Curing Historical Amnesia: The Quest to Understand the Past as a Means of Preparation for the 1998 Provincial Chapter, St. Paul of the Cross Province, USA

Home / Curing Historical Amnesia: The Quest to Understand the Past as a Means of Preparation for the 1998 Provincial Chapter, St. Paul of the Cross Province, USA

by Rob Carbonneau, C.P., Ph.D.

Every four years Passionists gather at a Provincial Chapter. There they elect a Provincial Superior and Consultors who vote to implement decrees on the spiritual life and personal life of Passionist priests and brothers. They also examine the financial and legal aspects of Province organization. Sometimes they decree to undertake new ventures in ministry. Other times a Chapter may decide to cease a ministry. Whatever the case, Provincial Chapters are extremely crucial in the life of a Province and Congregation.

Below are short summaries of the Chapter Decrees from 1911 through 1923. They are meant to provide an historical foundation for the upcoming 1998 Eastern Province Chapter. While not exhaustive, several points should be noted: The Passionist presence in the eastern U.S. was limited. Growth remained steady through WWI. Decrees at a Chapter are often passed because tensions, good and bad, exist. In this case one sees the Passionists trying to grapple with prayer life, student life, building new foundations, financial issues, and health issues. There is concern over the role of priests, brothers and superiors as well as defining new ministries such as the retreat movement or foreign missions. Simply put, the Passionists who voted in these decrees in the first part of the twentieth century followed those who had arrived in 1852. Reflecting on the fact that the United States region was split into two provinces in 1908, it becomes evident that the decrees below show the challenge to maintain tradition while looking towards the future even as membership increased and America modernized. Passing of each decree solved an immediate issue while at the same time becoming the foundation for us today.

1911 Provincial Chapter:

Passionist foundations were located at St. Paul’s Pittsburgh, St. Mary’s Dunkirk, St. Michael’s West Hoboken, St. Joseph’s Baltimore, St. Ann’s Scranton, St. Gabriel’s Brighton. The chapter issued 19 decrees:

  • 1) “emphatically admonishes” religious who had encouraged “a spirit of unrest, and rebellion against legitimate authority” in the Province.
  • 2) “idle gossip” led to regulation of religious’ mail, restraining telegraph companies from delivering messages by phone call and forbidding that telephone booths be constructed in all our Retreats.
  • 3) “In order to secure greater uniformity of government and to meet special emergencies” Superiors of the Province were encouraged to meet with the Provincial between Chapters.
  • 4) greater financial itemizing was demanded.
  • 5) The Circular to preaching missionaries endorsed by the last Chapter was praised.
  • 6) “no official position or mere seniority, gives a religious the right to be appointed Superior of a mission.”
  • 7) Declaring “while so called Sunday work is not the specific work of our Congregation,” present “conditions in this country make such work unavoidable, [and] it may be accepted in moderation….” The Chapter then established criteria of involvement.
  • 8) dealt with protocol surrounding financial administration of foundations.
  • 9) parish and monastery expenses were to be kept separate, and “Extraordinary parish expenses…require the permission of the Provincial,” and at least one Consultor.
  • 10) Rectors were “allowed to make extraordinary expenditures to the amount of $40.00, without the consent of the local Council.”
  • 11) It was agreed that the annual $5,000 subsidy, for ten years (1908-1918) to Holy Cross Province be continued.
  • 12) Suffrages: prayers for deceased religious of the Eastern and Western Provinces, as well as those of parents in the Eastern, Western and Argentine provinces were settled.
  • 13) The Chapter rejoiced in the foundation of the Passionist Nuns in Pittsburgh, which had been advocated by the previous Chapter, and encouraged the Provincial to make “reasonable efforts to assist the Nuns in reducing their debt” and send “zealous and edifying priests to conduct the Retreats for women.”
  • 14) Building upon the 1911 decree of the Sacred Congregation of Religious Concerning Lay Brothers of Religious Orders, the Chapter stated:
    1. “Lay Brothers receive Catechetical instructions on Sundays or any other day of the week”
    2. “they go to Fr. Rector once a month, and make the conference with the Spiritual Father.”
    3. “that they diligently employ their free time on Sundays and Holydays in spiritual reading.” Also, according to custom they should assist “the Cook and Refectorian in their offices.”
    4. involved in “manual offices…they should not occupy this time in study or reading, which is incompatible with their state.”
  • 15) “Brother Infirmarian or Tailor will distribute to the religious at least one small towel every two weeks for their personal use….religious receive a change of underwear once a week….clothing, etc., in common be laundered at least every two weeks,” and set down prayer schedule for Brothers at work in the laundry.
  • 16-17) dealt with fasting and prayer.
  • 18) Since “there is a general desire to have an accurate account of the foundation and growth” of the Province, Rectors are to show “the greatest care in the preservation of the documents of the Congregation,” and exhorts all, Superiors and Religious, to forward to Fr. Provincial information relative to the history of the Province. The Chapter further urges Fr. Provincial to secure one of our Religious to begin work on the collection of materials for such a history.
  • 19) Ecclesiastical Studies was addressed. New plans for the preparatory school were to be developed. An annual collection in all our Churches was to be initiated and priests and missionaries were to secure candidates.

