Transalpine Redemptorists and the Purgatorian Archconfraternity
Father Michael Mary: At the age of seventeen I entered the Redemptorists and was professed at the end of my novitiate in 1972. I did the course of studies provided by the province to which I belonged and was duly ordained a Redemptorist priest in August 1978. After that time I preached missions and was also attached to the Ukrainian Byzantine rite.
J. Vennari: How were the Transalpine Redemptorists founded?
Father Michael Mary: In March 1987 I arrived at Econe in Switzerland, having been sent to meet Archbishop Lefebvre by a priest of the Society of St. Pius X. I had been studying the important subject of the New and Old Mass since January 1986 and had reached the stage of being unable in conscience to say the Novus Ordo Mass any longer: even although I had said it since my ordination in 1978. I needed to see the Archbishop to discuss the matter, of my ordination which had been in the Novus Ordo. Having examined the matter he proceeded to my conditional re-ordination. It was a great relief. I remained on at Econe during the next fifteen months.
It was during this time that the traditional priest and personal friend of Archbishop Lefebvre, Father Epiney, paid me a visit to propose to me the idea of returning to the traditional Redemptorist Rule and beginning a Traditional Redemptorist monastery. He told me to ask the Archbishop. It took some time to ask the Archbishop. I was not sure how it could be done. However I finally asked the Archbishop for an appointment and he told me to come the next day which was December 3, 1987. I explained about the visit of Father Epiney and the thought of beginning a traditional Redemptorist foundation. The Archbishop was silent for a little while thinking about the matter and then he asked me: “Where will you begin?” I replied that I had no ideas on how to do this. He then gave me some advice and encouragement. The foundation had his blessing.
A few days later on December 8, I had an interview with Cardinal Gagnon who was visiting Econe as the representative of the Pope. I told him of the proposed foundation. His response was quite amazing for me to hear. He also was positive. He said that: The Redemptorists needed a reform; that he, as the head of the Pontifical Commission for the Family had tried to have Redemptorist Father Bernard Haring silenced for his unorthodox teaching but he had not had success; he said that we would have to be like St. Teresa of Avila and work ‘outside the structures’ of the Church and then he made the negative statement that I would have difficulty finding young people to enlist in such a reform. This appeared to me as God’s seal of approval on the project. I remember thinking later that that was the Pope’s personal representative to Traditionalists. He had come in the Pope’s name. Why did he not say to me: “Listen to me, young man, you get home to your province and do what you’re told”? Just the opposite: he left me with a clear indication of approval. The proposed foundation sounded like the kind of scene from a spy movie where the Authority is giving approval for the undertaking but if the mission goes wrong the Government would know nothing about it.
J. Vennari: And so at that point did you decide to begin the traditional Redemptorist?
Father Michael Mary: I’m afraid not. It is true the Archbishop blessed it. The Pope’s representative encouraged it. But I was a foreigner from Australia living in Switzerland thousands of miles from home. How could it be done? Where would I start? And more importantly, who would begin with me. There was one person who could begin with me. He knew of the project but he was a seminarian for the Society of St. Pius X and it was not sure that he wanted to begin; and his Spiritual Director had not given his permission. So we both turned to Our Lady of Fatima; She had led me thus far She must show the way ahead. It was therefore decided that we would make a pilgrimage from Econe to Fatima to pray for the grace to make the right decision and to consecrate ourselves to Her Immaculate Heart. The pilgrimage was to involve a novena of Masses. The first was the midnight Mass of Christmas 1987 and the 9th was the First Saturday of January 1988.
During the pilgrimage I offered Mass in the grotto at Lourdes, at the altars beside the bodies of Jacinta and Francisco. On the last day of the Novena we went by bus to Coimbra where we kept Our Lady company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the mysteries of the Holy Rosary and in the rain in the evening we made Lucy’s Mile on our knees. The seminarian, who is now our Father Anthony Mary, said he wanted to join me in the foundation if his Spiritual Director gave his blessing.
J. Vennari: And the blessing was given then?
Father Michael Mary: Yes.
Our Lady had done more than was necessary. When we arrived back at Econe
not only did Father Anthony Mary receive the blessing to be the first
novice but the Archbishop announced at table that “the first stone
of the foundation had been laid” we would have a place to begin
the foundation! Divine Providence put everything in place.
J. Vennari: What does “Transalpine” mean?
Father Michael Mary: Transalpine comes from the fact that we were founded firstly as “Traditional” Redemptorists. This appellation was contested by the Novus Ordo Redemptorists who wanted us to be separate from them. They claimed that they were the “Traditional Redemptorists.” We were forced to change our name. Therefore, to make a difference between our foundation and the parent body of Redemptorists we chose the name “Transalpine Redemptorists.”
