Our Lord is so very merciful. He permits us weak vessels of clay enough time here in this vale of tears to learn how stupid we have been in the past, to see how others cooperated with the graces made available to them to see clearly the state of the Church and of the world. This gift of divine mercy is ineffable and gratuitous, thoroughly unmerited. Its bestowal upon a soul is a cause for great rejoicing in the humble recognition that all is grace, that without the graces won for us by the shedding of Our Lord's Most Precious Blood on Calvary we would be lost here on earth as a prelude to being lost for all eternity in Hell.
In His great mercy, Our Lord, working through His Most Blessed Mother, has led me to understand how much I did not know in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, how much I permitted myself to be influenced by the slogans and positivism of the postconciliar era, how I tried to defend the indefensible and to reconcile a revolution with tradition. Although I have always recognized the beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass, I did not until about twelve or thirteen years ago realize its importance as the instrument that best gives honor and glory to the Blessed Trinity and most efficaciously sanctifies human souls. Even though I came to realize the importance of the Traditional Latin Mass over a decade ago, I remained supercilious in choosing where to hear such Masses, eschewing anything that could be tainted in my clouded eyes as disobedience and schism.
The lifting of the scales from my eyes came gradually. Oh, I made it a point to go to an indult Mass only on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation for quite some time. And I made it a point to attend Traditional Latin Masses in approved venues during my week as best I could during my travels across the United States the last few years. It would, however, be until I married my wonderful wife, Sharon, who had converted to the Catholic Faith as a result of the Traditional Mass, that I began to seek it out even in venues I had avoided for so long for reasons of scrupulosity and ignorance.
As bad as I knew the Novus Ordo to be, I tolerated it insofar as daily Mass was concerned, offering up the profanation and banality experienced there to Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. My wife, who loves God so purely, just cried and cried and cried when she experienced just how bad the Novus Ordo is while I was lecturing in New Mexico after we had gotten married on June 7, 2001, at the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter chapel, Our Lady of Fatima, in Pequannock, New Jersey. Sharon had been preserved from experiencing the horror of anthropocentricity and improvisation and outrage as a result of the fact that she had been given the privilege by Our Lady of attending the Traditional Latin Mass on a daily basis in a convent chapel of Filipino sisters who live on the ground of the Norbertine abbey, Saint Michael's, in Silverado Canyon, California, right next to the condominium where she lived until after we had gotten married. The incomparable Father Henry Marchosky, who helped to found Thomas Aquinas College, celebrated the Mass there until one of his former altar boys, who has become a successful physician, invited him to celebrate Mass near Corvallis, Oregon, a few years ago. Thus, Sharon had experienced the Traditional Latin Mass during the week and on Sundays, either in the old chapel at Mission San Juan Capistrano or at Saint Mary's by the Sea Church in Huntington Beach. When she attended the Novus Ordo at all, it was in the main chapel at Saint Michael's Abbey, where the Norbertines do the best they can within the limits found in the new Mass to foster a spirit of reverence and recollection. It was, therefore, a real shock for Sharon to find out about the true state of the Church once she married.
God rewarded Sharon, though, for the purity of her love. Our trip in our new (but hardly trouble free) motor home in July of 2002 from California to New York saw us make every effort to attend the Traditional Latin Mass during the week, and we made it a point to get over to Pequannock as frequently as we could during the five months we were back on Long Island prior to the end of December, 2001, driving into Manhattan on Saturdays for the 2:00 p.m. Mass at Saint Ann's (and going different places on Sundays-Saint Agnes in Manhattan, Saint John the Baptist in Poughkeepsie, Our Lady of Peace in Brooklyn, Sacred Heart in Cutchogue, way out on the east end of the north fork of Long Island). We did not know whether Our Lord would permit us to keep as close contact with the traditional liturgy in California in January and February of this year as I fulfilled lecture commitments prior to the birth of our first child, our wonderful and so precious Lucy Mary Norma, on March 27, 2002.
Well, Our Lady showered us with the mercy of her Divine Son. The Mass of our fathers was offered frequently at the Kolbe Academy in Napa, California, where I lectured on Mondays and Wednesdays for a period of six weeks. Father Raymond Dunn was good enough to permit us to attend his daily Traditional Mass in his home in Palo Alto, California, on the days we were not in Napa. There were several occasions on which we attended Mass offered by priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter at Immaculate Conception Church in Sacramento, And we attended an independent chapel in San Jose on one occasion for Sunday Mass, where an elderly Augustinian priest, Father Pietro Ottannello, celebrates three Masses every Sunday morning.