1914 Provincial Chapter:

Capitulars expressed “sympathy and concern for the trials” of the Mexican Passionists “agreeing at the same time to give suitable financial aid, in case our Fathers should be expelled from Mexico”; it also praised the “conduct” of the Lay-Brothers in the province. After Clement Lee was elected provincial, the Chapter passed 21 Decrees:

  • 1) due to the impossibility of keeping a Community at St. Ann’s Scranton, a Superior would be appointed rather than the election of a canonical Rector.
  • Decrees 2 through 6 concentrated on educational restructuring which was a direct result of directives of the 1914 Passionist General Chapter. This included more class hours, a committee to revise the Passionist Ratio Studiorum, and standardized examination criteria for allowing students to be promoted to the next level of Theology. Physical exercise for students was stressed thereby encouraging “the privilege” of half-day walks once a week instead of every two weeks. Philosophy and Theology students, but not professed Passionists were allowed to spend part of their vacation at Shelter Island.
  • 7) dealt with rest and prayer regulations for returning preachers and renewed the prohibition “against Junior Fathers using spirituous liquors, either during time of mission or at any time.”
  • 8) spelled out pastor-rector jurisdiction and encouraged that establishment and promotion of the Archconfraternity of the Passion as well as devotions to the Passion.
  • 9) affirmed the building of a Preparatory Seminary at Shelter Island and thereby create a debt. At the same time each foundation was to be taxed for this project, and it was clearly stated that Hemlock Grange in Dunkirk, NY would be “reserved for other purposes in the future.”
  • 10) stated students would have six years of classical studies; five were to be completed prior to novitiate and the sixth after Novitiate.
  • 11) ordered that a Directory be compiled for the Preparatory School.
  • 12) Junior Fathers can be appointed by Provincial and Consultors instead of Provincial Chapter.
  • 13) concerns itself with Novices and the perpetually professed.
  • 14) rectors, directors and lectors should “bestow special care” on those in temporary vows.
  • 15) evening meditation reinstated during summer months.
  • 16) one half hour taken from midnight be added to rest time before Matins; afternoon siesta be limited to one hour through the year.
  • 17) to assist financial needs of Province, Provincial with consent of Consultors may tax each retreat annually.
  • 18) deals with active time, reports and active voice of Master of Novices.
  • 19) agrees to enact “sanitary regulations” to prevent tuberculosis.
  • 20) sanctions Laymen’s Retreat House being conducted at Brighton, MA.
  • 21) priests should be sent to assist Passionist Bishop Paul Nussbaum in Corpus Christi and he is considered a member of the Province.

1917 Provincial Chapter:

Held in Pittsburgh, preliminary comments addressed WWI, stating they were “loyal sons of the great spiritual Father, and loyal citizens” and “the country which they love may come out of this war with untarnished honor and undiminished glory.”
Opening decrees were:

  • 1) to establish branches of the Benefactor’s Society in all Retreats.
  • 2) After each semi-annual examination at Preparatory College, a Chapter should be held by Faculty “to determine the fitness of each boy to continue his studies” and records kept.
  • 3) Canonical Rector of new Prep will be “ex officio” Director of Students.
  • 4) new Ratio Studiorum will be implemented as soon as possible.
  • 5) “Students not in Major Orders and our Lay Brothers shall wear secular collars and ties of uniform pattern, when they go out in citizen’s dress.”
  • 6) Father Rector may correct the reading in the refectory and choir.

Second group of decrees were:

  • 1) Provincial and Consultors were told to apply to Rome “for permission to contract such debt as may be necessary to complete” Dunkirk Prep and debt was to be borne by Retreats.
  • 2) all Houses of the Province, especially St. Ann’s Scranton, take up Laymen’s Retreat.
  • 3) due to “increasing number of religious” Chapter decreed a desire for a Canadian foundation.
  • 4) Directorium of Missions to be revised.
  • 5) Sext will be chanted with None & Vespers during Lent.
  • 6) new summary of Provincial Chapter Decrees should be published.

