A Visit to Mater Ecclesiae
Father Robert C. Pasley, KCHS, a native of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, was ordained in 1982. Father Pasley has been a parish priest and a secondary school teacher in New Jersey for much of his priesthood. He is the Chaplain of the Church Music Association of America and serves on the faculty at the Colloquium. Father is a Knight Commander of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
On October, 13, 2000, he was appointed Rector, by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, of the newly established Tridentine Parish of Mater Ecclesiae, Berlin, NJ. Mater Ecclesiae is the first diocesan-run Tridentine parish in the United States. In this candid interview, Father Pasley discusses his fifteen year sojourn at Mater Ecclesiae.
John R Symons
How did you find the parish when you arrived?
Father Pasley: It was not a parish when I arrived. It was originally called Holy Family Monastery and had been a community outside the Church that resisted the changes of the Second Vatican Council. HF Monastery closed in 1995 and was abandoned. A group of lay people called the Oblates of Saint Jude formed and proceeded to obtain the deed for the property. They began seeking normalization with the Diocese. Finally, the property was opened as a Latin Mass site in 1998 and then our Bishop at the time, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, asked me to take it and found a parish that exclusively used the 1962 Liturgical books. It was a wonderful reconciliation of the community and a very brave new idea. At the time we were the only Diocesan-owned and staffed parish dedicated to the Ancient Rites of the Mass. The place was in very poor condition and there were about 75 families that registered in October of 2000. We now have about 500 families.
How many Masses do you offer on Sundays?
Father Pasley: We have three Sunday Masses: a Low Mass without music, a Low Mass with organ and hymns and a High Mass with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. We also celebrate all the feast days with festivity, including the 1962 Rites of Holy Week, Forty Hours Devotions, Corpus Christi procession, Rogation processions, Rosary procession, May Crowning, Candlemas and our very large celebration of the Assumption. Each year we go to a large Church to celebrate the Assumption. Last year we celebrated the Assumption at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. The sung ordinary, with full orchestra, was the Lord Nelson Mass of Franz Joseph Haydn.
Do you find that offering frequent confessional times is key to the spiritual growth of the parish?
Father Pasley: Absolutely! We have confession before every Mass and for an hour on Tuesday night so that people can take more time. Confession is an essential part of what we do.
What activities do you offer at the parish?
Father Pasley: We have a very active Music apostolate: a Mass schola and a full choir directed by our Music Director, Mr. Nicholas Beck and we are forming a Divine office schola. We have a full homeschool based CCD Program for preschool through High School, a Blessed Imelda society for our girls, the altar servers guild for the boys and men. We are the first parish in the United States to form a chapter of Catholic Scouts, the Federation of North American Explorers. We have an active theatre society which performs a dinner theatre every year, an active Knights of Columbus Assembly. We have a book club and instructions for converts as well as various social committees for parish parties and affairs.
Looking back, what have been your principle challenges?
Father Pasley: Setting up as parish from scratch. We had two thousand dollars and not even a phone or a file cabinet. Dealing with buildings that were in poor shape and in need many repairs; the challenges of fundraising to pay for the repairs; trying to build a positive atmosphere after many people had been hurt because of their traditional views; being integrated into the diocese and yet keep our unique apostolate.
Father Pasley: The celebration of the Sacred Liturgy – people and priests all on the same page, wanting it done with precision beauty and reverence. Seeing the tried and true Catholic faith practiced and loved by the people. Passing down the traditions of our faith the young. (We have children who have been raised here since birth and are now 15 years old. This is the only parish they have ever known. The EF is their Ordinary Form. They are on fire for the faith.) To welcome our Bishop and see how much he enjoys the faith and practice of the people. To be accepted by the Diocese as an important part of the Church. To learn more about the faith myself, especially through the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.
What advice would you offer to priests and parishioners who are just starting out on the road you have come so far on?
Father Pasley: Trust in God’s Providence, entrust everything to the Blessed Virgin Mary, work hard and when you think you can’t do any more, do more. Don’t whine and bemoan – love the faith and live it, have a positive attitude, and never give up. Rome wasn’t built in a day and things take time. It takes one day to tear a building down; it takes hard work, and a very long time to build something.