This name, Transalpine Redemptorist, was a holy inspiration because it is, in fact, better than the first name “Traditional Redemptorists.” “Transalpine Redemptorists” refers to the Redemptorists who were under the Vicar General St. Clement Mary Hofbauer. During the 1800’s the Redemptorists were separated into two groups: Those who were based in Pagani in the Kingdom of Naples and those who were across the Alps in Warsaw and Vienna; these latter being the “Transalpine Branch” of the Congregation. We do not claim to be the only Redemptorists in the world. But we claim that we are a branch of Redemptorists; begun during this crisis in the Church. It is a name that does not say a lot to the Faithful Catholics but it says a great deal to Redemptorists. It says: For the moment we are “separated” but we have the hope that in the future we will be reunited just as the earlier Transalpine Redemptorists were finally reunited. We see that hope for reunion when the Novus Ordo Redemptorists return to the traditional Rule of St. Alphonsus and the traditional Latin Mass.
J. Vennari: Where are you now located?
Father Michael Mary: We are located on the island of Papa Stronsay in the Orkney Islands which about 30 miles into the sea off the northern tip of Scotland. The Orkney Islands are on the 59th latitude which is equivalent to being a few miles south of Anchorage and about the same as Lake Athabaska and Uranium City in Canada. Within the Orkney archipelago our island, of which we are the only inhabitants, is one of the northern islands about 20 miles north of the Orkney Mainland. Papa Stronsay measures roughly one mile by one and a quarter miles; about 250 acres at low tide. We are closer to the neighboring island of Stronsay so we have local facilities like the doctor and travel to Orkney Mainland.
J. Vennari: Has the name Papa Stronsay got some significance you could tell us about?
Father Michael Mary: The “Papa” in Papa Stronsay signifies an island of priests, monastic Fathers as in the Latin word for Father. Thus our island has been called “Papa” for well over a thousand years, perhaps fifteen hundred years. It has been called Papa in Litia, Papa Minora the last centuries has called it Papa Stronsay because we are close to our neighboring island of Stronsay.
J. Vennari: What does it mean to be a “Priests’ Island”?
Father Michael Mary: If we could travel back in time to the Catholic centuries, (that some like to call the Dark Ages), in the years 500-900 A.D. we would find that Papa Stronsay was part of a vast territory of monastic settlements and hermitages. Nearly every island and stack of rocks that stood out of the sea in this part of the world was populated either with monks or solitary hermits. Scotland’s monastic territory included the Orkney islands, the Shetland islands, the Western Hebredies, Iona the home of St. Columba, and even the most distant solitary islands like Rona, (the home of St. Ronan), and St. Kilda. From those most ancient times our island has kept its “Papa” name; the Vikings never changed it, nor did the Protestant Revolt. This indicates that Papa Stronsay was an important monastic center when these Scottish islands were like a vast monastic desert in the sea, the equivalent of the deserts of Egypt and Syria in the early history of religious life.
I have a book called Irish Saints in Great Britain which was published in 1879 and written by the Catholic bishop of Ossory, Bishop Moran. In it he writes: “The fact of these desert islands being chosen by some of the greatest saints of our early church, as silent retreats for the exercises of prayer and penance, has elicited the warm admiration of Scottish writers, who, nevertheless, have but little in common with the promptings of Irish piety: ‘The same aspect of religion’ (it is thus Dr. Forbes writes,) which peopled the deserts of Egypt with the followers of St. Anthony and St. Paul, filled the storm-beaten islets of the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea with solitaries who, amid the roar of waves and the screams of the seabirds, sang praises to God, and practiced austerities which this age can hardly realize. They were said, as it were technically, quaerere eremum in oceano, to seek a desert spot in the ocean. ...’” Such an island of solitaries was Papa Stronsay; it was probably visited by the friend of St. Columba whose name was St. Cormac, Bishop, who died here in Orkney. There is a special Cross associated with this island called either the Papa Stronsay Cross or the Cross of St. Nicholas. So I would conclude your question by saying that this Priests’ Island, Papa Stronsay, is steeped in monastic history and holiness. It is a privilege to live here.
J. Vennari: What does this mean for the 21st Century?
Father Michael Mary: Nothing has changed! In the so called Dark Ages, Papa Stronsay and all these islands I have mentioned were peopled with young men and old who were seeking God in the desert of the “pathless sea.” People came here who needed to quit the world in order to save their souls.
