First U.S. Ordinariate for former Anglicans launches with inaugural Mass in Houston

February 28, 2012

With the reading of a papal pronouncement and the presentation of the miter and crozier — symbols of his new pastoral office — Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson, a Houston-based priest and professor, 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, held 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 convert to the Catholic faith while retaining elements of their Anglican heritage and traditions. 

Long-time Catholics, converts to the faith 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 Pamela Mandeville, a former Episcopalian and an RCIA candidate who attended the Mass. "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, also recognized the day's providential significance.

"The installation Mass was so humbling and spectacular. I will always consider it one of the most important religious ceremonies of my lifetime. Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit now and always," O'Donnell said. 

Monsignor Steenson, 59, a former Episcopalian bishop who is married with three grown children, was officially installed as Ordinary. Steenson – who was ordained a Catholic priest in 2009 – received the title of monsignor during the Mass, which was attended by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and Donald Cardinal Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington, who also serves as the ecclesiastical representative to the Holy See for the ordinariate. Another nine bishops, along with priests and seminarians, Catholic faithful and soon-to-be Catholics from across the nation, filled the Co-Cathedral.

Monsignor Steenson, in comments to the news media, 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."

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 Monsignor Steenson teaches patristics. 

Many of the 42 men enrolled 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. †