The Journey of Mount Calvary

Jason Catania tells the story of a parish going home

The story of the decision by Mount Calvary Church, Baltimore to accept the Holy Father’s generous offer in Anglicanorum Coetibus is not yet at an end. Nonetheless, I am pleased to have this opportunity to relate how we have reached this historic moment.

The story begins not with the publication of the apostolic constitution itself, nor with any of the various departures from historic Catholic belief and practice by the Episcopal Church, though these are indeed significant aspects in the tale. Rather, the story begins early in the parish’s 158-year history.

Founded under Tractarian principles in 1842, Mount Calvary soon became known as a center of advanced Anglo- Catholicism. In his discussion of the anti-ritualist 1871 General Convention in his book The Catholic Movement in the Episcopal Church, Canon George E. DeMille writes: "For a decade, Mount Calvary Church, Baltimore, had been a center of Catholic teaching and of ritualistic practice..."

From High Church to Anglo-Catholic

Indeed, under the rectorship of Father Alfred Curtis, Mount Calvary made the transition from High Church to full-blown AngloCatholicism (including the first daily Mass in the Episcopal Church in 1868) and it was likely during his time at Mount Calvary that confessional boxes were installed in the church. Frequently at odds with Bishop William Whittingham (the distinguished High Churchman and early enthusiast for the Tracts for the Times) over liturgical practice, Curtis would eventually resign as rector of Mount Calvary in order to be received into the Roman Catholic

Church at the hands of Blessed John Henry Newman himself. He would go on to be ordained a priest and then bishop, serving as the second Bishop of Wilmington, Delaware.

Curtis’s conversion would not halt Mount Calvary’s Romeward trajectory. The parish was routinely condemned for its "Romish" ways. Whittingham criticized Curtis’s successor, Father Joseph Richey, for

the use of altar lights, wafer bread, elevating the Host, making the sign of the cross, and carrying a cross in processions. In 1879 a group of local clergy published a denunciatory pamphlet protesting "certain Romish doctrines and practices, as taught and enjoined in mission services" held at the parish.

‘Romish’ ways

The offending doctrines and practices included auricular confession, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the sacrificial nature of the Mass.

Undeterred by such attacks, Mount Calvary became one of America’s well-known Anglo-Catholic shrines, alongside such famous churches as the Advent, Boston and Saint Clement’s, Philadelphia. It was a regular destination for luminaries such as Father Benson SSJE, who would often spend Holy Week at Mount Calvary, and Father Basil Maturin SSJE, who led the offending parish mission in 1879.

The parish’s ritualistic advance is attested to by a perusal of the parish magazine and the service register, where it is seen that a solemn celebration of the Eucharist replaced Choral Matins as the principal Sunday service at 11 o’clock in Autumn 1899. In 1910, the word "Mass" replaced "Celebration", and in 1916, the Good Friday Mass of the Pre-Sanctified was first introduced.

Serving the poor

But Mount Calvary did not become famous (or infamous, as the case may be) merely for its advanced liturgical practice. As in the great Anglo- Catholic slum churches of London’s East End, service to the community has long been one the parish’s defining characteristics. As Canon DeMille noted, Mount Calvary "made an enviable name for itself by the remarkable work done by its clergy among the poor of the city."

This work included founding and serving three daughter churches for Baltimore’s black population (the city was extremely segregated well into the twentieth century). Two of these churches, Saint Katherine of Alexandria and Saint Mary the Virgin, would survive and become independent parishes.

One of the many clergymen at Mount Calvary associated with this work was Father Calbraith Perry, curate and friend to Father Richey and author of a memoir with the politically-incorrect title, Twelve Years Among the Colored People, a Record of the Work of Mount Calvary Chapel of S. Mary the Virgin, Baltimore.

This work among Baltimore’s poor and marginalized resulted in the establishment of a relationship which continues to strongly impact the life of the parish to this day. In 1872, Father Richey wrote to Mother Harriet Brownlow Byron, the foundress and superior of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor, begging her to send some sisters "to help him in his difficult work." Mother Harriet responded by sending three sisters to Baltimore to establish a community here.

They initially settled in a private home, but in 1890 the growing community moved into its first convent, across down the street from Mount Calvary on land provided by the rector and congregation. In 1917, they moved to their current convent in Catonsville, a suburb of Baltimore. But even after their move, the All Saints Sisters continued to be closely involved with Mount Calvary.

This is evidenced by the Sisters and the parish jointly founding in 1987 the Joseph Richey House, a hospice which serves dying people regardless of income. Located in buildings adjacent to Mount Calvary, the Richey House continues its ministry and is about to open a children’s wing.

Readers of New Directions will no doubt be aware that last year, the All Saints Sisters were received into the Catholic Church and are now in the process of being canonically erected as a religious order within the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Deciding together

Needless to say, that momentous decision by the Sisters had an enormous impact on our parish. Over the years, numerous clergy

and laity have swum the Tiber from Mount Calvary, including one of my recent predecessors, Rudolph Ranieri, who was received into the Church shortly after his retirement in 1994. Just since I became rector in 2006, about a dozen members have become Catholic, including two former church wardens.

This steady flow of Mount Calvary "alumni" to Rome, combined with the decision by the All Saints Sisters and the publication of Anglicanorum Coeitbus, made it clear to the people of the parish that our future lies with the Catholic Church. Consequently, at a special congregational meeting on October 24, the parish voted overwhelmingly to separate from the Episcopal Church and to seek to become an Anglican Use parish within the Roman Catholic Church.

Hopes and prayers

Ultimately, our hope is to be part of the personal Ordinariate for former Anglicans once it is established in the United States, but for now, we are working with the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the "premiere See" of the Church in America, who have been extremely welcoming and hospitable to me and the people of Mount Calvary. They have organized for us a process of reception into the Church, which will be overseen by Father Carleton Jones, OP acting as our mentor.

Father Carleton is an excellent choice, as he is himself a former Episcopal priest and member of the Cowley Fathers, and thus has a thorough understanding of our Anglo-Catholic heritage.

We look forward to being received into the Church sometime in the spring of 2011.

Since news of Mount Calvary’s decision broke, I have received prayers and messages of good wishes from Catholics around the world. I have been truly humbled by this response, and am deeply grateful for it. We know that we are making history, and we are confident that God is leading us into a glorious future in full communion with the Successor to Peter.

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