Of the first monks who came into this desert, some came here because they needed to; it was their path to Heaven and for many of them there was a good chance that they would lose their souls if they stayed in the world where they were. Unfortunately there are still many men who are living in the world and who will lose their souls because of the dangers of the world. Never before have people needed to leave the world as badly or as pressingly as they do in the 21st Century which is infested with all kinds of plagues that are dangerous for immortal souls. The monk is someone who leaves the world to save his soul. He knows he needs to leave it in order to live in God’s grace. For what doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange can a man give for his soul? If the world has always been called a fiery furnace by the saints of old what must it be now that it has thrown away its Christian morality and returned to a state far worse than it was before it embraced the faith in A.D. 313? Others among the first monks came into this desert, because they were seeking closer union with God. In their souls they felt the attraction to leave the world in order to be more completely given to God. We call this the ‘search for God’: To find God is to seek Him unceasingly, the reward of the search is to go on seeking ... for to find God is to have had one's fill of desiring Him, says St. Gregory of Nyssa, himself a monk and Father of the Church. Today there should be many souls who have had their fill of the world’s noise and who are drawn by God’s grace to leave the noise of the city for the solitude of the desert. The first monks left the cities of the Roman empire to seek God in the deserts and again God calls souls to leave the world and give themselves to Him. Papa Stronsay is a solitude of prayer and penance far from the world offering to souls in the Third Millennium what it offered to souls in the First and Second: a monastic desert in the pathless sea, an island fastness for simple monks and for missionary priests.
J. Vennari: How many members are now in your community?
Father Michael Mary: At the present time there are 30 members which includes our postulants and novices as well as those who are absent for studies or health reasons. We come from several different countries around the world: England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Belgium, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, India and the United States. We have had people visiting from many other countries too.
J. Vennari: Please tell us about the Redemptorist charism in general, the work of your group in particular.
Father Michael Mary: The Redemptorist charism has come down to us from St. Alphonsus as being “Carthusian at Home and Apostle Abroad”. This means that as the Carthusian hermit loves solitude so the Redemptorist when he is at home loves the solitude of his cell and spends his time in prayer and spiritual exercises. This is the interior vocation of the Redemptorist. In the Redemptorist monastic life there is an emphasis on Mental Prayer. It is a “desert monastery” compared to the “chanting monastery” of orders like the Benedictines. We do not have daily sung Mass and we are forbidden by the Rule from chanting the Divine Office. This is because the emphasis is on the solitude of the cell and mental prayer. In this way St. Alphonsus founded a monastic life that his contempories described as being like the monastic life of the first monks in Egypt.
But having said that, there is also the other wing of the Redemptorist. He is to be an “Apostle Abroad” so this aspect of the missionary is also found inside the monastery in the close knit community life which the Redemptorist leads at home. There are Recreation days every Thursday when there is talking at table and two hours of recreation every day after dinner and supper.
As missionaries the Redemptorist is particularly called to preach the “Eternal Truths” Death, Judgment, Hell and Eternity in the Parish Mission apostolate. We have preached Missions in several countries including the United States. They have been very fruitful. At the moment we are preparing to found a second monastery in South Africa. This is taking place this month. Two Priest and two Brothers are being sent. However, our main focus will be monastic formation for some years to come which means that our future apostolic action will come from our South African house and Papa Stronsay will form postulants and novices.
J. Vennari: What constitutes an average day in your community?
Father Michael Mary: We are called in the morning by the bell which rings at 4:55 in the summer and 3:55 in the winter. The Brother Excitator also knocks on each door with the call: Tu autem Domine miserere nobis. Each replies from within his cell: “Deo gratias et Mariae.” There is half an hour to make one’s bed, wash, make the Morning Offering and pray the Three Hail Marys prostrate lying on the floor and smartly to make one’s way to the chapel which is about 5 minute’s walk from my cell which is the furtherest away. Sometimes it is raining, so you walk faster! All our cells are separated by about five yards and are arranged in a little street, twelve cells on either side. Laudes are said either in the cell or privately before the Blessed Sacrament.
