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  • Writer's pictureFr. Vili Lehtoranta

The Month of Anniversaries

Dear friends of the Oblate Sisters,

I hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving. We had a pleasant and peaceful one here at St. Gertrude’s, except that I caught a very severe autumn cold, which made me sneeze and cough for over a week. But as time passes, I have started to feel better. My grandfather, who was an old school man and had no great trust in doctors or medicine, used to have this practical advice as the cure: “Cough goes away by coughing, and sneeze goes away by sneezing.”

November has been a time of great acts of charity, with the Sisters joining the priests, the faithful, and the school children in visiting the sick, making cemetery visits, and praying for the dead. And the month has also been the month of anniversaries. November 6 was the tenth anniversary of the ordination of Bishop Bede Nkamuke. That ordination, which was performed by Bishop Dolan in Brooksville, Florida, was also attended by Kirby and Jean Bischel, Sister Ulrica’s grandparents, and Kyle and Mary McGuire, parents of Bishop McGuire. And both Mrs. McGuire and Mrs. Bischel were able to attend Bishop Nkamuke’s consecration before their deaths in June and July; and Bp. Nkamuke still remembers these ladies in every Mass he says. “Stern as death is love.” (Canticles 8:6)

Jean and Kirby Bischel, Sister Ulrica’s grandparents, visiting Father Martin Stepanich, OFM. Behind them Bishop Nkamuke and I. Our visit in Father’s home in Chicago was made in January 2012, few weeks after my ordination, when Bishop Nkamuke was still a seminarian.

The feast of St. Gertrude, November 16, was the ordination anniversary of Bishop McGuire and I, and the twentieth anniversary of the blessing of our current church building in West Chester. November 30th is the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, and the 30th anniversary of the consecration of Bishop Dolan by Bishop Mark Pivarunas in 1993. After Fathers Kelly, Dolan, Cekada, and Sanborn left the Society of St. Pius X in 1983, they sometimes referred their group as “the five Sacraments church” because they had to learn to get along without the Sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders. Originally they sent their faithful to the SSPX Bishops for Confirmation, until the Society forbade this practice. For Holy Oils they counted on the priests in the Society who were sympathetic to them, and Father Dolan even gave Confirmation to some of St. Gertrude’s faithful, after explaining that since there is no Bishop available, the Church supplies to the priests the power to give this Sacrament.

But not even the greatest need supplies the power to ordain priests. For that, a Bishop is absolutely necessary. Therefore, when Bishop Pivarunas offered to make Father Dolan a Bishop in 1993, the offer was accepted. After Bishop Dolan died, and we heard that Bishop Pivarunas would be coming to the funeral, I asked my high school students if they knew who Bishop Pivarunas was. Some of them knew, and some did not. And when I told them that he’s the Bishop who consecrated Bishop Dolan, one student asked: “He’s still alive!?” But in her defense, he was very young when he was made Bishop in 1991. Bishop Pivarunas did pay his respect to Bishop Dolan and the SGG family by attending the funeral, and offered his congratulations after the consecration of Bishop McGuire. Though we don’t work together with the CMRI, the religious group headed by Bishop Pivarunas, one thing which Bishop Dolan always admired in them is their deep love and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. That is something that every Bishop, priest, and layman can learn well from them.

With Bishop Dolan’s consecration in 1993, St. Gertrude’s became a world-wide apostolate, as were the apostolates of the Apostles, including St. Andrew. The priests he has ordained serve Mexico, France, and Nigeria. Bishop Dolan first had his priests trained in Bishop Donald Sanborn’s Most Holy Trinity Seminary, from which Bishop McGuire and I graduated, and since 2021 St. Gertrude’s has trained her own priests. And with the generous help of Father Carlos Ercoli, we now have our own Seminary building in Washington state. Here in West Chester, our building plans have finally been drawn, and God willing and Our Lady interceding, the construction work will start this spring, which will make it possible to receive new vocations into our Oblate Sisters group.

November 30 is also the day on which Bishop Dolan, in 2019, confirmed Mr. Kyle McGuire, the Bishop’s father. Though he didn’t become a Catholic until two years before his death, he always accompanied his wife Mary to all the ordinations, and for years had Mass offered in his home. His conversion, Baptism, and Confirmation were the result of the many years of prayers on the part of the wife and the son, who was his Confirmation sponsor. In that same Confirmation ceremony, Bishop Dolan also confirmed my first convert from Finland, who had made the trip to the United States for the same purpose as Mr. McGuire, who arrived from Chillicothe, Ohio: to receive Baptism and Confirmation. My Finnish convert’s Confirmation sponsor was the now deceased Mr. Kent Maki, SGG’s faithful usher at the 7:30 Sunday Mass, whose family were Finnish immigrants. And the Master of Ceremonies of the Confirmation was Mr. Richie VandeRyt, Bishop Dolan’s faithful server and MC for decades, who died just a few months later. So many fond memories from that day, and so many dear souls we look forward to seeing again in eternity.

“The girl is asleep, not dead.” (Mark 5:39)

There are still more anniversaries to commemorate on November 30. That is the first anniversary of the consecration of Bishop Germán Fliess. He and I did most of our studies of theology together in Most Holy Trinity Seminary. After the Seminary moved to Pennsylvania, Bishop Fliess stayed in Brooksville, Florida, to help at the Queen of All Saints chapel and to teach Seminary courses online. And this date is the anniversary of the ordination of Father Oscar Saavedra, whom Bishop Dolan ordained in 2004. Father Saavedra helped Bishop Dolan and Father Cekada at St. Gertrude’s after his ordination, and is currently the pastor of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs parish in Fraser, Michigan.

As we now enter into the season of Advent, Christmas, and New Year, the clergy and Sisters of St. Gertrude the Great will follow the example of our pastor and founder Bishop Dolan: doing acts of reparation, devotion, and charity in the world which might seem cold, but which still daily receives the love and forgiveness of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. St. Gertrude the Great parish proudly carries the title of Traditional Catholic. And there’s no better way to be a Traditional Catholic than to follow the traditions of reparation, devotion, and charity, which we have received from Bishop Dolan, whom we still love and remember so fondly.

Yours in Charity of Christ and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart,

Fr. Vili Lehtoranta


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