Recollections of the Earliest Days of the “Changes”

Catholic Candle Note: The article below is one wife’s account of the early days of her family’s fight for Catholic Tradition after Vatican II.

When We First Began to Suspect Big Trouble Was Brewing in the Human Element of the Church (Early ‘60s)

Early in our marriage and “babies” stage, my husband and I used to take turns going to Mass every weekday.  With five children under the age of six, one of us had to stay home, of course.  We were in St. Edward’s parish on the southside of Racine, Wisconsin, and we began to find that the church was not always open when we arrived for early Mass.  Or sometimes the correct side door was still locked.  Or one of the young priests was late, not exactly conducive to encouraging Mass attendance.   Eventually, the early Mass was canceled “due to poor attendance,” they explained. 

Meanwhile, minor, and seemingly unimportant changes were creeping into the Mass, e.g., St. Joseph was now mentioned in the immemorial Canon of the Mass.  But it was said: “who could object to good St. Joseph being honored like that?”  I distinctly remember thinking, “Well, I don’t like [this or that], but if that’s the way it has to be, I’d better get used to it.”  (However, we soon learned to be more vigilant and not so ready to accept changes.)

At this time, we had a venerable monsignor for our pastor, with two young assistant priests, who were the same ones who dragged their feet providing the early Mass.  The old monsignor was to celebrate his silver jubilee, and the parish was giving him the gift of a trip to Hawaii.  The way it worked was that while he was gone on his trip, a certain cabal of parish liberals went to the bishop and convinced him to retire the monsignor.  Thus, one of the younger priests replaced him.

We invited this new pastor to dinner to get an idea in what direction he would be leading the parish, and it became very clear, he wouldn’t be. He was planning to let the newly-installed nuns run things.  And this was in the day when radical nuns were first leveraging their power in order to take control.

So, we had to leave St. Edward’s, where innovations to the Mass started increasing, and it was announced that a new mass would be coming.  It was evident that this new mass would not be Catholic but that it would be an implementation of the modernism that had been implanted at Vatican II.  Therefore, we saw that we could have nothing to do with this new mass. 

The new mass was promulgated for use beginning the First Sunday of Advent, 1969.  In late November 1969, the parish priest at St. Edward’s announced that the following Sunday, he would begin using the new mass, instead of the Traditional Latin Mass. 

That was Providence’s sign for our family to make its move.  When we returned home after this announcement, my husband called a “family meeting” and explained to our children that there was a protestantized service which was going to be used at St. Edward’s starting the following Sunday.  He explained that, for the love of God and in order to keep the true Catholic Faith, we would not be attending it nor would the family return again to St. Edward’s.

We learned somehow that a small ethnic parish near downtown Racine was still allowing the Latin Mass, so we began the next Sunday to attend St. Casimir’s regularly.  Before too long, there were a few dozen other new faces in the congregation, as word got around that this parish had the Traditional Mass.   

St. Casimir’s was a Lithuanian parish in an older part of town.  This is the church that my husband had discovered to be the place to which we could “flee”.  It was a beautiful old structure, with towering dark woodwork making up a large altar backdrop.  In this woodwork there were little niches in which were placed about a dozen statues of saints.

At St. Casimir’s, the parish priest saw that the new mass was a bad thing and he resisted its implementation.   For the moment, things were good.

Probably “too good”.  St. Casimir’s pastor was not as “strong as steel”, although for a while he made excuses for not using the new mass.  The months went by.  But it became evident that the pastor of St. Casimir’s was not strong enough to continue withstanding the pressure of the bishop to use the new mass.

The tiny parish was suddenly being visited by younger priests, to “help out”, at the bishop’s direction, one of whom sticks in my mind.  On a feast of our Blessed Mother, he gave a sermon comparing her in a worldly way to a popular actress(!), Raquel Welch, and I remember we were sitting there outraged at this insult to Our Lady, and very nearly walked out of church.  Well, that was the beginning of the end for St. Casimir’s. 

Very soon, the unwanted attention from the archbishop of our diocese spelled the end of the Latin Mass at this small Lithuanian hold-out parish.  We tried talking the little Lithuanian priest into hanging on to it, and though he surely agreed silently, he must have been pressed hard by the diocese to give it up.

Then on Passion Sunday 1970, he announced that the following Sunday the parish would start using the new mass. 

Because St. Casimir’s was apparently wavering in the weeks before that, my husband and I planned where our family would have to “flee” next.  On Palm Sunday 1970, we did not return to St. Casimir’s but drove to Milwaukee and attended St. Michael’s, which was a Byzantine (Eastern Catholic rite) Catholic church.  We, especially our children, found the Byzantine Mass surprising and strange.  Although it was Palm Sunday, there were no palms.  Instead, the Mass included the blessing of pussy willow branches, which had no leaves but only the grey fuzzy oblong “balls” at the tips. 