When we arrive at the chapel the Angelus is said before the superior gives the blessing to each. Then for half an hour we make morning meditation in common with two points for the meditation read out loud. Mass follows. On Monday and Wednesday it will be the Requiem Mass for the Purgatorian Archconfraternity. On other mornings it is said also for the Purgatorian Archconfraternity but it is the Mass of the Day as prescribed by the Ordo. Thanksgiving is for half an hour. This is followed by breakfast: a hot drink, porridge or bread and jam. After breakfast it is time for the Holy Rosary and this is followed by the Offices of Prime and Terce. By now it is 7.30 in the winter and 8.30 in the summer. Half an hour later the novices begin their reading for half an hour before class. After class each goes about the duties that he has been given: some to cooking, the laundry, the animals, building; of one thing we are all certain, there is always plenty of manual work to do in the short time allotted for it. The bell rings at midday in summer and 11am in winter signaling the time to begin putting tools away and cleaning up before the Office of Sext and None which begin in half an hour. These Offices are followed by the Particular Examen of Conscience and the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary which is said for our benefactors. Dinner follows. It is taken in silence and there is reading during the meal. After the meal we process in twos to the chapel saying the Te Deum and when we arrive there the De Profundis and collects are said for the souls in purgatory. Upon return to the refectory we kneel and say an Ave before beginning the dishes and taking recreation together for an hour. During this recreation there is no set topic for conversations. We talk about our work or any other news of interest. We do not receive any secular newspapers nor listen to radio but our recreation is usually quite lively. The afternoon is spent entirely in one’s cell except for a short visit which is made to the Blessed Sacrament. It is a time of silence in honor of Our Lord’s the three hours of agony on the Cross. During the these “Afternoon Exercises” there is half an hour given to Spiritual Reading and another half and hour given to meditation. Vespers and Compline are said in the cell. The novices have a Latin class for which they come out of their cells. Half an hour before supper there is the third meditation which is made in common in the chapel. It is usually made on the Passion of Our Lord. Supper follows and again the Te Deum procession is made. Recreation in the evening is always on a spiritual matter which usually means that we speak of the spiritual reading we have been making. On our way to Night Prayers we sing the Ave Maris Stella in honor of Our Lady. Night prayers are for about twenty minutes, they conclude with the Superior’s blessing and the final prayer to Our Lady. The Great Silence has begun. Then each prepares himself for the night. There is about one hour before the monastery generator is turned off: Matins are said either in the cell or privately before the Blessed Sacrament. The Three Hail Marys said lying on the floor of the cell together with the Pater and Ave in honor of one’s Patron for the year are the last prescribed vocal prayers for the night. That would be an average day; it is quite full. But Thursdays are free of exercises between breakfast and supper.
J. Vennari: What is the Purgatorian Archconfraternity?
Father Michael Mary: The Purgatorian Archconfraternity is a Church approved practical application of our good intention to assist the souls of our beloved dead by having as many Masses said for them as possible. They are unable to help themselves and need our help. It is not a new idea. From the earliest times Catholics have done what they could to help the souls of their loved ones to reach heaven. I think for example of St. Monica who died in 387AD. When she was dying she was anxious for but one thing: that she be remembered after her death in the offering of the Holy Mass. Her words to her two sons are so well known: “Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.” One of her sons was a bishop she had access to many Masses. She asked for them. The other son would also have had Masses said for his mother. Now the Purgatorian Archconfraternity is a continuation of a tradition that goes back to these earliest times of the Church. Catholics have always promised to offer Mass or to have Mass offered for the souls of their loved ones. In time formal associations came into being. The Middle Ages were the high point in the development of these purgatorian societies. With the terrible chaos of the Protestant Revolt there also came the disappearance of the great mediaeval purgatorian associations. In modern times the most important purgatorian society, and the one that our Purgatorian Archconfraternity is modeled on is the Redemptorist one which was founded in Rome in 1841. Its full name is the “Archconfraternity for the Relief of the Poor Souls in Purgatory under the title of the Assumption of Mary in the Redemptorist church of Santa Maria in Monterone at Rome.” This is our model and as traditional Catholics we carry on what seems to have been discarded in the chaos and upheaval of the post Vatican II era. We have returned to the obligations of offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every day for the living and dead who are the members of the Purgatorian Archconfraternity.
J. Vennari: What prompted you to re-establish it?
Father Michael Mary: In a nut shell I would say the Purgatorian Archconfraternity was re-established: Firstly by the zeal of Faithful Catholics; secondly, the difficulty of finding priests to offer Masses; and, thirdly the grace of our own Redemptorist spirituality and vocation.
