In 1992, I made the decision to begin looking for another ministerial position. I had been director of liturgy and music at two parishes in the Diocese of Orlando for about seven years and served a short stint as director of music for the diocese. There were three parishes at which I was interviewed and offered positions. One was in New York City, one in Seattle, and the other was here in the Archdiocese of Chicago. I chose Chicago, Saint Marcelline Parish in Schaumburg, Illinois, chiefly on the advice of the then director of the Office for Divine Worship here, Fr. Ron Lewinski, who had served at Saint Marcelline years earlier.
When I was interviewed in Schaumburg, the interview team asked me why, in heaven's name, would I move from sunny Florida to Chicago. I remember asking them in response, "Are you kdding? This is Chicago, the center of liturgical reform and growth here in the United States. I would be thrilled to be a part of it." They seemed surprised, except for the pastor, who simply nodded. When I was offered the position, I phoned the Office for Divine Worship here in Chicago and spoke to an "old friend," Mary Beth Kunde-Anderson, who was at the time director of music for the Archdiocese. I knew Mary Beth (now, of course, the editorial director of publications here at World Library Publications - and who hired me as worship resources editor here in 1999!) during my time in Florida. She had served the Archdiocese of Miami as director of music. She told me about Saint Marcelline parish, about the well-established choral program there, its thriving catechumenate begun by Fr. Ron Lewinski, and its history of good liturgy. She also spoke about the fine Goulding and Wood pipe organ in the space.
I moved to Chicago in 1992 and began my ministry at Saint Marcelline in July of that year. It was a tremendous time of growth and excitement about the liturgy here in Chicago. I helped lead our parish through a complete renovation and addition to our church building, adding nine thousand square feet of gathering space. We used the Church's liturgical documents as our "blueprint" and guide for the building and renovation project. I worked closely with the staff at the Office for Divine Worship through that challenging and exciting time. I was so proud to have members of the office present for the Mass of dedication, one of the liturgical highlights of my life.
Why all this memory-jogging this morning?
Well, last night, at Saint Clement parish here in Chicago, all four people who have served as the directors of Chicago's Office for Divine Worship, were brought together for a panel discussion. They reflected on their tenures as directors and shared with us their own "surprises" and memories of their stints. It was just fascinating. It was like a living liturgical history book unfolding before our very eyes.
Here's a photo I took last night:
Seated left to right are Father Dan Coughlin, Father Ron Lewinski, Sheila McLaughlin, and Todd Williamson, who is the current director. The moderator was the pastor of Saint Clement, Fr. Ken Simpson.
These are people who served the Archdiocese, the country, and really the English-speaking world throughout the time of the reform of the liturgy begun at the Second Vatican Council. Fr. Coughlin, who is nearly 80 years-old, spoke with passion and a sparkle in his eyes as he recounted the early days of the reform; the move into the vernacular, the implementation of the various new English translations of the liturgical books, the training of clergy and the laity. Fr. Ron Lewinski shared how the office grew to thirteen full-time employees and how, when Pope John Paul II visited Chicago in 1979, the Mass in Grant Park included the rite of acceptance into the order of catechumens; something which the majority (if not all) of the gathered bishops, priests, and lay people (as well as the pope himself) had never experienced. Talk about cutting edge!
Sheila McLaughlin went on to talk about her being the first lay person and woman to head the office; she spoke about the forward-thinking and inclusive approach of Cardinal Bernardin, who put his trust in Sheila. They each spoke of the close relationship between the Office for Divine Worship and its publishing arm, Liturgy Training Publications, and how the entire English-speaking Catholic world looked to these two closely tied entities for advice and for resources to help move the liturgical reform to its varied next steps.
Next up was the current director, Todd Williamson, who has led the office for over a decade under Cardinal Francis George. He spoke about his tenure as being filled with preparations for and implementation of The Roman Missal, Third Edition. He also spoke of the growing "politicization" of liturgical issues, the "camps" that became entrenched in the last decade. He shared that, during his tenure, the Archdiocesan leaders decided to restructure the way the various departments had been working, separating the work of the office and the work of Liturgy Training Publications. He also shared with us the decline in the number of persons in the office; down from thirteen and now at three.
Folks, it was an evening filled with hope and memory. I must admit, however, that I went away saddened by what has happened to this once thriving office of many dedicated ministers to the liturgy, many of whom were in the room last night. The office, like many across the country, has experienced budget cuts and cuts in program funding. Many offices of worship have been shuttered. As much as I love and respect our shepherd here in Chicago, Cardinal George, I was left wondering why more could not have been done to keep the office well-staffed. There is so much work left to be done in this post-conciliar age.
Pope Francis was mentioned several times. There was a palpable sense of hope in the room for the future, one which, if initial indications are correct, the panel members told us will be a future that will see a move toward decentralization of the structures and governance of the Church, as well as more decision-making moved back to the conferences of bishops around the world.
I was so grateful and felt so privileged to be in that room last night.
I will spend the weekend in the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, leading an all-day RCIA workshop on Saturday. On Monday, I travel to Erie, Pennsylvania, for the annual meeting of the FDLC (the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions), which has also experienced a decline in numbers and membership over the past decade.
Folks, my heart is filled with hope for our Church and the continuation of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. I was inspired by last night's presenters and the passion they exhibited for the liturgy. One question that was submitted to the panel: "Is the liturgy relevant?" The answers challenged me to think about my own engagement in the liturgy and how the communal celebration of God's love, manifested in the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, cannot be but the most relevant thing in this Catholic's life.
I felt that, at least for the Archdiocese of Chicago, last night was a moment of historal importance.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.