Thursday, January 11, 2024

St. Gregory Society Ends 38 years of Tradition in New Haven with Final Mass

“A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” – Mark 6, 4-6

This quotation struck me immediately on December 31. On New Year’s Eve, just two minutes before Mass was to begin for the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, the parish priest of St Stanislaus Church in New Haven, Connecticut announced that the Traditional Mass that had been celebrated since 1986, and weekly since 1990, was to be ended. The final date for celebrations was set for this weekend, January 14, 2024.
For 38 years, the St Gregory Society of New Haven had sponsored the Masses, first at Sacred Heart Church, which was closed in 2009, and then at St Stanislaus. The reason the words above struck me was that while the work of the St Gregory Society was known throughout the northeastern United States, and, indeed, throughout the world through recordings and blog posts, the Archdiocese of Hartford forgot who we were, never acknowledged several attempts to invite its dignitaries to celebrations, and decided to consign our people to St. Patrick’s Church or some other place where the Traditional Mass was central.
While I might be seen as biased in my analysis, it is without a doubt a true statement that much of the growth of the Traditional Mass in New England, the Mid-Atlantic States and elsewhere began with SGS.
Founded in 1984 by Nicholas Renouf and Britt Wheeler (both choir directors) to petition for the Mass under St John Paul II’s Quattuor Abhinc Annos indult, the St Gregory Society had its first Mass at Sacred Heart Church in New Haven, a Missa Cantata for the feast of the Holy Family. At that time, Archbishop John F. Whealon allowed three Masses in the archdiocese, one in Hartford’s Our Lady of Sorrows Church, then the LaSallette Mother Church (turned over to the archdiocese only three weeks ago) in New Haven, and Waterbury, each on the first, second and third Sundays of the month.
Preparing for our Mass, which was the second to begin after Our Lady of Sorrows, servers were trained, a choir was assembled, using professional singers from the many churches in New Haven.
Abp John Whealon celebrates Benediction in 1990.
By the second anniversary, Auxiliary Bishop John Hackett presided at the Mass, and thanked the society for bringing back this rite of worship. Two years later, Archbishop Whealon himself presided at a solemn Mass and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. This brought out more than 1000 people to Sacred Heart, and was a catalyst in the archbishop allowing weekly celebrations later that year. His Excellency became a friend of the Society, and gifted it his own Canon Pontificalis before he died. It has been used several times, all over the country.
That Mass was the springboard for many, who hoped to bring the Traditional Rite to their dioceses. Over the next two years, SGS aided several groups asking for the Mass, including New York City and Boston, both of which had permission within a year. The St. Gregory Society also became known for its choir, as the Schola Cantorum sang the major Renaissance masters, and its interpretation of chant was considered top notch. Over the next several years, six CDs of various Masses were issued, and given critical acclaim in the secular press. 
The first Mass at St Stanislaus, on the Exaltation of the Cross in 2009.
Michael Davies, author and future head of Una Voce became a friend of the Society, and traveled to New Haven three times to speak at its anniversary celebrations, and to encourage the faithful in the goodness of the work. He was instrumental in having the Society’s recording of Palestrina’s Missa O Magnum Mysterium used as the Christmas meditation music on BBC broadcasts.
The Society aided in the training of priests and servers in New York City and Boston, and alumni of the schola were instrumental in getting choirs assembled there. I did an all-day tutorial for priests at St. Agnes, NYC, teaching the clergy the finer points of the liturgy. On February 22, 1992, the Society aided the visit of Alfons Maria Cardinal Stickler to St. Agnes for what was a watershed moment in the traditional Mass movement, the first pontifical Mass celebrated in New York since 1969.
That same year, the schola and servers were asked to assist the inauguration of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter’s parish, at St. Peter’s Cathedral, Scranton, Pennsylvania, in the presence of Bishop James Timlin. This began a long relationship with the FSSP while it was headquartered in Scranton, with several FSSP clergy celebrating Mass in New Haven.
The schola was invited to Paterson, New Jersey to sing the Confirmation Mass of the FSSP parish there in the cathedral church, with Bishop Frank J. Rodimer celebrating. Closer to home, priests of various dioceses, including Bridgeport, were trained by the Society and celebrated in New Haven. Twice, Auxiliary Bishop Peter Rosazza celebrated Mass at the faldstool, bringing large crowds to Sacred Heart. Alumni choristers were hired in various churches and brought the music and style of the Society.  The Society continued its aid of other locales, helping in Springfield, Massachusetts, when it began a weekly celebration. Just prior to the publication of Summorum Pontificum, the Society aided a Mass in Holy Rosary Church, Portland, Oregon, with Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Steiner celebrating.
With the publication of the moto proprio, the society helped train servers at St. Mary’s, Norwalk, Connecticut, where an alumnus chorister, David Hughes, was the choir director. Over the next several years, the traditional rites spread, more and more priests were trained by society members, both in singing and the rites.
Sacred Heart was closed in 2009, and the Society was invited by the Vincentian Fathers of St. Stanislaus Church to headquarter there. In 2011, the 25th anniversary of the first Mass, Bishop Timlin celebrated Pontifical Mass. It was the last time a prelate visited the Society. 
Attempts were made to have the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest come into New Haven, but the archdiocese rebuffed the attempt, only to do it years later in Waterbury.
With the change of archbishops, chancery personnel and time, the work of the Society was forgotten until Traditiones Custodes was promulgated. Then the paperwork that had to be done brought the forgotten group back into focus. Unaware of the group’s history, and at the request of the two pastors, the letter suppressing the Mass at St Stanislaus came about.
What the future holds for St. Gregory Society is unknown, but with Sunday’s Mass, a Votive of St Gregory the Great, members and alumni, and faithful aided by the work of the last 38 years will celebrate the contributions made to mainstream the Traditional Mass to the Universal Church. In that regard, the Society can consider itself an enduring success.

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