Also, strange to our children, the priest distributed Holy Communion under both Species.  The Blessed Sacrament which the priest took from his ciborium was leavened cube Hosts, soaked in the Precious Blood.  The priest used a little gold spoon to carefully pour the precious Species into the uplifted mouth of each communicant.

Our children trusted us, their parents, and “took it all in” as something strange but which was part of our life now.  Ever after this day – even decades later – our children refer to this Palm Sunday as “Pussy Willow Sunday”.

After Mass, we were talking with the parishioners of St. Michael’s.  My husband was discussing with the men of the parish what was going on at the Roman rite parishes.  The men from St. Michael’s seemed uninterested in the on-going conciliar revolution.  If the positions had been reversed, and if these men had come to our original parish (St. Edward’s) telling my husband about the on-going revolution coming to our parish, he would have “hung on every word” they said.  But no.  These men were as uninterested and as unalarmed as the average parishioner at St. Edward’s had been. 

In any event, one of them remarked that a few miles away there was a Roman rite parish, St. Lawrence’s, with a conservative pastor who continued to offer the Traditional Mass every Sunday.  My husband got directions and we went there beginning the following Sunday.

The good Lord had provided us with this wonderful next step.

When we were at St. Lawrence’s, we did “have it all”: the true Mass, a beautiful church, magnificent organ, wonderful choir, and strong sermons.  Sigh!  This fortuitous situation continued for some years, enough time that we were able to see all of our five children make their First Communions. 

However, at some point, my husband began to have a nagging doubt whether it was the right thing to do to attend the Mass of a priest who said the (sacrilegious) novus ordo mass once a month because the bishop insisted.  No amount of wishing could rationalize away that compromise.  And so, in 1976, we left St. Lawrence and all of our traditional friends, for the love of God and His Holy Faith. 

In the following years, we found ourselves tracking down the good Traditional Masses whenever and wherever we could find them without compromise: a hotel ballroom, a priest’s basement, an empty dancehall, a country church, a veterans’ home, a priest’s lakeside cottage, a nursing home, etc.  We reminded ourselves when we were hearing Mass in humble surroundings, that the setting wasn’t the most important consideration; the Mass itself was.  

In those periods, sometimes we had no Mass to go to, and our family read the Mass prayers at home, all of us dressed in our Sunday best to train the children to dress as traditional Catholics should.  My husband fulfilled the father’s duty of giving a short talk in lieu of a sermon.  While sanctifying the Sunday in this way seemed less satisfactory to us, it was clearly God’s Will for us.

Eventually, after having been without Mass for about 3-4 months, we heard that the priest who had been at St. Lawrence (Fr. Hugh Wish) had left that parish and was now offering exclusively the Tradition Mass, at various other venues.   This is when Fr. Wish began offering Mass in the large room of a dancehall near Oconomowoc, WI, more than an hour’s drive from our home.  But we were happy to travel so that we could again attend Mass! 

Shortly after that, we heard that Fr. Wish had become pastor of St. Pius V’s church at Mukwonago, a town west of Milwaukee.  This church had been owned by the diocese and was for sale.  The diocese refused to sell it to Catholics for fear that it would be used for the Old Mass.  So, some Traditional Catholics, guided by Fr. Wish, paid a black protestant minister to buy the church building and then transfer title to them.  It was so good to have a parish again!

But, as we were learning, earthly things are transitory, and Father Wish’s death in 1979 eventually brought the Mukwonago chapel under the auspices of the Society of St. Pius X.  Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre had begun this priestly society in Switzerland in 1970, and it eventually came to the United States.  It was a godsend, and we were so fortunate to benefit from the Archbishop’s good work. 

Under his wary eye, the SSPX fought the good fight opposing modernist Rome, which was trying to gain control of the Society.  He was a magnificent non-compromiser and kept the SSPX firmly on the right track.  That is, until he died.

Before his death, however, Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops in 1988.  They made no abrupt, jarring changes, and life went on.

It wasn’t, probably, until we were in the new century that an occasional SSPX news release or action began to raise a few eyebrows.  However, midway through the second decade we began to notice troublesome statements from the Society coming more frequently and getting harder to explain.  By 2015 we could no longer remain with the Society and were forced to leave.

We now have no Mass or priest, out of love for Our Dear Lord.  This will not change until He wills it to change.  We wait patiently, dear Lord, content with Thy Holy Will.