PROVIDENCE — As Ed Gallagher held the door open for the steady stream of worshippers entering the Church of St. Mary’s on Broadway for the 10:30 Mass Sunday morning he marveled at the number of changes that had affected his beloved parish — which offers the traditional Latin Mass exclusively — in the previous 10 days.
In that time frame, Pope Francis had issued an apostolic letter restoring limits on the celebration of such traditional Latin Masses, and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, which has administered St. Mary’s on Broadway for the last three years, announced the upcoming departure of the pastor and some of his associates, with a new pastor and associate scheduled to take their place in early August.
Gallagher was very enthusiastic that Bishop Thomas J. Tobin would be attending Sunday’s Mass, in choir, and would offer some words of support as many wondered if the pope’s letter would have an impact on the future of their vibrant parish.
“We’re so very excited,” Gallagher said. “It’s so affirming and we’re looking forward to hearing his words and for him just to be here,” he said.
Before the pastor, Father John Berg, F.S.S.P., delivered his homily, he invited Bishop Tobin to address the congregation.
The bishop addressed their most pressing concern about the future of their parish right away, offering them his personal support, affirmation and encouragement.
“I know that the publication of ‘Traditionis Custodes’ has caused some anxiety and uncertainty for many adherents of the traditional Latin Mass, but I want you to be at peace,” Bishop Tobin told the congregants, including many women wearing chapel veils and some holding babies in their arms.
“I want to say, that as I read the motu proprio of Pope Francis, and its accompanying letter, I find nothing that threatens the existence of St. Mary’s Church, nor the ministry of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter among you.”
The bishop thanked the parishioners for the “growth and vitality” he has witnessed at St. Mary’s Church over the previous three years, including the South Side parish’s increase in attendance, in spiritual devotions, in catechetical programs and in charitable service to the community.
“And I can assure you that, as long as I am your bishop; as long as you remain united to the Church Universal and the Diocese of Providence; as long as you support the parish, personally and spiritually; and as long as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter is able to provide us with faithful and effective pastors; I will do all that I can to support and affirm the existence and ministry of St. Mary’s Parish,” Bishop Tobin said.
The bishop then offered a personal message of gratitude to Father John Berg, F.S.S.P., a former superior general of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, who was on his way to Maine three years ago — to visit a fellow priest of his order — when he stopped en route to visit Bishop Tobin, who invited him to serve as pastor at St. Mary’s.
After three years, Father Berg was recently reassigned to serve in the Diocese of Omaha beginning the first week of August.
“Although I truly wish Father Berg could stay in Providence, I understand completely that a man of Father Berg’s talents and experience will often be required to respond to other important needs in his community,” Bishop Tobin said.
“Father Berg has led St. Mary’s Parish with insight and courage, with humility and prudence, and for all he has done, we give thanks and praise to Almighty God. Father Berg, thank you very much, and may God bless you and your faithful discipleship of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the days and years to come.”
Father Berg thanked Bishop Tobin for the opportunity to serve the faith community at St. Mary’s, recalling how fortuitous that visit with the bishop was three years ago. He recalled that when he eventually settled at St. Mary’s, after being given permission by his order to serve in Providence, Bishop Tobin was the second visitor to the rectory to see him.
“We have felt that fraternal care that he gave towards the Fraternity of St. Peter ever since,” Father Berg said.
Parishioner Tony Beretto said that Bishop Tobin’s visit helped to allay some of the fears and anxiety he and fellow parishioners have been feeling with all of the recent changes involving the traditional Latin Mass, as well as changes in leadership at the parish level.
“I think it’s wonderful that he takes the time to come here and let us know that he is behind us all the way in what is taking place in the Catholic Church today. That means an awful lot to all of us. So we’re glad he’s here,” Beretto said.
Father James Jackson, F.S.S.P., will arrive at St. Mary’s on Aug. 7 to begin serving as the new pastor and will celebrate his first Mass on Aug. 8.
Ordained in 1995, Father Jackson has served in various roles for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, including as rector of Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary from 200-2006. Since then, he has served as pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Fraternity parish in Denver. He is also the author of a widely read book on the liturgy, “Nothing Superfluous.”
Father Thu Truong, F.S.S.P., ordained on May 28, 2021, arrived on July 31 at St. Mary’s where he has been assigned to serve as the assistant pastor.