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Pentecost XI

✠ A McFather’s Corner ✠
With Bishop Dolan away, he has asked me to write a little note, updating you all on all the various missions and our recent pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Prairies. You often see me coming and going or occasionally see something I am doing mentioned in the normal Bishop’s Corner, but what is it that actually keeps me occupied and away?… The answer: Missions near and far (mostly far).

First, let us start with the missions. I essentially have a northern route and a southern route. Of these, we start in the South. It will doubtlessly please many of you to hear me say that, at least in Catholicism, the South seems to have risen again! I have three missions down south…all in the massive state of Texas. One is in the Dallas area (Arlington) and was originally started by Fr. Francis Miller, O.F.M. This is our largest Texas mission and we hope it continues to grow. It seems pretty regularly that people contact us, interested in the Dallas Mass…. May the mission patron, St. Anthony, find more lost Catholics and bring them to us!

Our other two Texas missions are opposites of each other. The mission in El Paso is made up mostly of long time traditional Catholics who have labored for the Faith and the Sacraments for years. They have built a charming chapel and make visits to the Blessed Sacrament, reserved there, every day. The other, in Austin, is made up mostly of converts and newcomers to the Traditional Latin Mass. But these newbies are fervent, and the mission’s growth has been rapid, going from zero to almost twenty souls in about four months.

Now, to the north, which is not so frozen during these beautiful days of summer. Here we have the missions in Park Falls, Wisconsin, Grand Forks, North Dakota, and Powers Lake/Minot, North Dakota. When looking at the three names on the page, it doesn’t seem that overwhelming. However, when you realize that if I travel to all three of the missions from St. Hugh in Milwaukee and return for the following weekend, it ends up being somewhere around 2,100-2,200 miles of driving, you will begin to realize just how far the missions are spread out. But the faithful in these places don’t just wait for us patiently to come (they do this too) but also are truly an extension of our St. Gertrude’s family. They read the bulletins, watch the webcast masses, and listen to the school sermons. Technology used for good, for a change.

Last week, for the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we resurrected the formerly famous pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Prairies, in Powers Lake, ND. When Fr. Nelson opened his chapel in direct opposition to the diocesan church he used to be in charge of, after the changes of the Novus Ordo came in, he quickly built up quite a following, despite being in the middle of nowhere. He had a nationally syndicated radio program (Marian Hour), a widely distributed newsletter (Mary Faithful), a school which accepted boarding students from all over the country, and every year ran a pilgrimage at the chapel for those devoted to the True Mass. Hundreds and even sometimes thousands would come to Powers Lake for this special day every year. Not bad for a place that is truly in the middle of nowhere!

However, all these things began to die once Fr. Nelson died in 1988. They had a succession of difficult and even scandalous clergy follow Fr. Nelson there and for the last number of years, the place had essentially sat vacant, until I came to offer Mass two years ago for some of the people there who had become sedevacantists. The mission successfully added a couple of families to it over time. However, nobody else from the original Fr. Nelson group really got behind us. Sadly, they couldn’t/wouldn’t admit the true extent of the crisis in the Church and either continued on with SSPX or even the Novus Ordo.

So, we turned to the fountain of graces Herself, Our Lady, to see if we could possibly bring the people over and grow our support. We held the first pilgrimage in decades to Our Lady of the Prairies. It doubtlessly looked vastly different from the pilgrimage in its heyday, as we didn’t have big crowds or tour buses coming to town…in fact, it was only some of the people from our Powers Lake and Grand Forks missions who came. But this didn’t stop us from giving honor to Our Lady and also having a great pilgrimage day which included Confession, Mass with sermon and opening devotions, two spiritual talks, 15 decades of the Rosary said in procession, Stations of the Cross, devotional prayers, quiet time for reflection and private prayers, and a tour of the old shrine buildings. We will see what the future holds for this property. If some of the remaining Fr. Nelson parishioners have a change of heart and want us to remain at the shrine, then we will happily keep going there. However, if this is the end of the road in Powers Lake, then the pilgrimage was a very fitting bookend conclusion to such an interesting page in Traditional Catholic history and we will look to the future by moving the mission to Minot. It all rests firmly in Mary’s hands now…and doubtless we cannot go wrong with her for our guide!

– Fr. McKenna