Former Episcopal bishop installed to lead new Catholic ordinariate


Catholic News Service

HOUSTON — With the reading of a papal pronouncement and the presentation of the miter and crosier, symbols of his new pastoral office, Father Jeffrey N. Steenson received the title of “monsignor” and officially became the head of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter at an historic Mass at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston.

The Mass of Institution, celebrated Feb. 12, also officially inaugurated the first U.S. ordinariate established by the Vatican earlier this year to facilitate and shepherd communities of former Anglicans wishing to join the Catholic faith while retaining elements of their Anglican heritage and traditions.

Msgr. Steenson, former Episcopal bishop of the Rio Grande, became a Catholic in 2007 and was ordained a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., in 2009. Pope Benedict XVI appointed him to head the ordinariate Jan. 1.

Msgr. Jeffrey N. Steenson, a former Episcopal bishop who became a Catholic in 2007, speaks during a Mass of Institution at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston Feb. 12. The Mass officially inaugurated the first U.S. ordinariate established by the Vatican Jan. 1 to facilitate and shepherd communities of former Anglicans wishing to join the Catholic Church. (CNS)

Because he is married, the 59-year-old Msgr. Steenson was not ordained a bishop and will not be able to ordain priests. He will, however, otherwise function as a bishop and will be a voting member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, making him the only married member of that body.

Under the pope’s November 2009 apostolic constitution “Anglicanorum coetibus,” which authorized the ordinariates, Msgr. Steenson received permission from the Holy See to use the miter and crosier, the insignia of episcopal office.

Longtime Catholics, new Catholics and Christians preparing for confirmation in the Catholic Church said they were awestruck by the Mass, which incorporated Anglican music, rituals and prayers from the Book of Divine Worship. Many acknowledged it as a milestone moment in the church’s ecumenical efforts to realize the prayer of Jesus “that they all may be one.”

“I felt a great sense of joy and wonder at participating in this historic moment,” said Massgoer Pamela Mandeville, a former Episcopalian who is a candidate in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program. “The church in which I had been raised is being made whole and complete; the missing pieces are being restored.”

John O’Donnell, a cradle Catholic, called the Mass “humbling and spectacular.”

“I will always consider it one of the most important religious ceremonies of my lifetime,” O’Donnell told the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Cardinals Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Donald W. Wuerl of Washington were among the concelebrants of the Mass. Cardinal Wuerl is the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s delegate for the implementation of “Anglicanorum coetibus” in the United States.

Another nine bishops, along with priests and seminarians, Catholic faithful and soon-to-be Catholics from across the nation, filled the co-cathedral.

Msgr. Steenson, who with wife, Debra, has three adult children and one grandchild, described his appointment and the institution of the ordinariate as a “great joy” and one he had been preparing for all his life.

“Working with people again, to be a pastor and walk alongside people that in their conscience are (being led) back into the Catholic Church is a joy,” he said in comments to the news media.

Similar to a diocese but national in scope, the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter is the second structure of its kind in the world after one was established in England last year under Anglicanorum Coetibus, the 2009 apostolic constitution allowing personal ordinariates for former Anglicans. The establishment of the U.S. ordinariate on Jan. 1 follows decades of petitioning by Anglican groups and congregations in the U.S. for a formal structure within which to enter full communion with Rome.

The seat of the ordinariate is Our Lady of Walsingham Catholic Church, an Anglican-use parish in Houston. A distance-learning formation program for former Anglican clergy discerning ordination to the Catholic priesthood is also based at Houston’s St. Mary Seminary, where Msgr. Steenson teaches patristics.

Forty-two former Anglican priests from across the country began training to become Catholic priests at a formation weekend in late January. Their formation will continue through the spring and will include instruction on the culture of the Catholic Church.

Many of the men in the formation program will go on to lead former Anglican congregations in the Catholic faith, while others may choose to serve in diocesan parishes or ministries around the country.

Contributing to this story was Jonah Dycus.