Opinion & Features

Our priestly fraternity is about to make history

Fr Mawdsley celebrates his First Solemn Mass at St Mary’s Shrine Church (FSSP England)

New priests bring lasting joys for all, and graces from God. Even more so when they are ordained locally. We at the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter are very grateful to Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, our local Ordinary in Liverpool, for having agreed to ordain two of our deacons to the sacred priesthood. The ceremony will take place next year at St Mary’s Shrine Church in Warrington, on Saturday, June 17 at 11am. It will be in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite. All are welcome.

The first candidate is Alex Stewart, from Wallasey, across the water from Liverpool. Born in 1974, Alex worked in Ireland in a tourism resort for several years and was a committed surfer. He was admitted to our American seminary in September 2010. The second is Krzysztof Sanetra, who was born in Poland in 1983. After gaining a master’s degree in political science in Kraków, Krzysztof spent his last three years in the secular world in Ramsgate and London, and heard God’s call.

This could be the first time for decades that priests will be ordained in the Extraordinary Form in England. While more bishops worldwide do so – even in their own cathedrals, as in Sydney, Lincoln and Omaha, Toulon and Linz – it does not seem to have occurred over here since the liturgical changes.

St Mary’s Shrine Church is a fitting place for the ceremony, due to its beautiful Pugin design and because Archbishop McMahon has established it as “a centre for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of Mass and the sacraments”.

Our Fraternity is blessed with one priest from England ordained every year. Fr James Mawdsley was ordained in July and Fr Ian Verrier in the year before. Both serve in England. In previous years we had Frs Harkins, Goddard, Gerard and Loewenstein. We also have eight seminarians from England, Wales and Ireland. Please God, this will ensure at least one more priest ordained on each of the coming years.

This leads us to give thanks, but surely not to be complacent. When the need for priests is becoming so dire across England and the West, clergy and laity alike must urgently implement the programme outlined in the Vatican II document Optatam Totius: “Urgent prayer, Christian penance and a constantly more intensive training of the faithful […] will show forth the need, the nature and the importance of the priestly vocation.”

Why are some Englishmen attracted to our Fraternity? They like our priestly identity. They find a particular depth and beauty in the way we offer Mass, preach and serve, and in our life spent in common as brothers in Christ. Significantly, they also notice that our traditional outlook does not cut us off from modern men and women; rather the opposite. Applicants see our fruitful integration in today’s Church.

We are not extraterrestrial clergy but take part in the life of the dioceses where bishops invite us, not least the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, and of the Church at large. As a recent example, I accompanied 600 young adults with the Juventutem youth movement at World Youth Day in Kraków. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin was one of the six diocesan bishops who gave us the catecheses and offered the Extraordinary Form Mass for our young pilgrims, as part of the official WYD programme.

We run our own seminaries, providing the full seven-year curriculum for our 160 seminarians in Europe and America. The Priestly Fraternity of St Peter – now comprising 421 priests and future priests in 120 dioceses worldwide – was established by St John Paul II in 1988, chiefly to form future priests and support clergy doctrinally and spiritually. We do this according to the Extraordinary Form liturgy, but also with recourse to the traditional philosophy, theology, spirituality and discipline of the Church. We run weekends of vocational discernment and foster prayer for priestly vocations via our 5,000-strong prayer network, the Confraternity of St Peter. We also give retreats and days of recollection for our fellow clergy from the dioceses.

Thanks to the bishops of Portsmouth, Liverpool, St Andrews and Edinburgh, Northampton, Brentwood and Dunkeld, we play our little part to spread the Gospel anew in Our Lady’s Dowry.

In Liverpool archdiocese, Warrington offers a promising example. The beautiful church of St Mary’s was to be shut down due to shortage of priests. The congregation were not familiar with the Extraordinary Form Mass. But if our priests could keep their church alive, they were ready to give it a try, generously.

We have been here 10 months. Most parishioners stayed on, and new faces appeared. With more than 300 visitors per week and three full-time clergy between 29 and 45 years of age, St Mary’s Shrine seems to have a future. Thank God and Our Lady.