Well, Bill, it IS for the Cause

By Bill Riccio, Jr


With the title quote from the Rev. Richard C. Cipolla, this writer began a sojourn across country to the wilds of Portland, Oregon, to be the master of ceremonies for a Pontifical Mass at Holy Rosary Church. The date of the Mass was June 29, 2007, and yours truly was going to have to do something he had never done in his heretofore 54 years – take an airplane.


Yup. With Fr. Cipolla’s words concerning the “cause” of the Traditional Mass, he knew he had me right where he wanted me, and he wanted me on a plane to Portland.


Have Cassock, Will Travel


Up to this point, my motto had been “Have cassock, will travel.” I had made trips up and down the Northeast corridor, done training sessions in New York City, Boston and Springfield, Massachusetts, and towns and hamlets in between. This was the first time I’d been asked to go cross-country to do a Mass, and it was a bit of a mystery as to how my name – or my reputation –had come up, but not for long.


The invitation was issued on a dreary New England Spring day. I was in my office in West Haven, CT, and editing some copy for the weekly newspaper I run, The West Haven Voice. When the phone rang, I thought it was another request for information on how to get an announcement run, or some such task.

LITURGICAL WARRIORS IN ARMS: Father Richard Cipolla of St Mary’s in Norwalk (right), Connecticut and Choir Director Dean Applegate (left) of Holy Rosary Church in Portland, Oregon. Both Oxford University graduates have spent many years in the liturgical trenches.

Instead, the caller identified himself as Dean Applegate, the artistic director of Cantores in Ecclesia, a Portland-based group that runs the William Byrd Festival each August. Applegate asked if I was the same William Riccio that was interested in the Traditional Rites. When he got his confirmation, he made his request: Could I come to Portland to organize a Pontifical Mass celebrated by then-Auxiliary Bishop of Portland Kenneth Steiner. The Mass was going to be on the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul at Holy Rosary, a Dominican-run church in that city.


Fear of Flying


The request took me by surprise, and the thought of taking a flight across country didn’t sit well with me. The idea of being in a sardine can for any time five miles above terra firma was not something I liked. In fact, I had driven to Rockford and Indianapolis, both more than 1100 miles away, on separate occasions, to avoid taking the “big silver bird.”


I called Fr. Cippola and he had this sage advice. “Bill, either the plane will get there or it won’t.” He was going to come along and had already talked to Dean and Beverly Stevens, a former parishioner. With that in mind, and my head still swimming, I took the plunge – and hoped the plane didn’t do the same. “OK. Let’s do it.”


I started to think about the trip. There would be a flight to Chicago with a four-hour layover, and then on to Seattle, where Bev and her husband Harry would pick us up, and where we would stay at her house for the three days. We left on June 28 because of work and other responsibilities. We had to do a Pontifical Mass at the Faldstool on one day’s rehearsal.


“You mean it’s not going to be one flight but two?”


“Wait a minute. You mean it’s not going to be one flight but two?” Then there was a trip from Seattle to Portland by freeway. I was told it was a “stone’s throw” between the two cities. A stone’s throw in the Northeast means 20 minutes. A stone’s throw past Pennsylvania is anything less than a half-day’s travel. That was something I’d learned on those car trips.


Leaving LaGuardia, I got my first taste of NSA screening. I’m always amused – and somewhat taken aback – every time a screener looks at your driver’s license, then you, back to the license, and finally signs off. I know it’s a bad likeness, but It’s me!


The trip to Chicago went without a hitch, but there was a four-hour layover. Even with all the stores, boutiques and kitsch there’s not much to do at airports. Fr. C. and I had lunch as it was a way to kill time.


I was attentive the first leg of the trip, then this time I did what everyone else did – something else. This time, rather than be scared stiff, I joked to Fr. C., “Padre, remember. Any trouble, and it’s a general absolution for everyone.” He looked and said, “What about me?” “You? You’re on your own.”


I learned first-hand about Chicago summers. A line of thunderstorms left us on the tarmac for more than 90 minutes. “Oh, this is what airline travel is like.” But the best was yet to come.


My first experience with turbulence happened while going over the Rockies. Now I know what popping corn feels like inside the popper. We were shaken, rattled and almost rolled for about five minutes – or was it 20? I asked the good cleric if this was “normal.” He just looked a bit piqued.


Another Long Ride


Finally, we got to Seattle, got our luggage and found Bev and Harry. Now, even though it was a three-day trip, most of what we brought wasn’t for us. We had vestments, missals, the Pontifical Canon, and assorted other things. I dubbed it what I called it on all these field trips: The Traveling Salvation Show.

It was on to Portland, and another long ride.


We pulled into the Stevens’ driveway somewhere around 8 p.m., 11 p.m. Eastern; we had left around 5 a.m. that morning. People were waiting for us and we were greeted by some friends who welcomed us to the Great Northwest.


This included Fr. Anthony Patalano, O.P., who is a relative of a friend back in NYC, Joseph Patalano, who I knew from the TM in New York.


It was a nice gathering that lasted about three hours.


All told, both Fr. C. and I had been awake for 21 hours, and it was time to nap.


Busy Days Ahead


The next day was a big one. I was to meet with the servers, the ministers, and meet with Bishop Steiner himself before the Mass that night. It was a long day of giving and rehearsing roles, and doing a walk-through. It was at that rehearsal I met the man who would become Fr. Eric Andersen.


The morning was spent working with the servers. The afternoon was spent with the ministers and with the Bishop. Fr. Cipolla was the Assistant Priest, and he was very happy when Bishop Steiner said he wanted him to take care of his own miter.


The servers at Holy Rosary were a good group of kids, ranging in age from 12 to 17, an all-male serving contingent, so it was easy to navigate. Kids listened because they were trained in the importance of what they do. I see this all over the country where all-male servers are the rule. The importance of the job, plus learning the role, gives an almost military-like precision to what the kids did; it is a guy thing.


Bishop Steiner was not only a very compliant prelate, he was a good man and a mensch. He wanted to do things well, and gave himself over to the liturgy.


During the rehearsal for this Mass I met Dr. William Mahrt, who was sub-deacon of the Mass in the days that we still had little guidance in such matters. Dr. Mahrt and I have worked many times together since. I worked for him as MC for the Church Music Association of America’s annual Colloquium this year in St. Paul, Minnesota.


The night of the Mass was interesting not just because there was a packed church, nor only because the servers and ministers did as well as anyone could have expected, including Bishop Steiner. It was the sermon given by the Bishop that stands out in my mind.


Welcome News from Rome


We knew something was in the works in Rome. We had heard that a papal decree of some sort was going to affect the Traditional Rites. Bishop Steiner mentioned that and was very positive about it. It was going to be good for the Church.


The Mass took about two hours. The MC was a bundle of nerves before the Mass, but had no need to worry. Still, I was drenched when it was over. In fact, it led to another trip to Portland for the Byrd Festival and further trip the next year for the Festival and a Mass, this time a Solemn Mass by Fr. C.


The next day or so was relaxing, sightseeing in beautiful parts of the Northwest. But it was time to head for home, and Monday morning we packed up and left for the airport. This time it was a non-stop to Newark.


Yup. Here I go again. Another trip on that damned plane.


About the Author: Bill Riccio, Jr is the editor of The West Haven Voice, West Haven, CT.  He is a long time Master of Ceremonies for the Latin Mass










Photo credit:

Stuart Chessman of St Hugh of Cluny

Harry Stevens

Yumi Delgado

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