The Life and Death of a Catholic Community

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It is a forty-five-minute drive from Lawrence, Kansas, to Kansas City, Missouri, but I made the trip anyway. I heard there was an “Anglican Use” liturgy celebrated every Sunday at St. Therese the Little Flower parish, in an ethnic neighborhood made up of mostly black and Hispanic families. (The other Mass celebrated at St. Therese was a “Gospel”-style Mass, attended mostly by black Catholics.) I possess some knowledge of English history and the traditions of Anglicanism, which is why I made my way to St. Therese that morning.

That day I introduced myself to Fr. Ernie Davis, in 2009 (the date escapes me, though I think it was in August), began a thirteen-year journey. That journey ended this past June 26, when Our Lady of Hope Ordinariate Community celebrated its final liturgy, this time at Guardian Angels parish in Kansas City. With that liturgy on June 26, our little community ceased to exist. 

It hardly seems that so much time has passed since I first found Fr. Davis at St. Therese, but association with the community he started has spanned more than half my life as a Catholic. I entered the Church in 2003, at Easter, and I moved to Lawrence in 2004 to pursue my doctoral studies. It was toward the end of my program that I found Fr. Davis at St. Therese. My academic specialization is early modern Britain, and my knowledge of the literature of that period played a role in my conversion. This was why I sought out St. Therese in the first place.

Fr. Davis is a priest of the Pastoral Provision, which John Paul II created in 1983 to allow for priests of the Episcopal Church in the United States to be conditionally ordained as Catholic and for a liturgy based on the Anglican Book of Common Prayer to be celebrated for those who entered communion with Rome. Fr. Davis became Catholic in 1992 not intending to be a priest at all, but eventually he felt the call to be ordained in the archdiocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. 

In 2010, the year after I began attending the Anglican Use liturgy, Pope Benedict issued Anglicanorum Coetibus, an apostolic constitution allowing for Anglicans to enter communion with Rome as groups—with their whole parish, if they so desired. Our group was still small when Fr. Davis asked us if we would like to enter the Ordinariate as a body, to which we unanimously responded yes.

One of the reasons I wanted to join the Ordinariate was my admiration for those Anglicans who came into full communion with Rome. They often left much behind in order to do so: friends, colleagues, and other long-standing relationships because they believed the claims of Rome to be true. Priests in the Episcopal Church, especially, are financially well provided for, and leaving that behind took great courage. The number of people who have come into the Church from Anglicanism has not been substantial, but what impressed me is that those who did come did so simply because they believed it was true. 

Thus, I became an “associate” member of what would become Our Lady of Hope Ordinariate Community around 2011. (An associate member is someone who does not come from an Anglican, Episcopalian, or Methodist background, which I do not.) Fr. Davis chose the name Our Lady of Hope for our community in honor of an apparition of Our Lady at Pontmain, France, in 1871, during the Franco-Prussian War. The Ordinariate was born of Pope Benedict XVI’s desire for unity among Christians, and so the name fit our fledgling community.

After entering the Ordinariate in Advent of 2012, we moved into a beautiful old church in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, named Our Lady of Sorrows. It possesses a magnificent high altar, topped by two angels holding a crown over the head of a Marian statue below it. It is believed that this altar was the inspiration for the Hallmark Company logo, as Our Lady of Sorrows is located directly behind the Hallmark building and employees still often go to daily Mass there.

Because our community was so small, I was quickly volunteered to become a server, a duty which I performed almost weekly until this past June. Serving at the altar of God has been the greatest privilege of my life, and I am grateful to Fr. Davis for asking me to do it. I was blessed to serve with three wonderful priests. Fr. Davis is actually from my home state of Florida and came from a more “conservative” Anglican background. 

By contrast, Fr. Randy Sly was a bishop in a small Charismatic Episcopal church prior to entering communion with Rome. Our last pastor, Fr. Ed Wills, came from the same church as Fr. Sly. All of them have been exemplary spiritual fathers to our little flock.