Indeed, I had gone to that chapel for the first time in 1998 the day after some traditional Catholics held a fund-raiser for my Right to Life Party primary race against Senator Alfonse D'Amato. I was more than a little uneasy about it. However, I learned shortly thereafter that Father John Hardon himself had told attendees at a Seton Home Study conference that a person is acting with a clear conscience if he believes that the only way to save his soul and to protect the integrity of the faith for himself and for his children is to attend a chapel run by the Society of Pope Saint Pius X or an otherwise validly ordained priest who recognizes the Vicar of Christ. And I learned that other priests I respect gave the same advice to their directees, which made it easier for me to return to the Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel in January of 2001, after experiencing the terrible hybrid Mass that passed for the only indult Mass available on a weekly basis in all of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay area, Saint Margaret Mary in Oakland. God was lifting the scales then, preparing me by baby steps to see that there were courageous priests who were willing to risk everything to offer the faithful the Mass which was either celebrated or heard by practically every canonized saint in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church.
It was during our visit in February of this year that Sharon and I also heard Mass celebrated by a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Father Young, in a German social hall in Petaluma, California. Father Young explained to me that Archbishop William Levada, the archbishop of San Francisco, who had permitted the indult Mass when he was archbishop of Portland, Oregon, knew of the Mass and looked the other way, lacking either the courage or the desire to buck the opposition to an indult Mass from among most of the priests in the San Francisco archdiocese. It was in Petaluma that a young man told us about Father Patrick Perez, who celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass on a daily basis on his own in Santa Ana, California. Although I had heard about Father Perez in 2001, I was not entirely over my squeamishness. Eager, though, to provide my wife and unborn baby with the Mass of our fathers, I called Father Perez, finding him to be most accommodating as he informed me of the daily Mass schedule.
Sharon and I were very, very impressed with Father Perez's reverence, to say nothing of his profound knowledge of the development of the Traditional Mass and of its rubrics. He told us that he was ordained for the Institute of Christ the King, but wound up being marginalized within that community as a result of the machinations of a priest who later wound up serving time in prison for molestation. He was told by his superiors to await his next assignment, which never came. Letters sent to Florence, Italy, were never answered. Father Perez told us, "What was I supposed to do? Go out and get a job. I'm a priest. I've been ordained to celebrate Mass." Thus, Father Perez started to celebrate daily Mass in his trailer in Santa Ana, California, working closely with a Father Frederick Schell, S.J., to offer the Mass on Fridays at an academy, the Padre Pio Academy, that had been established by Father Schell in Garden Grove, California.
You see, God in His great mercy kept me from meeting Father Young and Father Perez and Father Schell before I did because I was not yet ready to meet them before I did earlier this year. I was too blind. I would have gently but firmly told them they were being disobedient, that they were further dividing the Church. I was stupid and I was blind. I had a lot to learn and a lot to see, coming to understand that it was men such as the aforementioned priests who helped to keep the Mass of our fathers alive in a area of the country that had been devastated by Roger Cardinal Mahony and the lackeys he has helped to put in place up and down the Pacific Coast in California as ordinaries of dioceses. Far from being renegades, these men are heroes who have helped to maintain reverence in worship and integrity of doctrine in an area of utter liturgical and theological devastation.
It was through Father Perez that Sharon and I met Father Schell. Father Perez had given Father Schell a copy of the February issue of Christ or Chaos, which contained an extensive piece,
"A Mere Matter of Preference," that discussed how the four ends of the Mass are best expressed and protected in the Mass of tradition in the Latin rite. To my surprise, Father Schell, who was ordained for and served in the Jesuits for a long time, liked the piece so much that he told me over the telephone he wanted to reproduce the issue and to give it to his parishioners up in Granada Hills, California. Sharon and I thus made arrangements to meet with him on Monday, March 11, 2002, just two days before we left California to drive to the Omaha, Nebraska-Council Bluffs, Iowa area to await the birth of our first child. (We were able to attend daily Mass in Omaha in a parish served by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter.)
We got to Father Schell's Monday morning Mass a little late. The traffic from Orange, California, to Granada Hills was impossible. And, ironically, we found that the house where Father Schell offered Holy Mass was right across the street from an archdiocesan parish. Women in slacks and immodest attire were going into the parish church; women with chapel veils and the attire of gentle ladies were making their way to Father Schell's Mass. Quite a contrast.
Father Schell took Sharon and me out to breakfast. It was one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. I understood at that moment that I was in the presence of a great hero of the Catholic Faith, one who would not have his reward until he died, a man of humility and self-effacement, but nevertheless a man of great manly courage who was willing to defend the Faith and all of its traditions with his fists if he had to do so. A personable and plain-spoken man, Father Schell exuded the true happiness and joy of one who is an adopted son of the Blessed Mother, one who simply lived to offer the propitiatory sacrifice of the Son to the Father in Spirit and in Truth in an unbloody manner every day of his life. There was not an ounce of pretense or affectation to him. He was a boy from El Paso, Texas, who was who he was, take it or leave it.
