As the central house, the District headquarters are most appropriately located in the heartland of America. Although not impressive, they are significant in size:
It is not unusual for the casual tourist to marvel at the magnificent architecture and luxury which surrounds official buildings made to host mere human beings, be they governors or senators. Well! It is not so much who they are as what these people represent which is meant to inspire sentiments of awe, reverence and power.
Many of our readers are acquainted with the way a large corporation works, with the headquarters effectively running a number of satellite offices across the country or even around the globe. Relatively few have peeked into a bishop’s residence or a chancery office. In such places, many administrative chores demand the same attention, maintaining proper order in all types of “books,” whether legal, archival or financial. Perhaps the main difference is the purpose of the organization, one being simply temporal and for-profit, the other non-profit and spiritual.
And here lies the paradox of a religious entity: its headquarters need to cater to the material needs and demands of each member and property, but these mundane needs are ultimately intended to help these consecrated souls and assist with their spiritual apostolate. It is meant to turn the proverbial “brother ass” into a saint with his practical needs of feeding, clothing, and sheltering. It is the mystery of the Catholic Church, both divine and human—ultimately, the mystery of the Incarnation all over again. But, never mind speaking about abstraction! We present below interviews from the US District Superior, Fr. Jurgen Wegner, as well as others who contribute to the operations of this enormous task.
Interview with Fr. Jürgen Wegner
Father, could you explain for us how the General House, the District House, and the chapels throughout the U.S. are linked together?
The District Superior and his staff of priests and administrative personnel work as an extension of the Superior General in our country. Their main purpose is to have the worldwide work of the Society promoted at a national level and even at the local level in the US.
Therefore, faithful to the mission Archbishop Lefebvre gave to the Society of Saint Pius X, the District house mainly helps the Superior General to care for the priests that work in this country. The District then works to establish priories and chapels, to promote the local apostolates and to make Tradition more well known.
The District House reports back to the Superior General about the work done—the difficulties encountered, the victories and the failures, the developments of the Church and of Catholicism in this country. Knowing about the progress of Tradition in the different countries, the Superior General can then make decisions concerning the District and also concerning the work of Tradition at large.
You mentioned the care for priests. Can you explain the District’s role in this mission and give some examples of how it fulfills this mission of the Society?
The main duty of the Superior General is the care for the members of the Society—the priests and brothers. For a specific District, he delegates this duty to the District Superior. Therefore, the District house is a home for the priests and a place where they can go with all their questions and worries that go along with the apostolate and the priestly life, and it is a place where the priests can go for a moment of rest.
Every year in November and December the young priests come to the District house for one week of formation. Then, the priors visit the Regina Coeli house on an individual basis to give a report of work done in their priories and chapels over the past year. The main purpose of these meetings is to get a good idea of the spirit of the local priestly communities and the progress of their work. The priors submit their requests and the course is set out for the year to come.
Looking at the growing number of the priests, the meeting of the priors is now hosted by the District at the Brothers’ Novitiate. In February, all the priors will first meet with the priestly staff of the District to study and discuss certain aspects of the apostolate.
After the meeting of the priors, a second one-week meeting for all the priests of the District—presenting the same topics—is held in Winona. The priests working in the District enjoy one week of priestly company and are brought up to speed on the District’s plans for the year to come.
As District Superior, you are responsible for deciding where priests are assigned with the District and organizing the apostolate. What type of information do you consider when making these decisions?
The District observes and directs the priests and their apostolates in the priories, chapels and schools. We receive multiple requests every year from an increasing number of traditional groups and welcome the newly-ordained priests in the growing ranks of tra ditional faithful. One of the major duties of the District House is then to decide on the right assignments for the priests, the opening and closing of priories and chapels, the growth of our schools and the development of the different apostolic initiatives within the District. With this useful information, the District priests can then make wise decisions on how to consolidate and grow the apostolate to safeguard the main purpose of the Society: the sanctification of priests and the souls entrusted to them in order to promote most efficiently the work of Tradition and of the Church.
We know that the Society has never severed its communications with Rome. Can you explain what the District does on a local level to keep communication open with other priests and the dioceses in the U.S.?
The care for the priests is not restricted to the members of the Society. An increasing number of priests reach out to the Society every year. It is the District who takes care of the program of formation for priests that want to join the Society.
The District further reaches out to the local bishops in the country asking for delegation for marriages. Over the past 18 months, with a few exceptions, all the bishops who visited showed themselves to be very gracious and granted delegation for our marriages to the priests of the Society. For many of them it was the first in-person contact with the Society. Overall, the bishops are very much impressed with the work done by the Society priests. They have been likewise impressed with the fervor and fidelity they see in the faithful. Some of them, seeing the fruits of tradition expressed their wish to “learn about the secret” of the blossoming of Tradition, others proved to be very supportive in many ways. Several of them understand that the liturgy is one of the key elements when it comes to the restoration of the Faith and started to take the measures to reinstitute the teaching of St. Thomas of Aquinas in their seminaries.
In general, can you give us an idea of the many other tasks that are done by the District?
The US District experiences wonderful growth. Our existing faithful have beautiful families, and their example inspires others to come with them to church. The disaster in the Church provokes many others turn towards Tradition and start to discover its treasures. Today, more than ever before, the priests have their hands full of truly priestly work: the worship of God and the direct work with the souls.
The District therefore tries to take the administrative burden off from the priests as much as possible and by this means to offer a service to the priests and the chapels. With the increasing number of faithful come a lot of growing pains: we need bigger churches and more chapels; we need to establish more schools. Naturally, all these endeavors are surrounded by material aspects: money must be raised and properly administered, legal aspects have to be considered and many times legal counsel is needed. As far as our buildings go, construction and maintenance knowledge is required, for our schools we need to develop curricula and instruct our teachers. The District as a whole has to present itself to the public in its publications and its website. Our material assets need to be properly insured along with the people working for us and our other activities. The priests coming into the District from foreign countries need to go through a time consuming and difficult process with immigration before they can start working for the Society in the US.
This is a detailed and succinct description of the work done at the District house. Most of this work is done in silence and goes by unnoticed. Few do realize how much thought has gone into decisions, how much time is and was spent for projects, how much energy and time (sometimes over the course of many years) is put into the organization of the District.
Father, do you have any last thoughts?
Many little things are never noticed as long as they are done properly. They are taken for granted and sometimes you do not even realize their exis tence. It is when they are not done that one be comes aware. Then suddenly—what first seemed in existent—is perceived as urgent, important and indispensable.
I would love it if the work done at the District house was such that the priests and faithful would simply admire the smooth running of the District and enjoy the support offered. Ideally, everyone would have the impression that the administration is easy and that the District house is not even necessary. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, there is still plenty of room for improvement. It is at these times when the existence of the District house is noticed negatively.
I apologize for these shortcomings! It goes to show how much we need your support!
Interviews with Frs. McDonald and Gardner, Brs. Gabriel-Marie and Rene of Mary, the secretaries, and the accounting team will be published next month as part of this series.