Church Reform Initiatves”, whom Zagano cc’ed in email to me. [Update: Phyllis Zagano says Southwood, whose role in VOTF she does not contest, was the teaching assistant for one of the three discussion boards for the course, the one I was assigned to.] It is possible the Women Deacons course may have had its genesis in the milieu of the VOTF activist group, based on the minutes of this VOTF board of trustees meeting. [Update: although a program by Zagano with the same title has been promoted by VOTF and one of their national leaders is a teaching assistant for the online course, and Zagano used her Hofstra faculty web pages to promote this course, Phyllis Zagano states in a comment on this post that "the online seminar... has nothing to do with VOTF or the Hofstra Catholic Studies Program."]

I have been far more busy for the last few weeks than I had anticipated (particularly due to participation in an evangelization effort of my parish), so although I logged into the course a few times and watched parts of some videos that I confess were kind of hard to get interested in, it was only almost 4 weeks into the course that I figured I would venture onto the discussion board. I posted some straightforwardly and not uncharitable expressions of what I believe as a Catholic.

This got a [fairly neutral] discussion board reply from Anne Southwood, and then an email note from Zagano objecting and complaining I hadn’t looked at the course materials and warning me it is not a blog (the only reason I could figure why she said this was that I had given my location as Madison, WI and that combined with my disbelief in women deacons made her think I might have some connection with Fr Z–indeed I do know and esteem him). And on the discussion board she leapt into debating everything I said, even, bafflingly, my belief that Jesus conferred the Sacrament of Orders on the Apostles when he said “do this in memory of me.” Professor Zagano really adamantly didn’t agree with that, and when I brought up the fact the Council of Trent said “If anyone says that by those words, ‘Do this for a commemoration of me,’ Christ did not institute the Apostles priests; or did not ordain that they and other priests should offer His own body and blood, let him be anathema” she insisted repeatedly that this refers to the institution of the Eucharist but not the Sacrament of Holy Orders, about which Phyllis Zagano says to me in her latest email, “No one is doubting Jesus’ institution of Eucharist; this is not the same as ordination.” And according to her the Sacrament of Holy Orders originated in the 13th c?! Yet when there is record of laying hands on women in the early Church they were sacramentally ordained deacons?! She also insists all people can receive all sacraments unless prevented by canon law or natural law (I tried to reply sacraments use signs and I am personally convinced a man is the necessary sign for Holy Orders, an image of Christ who is the image of the Father). I could not entirely get a handle on what it is she believes, she was like someone who could not be reasoned with, the conversation made me grateful not to be a “theologian” but just a normal Catholic with fairly simple logical beliefs.

Professor Zagano responded to my protestation that I did not buy the books for the course because I am poor by offering to send them to me. That’s kind of her honestly–I said she may do so and gave my address and I would look at them. And because she was protesting that John Cardinal O’Connor and Cardinal Ratzinger encouraged her in researching this topic, I also assured her that while I strongly believe the Church will sooner or later get more specific that there is no such thing as women deacons, until then there is leeway for theological discussion and one cannot call her a heretic about that even though I think it is not prudent to promote the idea considering the serious harms of the broader women’s ordination movement. I also offered to send her my book A Report on the Sinsinawa Dominicans Today which I described and said she herself was mentioned in it in passing, and that when I sent this book to Cardinal Muller he had his secretary write back to me that the Prefect had reviewed the materials I sent and thanked me for my love for the religious life in the Church. Once she read that she banned me from the discussion board–on the grounds that I didn’t view the copious course materials (as if that bothered her so much about other participants–and I did view some of the materials).

Before I got locked out of the discussion, the final week discussion topic just beginning was something like, what are the reasons why women deacons are necessary?

My last email to her is this (it is easy to skip past if you do not want to read the whole thing):

Dear Professor Zagano, I am content that I have tried to participate appropriately and I am sorry that you have not wanted discussion group participation of someone expressing a typical Catholic belief about these matters–what I have said is typical of the beliefs of all the ordinary local Catholics I know, and our priests, and is typical of what we teach the children (I mentioned I am a catechist). I have found your and other participants’ ideas surprising and there was not much opportunity to get to know anyone or talk about that. As I mentioned, time is a huge factor in viewing the substantial amount of seminar materials, I did indeed view some though not necessarily to the end of them!

Below find a reply to the discussion board which I tried to post only to find you have opted to ban me from. I will send you my book and look forward to looking through what you may care to send me.

Dear Professor Zagano, I don’t want to get you wrong, do you believe something different than what I believe as a Catholic that the Sacramental Priesthood of Jesus Christ was conferred on the Apostles at the Last Supper and handed on by them sacramentally in unbroken apostolic succession? It is obvious Catholics do not believe the Sacrament of Holy Orders was invented by scholastic theologians in the 13th century, who wrote about it and developed doctrine further. The Eastern Orthodox and the Catholics both alike have seven sacraments. And the definition I quote from the Council of Trent is quite clearly about Jesus ordaining the apostles as priests at the Last Supper when he said “do this in memory of me”, countering the protestant rejection of that belief and rejection of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Do you not believe the sacramental grace of Holy Orders was objectively received by the Apostles then and has continued to be passed on in unbroken succession since then? Assertions that at some time hands were laid on women are very different from evidence that women validly received the Sacrament of Orders–like evidence there was a wedding is  not always evidence that the Sacrament of Matrimony was validly received, which was my intent in mentioning marriage tribunals.

I am trying to pay attention to what you are saying to me, and your assertion that all people are able to receive all sacraments if not prevented by canon law or natural law helps me to see why we have different ideas about this. Beyond and related to the fact Jesus chose men only to be his 12 Apostles, I believe, like so many other ordinary Catholic believers, that a woman is not the sign necessary for Holy Orders. Let me explain.