Father Schell was born in 1916 in El Paso. He joined the Society of Jesus and was ordained to the priesthood after World War II. As he could not take the situation within the Society, he sought out incardination in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in the 1970s, where he made a number of friends among the priests there.
The breaking point for Father Schell came, however, when he was told in November of 1977 that he would have to give out Holy Communion in the hand. Pope Paul VI had granted the American bishops the permission they sought to regularize the abuse they had "tolerated" (actually, initiated) in many places ever since the new Mass started in 1969. "They told me I would have to give out Communion in the hand on November 20, 1977," Father Schell told us, "I told people at the time, 'This is a sacrilege. They can't make me do it." He saw so clearly what so many priests acquiesced to in a perversion of a true Catholic understanding of the word "obedience." Father Schell was not out to please man but God,
"So, I preached against it on November 13, 1977," he told us, "and by the next week I was gone. The last twenty-five years have been the happiest of my life."
Father Schell opened up shop about fifty miles north of Los Angeles, attracting a steady stream of parishioners who had grown sick and tired of the liturgical irreverence, the improvisation, the showmanship, and the doctrinal impurity found in their local parishes. Although he was then in his fifties, he drove from Granada Hills to Garden Grove to Bakersfield to Ventura to offer the Mass of our fathers week in and week out. He placed everything in the hands of the Blessed Mother. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles knew all about him, but never lifted a finger to sanction him.
Father Schell told us the story on March 11, 2002, of the time that one of Cardinal Mahony's auxiliary bishops came to the chapel where he offered Sunday Mass. Although he was dressed in civilian clothes, a woman recognized him and told Father Schell. "I told her to tell him, 'Tell him to stay out of the way and that he'll hear a good Mass if he wants to stay.'" The woman did as she was instructed. Word got out that the auxiliary bishop was there, and each of the children knelt down before him to kiss his ring, embarrassing the fellow no end.
Father Schell minced no words about the state of the church. About the bishops, "They're bums, each and every one of them. Bums. . . . They're fence straddling mugwumps. One week they're mugs, the next week they're wumps." He agreed with my assessment about in "A Mere Matter of Preference?" that the Novus Ordo was ultimately harmful to the Faith. "That's right," he said very matter-of-factly. "I agree with that."
I kept thinking while at breakfast with him that he would have enjoyed meeting the late Father John J. Sullivan, whose life and priesthood I described in "Jackie Boy" just about two years ago now. When I told him about a priest at Holy Apostles Seminary who had said that Our Lord was conceived in a perverse, violent manner, Father Schell jumped right in, "I would have punched him right in the nose." I told Father Schell that's exactly what Father Sullivan did. Father Schell was very pleased. It should be noted, however, that Father Schell told us after he had treated us to breakfast, "I'm all talk now. I don't too much fighting these days."
Sharon and I were amazed at the physical condition in was in after all of the years of driving hundreds and hundreds of miles every week. We were also amazed at his "breakfast of champions," as Sharon called it, which consisted of endless cups of coffee (with loads of cream and sugar in each cup) and a cinnamon role with gobs and gobs of butter on it. At 86, the food police had not caught up with Father Schell.
Both Sharon and I came away from that meeting with the belief that we had met a saint. Naturally, Father Schell did not believe he had done anything extraordinary. He simply offered people the Mass, giving them an oasis in a desert of the Faith. And he had the humility to recognize when he was slowing down, being willing to turn over the network of parishes and the academy he had built up over a quarter of a century to Father Perez, who he had just met a few years before. Father Schell did not build up a cult of personality around him. He simply was a priest who wanted to offer Catholics the Traditional Latin Mass and pure instruction in the Faith.
The Padre Pio Academy in Garden Grove is well attended by well behaved children. I told Sharon after attending our first Mass there with Father Perez in February of this year, "You tell me who the crazy ones are around here? The people who sit back passively and accept liturgical abuse and outright heresy, who expose their children unthinkingly to the rot of sex-instruction, or these good people who simply want to save their own souls and to help their children get to the highest place in Heaven possible next to that of the Blessed Mother? Who are the crazy ones?" A photograph of Father Schell hangs in the academy. When I saw it for the first time, I told Sharon and Father Perez, "He looks for all the world like Milton Berle." Father Schell told us when he met him that he had been told that many times.
