The Newman Center at the University of New Mexico: The stormy petril’s angry narrative…

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Given the outcry on the part of the stormy petrils and length of the article in the National Catholic Reporter Online (NCR), one would think the world had come to an end.

At least, according to the “narrative.” It seems as if everything today is about a “narrative.”

Consider the angry narrative providing the subtext of the NCR article.

On January 13, 2014, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of the Santa Fe Archdiocese told the pastor of Aquinas Newman Center that the Dominicans’ service would be terminated on June 30, 2014. Worse yet, the ham-handed, conservative Archbishop issued this edict allegedly without any prior consultation. And, rubbing some salt into the ecclesial wound he was unnecessarily inflicting upon all of the Center’s students and parishioners, the Archbishop stated in the press release he issued announcing the change that two “fine young priests” of his Archdiocese would be replacing the Dominicans. (The latter obviously aren’t “young” and perhaps will be touted as victims of age discrimination.) Those two priests include the Archdiocese’s vocation director and University of New Mexico (UNM) alumnus, Fr. Michael DePalma, who will serve as pastor. The parochial vicar will be Fr. Simon Carian, 26. Ordained last year, Carian is a University of Notre Dame alumnus currently studying medical ethics in Rome.

Why the change?

Consider Archbishop Sheehan’s pastoral narrative which added fuel to the angry narrative. In his press release, the Archbishop stated:

Having Archdiocesan priests at the Newman Center will enhance relations with the Archdiocese’s pastors and parishes of whose young adults attend [UNM], as well as promote diocesan vocations.

The angry narrative’s reaction?

To paraphrase: The nerve of His Excellency! This is the post-Vatican II Church, not the patriarchal and triumphal post-Tridentine Church! That man has no right to remove our beloved Dominicans. For gracious sakes, he even dumped the name “Aquinas” that has been in the Center’s title for as long as everyone can remember. Hrrumphhhh….

Some background information concerning the two narratives.

The Dominicans have served UNM’s Aquinas Newman Center in Albuquerque since 1950. The Center currently serves more than 500 UNM students and 750 families. One Mass is offered daily and five Masses are offered on Sundays. The Center also provides campus ministry, parish social groups, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and service opportunities.

Now, in light of these competing narratives, what may be the real narrative: Archbishop Sheehan is well aware of the success many Newman Centers across the nation are having in fostering vocations to the priesthood, especially those centers where “young” priests serve. The Dominicans never had much success in this regard during their 60+ years of service at the Center. So, the Archbishop decided to staff the Newman Center with his men and have them run it in the style that has demonstrated success at other universities and colleges.

That has the stormy petrils in an uproar. An allegedly “pre-Vatican II” bishop is seeking to destroy the “Pope Francis Church” the Dominicans have constructed and which parishioners seem to enjoy very much. After all, one subtext to the angry narrative is that parishioners must enjoy going to Mass (or “services” as the NCR article called them). As the Newman Center’s current pastor, Fr. Dan Davis, OP, opined:

The parishioners are very progressive, very intellectual, and they resonated with the way we preached. The Newman Center tends to be a conglomeration of disenfranchised Christians from around the city–which confirms the very things that the bishop is contesting.

In an email circulated to parishioners, a former UNM student and longtime Center parishioner, Chuck Wellborn, provided some additional details:

The Archbishop has made critical statements about our parish to others in the Archdiocese….These comments suggest that he believes our parish is insufficiently doctrinaire. It is certainly true that the Newman Center attracts parishioners with a wide variety of backgrounds and views, in particular university students and faculty. In that sense, our parish is quite dissimilar and perhaps more liberal in its thinking than at the Archdiocese’s non-university parishes.

Is that what has the stormy petrils in an uproar? A Newman Center that was intended primarily to serve students’ religious, spiritual, and moral needs has developed into a parish that operates as a “quasi-exempt” institution in the Archdiocese, meaning “operating parallel to but not necessarily in tandem with the Archbishop and his clergy.” And now, Archbishop Sheehan is quashing that long-term “arrangement.”

Despite the anger espoused by Fr. Davis and parishioner Wellborn, not all are happy with the current arrangement and support the Archbishop’s decision.

For example, on January 13, a UNM student, Colt Balok, posted a picture on his Facebook page of himself having dinner with Archbishop Sheehan. Balok captioned the picture, “I had a great dinner with Archbishop Sheehan tonight. UNM, he has some great news for us Catholics!” Then, in a Letter to the Editor printed on January 29 in the Daily Lobo, UNM’s student newspaper, Balok said:

…[the Newman Center] needs to be a place where the body and blood of Christ is adored and worshipped, not a place where the altar servers wear polo shirts and fail to honor and respect our Lord Jesus Christ….Thank you, Archbishop, for making the Newman Center Catholic again. My friends and I will no longer have to travel to other parishes to attend Mass.

Good for Archbishop Sheehan!

The Motley Monk would observe that His Excellency has every right to provide UNM students a religious, spiritual, and moral home in a way that fits his overall pastoral plan and its objectives. One objective is to increase the number of vocations to the diocesan priesthood so that UNM students will continue to be served by the Archdiocese. And, the Archbishop has every right to staff it with his men who will run it in the way the Archbishop desires.

Given the demographics, archbishops and bishops across the United States no longer can depend on the religious communities of men to provide manpower, especially manpower that is not self-sustaining. Now is the time to envision the future, not to look backwards in hope that the 1960s and 1970s will return.



To read the National Catholic Reporter Online article, click on the following link:

To read The Motley Monk’s daily blog, Omnibus, click on the following link:

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  1. Good on ya Archbishop Sheehan.

    As for the angry narrative; “…And rubbing some salt into the ecclesial wound he was unnecessarily inflicting upon all of the Centers students and parishioners.”

    Well then. Seems there are two things that salt that has lost it’s flavor is good for.

  2. I’m all for a bishop taking steps to ensure appropriate orthodoxy within his diocese, especially with regard to the catechesis of the youth. That said, it seems odd and discourteous to make and announce such a decision without first consulting with the Dominicans involved. The prudential obligation to hear all sides and the moral obligation to treat others with courtesy and respect does no in any way impair or encumber the right of the bishop to make decisions. I distrust the NCR’s depiction of events, and don’t have an opinion regarding whether or to what extent the referenced obligations were respected in this case, but I hope they were. I have personally seen bishops make a number of good decisions in the most unpastoral manner possible and hope the latter was not the case here.

  3. The liberals need to conform to the commandments of Christ or leave and join the fruits and nuts in the Episcopal Church USA.

  4. Well, I hope the Church’s view is not that we all need to conform to Christ’s commandments or leave. We are, after all, all sinners. The real key is not whether one keeps the commandments perfectly, but whether one is willing to conform his understanding of the commandments to that of the Church, at least as to matters on which the Church has spoken authoritatively.

  5. I’ve done a bit of lurking on this blog but never found any real reason to post until I say this article which hit rather close to home.
    So, if I may defend the Archbishop in telling you that, he did indeed run this with the Dominicans (or so he told me) and this has been planned for months before he ever said anything (again to me, it wasn’t an official declaration or anything).
    The reasons he gave were reasonable and he mentioned that the only people who seemed to object were people a Newman Center aren’t even meant to serve (40+ years olds not attending the University) and I agree with him.
    I’ve also met with the new Pastor, who doesn’t really want to be moved from where he his, but he was good with us youths and I think he will do a good job.

  6. Elostirion.

    Appreciate the insiders confirmation on Archbishops approach. We are blessed with many great leaders in our Holy Church.

  7. Archbishop Sheehan is doing this for good reasons. Religious order priests are not under the direct jurisdiction of the local ordinary, but the ordinary gives permission for the order to set up shop and operate in his diocese – as I understand it.

    I trust that Archbishop Sheehan is not pulling a Fr. Volpi and going after the Dominicans because of their affection for the Tridentine Mass.

  8. Good for the archbishop. Quick and clean. You don’t have time to woo and nurse old liberals along when you have a target cohort population that will only be there 4 to 6 years during a really formative moment in their lives.

  9. When Mgr Ronald Knox was appointed the Catholic chaplain to the University of Oxford (an appointment made by the bishop’s conference), he went through the list of his predecessors to see if he could discern the criterion for selection, for they seemed very different in background and experience, not to say personality. He eventually discovered it – they, like him, had all been ordained “ad titulum patrimonii sui,” that is, they were self-supporting and received no salary or expenses from the Church. The chaplain at Cambridge at the time was Mgr Gilby, the heir to the Gilby’s Gin fortune.

    The Oxford chaplaincy has no been transferred to the Jesuits.

  10. Exactly what I was referring to in a recent post “Violence in the Name of God”. We are where we are because of a lack of “dying for the faith”. Whether it is a physical dying or taking a strong stand by the clergy that should have known better. Really, A “purple mafia” at the Vatican. Abortion on demand, rampant pornography. I was taught at a very early age, that some day I might be called to “die for my faith”. I never dreamed it would be almost killed off by it’s own internal weakness. Thank you Bishop, and again had we had this vigilance in our leadership as “Barney Fife” used to say, “nip it, nip it in the bud”, we may not be facing the “fires of hell” that surely has caused all the “violence in the name of God”.

  11. The bishop has obviously done the right thing-especially given the added info that he did indeed communicate with the Dominicans.

    I am just more surprised hearing about the Dominicans-those in Washington DC and, for example at Providence College in Rhode Island would never be experiencing this necessary pastoral move of the bishop

  12. I was reminded by this article how my daughter, while attending a Jesuit university, chose to attend Mass at the local parish church, rather than the university’s church and attendant liberalism.

    But, as others have commented, liberal Dominicans? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

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