THE HISTORY OF THE BODY OF BELIEVERS EVENTUALLY LEADING TO SAINT GREGORY THE GREAT BEGINS IN THE AUTUMN OF TWO-THOUSAND-TEN when Father Jürgen Liias gathered a group (composed primarily of his parishioners at Christ the Redeemer Anglican church, Danvers, Massachusetts) to explore the meaning of the newly-promulgated Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Cœtibus and possibly discern a practical response to it. A ten-week series of lecture/discussions entitled What Does the Catholic Church Really Teach? was led by noted Catholic apologist Doctor Thomas Howard, whose own path to the fullness of the Faith from Evangelical Protestantism led through Anglicanism. A second series entitled Anglican-Roman Catholic Conversations in Spring 2011 focused on ecumenical contacts and initiatives between the two churches. At its conclusion Father Liias announced — if and when twelve individuals made the decision to come into full communion with the See of Rome — he would lead them forward. Nine individuals did so immediately; a tenth completed discernment in November; and on December 31st the eleventh and twelfth informed Father Liias of their decisions. The following day — January ﬁrst, 2012 — Pope Benedict XVI established the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter.
The exploratory meetings were held on the premises of Christ the Redeemer, a parish of the Anglican Diocese of New England under the jurisdiction of Bishop William Murdoch, itself a constituent of the Anglican Church of North America under Archbishop Robert Duncan. Bishop Murdoch was aware of the group, gave our activities his blessing, and attended one of the sessions. The first formal meeting of the group which would become Saint Gregory the Great — The Anglican Ordinariate Fellowship — was held on February 12th, 2012, by courtesy of Bishop Murdoch, at his cathedral in Amesbury, MA (interestingly, at exactly the time we were holding this first meeting Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson was being installed as our Ordinariate’s first Ordinary in Houston). It was decided subsequent gatherings would take place either in member’s homes or Roman Catholic churches. Both Father Liias and our community retain warm fraternal relations with Bishop Murdoch and many of his clergy.
Much of our first six months was spent in catechesis. These meetings served two purposes: for those still in the process of discernment or new members and friends serving as a continuation of the two earlier series; but they were primarily the means those requesting reception were prepared to enter the Catholic Church. At the end of this period — which included the first receptions from our community, in May 2012, and Father Liias’ reception in August 2012) but before we could worship as a Eucharistic community (almost a year later, as it happened) a regular and frequent series of Formations was instituted: a speaker, often from outside the group, spoke on various topics (such as The Sacrament of Confession [Father David Barnes] and The Ministry of Healing in the Catholic Church [Father Mark Ballard]. These Formations, held at member’s homes, always included a meal as an aid to the process of becoming a faith community (one was a recreated second-century AGAPE, with correctly-prepared food and utensils from the Roman Empire and using the non-Eucharistic liturgy preserved in the DIDACHE). The first two series of meetings had comprised about two dozen participants; the Anglican Ordinariate Fellowship swelled to some fifty members during the period leading to the first receptions into the Church; but — starting at that time, and particularly after we began Eucharistic worship — the active group settled at around twenty to twenty-five.
Father Liias had contacted the Archdiocese of Boston immediately after applying for reception and ordination in the Catholic Church through the Ordinariate. Father Liias was honored to be ordained to the Diaconate in March 2013 by Bishop Robert P. Deeley (then Vicar General of the Archdiocese) and to be ordained to the Priesthood in April 2013 by Cardinal O’Malley. Father Liias has long been involved with interfaith initiatives in our area; these have included a number of former Episcopal clergy received into the Church through the Pastoral Provision, notably Reverends Mark Ballard, Hal Obayashi, and Richard Bradford.
His relationship with Father David Barnes (at that time Pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea and Administrator of Saint Margaret Parish in Beverly Farms) had been particularly close; it was at Father Barnes’ invitation our community received its first home in the Catholic Church. Our association with the parish of Saint Margaret, Beverly Farms Massachusetts began with Monsignor Steenson’s first visit to our community in May 2012: discussions between Monsignor Steenson and Cardinal O’Malley with regard to our moving to Beverly had taken place at that time. As details were worked out other significant events occurred at Saint Margaret’s: our first members’ and Father Liias’ receptions; our first Retreat; and several formations; by September Beverly Farms had become our home. The following year Father Liias’ Diaconal Ordination took place at Saint Margarets and he was invited to preach the Homily Easter morning; after his Priestly Ordination his (and our) first Mass was celebrated at Saint Margarets, Monsignor Steenson in attendance; our first Triduum was celebrated there in 2014. Beverly had much to recommend it: Father Liias’ last two parishes as a Protestant Rector had been in the immediate area; his decision to become a Catholic was significant local news; and we were warmly welcomed by the congregation. On the downside, our community had grown a bit but Saint Margaret’s location was not ideal for growth: reaching it involved a long drive down well-named “Grapevine Road;” it was about 25 miles from the Tobin Bridge, the main northern exit from Boston; Commuter Rail access from Boston was available, but infrequent; and (being on the coast) half the surrounding area was ocean. In May 2014 the decision was taken to move to Stoneham — away from where most of our members lived, but very well-situated for access from all directions; both inland and much closer to Boston. With much gratitude to the Pastors and people of Saint Margaret — and taking many happy memories of a very significant period in our life with us — we celebrated our last Mass in Beverly and prepared for the next phase of our “years of wandering.”
We celebrated our first Mass at Saint Patrick’s, Stoneham Massachusetts in July 2014. Father Liias (who lives in an adjoining town) had developed a relationship with its Pastor, Father Mario Orrigo, on becoming a Catholic; once Ordained a Priest, he had become increasingly active in the parish’s life. Becoming aware of Father Liias’ growing desire to move Saint Gregory to another location, Father Orrigo generously offered us a home: he and his people have continued to show us the warmest of welcomes. After an initial dip in attendance and membership, numbers quickly returned to par and have continued to grow (our attendance at Mass two years after the move being twice that in our first home). Saint Patrick’s tastefully-enlarged and reoriented main church has provided a wonderful setting for our series of “special liturgies” — offered roughly every other month since moving to Stoneham — which have consistently drawn hundreds of worshipers, many experiencing the Ordinariate Use for the first time, some becoming regular Communicants. We have been remarkably blessed in the welcome and assistance we have received from the Pastors and people of the parishes God raised up for our first homes in the Catholic Church; may all Ordinariate communities be so blessed! We leave our second host parish in Stoneham with the same gratitude, love, and prayerful remembrance with which we departed our first home in Beverly Farms.
Father Liias celebrated his last Mass as our Pastor on Sunday, October 16, 2016. Although Bishop Lopes is committed to the survival and growth of Saint Gregory the Great, he has determined it is not possible at this time to send a Priest to replace Father Liias. Bishop Lopes has therefore arranged for our old friend and benefactor Father Richard Bradford of the Congregation of Saint Athanasius to provide our community with Sacramental services during this period. Beginning Sunday October 23, 2016, and continuing for an unknown period, the community of Saint Gregory the Great will join Father Bradford’s congregation for Mass at Saint Lawrence’s church in Chestnut Hill.
We do not know the extent of these, our “Years of Wandering;” however long the trail, we hope and pray all our resting-places may be as good as these; and that, in God’s good time, His people gathered as Saint Gregory the Great will at last find or build their permanent, earthly, home.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! — Psalm 133 : 1–2
The following are several articles about our Community:
- Stoneham Sun — Catholic with an Anglican Twist – 9.2.14
- Salem News — Converted Priest Moves Congregation – 7.9.14
- New Liturgical Movement — Photos of Completed Chalice and Paten Commissioned by New Anglican Ordinariate Parish in Beverly Farms, MA - 9.10.13
- Boston Globe — Anglican priest, flock cross welcoming bridge - 8.26.13
- New Liturgical Movement — New Anglican Ordinariate Parish Commissioning Chalice and Paten in Traditional English Design - 7.16.13
- Salem News — A step toward unity - 4.22.13
You can read articles about Fr. Liias here.