Sacraments use signs and make present the grace which they signify. With baptism, water is a necessary sign, with the Eucharist, bread and wine which become the Body and Blood of Christ, with Matrimony there is a man and a woman. With Holy Orders the man himself being ordained is a sign, an image of Christ who is Himself the image of the Father (“he who sees me sees the Father”), and who is the Bridegroom of the Church and head of the body the Church. A woman cannot be an image of a father or a bridegroom, and that is not a defect! Indeed in the bride-Church-body she is lovingly united with Christ the head, not cut off at all from the flow of grace, and integrally participating in the worship offered to the Father by Christ. She is not lacking any grace needed by herself or the Church on account of not receiving the Sacrament of Orders! She humanly has a fine capacity for grace (Our Lady was perfectly “full of grace” unlike any other mere human ever, yet without having received the Sacrament of Orders!), but is not able to be the sign that the Sacrament of Orders requires–a man. And you will have to agree, it is not a defect that a woman is not a man! Nor does she have to do everything men do in order to have dignity or be holy! As a Christian she is a member of and as a woman an image of the Church which Vatican II calls the universal sacrament of salvation. It will serve God and our neighbor well if we are lovingly ecclesial women.

Rice cakes and pomegranate juice are not able to be the signs required for valid consecration of the Eucharist. Changes in canon law cannot change that. That is not to denigrate them or call them inedible or unsuitable for Christians. The point is, sacraments use particular signs. I really honestly disbelieve that a woman is the sign suitable to Holy Orders. I say this as a simple believing Catholic, a non theologian, this is my sense of the matter and I accept that you do not agree with me at this time.

Her email replying to this begins in a huff, “The event is not a free-for-all blog-fest…” responds to my comments on the institution of the priesthood “No one is doubting Jesus’ institution of Eucharist; this is not the same as ordination” and ends “I think you need a great deal of time to study the course materials and especially the 2014 ITC document on Sensus fidei. Good luck with your interests.” Free for all blog fest? Is that what my expressions of Catholic beliefs were? Although I have not been blogging much lately and quite honestly had no intentions related to blogging, since I have been ejected from the discussion board I now do take the idea from her to blog.

I had a strange “chaotic” impression of Phyllis Zagano‘s theological thinking. The Faith is orderly and beautifully rational… until you start to mess with it or feel like you have to make it up yourself. After 8am Saturday Mass we pray the Stations of the Cross each week, and I took the opportunity today to ask other Catholics present if they ever heard of a Catholic denying that Jesus conferred Holy Orders on the Apostles when he said “do this in memory of me.” They said no, and one woman said, “that doesn’t even make sense!” and added, “we should pray for her.” [Update: after Sunday Mass I also asked our permanent deacon at the Cathedral Parish, Ray Lukasec, about this. He was surprised by the question and he too said that no, he had never heard of any Catholics denying that Jesus conferred the Sacrament of Holy Orders on the Apostles at the Last Supper when he said "do this in memory of me",--since, he said firmly, that is what the Church teaches. He also agreed the high likelihood is that the same reasoning of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that the Church lacks authority for sacramental ordination of women will eventually be explicitly extended to the question of women deacons.]

The sensus fidei–who has it? Does it belong to me or you or him or her? We need faith enlightening sound reason, and to think with the Church, “For the Church is, by the will of Christ, teacher of the truth” according to Vatican II. The ITC document concludes, “The sensus fidei is closely related to the ‘infallibilitas in credendo’ that the Church as a whole has as a believing ‘subject’ making its pilgrim way in history.”

Why do practically all believers in women’s ordination seem to have different basic beliefs about the Sacrament of Holy Orders than the rest of us? The one who believes in some form that women deacons might be possible and seems most soundly orthodox is one whom I mentioned is in fact featured in an audio clip in Phyllis Zagano’s Women Deacons online course SEEMING to endorse sacramental women deacons, Sister Sara Butler (they know each other and have discussed these things in person; Dr Gary Macy’s summary reveals “Butler concluded that the evidence did not support the revival of an ordained deaconate for women, but that there was no obstacle to an unordained ministry of women.”), who believes female deacons were never identical with male deacons, says women can’t simply be ordained into the current Permanent Diaconate, and isn’t an activist for female ordination. Sister Sara Butler further says, “Women want to have the right to exercise jurisdiction and make decisions, and that has always been tied for centuries to ordination. People like Phyllis Zagano want to be able to preach and be judges in the canonical tribunal. They want power, to put it boldly. They don’t think men alone should exercise this kind of office. It seems clear to me the Lord himself gave it to men, used a man as a model for it and it’s a male responsibility, not some elite privilege.”

A true and loving bride of Christ is not in competition with Him or His deacons, priests and bishops. The Church is the bride of Christ, and how could I believe the sensus fidei of the Church would assert the “necessity” of female deacons?

Oh why do I bother, Professor Zagano will never pass me in this course. I am no theologian.


Join us in praying a Pentecost novena, for ourselves and for sisters

HolySpirit St PetersMy friends and I who make up the core of the Father Mazzuchelli Society have felt moved to pray a novena for religious sisters, and for those in formation in women’s religious communities, and we decided to let this be a proper novena of Pentecost, joining ourselves to the first novena or nine days of prayer of the Apostles and Mary after the Ascension of Our Lord while they waited for the descent of the Holy Spirit. We begin today and invite everyone interested to participate. Pray for yourself, and if you also feel called, pray for sisters and women in religious formation.