I realized after meeting Father Schell how wrong I had been over the years, that the circumstances of the postconciliar church had produced men of remarkable courage, men of such profound humility that they did not care what anyone thought of them or what sacrifices they had to make to be faithful to the Church's living liturgical tradition. And I prayed all the more fervently that the Holy Father would erect an Apostolic Administration so as to give these courageous men the canonical recognition that is their due as they seek to honor the Blessed Trinity fittingly and serve the cause of the formation and salvation of immortal souls.
We kept in contact with Father Schell after we left California. He was so pleased to get the news of Lucy Mary Norma's birth. It was, therefore, with great delight that we looked forward to seeing him again in California when we flew out there in May in association with a talk I was to give at a Una Voce-Los Angeles/Latin Mass Magazine conference on May 25.
We met Father Schell at his home in Granada Hills. He took us to a wonderful restaurant perched above the intersections of Interstates 405 and 5 and California Route 118, a place that had a breathtaking view of the entire San Fernando Valley. It was clear, though, that he had slowed down in the two and one-half months since we had first met with him. He was preparing to go home.
Father Schell, who was so happy to met our daughter, told us that he was retiring from all of his active work, giving it all away to Father Perez. "I'm praying to Our Lady for a quick exit," he told us, "probably sometime within the next six months. She usually gives me whatever I ask of her." Selfishly, we hoped that he would be around for a lot longer than six months. We so enjoyed visiting with him, partaking of his wisdom and being inspired by his great love of Our Lord and Our Lady.
I was told several days later that Father Schell's used his last sermon to urge his parishioners to read the issue of Christ or Chaos he had had reproduced. "I've given you many things over the years," he told them. "This is the last gift I am giving you." To say that I was touched and honored beyond words is an understatement. That a man of his courage and wisdom and foresight would find my work in any way edifying for his people is a gift I will always cherish.
We spoke on the phone several times in the last few months. He told me that he was doing all right, but that he was glad he had made the decision to retire. Again, Sharon and I were hoping to see him on our next journey California, though we do not know when that is going to take place.
Our Lady had other plans.
Sharon found out from a dear friend of hers in San Juan Capistrano, California, that Father Frederick Schell, S.J., died peacefully in his sleep on Saturday morning, September 28, 2002. He died on Our Lady's day, Saturday. Father Patrick Perez told me over the phone that evening that he had conditionally anointed Father Schell several hours after his death, telling me that there was a smile on his face. As well there should have been. Though we never presume the state of any soul at the moment of death-and are duty bound in both justice and charity to pray for the souls of the faithful departed for as long as we are live, Father Schell is one of those men, as a great Catholic philanthropist and defender of the Traditional Mass noted that same evening, "you pray to as well as pray for." Whether he is in Purgatory or Heaven, the prayers of Father Frederick Schell will be most powerful to aid the restoration of the Traditional Latin Mass.
Humanly speaking, it is sad to realize that we will never see him in this life again. If it were at all financially possible, Sharon and I would fly out to California for his Requiem Mass. Our faith teaches us, however, that we are never separated from the souls of the faithful departed. The doctrine of the Communion of Saints teaches us that each part of the Church-Militant, Suffering, Triumphant-are connected to each other. Indeed, we are overawed at the childlike simplicity Father Schell had in Our Lady's intercessory power to grant him a quick exit from this vale of tears although nothing was really wrong with him physically at all other than the toll that eighty-six years of living the Priesthood and Victimhood of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ takes on a courageous son of the Church.
Father Schell cared nothing for honors, nothing for prestige, nothing for the perquisites that so many priests (even those who are orthodox and who recognize in the Traditional Latin Mass the best way to worship the Blessed Trinity and to sanctify souls) are willing to sell their souls in order to obtain. He cared only about fidelity to Christ the King and Mary our Queen by giving the souls who sought him out access to the closest thing to Heaven imaginable: the Traditional Latin Mass.
Yes, the Providence of God is amazing. I needed to have the scales taken from my eyes to appreciate men like Father Frederick Schell. And I will never cease to pray to Our Lady so that those who remain after him - and those who will come along after them - will one day be recognized by Holy Mother Church herself as nothing other than priests who care about true reverence in Mass and integrity in handing on the Deposit of Faith in all of its purity. It is men such as Father Frederick Schell who kept the Traditional Latin Mass alive in the midst of a veritable revolution to flush the past down the Orwellian memory hole.
While praying for Father Schell's soul (he probably gave "Jackie Boy" Sullivan a punch in the nose in eternity for not "getting it" about the Traditional Mass), we also give Our Lord and Our Lady thanks for his courage and zeal, his humility and self-effacement.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him. May his souls - and the souls of the faithful departed - rest in peace. Amen.
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives