Saturday, March 9, 2013

Santa Susanna - A Fantastic Paulist Ministry

A year ago today, I stood in line in the warm spring sun to visit the convent-home of St. Frances of Rome (1384-1440), a wife and mother and a Benedictine Oblate, who organized a community of women for charitable work, and whose convent-home is only open to the public once each year on this, her feast day. The wait on line in the sun was well worth it. In addition to the spirituality of the place, her home offers a relatively rare view of a medieval Roman interior. A week later, on the Saturday of the 3rd Week of Lent (and thus a year ago today in the proprium de tempore), I participated in the Roman stational Mass at the Paulist church in Rome, Santa Susanna (one of the original 25 parishes of Rome), which, since the early centuries of the Church, has been the stational church for this Saturday of the 3rd Week of Lent. 

For over 1000 years, before the 1969 Reform jumbled the Lenten liturgy, the texts of the Masses for the Lenten weekdays - what Pope St. Pius X in 1910 famously called those "most ancient Masses of the season" - were often chosen with primary reference to that day's stational church. This was certainly the case in the old liturgy for this Saturday. Sadly that is now no longer the case. Still the stational Masses are celebrated there on that day, with the  attendance of American priests and seminarians and many other English speakers in Rome and man. Last year, while a student at the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, I lived at Santa Susanna, and so participated in the stational Mass there - one of my last stational Masses before returning to the US the following week.

I have only the happiest memories of my months at Santa Susanna and great appreciaiton for the fantastic ministry the Paulist do there. Since 1922, the Paulist Fathers have had the pastoral care of the American community in Rome, and the ancient and beautiful church of Santa Susanna has been the site for that very important ministry. Santa Susanna provides Mass in English and pastoral care for Americans living and working in Rome (among them Catholic employees of the three American Embassies in Rome - to Italy, to the Holy See, and to FAO). It provides the same for those only temporarily there - pilgrims and tourists. (English speakers from other countries   are also among those who attend Santa Susanna.) In this respect, Santa Susanna is like any other American parish (albeit non-territorial). 

Yet, as with so many Paulist parishes, Santa Susanna is always more. Situated at the heart of the Church Universal, Santa Susanna serves the wider Church in many ways. American Bishops making their ad limina visits to Rome, American priests working in Rome or on sabbatical, American seminarians living at the North American College and doing pastoral ministry at Santa Susanna all find a community there with the spiritual sons of isaac Hecker. 

Hecker always hoped that the Paulists would exercise a wider influence in the American Church, beyond the immediate confines of their one parish in New York. He also  hoped that they would someday exercise a comparable influence in Europe, beyond the confines of their American base. At the intersection of pastoral care for American abroad and service to the American hierarchy and seminarians, Santa Susanna effectively implements some of Hecker's vision in the Universal Churhc today.

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