We were fortunate to count some real characters among our number. One of them was Bruce Prince-Joseph, our organist until he passed away in 2015. Another member told me a story Bruce related to him one day, about how “Lenny” kept moving his organ when he was trying to perform earlier in his career. The “Lenny” he referred to was Leonard Bernstein, for Bruce had been the organist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra from 1955-1975. 

Two other members, Frank Altman and his brother John Altman, were brothers of the film director Robert Altman, who hailed from Kansas City. Others had less notable backgrounds but no less interesting stories. My fellow server Virgil Burke came into the Church via Anglicanism after starting out as an elder in the Disciples of Christ. Two families, the Millers and the Huntzes, frequented our little community mainly because of spouses who converted from Anglicanism.

From the beginning, we struggled against several inherent difficulties. Both Fr. Davis and Fr. Sly were priests of the archdiocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and so they could only attend to the Ordinariate community part-time. Attracting new members did not come easily either, as you can imagine. 

One aspect of the “Anglican patrimony,” as Pope Benedict called it, that many find attractive is its liturgy, which is more traditional than that of your average parish. The Kansas City metro area, however, is blessed with a variety of places one can find traditional celebrations of the Mass, both in ordinary parishes and the TLM, as well as one Eastern-rite parish in driving distance. 

Moreover, very few Catholics know much about the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. This sometimes led to misunderstandings, to say the least. When our community moved from Our Lady of Sorrows to Guardian Angels parish in 2018, our deacon went to Guardian Angels to speak at their Masses and inform them of who we were. At one of the Masses, a member of Guardian Angels introduced our deacon by informing the congregation that Our Lady of Hope would bring with it a liturgy “from the Episcopal Church.” 

He merely misspoke, but it almost caused a revolt among the people at Guardian Angels, who momentarily thought their parish was going to become Protestant or something. (I should point out that Guardian Angels could in no way be described as a “conservative” parish.) 

This all seemed to change in May of 2018, when Fr. Sly was made the president of a new local high school and Fr. Wills was ordained as our new pastor. With the consent of Bishop Johnston of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Fr. Wills became pastor of Guardian Angels, which had been without one for several years. We hoped the community might flourish with a full-time pastor and a seemingly more permanent parish home. 

Unfortunately, that never really materialized, as Covid intervened in everyone’s lives. The lockdowns destroyed what progress we made in growing the community, and our numbers never recovered from it. Any chance we did have of recovering was undone by Covid itself, for Fr. Wills contracted the virus in 2021, and it impacted his health so much that this spring, in consultation with the Cathedral in Houston, he decided to take an early retirement. 

As the community had dwindled to little more than a handful of people, they could not afford to provide us with another priest. With both Fr. Davis and Fr. Sly retired, the community could no longer continue.

That is why our final liturgy as a community took place this past June. I now attend a nearby parish’s TLM, at least for the time being. Ever since the issuing of Traditionis Custodes, I have attended Mass there occasionally, out of solidarity but also love for the old Roman liturgy. 

The dissolution of Our Lady of Hope still saddens me, and yet, my primary feeling is one of gratitude. I am grateful for the people I have known through the Ordinariate, both the members of our community and the parishioners who welcomed us so graciously into their parishes. I am grateful for the wonderful shepherds we were blessed with. 

But most of all, I am thankful for the peace and stability I found among them, which God, in His mercy, allowed me as I struggled to grow in faith during a very difficult time in my life. Without these goodly people, I doubt I would still be practicing the Faith at this moment. In this life we are all of us, I think, akin to how St. Hildegard of Bingen once described herself, “like a feather on the breath of God.” Certainly, it is through them that He has borne me aloft all these years, and that gives me courage as I move into the next chapter of my life.

Our Lady of Hope, pray for us.

[Image Credit: Shutterstock]

Darrick Taylor

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Darrick Taylor teaches history at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas.

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