Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mass on a Zeppelin and More

Our readers have run across Mr Andrew Cusack’s coverage of some of the stunning Catholic chapels on board the great Art Deco passenger liners, but I was pleasantly surprised by a friend who pointed out that around the same time, Mass was also being said in the air. The incomparable eccentric Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson imagines chapels aboard futuristic flying craft in his fanciful scientific romance The Dawn of All, the lesser known and even stranger companion to his more famous novel Lord of the World. But a little over two decades later, there was at least one actual aerial Mass said. This is a photo from of a Mass said by Fr Paul Schulte, the so-called “Flying Priest,” aboard the LZ 129 Hindenburg in its happier pre-Lakehurst days.

Fr. Schulte is an interesting character in and of himself. The founder of MIVA (Missionalium Vehiculorum Associatio/Missionary International Vehicle Association), while still a seminarian he was conscripted into the Prussian 4th Guard Grenadiers in the First World War, and only was ordained as a priest of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1922, after a brief stint as a military pilot. MIVA was founded in 1925 in South-West Africa (modern Namibia) and was dedicated to acquiring transportation vehicles and qualified pilots and drivers for the missions abroad, especially Africa, Asia and Latin America. The first aerial Mass was said in 1936, with special Papal permission, by Fr. Schulte aboard the Hindenburg; presumably this is a photo of the event, though I am unable to confirm this supposition. Schulte was later stationed in the far north of Canada and spent most of the Second World War in Belleville, Illinois; he later helped found the outdoor National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, itself an intriguing exercise in “mid-century modern” Catholic art and architecture. He died in 1975 in what is now Namibia.

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