Happily, blogging priest Father Z has decided to make daily AUDIO postings of this traditional Pentecost Novena of the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is a beautiful and simple way to join in, and will take less than 10 minutes out of your day. Day 1 of the Novena is here, and after reading the prayers he includes also a moving and vigorous recording of the Veni Creator Spiritus. Check Father Z’s blog on subsequent days for the next installment.

link to full novena text | link to convenient print-able RTF file that will open in your word processor

holy spirit pentecost

Strong new statement by CDF to LCWR, but the problem is deep (and close to home)

New Age figure Barbara Marx Hubbard was blessed and welcomed by the Sinsinawa Dominicans prior to giving her talk at the 2013 Community Days Celebration at Sinsinawa Mound. Via the Sinsinawa facebook page.

There’s been some very positive news for everyone who hopes for resolution of the serious problems in most communities of women religious whose leaders belong to the larger and far more troubled of the two US women’s religious superiors’ groups, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

The news is unfortunately not that there’s been deep reform yet, but nevertheless good news: the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Mueller, made a very forthright address April 30th to the leaders of the LCWR about the need for them to work closely with Archbishop Sartain and the other two US bishops who have been appointed for their reform and approving conference speakers and honorees. Mueller spoke firmly against their poor decision of honoring problematic feminist theologian Sr Elizabeth Johnson:

“It saddens me to learn that you have decided to give the Outstanding Leadership Award during this year’s Assembly to a theologian criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian’s writings. This is a decision that will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment. Not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the Bishops as well.”

Mueller addressed then a second objection, “namely that the findings of the Doctrinal Assessment are unsubstantiated. The phrase in the Doctrinal Assessment most often cited as overreaching or unsubstantiated is when it talks about religious moving beyond the Church or even beyond Jesus. Yes, this is hard language and I can imagine it sounded harsh in the ears of thousands of faithful religious. I regret that, because the last thing in the world the Congregation would want to do is call into question the eloquent, even prophetic witness of so many faithful religious women. And yet, the issues raised in the Assessment are so central and so foundational, there is no other way of discussing them except as constituting a movement away from the ecclesial center of faith in Christ Jesus the Lord.”

Mueller’s listeners were all aware it wasn’t some guy at the Vatican but rather Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Laurie Brink who originally said the words about religious moving beyond the Church or even beyond Jesus, in a talk at a LCWR Assembly. In my book A Report on the Sinsinawa Dominicans Today, I give some more context for Sister Laurie’s words, and I also quote a candid reaction of another Sinsinawa Dominican, Clare Wagner, after the CDF’s Doctrinal Assessment for the LCWR and its fallout:

The phrase “unsubstantiated accusations” gave me pause and cause me to wince. That is because for myself, many religious and LCWR members the “accusations” are not “unsubstantiated.”
We do support Network.
We talk about and look toward the choice of ordination for women.
We are at odds with some of the teachings on human sexuality.
We are radical feminists who oppose patriarchal domination.
We do at times challenge positions taken by bishops.
We do not agree to “submission of intellect and will.”
We differ with the magisterium on ecclesiology.
We accept the Systems Thinking Handbook.

So there you have it from a sister, in case you didn’t believe Cardinal Mueller. “The accusations ARE substantiated,” says Sister Clare. If you want to see quite a bit of further substantiation, read my book about her religious congregation. While it is a minor contribution, actually many of the key parties in the LCWR dialogues have reviewed it. I did send it to the CDF, and Cardinal Muller’s secretetary did reply not only that he received A Report on the Sinsinawa Dominicans Today, but that “The Prefect has looked through these materials, and thanks you both for your careful research as well as for you[r] obvious love for religious life in the Church.” Sister Janet Mock the executive director of LCWR also replied, saying “I really look forward to reading it” and congratulating me on “adding to the body of work written about women religious”. Archbishop Sartain also replied, saying that he had no role in regards to individual religious congregations but could tell I undertook the project out of love for the Church and religious life and the he would take a look at the book. Bishops Paprocki and Blair also replied with similar sentiments. Below, the message from the CDF:

CDF letter 600A friend commented to me yesterday about Cardinal Muller’s recent address to LCWR, “It is nice to see someone in authority speaking about specifics directly, though still quite diplomatically.  I think your report was quite timely.” While am grateful to be able to do any small service, precisely because I am motivated by love it really does make me sad that a book of this kind could even be needed or useful to the good of the Church and religious life.

Turning back to Cardinal Mueller’s recent talk to LCWR, he gives an example of the problem of religious moving beyond the Church or even beyond Jesus: a spiritual thinker even more problematic than Sister Elizabeth Johnson, the new age figure Barbara Marx Hubbard who was an LCWR keynote speaker last year and promotes an ideology called “Conscious Evolution”. This is similar to the Tielhardianism-gone-wild “new cosmology” or “universe story” ideas that have been “hot” among LCWR sisters for a number of years and mentioned in my Report.  Mueller said, “I am worried that the uncritical acceptance of things such as Conscious Evolution seemingly without any awareness that it offers a vision of God, the cosmos, and the human person divergent from or opposed to Revelation evidences that a de facto movement beyond the Church and sound Christian faith has already occurred.” He points out to the sisters who seem ever excited by novelty, “the futuristic ideas advanced by the proponents of Conscious Evolution are not actually new. The Gnostic tradition is filled with similar affirmations….”

Barbara Marx Hubbard at Sinsinawa Mound, 2013

So, sounds like something the Sinsinawa Dominicans would love, right? Yes, Barbara Marx Hubbard appeared at the Sinsinawa Community Days gathering last August (2013) before moving on to (of course) the formerly-Catholic Holy Wisdom Monastery where she led a retreat. Madison based Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Joan Duerst wrote of the event at her order’s motherhouse on the Sinsinawa vocations blog: “With inspiration from Barbara Marx Hubbard we saw  our personal and communal growth as part of the evolving universe. We are called to choose to be  part of evolution, that is  to a higher unity in love. We saw  American Dominicans as  one of evolution’s most potent forces.”

It is consoling for Catholics to remember there are some other American Dominicans, Sisters, nuns and friars who don’t aim to be forces for “evolution” but still are trying to be among the most potent preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Cardinal Muller’s address to the LCWR leadership concluded: “The LCWR, as a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See, has a profound obligation to the promotion of that faith as the essential foundation of religious life. Canonical status and ecclesial vision go hand-in-hand, and at this phase of the implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment, we are looking for a clearer expression of that ecclesial vision and more substantive signs of collaboration.” In other words, LCWR cannot continue to be a canonical entity if they are gnostics promoting beliefs so much at odds with Catholicism… by extension this really logically goes for individual religious congregations too.

LCWR states briefly that, following Cardinal Muller’s bracing address, “The actual interaction with Cardinal Müller and his staff was an experience of dialogue that was respectful and engaging.” Archbishop Sartain commented generically to the National Catholic Register that this ensuing conversation was frank, open, and respectful. This does not tell much except there was not a fistfight. I don’t think the dialogue has broken down. I personally think there is at least a possibility that the LCWR may begin to adhere better to the requirement to consult with Archbishop Sartain on choosing speakers and so forth. I think we need to pray for those engaged in this dialogue.

Foot fetishes and Holy Thursday (Bishop Morlino 110% vindicated)

Fr Phillip Altavilla of Scranton, PA

Fr Phillip Altavilla of Scranton, PA

First of all, I do not mean to connect a sexual paraphilia with the Holy Week Mass of the Lord’s Supper except for the grave purpose of emphasizing the utter inappropriateness of the former having any presence on the latter.

Christmas morning 1998 in Scranton Pennsylvania, a priest who has recently admitted having a “foot fetish” gave a 13 year old girl alcohol and touched her feet and legs creepily. She now (16 years later) has made a police complaint, and the priest has been charged with molestation.

“I am both angry and demoralized to think that, yet again, a priest has been involved in such inappropriate, immoral and illegal behavior,” the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, said in the statement. “It is particularly distressing that the pastor of our Cathedral Parish, who is known to countless numbers of the faithful and has served in so many positions of trust and responsibility in the Diocese of Scranton, has betrayed that trust in such a manner.”

The victim, who was a member of the St. Patrick’s Parish [in Scranton, PA], told police that the Rev. Altavilla gave her alcohol in the rectory after the midnight service, then offered to drive her home at about 3 a.m. Once in the car, he pulled her legs on his lap and began touching her feet and moving his hands up her legs until the victim attempted to escape, according to the criminal complaint. The priest then apologized and drove the girl home.

Meanwhile, the annual ritual bashing of Bishop Morlino for simply holding local priests to the Church’s liturgical discipline according to which the optional Holy Thursday footwashing rite, which recalls an episode at the Last Supper with Jesus and the 12 Apostles, involves the priest washing the feet of adult males (viri).

Local religion journalist Doug Erickson felt the devilish urge to dress this up as if it were news: “Three years ago, Madison Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino issued guidelines that gave priests the option of either using only men or not celebrating the ritual at all. Given the heightened attention to foot-washing last year, some parishioners thought Morlino might re-evaluate his position. This has not happened.”

Subsequently other “progressive” Catholic types bloodthirstily seized on the fake story, for instance Michael Scott Winters of the not-Catholic publication “National Catholic Reporter.” Winters acts as if Bishop Morlino’s directive in favor of the Church’s ordinary liturgical discipline is bizarre and bewildering, asking “Seriously, why would Morlino do this?” Pope Francis (who gave himself dispensation to wash the feet of a diverse array of prison inmates in Rome last year, which he had every right to do) wouldn’t like Bishop Morlino reminding priests of such a thing, Winters imagines: “rubricism, an overwrought concern to follow the rubrics in the liturgy, is a perfect example of the kind of self-referential Church obsessed with small minded rules that the Holy Father has spoken against.” Winters declares that the rite, which was re-introduced to the liturgy in 1955 and according to the Church is entirely optional, is actually essential and should never be omitted, therefore to him “The most disturbing part of Bishop Morlino’s decree was the suggestion that a parish could dispense with the rite entirely.” This seems to be his way of insisting that parishes should disobey Bishop Morlino instead of doing what womenfootwashing-insisting parishes tend to do in our diocese, which is to omit that rite.

If you are inclined to agree with Michael Scott Winters, please re-read the news about Father Altavilla in Scranton and ask yourself whether you consider it appropriate for him to wash the feet of females at Mass. The imagery of female footwashing is has substantially greater potential for conveying something sexually inappropriate–or (in our fallen world) actually being something sexually inappropriate. The spiritual washing from sin that Jesus offers is for everyone, however the apostles were men, this was Jesus’ choice and not arbitrary and it’s not arbitary that those feet to be washed are feet of adult men.

The story of Fr Altavilla of Scranton is perfectly timed to underscore why the wise do not undermine, scorn, mock, or subject to media harassment those bishops who, exercising the prudence which is theirs to exercise, do not give special permission to priests to run their hands over the bare feet and legs of girls and women during Holy Thursday Mass, nor at other times.

Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples ~ Giovanni Agostino da Lodi c. 1500

Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples ~ Giovanni Agostino da Lodi c. 1500

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.

So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.”

Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”

Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”

Jesus said to him, “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.” For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

So when he had washed their feet [and] put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.

John 13:1-17, New American Bible

New Edgewood College President

Edgewood CollegeIt is not a surprise that Edgewood College chose the internal candidate from among the three finalists identified in their search process: Scott Flanagan, who had formerly been the Executive Vice President. None of the candidates had any appearance of being people oriented toward strengthening Catholic identity, which on a scale of 1 to 10 is maybe about negative 2 at Edgewood College.

In all my involvement with the Catholic Church locally over the past 8 years, only once, maybe 4 or 5 years ago, did I ever meet a current Edgewood student at a Catholic event (a St Paul’s event). I may have even run into her a couple of times. When I went there personally to find out about whether it would be possible for me to get an education there that would be supportive of my Catholic faith, after a careful inquiry to the relevant staff and faculty my conclusion was that no, that was not available at Edgewood. Also the place seemed festooned with “glbtq” everything. There was no pro life club. The campus ministry lady found the Catechism of the Catholic Church objectionable. Etc.

I have not stopped praying for Edgewood College of the Sacred Heart (and the other Edgewood schools). I will pray for Scott Flanagan. The leaders of this school must be aware of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Church’s document on Catholic identity in higher education. Do they know there are local Catholics who would like to have the opportunity for Catholic higher education in our community? We would like all the good of the Catholic intellectual, moral and religious tradition to really get shared with our Madison community.

The search committee picked a guy they believe can handle the financial and enrollment aspects of Edgewood. How will Scott Flanagan work to restore the mission of Edgewood as truly a Catholic school for the flowering of a Christian culture in our time and place?

Should I send him my Sinsinawa book? Not necessarily. I have a copy of this book on authentic Catholic education in the Dominican tradition, maybe I’ll send him that with a letter about how Catholic identity of Edgewood is important to us. Anyone else have any comments about your positive hopes for Edgewood College?

Is NCAN a “front group” for LCWR?

I posted yesterday on Sister Donna Quinn, OP and her publicity group NCAN attacking the Little Sisters of the Poor and others suing the government for their religious freedom vis a vis the HHS mandate.

The National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN) is a front group for radical feminism, the sexual revolution and the Culture of Death. It is led by Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Donna Quinn who has volunteered as an abortion clinic escort until the 2009 intervention of Cardinal George, and told a 2012 Planned Parenthood gathering, “For those women sitting with us today who have chosen abortion, I believe in your decision. I firmly believe.” Her aversion toward Catholicism, Holy Mass and the male priesthood is such that she fumed in 2011 “I am violated by the continual use of sexism through the use of the word Eucharist,” complaining that in the Sinsinawa community event planning “one of the first items covered is to hire a male priest to lead us in prayer every day… I know I am boycotting this time.” Last year when Bishop Paprocki did an exorcism service during the signing of the IL “same sex marriage” law signing that Sister Donna planned to attend she apparently did not want to be delivered from the forces of hell: “How far do I have to stand at the signing so this man’s magic wand of exorcising won’t touch me?” she wrote to her sisters. You don’t even have to be Catholic to realize there is not much about Sister Donna that resembles what a nun is supposed to be about. The National Coalition of American Nuns claims 2000 members, but it is quite certain that not all of those are religious sisters; the group accepts anyone who wants to be a member regardless if they are a sister or whether they are Catholic.

But are they a “front group” for the larger and more liberal of the two religious sisters’ leader conferences in the US, the LCWR? This is the assertion today of Fr John Zuhlsdorf. He compares NCAN to the Viet Cong, who were terroristic zealots, a front group advancing the cause of Communism in Vietnam. “NCAN says openly what the leaders of the LCWR can’t say openly. Consider NCAN a front group,” Fr Z argues.

LCWR rather famously intentionally avoids all mention of abortion. And they’re interested in universal healthcare but entirely avoid the topic of the HHS mandate. I personally confronted the head “nun on the bus” Sister Simone Campbell on the matter in June of 2012; she would say only “It’s complicated” and wanted to avoid me. LCWR was critiqued for their refusal to bear witness to the Church’s moral teaching on abortion in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 2012 Doctrinal Assessment for LCWR. They continue to be silent about the abortion holocaust, and this silence is indeed wrong.

Progressive political alliances are one very significant reason for the silence. But I believe the most operative reason for their silence is first of all because LCWR, and for that matter the Sinsinawa Dominicans, are so divided that they could not declare one way or the other without some members getting vocal that they don’t agree. Within the Sinsinawa Dominicans, Sister Donna’s appears to be a minority opinion about direct abortion, but avoiding this topic is a way of keeping the peace in a group where “follow your conscience!” is the law but the importance of Catholic conscience formation in keeping with the Church is overwhelmingly rejected. Even when the congregation had to publicly rebuke Sr Donna back when Cardinal George called her on her abortion clinic escort activities a few years ago, there were in fact at least one or two sisters piping up internally that they were upset the prioress and council were declaring to the world that (quoting from the public statement) “Sinsinawa women are called to proclaim the Gospel… we support the church’s teaching regarding the dignity of life… we do not engage in activity that witnesses to support abortion” without even taking a vote among members. But these were in the minority. Another Sinsinawa Dominican rightly said at the time to the community’s email list, “If any Sinsinawa Dominican cannot subscribe to that, it is a problem.”

Views may be relatively more mixed about contraceptives. Some Sinsinawa Dominicans do agree with the Church’s moral teaching about that. On the other hand Sister Donna is not the only one who has voiced hostility toward religious freedom rights to refuse to participate in such sins, and at least one Sinsinawa Dominican sister who is a physician has admitted she’s supported women using contraceptives over many years in her medical practice. One Sinsinawa Dominican who appears to hew more closely to Catholic teaching wrote to her sisters in 2012 that she had asked Donna to stop bombarding her inbox with messages about “reproductive rights”: “The congregation has not ever initiated or carried on a conversation on the issue of reproductive rights. We did not chose to speak on that issue at our recent Chapter.” I would imagine this could also be said of LCWR. I doubt they  have a consensus, even secretly, that they believe in contraception and the HHS mandate.

What about leadership? The current Sinsinawa prioress actually organized a drawing to send two “lucky winner” sisters to attend a 2012 Call to Action conference at Sinsinawa congregation expense, so one suspects she is unlikely to be willing to challenge any member over any such issues. This congregation and its leadership experiences itself as being at odds with what they call “the institutional Church.

As for the LCWR, its leadership did include the Holy See’s representative Archbishop Sartain in their national meeting last year, and while some of the very simple requirements of the CDF such as ceasing to distribute the “Systems Thinking Handbook” went un-acted-upon for a long time, I was astounded just now to find that the “Systems Thinking Handbook” now seems to be absent from their website. This is the link where it used to be. I have not seen this noted or remarked upon anywhere, but I think that even though this may seem a small thing it is a  good thing and may very well suggest some good will on the part of LCWR. Sister Janet Mock, executive director of LCWR, in fact replied when I sent her my book A Report on the Sinsinawa Dominicans Today, congratulating me on writing a book about women religious, and said she would read it. While one senior cleric suggested to me that this means “she hasn’t read it yet,” on the other hand my concern and orthodox point of view (and my constructive intentions and attitude of charity) were  clear enough from my cover letter, and so LCWR’s reaction to me gives no reason to be discouraged. The topic of the latest Occasional Papers suggests they haven’t become a completely different organization yet, not remotely, but I am willing to keep praying for LCWR, trusting that the reform team of Archbishops Sartain, Paprocki and Blair are very good men who are very motivated to try to help religious sisters, and wait and see.

Some sisters indeed support abortion rights, usually quietly. Sister Donna is the exception to the rule. But most simply put the issue in parentheses. My impression is actually that most don’t disagree with the Church that abortion kills a person and is wrong. There are quite a few more orthodox groups of sisters that are absolutely devoted to the cause of human life, the Sisters of Life being among the most noteworthy in their pro-life activity. And I think people should also know that even within the Sinsinawa Dominicans it is not absolutely unknown for a pro-life sister to pray outside an abortion clinic, for instance I know of at least one who used to do so in Austin, Texas. But in too many religious congregations, most just don’t stand up for the lives of the unborn in any way. It is a soft abandonment of the truth of the matter rather than a hard rejection of it, even if the effect is the same toleration of noisy publicity groups like NCAN that claim to represent sisters while promoting the whole agenda of the culture of death.

So, back to the question… is NCAN a “front group” for LCWR? My own answer is: there needs to be pressure on LCWR to stand for the truth, but the claim that NCAN is a front group doesn’t follow from the facts I have. NCAN speaks for some portion of those involved in LCWR or its member orders, as well as the many NCAN members who are not sisters and some who are not Catholic. NCAN is arguably a front group for hell. I think it is overreaching to suggest they speak for LCWR. Sinsinawa does not deserve to be off the hook though by any means. Sadly, very sadly, Sr Donna is not hindered or censured in any way when she continues to post all manner of NCAN announcements on the Sinsinawa Dominican congregation email list, SinsinOP, so they have no plausible deniability whatsoever about knowing what she is up to. She continually advocates for her views to other sisters and tries to get them on board with dissident activities. Who will compel them to put their Catholic house in order?

We need to continue praying for LCWR’s cooperation with the reforms the Holy See has called for. Truth and charity are needed. As for the Sinsinawa Dominicans, I have wanted very much to inspire priests to have the heart of Fr Mazzuchelli, their holy founder, toward the sisters he founded.

Some friends have proposed a novena for the conversion of Sister Donna. I am thinking of what we should do, and I am thinking maybe a Pentecost novena to the Holy Spirit not only for her but for all the sisters. And for ourselves. We need truth in charity and charity in truth or else we do not good. Come, Holy Spirit.

[Update: Fr Z repeats his view in a second post on the topic, in which he appreciates a worthwhile NC Register article by Ann Carey. Fr Z says: "Reminder: I think the ultra-looney NCAN, pro-abortion, contraception, women’s ordination, etc., is doing and saying openly what the LCWR would like to be doing and saying, but can’t.  NCAN serves as a front group for the LCWR." Here is my comment which Fr Z did not let through moderation on his blog:

LCWR is a divided group infected by relativism, that won’t stand for important Catholic principles essentially because there is intense internal disagreement as well as compromising political alliances, but the truth is NCAN speaks for their “mad” wing, not for them all. Ann Carey knows this. I want to see LCWR and its member orders and the sisters themselves deeply reformed, not labeled and despised by identification with the most extreme and least Catholic among them. I’m praying for their true good and the mercy of God toward them. I wrote a book on the problems in Sister Donna’s order and I’ve prayed for priests to have the heart of their holy founder Father Mazzuchelli toward them and want their salvation.]

[Second Update: I sent Ann Carey an email; I excerpt from her response: "Yes, I think it is too sweeping a statement to say that the NCAN is a front group for LCWR.  I think the women involved in NCAN are too self-centered to front for anyone.... That said, I think criticism of the LCWR is valid when directed at the corporate stands the group takes that are contrary to Church doctrine." Certainly!]

Sister Donna Quinn attacks the Little Sisters of the Poor and Notre Dame University


Pictured in screenshot of pro-contraception petition: Sister Donna Quinn, O.P.

Notorious Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Donna Quinn is attacking faithful Catholic organizations such as the Little Sisters of the Poor who are suing the government to secure their religious freedom not to have to insure for contraceptives, some of them abortifacient. The Sinsinawa Dominican congregation is very well aware, and, as has been the norm throughout Sister Donna’s long career of anti-Catholic activism, they are letting her do whatever she pleases. I contacted the Sinsinawa Dominican prioress yesterday for comment and assuring her of my prayers, she has not replied.