Why Mater Ecclesiae is Our ‘Spiritual Home’
So, what makes for an amazing parish? Why would people drive for hours every week to attend Mass? What motivates them to become deeply involved with a parish – to the point of calling it their ‘spiritual home’?
Regina Magazine recently heard from parishioners John and Kori Rotondi, Cara Curtz and Paul Pagano of Mater Ecclesiae Parish in Berlin, NJ about why theirs is an ‘amazing parish.’
REGINA: How long have you been at Mater Ecclesiae?
John and Kori Rotondi: Since 2002, first as out-of-town visitors a few times a year, especially for Holy Week, and then as full-time parishioners for nine years.
Paul Pagano: Every Sunday for six years. Before that once a month for about a year, and before that, for special Masses like Michaelmas, Candlemas, the Assumption, etc. Three of our children have been baptized at the parish.
Cara Kurtz: My husband and I have been at Mater for eight years. We received an indult, before the Motu Proprio, to be married in a Latin Mass in my husband’s hometown parish 45 minutes away and we still live there.
REGINA: How did you find the parish?
Cara Kurtz: When we were dating, we attended Mass there and agreed that it would be a great place to raise a family. The beauty of the liturgy illuminates everything at the parish. Today when to be Catholic is to be counter-cultural, you have to be fed spiritually if you are to live a Catholic life. Mater Ecclesiae does just that.
John Rotondi: Before I was married, I assisted my father in 2002 when he was a vendor (on behalf of Our Lady of Victory Homeschool in Idaho) at the 2002 Chaplet conference, an annual homeschoolers’ organization event held at Mater in the spring.
Paul Pagano: We first found the parish in a small article in a local Catholic newspaper; that little article changed our lives.
REGINA: Do you travel on Sundays?
Paul Pagano: Yes, we travel an hour each way to the parish every Sunday, for Holy Days, and other special feast days. Mater Ecclesiae is well worth the drive.
John Rotondi: Yes, we are fully enrolled parishioners who attend both on Sundays and often on weekdays. Our drive to Mater is approximately half an hour each way.
Cara Kurtz: We currently live 45 minutes away and feel privileged to be part of the parish. Plenty of people drive that amount to attend school, work, or sports so for us it is not a hardship.
REGINA: Are you involved with activities in support of the parish?
Paul Pagano: Yes, our family is involved in multiple ways. Our two oldest children attend CCD at the parish. One son is a member of the Federation of North American Explorers, a Catholic group for children 6 to 16. We also actively support a Catholic homeschool conference held at the parish every year.
The Rotondis: John is actively involved in the men’s schola, and he is also currently forming a new auxiliary schola to train men and boys to sight-read Gregorian chant and to form a liturgical Choir for Divine Office services. Kori occasionally sings in the parish’s mixed choir and acts in the annual Dinner Theatre plays in February.
Cara Kurtz: We are part of the CCD program and attend most of the social events that Mater hosts.
Cara Kurtz: Mater Ecclesiae is very important to us. It helps us live our lives by providing the spiritual direction that we desperately need. We are able to be inspired by faith-filled people who are just trying to do what is right, our kids can form faith-filled friendships, and it provides a wonderful spiritual light that non-parishioners reference. We feel privileged to be members of such a wonderful parish.
Paul Pagano: We support the parish because it is an Oasis of Faith and Catholicism in our very troubled society. I never fear that anything less than the FULL Catholic truth will be preached at Mater Ecclesiae. The parish has helped to form our family spiritually, intellectually, and morally, according to the Faith, not according to the World.
The Rotondis: John has been assisting at the Traditional Latin Mass for 25 years, and Mater Ecclesiae is a first in the USA to endeavor to form a diocesan parish exclusively (in the year 2000) for the use of the Traditional Roman Liturgy just as the Fraternity of St. Peter and the Institute of Christ the King have operated similar parishes for the last 26 years. Many diocesan parishes have the TLM, but only as an added Mass on Sundays, often at inconvenient times.