Others decrees:

  • 1) dealt with pastor-rector issues.
  • 2) deals with “idle visits in the parlor” and if “being out, one thinks it necessary to make a call” to inform the Superior.

The last group were:

  • 1) diligence in keeping legal documents in Retreat Archives and deals with property lines and legal Corporation of Retreats.
  • 2) Affirms Lay Brothers and that they are to “remove themselves more and more from the world and its spirit.”

1920 Provincial Chapter:

Gathering in Pittsburgh, Chapter members passed seventeen decrees:

  • 1) concerns itself with student life.
  • 2) Regulation of Passionist visitors to “beg culpa” in refectory.
  • 3) Rules and Regulations to be read from evening to noon-day meal on Wednesdays and Fridays.
  • 4) prayer regulations at Alumnate at Hemlock Grange, Dunkirk.
  • 5) scholarship of $3,000 is burse for Dunkirk Prep and contributors are welcome.
  • 6) Oath of secrecy necessary for Student Chapters.
  • 7) Chaplain permissions are right of the Provincial.
  • 8) Purgatorian Society with Holy Cross Province.
  • 9) willing to establish mission to China.
  • 10) Canada foundation promising.
  • 11) Centralization of the Archconfraternity of the Passion.
  • 12) with increase of people “from foreign parts” to the U.S., Passionists must “encourage vocations among the boys and young men of these peoples.”
  • 13) establish Province wide commissary director for all Retreats in order to secure goods at lower prices.
  • 14) concerned with missionary preaching.
  • 15) role of parish priests and local community.
  • 16) due to number of deaths among Lay Brothers, Chapter reaffirms concern and support.
  • 17) applauds Retreat House ministry in Province.

1923 Provincial Chapter:

Together in Pittsburgh, participants stated that in three years, the Province had seen growth in numbers, missionaries being sent to China and Germany. The Sign magazine commenced publication in 1921. Passionist Foundations were in Pittsburgh, PA, two in Dunkirk, NY, West Hoboken, NJ, Baltimore, MD, Scranton, PA,and Brighton, MA. The second session included reading of the Report of the First Congress of the missionaries in China held January 3-6, 1923.
Seventeen decrees followed.

  • 1) thanked Father General for his kind letter to the Province.
  • 2) Encouraged continued planning and organization of the Archconfraternity of the Passion.
  • 3) Commended the China Missions and future efforts as well as The Sign promotion of missions.
  • 4) The Sign was praised in intellectual, devotional, and mission apostolate.
  • 5) the German foundation was praised.
  • 6) due to unsafe conditions of building, a new church in connection with Brighton foundation to be built. Same should be done in Scranton.
  • 7) Laymen’s Retreats should be developed in new Brooklyn and Springfield foundations.
  • 8) Annual Retreats should be from Sunday to Sunday except for earlier retreat for Fathers in parish work.
  • 9) Recommends “Regulations for Parish Priests” approved by last Chapter.
  • 10) Terms of appointment discussed.
  • 11) The Rector should appear first in listing of The Catholic Directory.
  • 12) “Lectors of Students have no right inherent in their office to have money.” Father Provincial may grant permission.
  • 13) “all assistance of material aid for the needy parents of our religious shall come through Father Provincial.”
  • 14) Written and oral exams to be held at end of year at the Prep; Vacation time should be one month; Rosary should be said once a week for contributors to burse.
  • 15) Endowment to be established for Holy Cross College.
  • 16) students will be ordained to Priesthood after fourth year of Theology, exemptions for those going to China. A combined program of Sacred Eloquence — training for preaching after ordination be developed; students should be sent on to studies at The Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
  • 17) vocations to the Brothers encouraged.

There was also discussion that some in the Province saw a trend to break from “old traditions, and admit worldliness in our communities,” “overactivity in exterior work,” “going to public games and movies,” “too much smoking, and, in consequence, breaking of silence,” “superiors not going before and leading their communities,” “examens and Friday Chapters neglected, and absent from evening sentiment,” “There seems to be a misunderstanding among the students concerning the ordinary confessor.” “Another misunderstanding I gather exists about seeking and receiving personal presents, especially by priests engaged in mission work.”

Subsequent issues of The Heritage Newsletter will print more of these decrees.

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