I think the Purgatorian Archconfraternity would never have been established if it had not been for the zeal of members of the Faithful asking for its re-establishment. Our dead and all the Holy Souls have been badly neglected for nearly 40 years. Then there is the problem of having traditional Masses said for the dead. The requests are too numerous. It is difficult to have the Gregorian Masses said for a soul. (This is when a priest says Mass for thirty consecutive days for a departed soul. It was recommended by Pope St. Gregory the Great.) Finally, in 2003 we decided to use our Redemptorist privilege of saying the Requiem Mass twice a week to help the Holy Souls. That year All Soul’s Day fell on a Sunday and while we could not offer the Requiem Mass that day we decided that henceforth one of the priests would offer Mass every single day for the Holy Souls. We had started without knowing quite what we had begun. It was only through subsequent research that we found out that it was our own Order, the Redemptorists who were responsible for the world’s largest Purgatorian Archconfraternity. It was a Redemptorist apostolate and there were rules already made. We only pick up what was dropped. It all made perfect sense. Without knowing it, we had come to do one of the works that the Church had deemed it proper for us to do as Redemptorists. It was the continuation and practical application of our Redemptorist preaching and meditations. As I had said, the Redemptorists have always made the Eternal Truths (Death, Judgment, Hell and Eternity) a main thrust of their Mission preaching. In our monasteries we try to live with the Eternal Truths we are called to preach. When meditating on Death and Judgment the reality of Purgatory is often a consideration. We who preach these truths should also have a special care for the souls detained in Purgatory. So we reestablish this work which is part of our vocation and we could say that there is perhaps no one else who can do it.
J. Vennari: What do you mean?
Father Michael Mary: I mean that the work of the Purgatorian Archconfraternity is an apostolate that cannot be undertaken by an individual priest; it properly belongs to a moral body, a Religious Order. As we are only too aware, any of us could die at any moment. Therefore any individual priest cannot take on the commitments involved in the Purgatorian Archconfraternity. This work requires that there be a succession of priests through time so that the Mass is assured of being offered daily, in theory, unless there is a calamity, until the Day of Judgment. This type of organization is only possible with a Religious Order where there is a unity of purpose and a continuity of membership to assure the fulfillment of the obligations that have been undertaken. As far as I know there is no other traditional Religious Order that has a Purgatorian Archconfraternity that is offering the daily Mass for it members both living and dead. And since this work is proper to the Redemptorists, and since no other traditional Order was doing it, then it was fitting that we re-established it.
J. Vennari: What are the benefits of the Purgatorian Archconfraternity?
Father Michael Mary: The benefits are staggering. If you appreciate what Purgatory is like and what terrible sufferings are endured there; when we remember that in 1917 Our Lady of Fatima told Sister Lucy that her friend would be in the flames of Purgatory until the end of the world; when we have thought through the Church’s Doctrine on Purgatory and that our best hopes are that one day we will get there, then we must come to some solid conclusions.
Firstly I will conclude that for myself, living out my life here on earth, I need as many Masses and as much grace as possible to help in the work of my own conversion; to keep me in friendship with God and to help me grow in holiness and virtue. Then, firmly hoping that I will save my soul, I need to make sure that after my death, when I am suffering in the flames of purgatory, I am doing so for the shortest possible duration. Knowing that I cannot help myself in Purgatory, it is prudent to assure that Masses will be said for my soul after death by joining the Purgatorian Archconfraternity. Secondly I will conclude that what I do in my own best interests I should try to do for the members of my family by having them enrolled in the Purgatorian Archconfraternity. I note that our beloved dead, if they are saved, are not at all helped by monuments and flowers or any earthly thing; but only by prayers, fasting and alms deeds; and among these effective suffrages the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most effective of all. As Saint Monica said, and it bears repeating: “Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern...” (For none of that external expression of love can help me when I am dead.) “... One thing only I ask of you. ...” (for there is only one way that you can help me when I die, which is..), “... that you remember me at the altar of the Lord ...” (have the Holy Sacrifice offered for my soul) ... wherever you may be.” Thirdly, I will conclude that saving my soul is not an automatic thing that will happen to me without effort on my part. There are eternal punishments for the damned in hell and only a few go to heaven without going through purgatory. We are in dire need of grace. The most abundant graces come through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. So, if there is any soul anywhere in the world that I would like to help towards conversion, be he however bad, he will have a better chance of conversion if he is enrolled as a member of the Purgatorian Archconfraternity where he will have the Holy Sacrifice offered for him on a daily basis.
J. Vennari: How can young men contact you who may be interested in seeking a Redemptorist vocation? FMM: I would be delighted to hear from anyone who thinks he could have a vocation to the religious life. Usually someone who thinks he has a vocation come to visit us for a period of less than six months. This allows them to travel to Britain without a visa. If after a few months here it is clear that they may in fact have a vocation we send them home to get the correct visa which must be applied for in their own country. If they decide that they have not got a religious vocation then, usually it has been a good experience for them and they go home better for the experience.