This article by a fellow “pro choice” activist appeared in the liberal Religion Dispatches Friday:

“NCAN is dismayed that the Little Sisters of the Poor, the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic organizations are challenging the Affordable Care Act. Spurred on by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops these organizations are attempting to hold hostage all women by refusing insurance to them for contraceptives,” said the 2,000-member group in a statement.

“This has gotten out of hand,” Sister Donna Quinn, head of NCAN, told RD. “It isn’t ‘faith and freedom’ when reproductive autonomy isn’t extended by the Catholic Church to women. Now we have other Christian religions seeing what the bishops are doing and saying we will do likewise. It isn’t freedom when a woman can be held hostage by the owner of a business.”

Let me explain. Donna Quinn’s central ideology is 60s and 70s era radical feminism. She is radically intolerant of a wide array of Catholic beliefs and practices, while noisily exploiting being a “nun” in order to attack the Church. Among fellow sisters she is an activist continually trying to radicalize them. This corruption and inversion of the mission of a religious sister seems to be her persona and career.

On this foundation the unabashed irrationality of her ideas flourishes. If someone else won’t pay to make a woman’s sexual activity more convenient to her, that equals “holding a woman hostage.” Even though the woman could have obtained birth control herself (it’s not expensive), or could have even opted to live the Church’s moral teachings, as more and more younger couples are discovering really help their marriage and family life. True freedom is freedom to do what is right and good. It is sin that is bondage. Jesus ransoms us from that hostage situation.

In my book A Report on the Sinsinawa Dominicans Today, published last fall, I related the story of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa welcoming and covering for Sister Donna Quinn’s aggressive activism against Catholic beliefs. I sent the prioress, Sister Mary Ellen Gevelinger, 10 or 12 copies of my book.

Sister Donna Quinn (click for an extensive biography), most famous for having been an abortion clinic escort for some years until the intervention of Cardinal George in 2009, has continued her aggressive activism against Catholic beliefs and morality.

Even when her activities didn’t make it into the newspapers, Donna Quinn was close to the action of an array of immoral political initiatives. In 2012 she spoke at a Planned Parenthood event in California. In November 2013 Donna emailed to her congregation’s email discussion list, “Next week I will attend the signing of the Equal Marriage Law having been invited by those who have worked for the last five years to make Illinois the 16th State to sign on.” Springfield, IL’s Bishop Paprocki celebrated an exorcism service at the same time as the ceremony. “How far do I have to stand at the signing so this man’s magic wand of exorcising won’t touch me ?” Sister Donna mocked in her email nastily complaining about Paprocki and his defense of marriage as between one man and one woman. Her next email invited her sisters: “Governor Quinn has granted invitations to the signing of the Marriage Equality Bill of Illinois to be signed at UIC on Wednesday – November 20 – at 3 P.M. Let me know by Monday Nov. 18 [here was her email address] so that I might get an invitation for you to attend….Donna Quinn”

Some sectors of Catholic religious life are thriving and giving much hope for the future. The story noted in this article, unfortunately, is a sign of the grotesque ill health of some other sectors, the leaders of which show little to no openness to healing, and are even very closed to dialogue. The Body of Christ suffers.

Father Mazzuchelli and the New Evangelization article in the Catholic Herald

I’ve really neglected my blog, my energies are quite limited and I have been working and doing some other good things. I do want to get back to blogging. But for the record I have written an article which appears in this week’s Madison Catholic Herald. It also appears on the newspaper website at the link below.

Father Mazzuchelli and the New Evangelization: frontier missionary priest’s memoirs provide inspiration for us today

Guest column
Written by Elizabeth Durack  
Thursday, Mar. 13, 2014 — 12:00 AM

Anyone who has read with interest the recent articles in these pages on the life of Venerable Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, O.P. would do no better than to read his fascinating and edifying Memoirs.

Several readers have met at the Cathedral Parish in Madison weekly to discuss what inspiration we find for the New Evangelization from Father Mazzuchelli’s writing. I share these gleanings.

A frontier adventure

This 1844 book is a frontier adventure with bears and wolves which, like every account of the life of a saint, is also high adventure in the Faith.

The Christian life is always a hero’s mission. Semper et ubique (always and everywhere) the odds seem wildly against our hero (Jesus, His priest, or any of His faithful disciples); something is wrong if parish life becomes simply routine.

From the time he arrived at his first assignment on Mackinac Island as a new priest, aged 22, the missionary Father Mazzuchelli countered anti-Catholic teaching by engaging in public disputation good-naturedly and with compelling presentation of truths of the Faith.

Winning converts

It won Catholics back and made converts. Kind, genuine, and ready to lend a hand, the priest also formed warm ecumenical friendships that lessened prejudices about Catholicism.

He had a Dominican confidence in the power of [the] Holy Preaching and was adamant about not dumbing down the Faith he proposed.

Writing in the third person, Father Mazzuchelli says: “[W]ithout reference to [the Indians’] ignorance or their knowledge he only announces the spotless, unalterable Faith in which he himself has been instructed and which all the Catholics of the world have believed from Apostolic times.”

He didn’t make it overly difficult to convert: “the Catholic method” required “only the giving up of vices and the will to believe in those doctrines which independently of mere reason, are learned without arguments or disputations, and even without books, but simply by hearing, as says Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, X, 17, ‘the Faith cometh by hearing.’”

Father Mazzuchelli tells many moving stories of pioneer folk and Indian converts as edifying Christian examples and witnesses to the Mercy of God in the sacraments.

Sacrament of Confession

He writes, “Guided by the dictates of conscience, the Indians recognize Confession as the most natural effect of a true repentance.”

Back then it was universally understood that confession of all grave sins precedes reception of Holy Communion. The beneficial promotion of frequent Communion since 1903 couldn’t change the fact that we objectively need to be in a state of grace to benefit from the Sacrament of the Eucharist, but at some point people’s understanding and practice radically broke down and much has been lost as a result. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is key for saving souls, then and now.

Evangelizing among the poor

Evangelical poverty was essential to his personal credibility as well as his easily-contented adaptability to rough conditions among those to whom he ministered, who were almost all very poor.

“There is no doubt,” he wrote, “that the Christian religion was propagated primarily in the midst of poverty . . . rarely were the rich among the first to submit to the doctrine of a God-made-man for us, born in a lowly manger.”

My friendships with Madison’s homeless suggest this has not changed, but how well are we evangelizing the poor?

Prognosis for the future

The great Dominican’s diagnosis of the religious problems he witnessed included a sadly accurate prognosis for the future.

In the religiously pluralistic frontier environment, hostilities could only be avoided by “the indifferentism which is a culpable abandonment of every Christian truth.”

This increasing religious indifferentism was accompanied also by a rising skepticism which he saw as dangerous to religious freedom: “Woe to that country if the mass of its people shall ever become unbelievers! Then will it lose that protection which makes it now so free to act, and enslaved by general corruption, its ruin and disintegration, humanly speaking, will be irreparable.”

On the other hand, says the indomitable missionary, “where unbelief reigns, there assuredly has he a motive to extend the Kingdom of God.”

Memoirs re-published

Read for yourself: I re-published the 1915 translation of Father Mazzuchelli’s book last year under the title Memoirs of a Frontier Missionary Priest. My goal was to make it inexpensive (I don’t make a penny) and help it find new readers. It’s available on for around $6.50.


Elizabeth Durack is a member of the Cathedral Parish in Madison. She blogs at

Father Mazzuchelli for the New Evangelization

SamuelMazuchelli Bocc

Stained glass window at the O’Connor Center

I have good news from the Cathedral Parish that we can have a parish book group meet at Holy Redeemer Church to read Venerable Fr Samuel Mazzuchelli’s Memoirs beginning in January, which will be an ideal way to observe the 150th anniversary of this great priest’s death, which falls on February 23rd of 2014. I am hopeful that a lot of grace may come from this study, which is oriented toward the New Evangelization. It is a parish program but I certainly would welcome people from outside the Cathedral Parish participating. If you are interested, watch the Cathedral Parish bulletin or website, or email me.

Our lay organization the Father Mazzuchelli Society has published an attractive new edition of Fr Mazzuchelli’s Memoirs at the lowest price ever, under the title Memoirs of a Frontier Missionary Priest. It is around $6 on Amazon–I don’t make a penny. This book is excellent, too little known, and deserves to be more widely read. It’s exceptionally inspiring and thought provoking for the New Evangelization especially in our lands where Father Mazzuchelli lived his mission. It is spiritual reading and frontier adventure all in one. THIS WOULD MAKE AN IDEAL CHRISTMAS GIFT and especially so for a priest or seminarian!

This entirely positive and evangelical trajectory is where I am really headed with promoting the legacy of Father Mazzuchelli. Our edition of the memoirs has nothing negative about the Sisters. The Report on the Sinsinawa Dominicans Today is a reform document, so it is more or less about understanding some of what is awry and what we are saying “no” to. And it is a cry from the depths of brokenness, an expression of the need for the Holy Spirit. The trajectory we need is really about what we are saying “yes” to and what we have to do with the good that Jesus wants to do for all people.

Here are some of my most recent thoughts regarding evangelization. Our city, our diocese is full of broken and hurting people. Jesus is the only healer of the deep woundedness of every person. I have been thinking and praying about evangelization, about my own experience as a former progressive of a typical Madison type, and I feel that the new evangelization needs the evangelization-minded faithful to be formed in a deep sympathy toward those we seek to evangelize and have a message and mission of healing.

We’re not the healers. Jesus is. We’re wounded people too. I am not going to get all Henri Nouwen (I haven’t read that book). But we have to be credible and attractive as His friends, witnesses to Him. Many know quite well that they are wounded and suffering but do not understand the whole nature of that or how they could be healed.

Some of you know my favorite Saint is John of the Cross–whose feast day is coming up in mid December. He’s the Church’s preeminent teacher of mystical theology, and someone who profoundly understood people, spiritually and psychologically. Imagery of the wound of love, cauterized and transformed by God is central to his teaching. God’s love and the very woundedness of the soul is in a way the reason for God uniting Himself with us–as in the Exsultet, “o happy fault, o necessary sin of Adam that merited for us so great a redeemer.” There is a greater good. There is good news!

The woundedness of the people in Madison cries out for Jesus and first of all we need to listen to their hurt, and then help people to recognize it can be healed only by God. We also need to care about people’s other problems, including the problem of material poverty (and selfishness) which for instance is one reason why people are afraid of marrying and having a family. Through my own experience I believe this approach of pity, mercy, sympathy with people’s deep interior suffering is something really essential for evangelizing the liberals. They’re looking for healing and love and solutions in all the wrong places. We in fact have the answer.

Therefore: let us watch our thoughts and tongues and not speak of them as the enemy or mock them or be angry… that is regarding them politically rather than humanly and from a supernatural perspective as people who need Jesus, who need to be in relationship with God, who need prayer and the Sacraments and the Church. How can we be more ready for the mission to the people of Madison? How can we be formed? How should we reach out and propose the good news?

I am looking forward to joining with other Catholics in reading Fr Mazzuchelli’s memoirs together and coming into a kind of dialogue with him about the Catholic mission in our own day.

During and after finishing my huge and spiritually difficult book project, basically I was exhausted, spent. That is why there has not been much on this blog. I have every intention of getting back to Laetificat Blog, and I thank you readers. Happy Advent to you all. :-)

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