A TLM-only parish allows for everyone to experience living the full gamut of the Church’s Traditional Liturgy – e.g. daily Masses according to the Traditional Calendar, special feasts in which the ancient ceremonies are celebrated such as Candlemas, and the Divine Office (notably Tenebrae during Holy Week). We also have the Sacraments administered according to the old rites, including Confirmation by our own Bishop of Camden.
Beyond the Liturgy, which is the source and summit of Catholic life, the liturgical life of our parish begets fellowship and brings many Catholic families of like mind together to live and be fully Catholic socially which is ever more difficult amidst darkness and confusion of the world and even in parts of the larger Church. We came here for the Liturgy, but God blessed us abundantly further with good friendships and a Catholic community second to none.
REGINA: Why is Mater Ecclesiae important to your family?
Paul Pagano: When we first started, we were surprised to find a vibrant parish with the full spectrum of ages represented, from young growing families to middle aged folks to elderly seniors. We had feared the parish would be mostly elderly individuals and nothing else. We were pleasantly surprised that there were many other families just like ours, families seeking a place to live out their Catholic Faith and Catholic Heritage as fully as possible. The parish has more baptisms every year than it does funerals, and more young families come to the parish every year.
The parish is important to us because we are able to live our Catholic faith in a very full way. The parish is more than the Latin Mass, it is our Catholic Heritage actively lived. Many churches that have a Latin Mass have to find a time to squeeze in a Latin Mass. Mater Ecclesiae has all Masses in the Traditional Roman Rite, and all Sacraments according to the 1962 ritual. There is Mass every day, Confession every day, High Mass every Sunday, and Choral Masses on special occasions. That is very unique for a diocesan parish!
The Rotondis: Restoring the Liturgy to its fullness is our parish’s primary mission, not just to go back to get a “Latin Mass” on Sunday, but to restore the best and most of our Roman liturgical Tradition, from Sunday Mass to daily Masses, to the full celebration of Holy Week, the Divine Office, and the myriad of special ceremonies during all times of the year.
Cara Kurtz: Mater Ecclesiae provides a spiritual element to the area that other parishes do not. We do things differently at Mater and people who care about what happens in the Church notice. Last year when the diocese had no ordinations to the priesthood, a son of the parish was ordained in a religious order.
We hold a yearly mass of Thanksgiving for the Feast of the Assumption and it was held in the Cathedral in Philadelphia. There was standing room only. Donations for that Mass poured in from all over the country to cover the associated costs. For the Feast of Candlemas, something that most Catholics probably have never even heard about, the bishop along with at least 13 other priests will be at Mater Ecclesiae.
REGINA: Why is Mater Ecclesiae important to the Catholic community?
Paul Pagano: The parish seeks to actively foster a Catholic Community. There are parish breakfasts, pot-luck dinners, an annual dinner theatre, a children’s play, and parish socials in the spring and fall, for St Patrick’s Day and Octoberfest. The families at the parish are a great support for one another as each family is dedicated to raising their children to be Catholic before anything else. Parishes like Mater Ecclesiae are a bastion against the destruction of the Catholic faith in our world. We need as many Mater Ecclesiae parishes as possible.
Cara Kurtz: Our wonderful parish also sponsors many social events throughout the year that both parishioners and non-parishioners like to attend. The dinner theater that we are hosting for Valentine’s Day weekend sold out a month in advance for the Valentine’s Day showing. The St. Patrick’s Day Party is very popular. I think our events are so popular because today it is so hard to find clean fun. There is also a Catholic scouts program that is popular with parishioners and non-parishioners alike.
The Rotondis: Much of which was lost in the centuries following the Council of Trent due to the influences of Protestantism and political persecutions, is what Mater Ecclesiae has been restoring since its founding. This restoration is not only the past but the future of the Church. It restores the right and full worship the Church has to give to Almighty God, and it likewise begets a fuller and true sense of community and friendship among the faithful by the common experience of living the liturgical year. Mater Ecclesiae, therefore, sustains our family spiritually and communally, which gives us the blessing of a true Catholic community, not in word, but in deed.
Editor’s Note: For more information about the parish:
[i] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium