September 5, 2018
Immaculate Conception Parish, the FSSP’s apostolate in El Paso, on the southwest border of Texas, has a habit of making history. Planned and built in 1893 by Fr. Carlos Pinto, S.J., the “Apostle of El Paso”, the church was the provisional cathedral (or “pro-cathedral”) of the Diocese of El Paso from the establishment of the diocese by Pope St. Pius X in 1914 until the permanent cathedral, St. Patrick’s, was finished in 1917. The first Bishop of El Paso, Bishop Anthony Schuler, was installed at this church, and it is now celebrating its 125th anniversary and 4 years as an apostolate of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.
To commemorate these historical markers, Immaculate Conception proposed another one: the first Pontifical Mass to be celebrated in the El Paso Diocese in more than 50 years. The Mass took place on the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady on August 15th, the celebrant being His Excellency the Most Reverend Joseph Perry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago.
To learn more, we spoke with Fr. Kevin O’Neill, FSSP, pastor of Immaculate Conception. A possible Pontifical Mass at the parish had been on Fr. O’Neill’s mind for some time, and the feast of the Assumption on such an important anniversary year offered the perfect opportunity. With the permission of His Excellency the Most Reverend Mark Seitz, Bishop of El Paso, who had first invited the FSSP to administer the parish in 2014, the planning began, with preparations ramping up in the two months preceding the Mass. In addition to putting out a flyer advertising the Mass, Fr. O’Neill also discussed it in a segment on local radio and wrote a piece for the El Paso diocesan paper. It was, as Fr. O’Neill says, a special event not only for Immaculate Conception but for the whole diocese and the greater El Paso area, a region with a rich Catholic history that can be traced back centuries.
Additionally, Immaculate Conception was given a special gift leading up to the Mass that contributed to the beautiful music that accompanied it: the organ formerly in use at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary. The seminary was recently blessed with a new instrument, installed earlier this year, and the pro-cathedral of El Paso was able to give the old one a second career in its own choir loft. However, the task of hoisting an organ into the loft of such an old building was not an easy one, Fr. O’Neill explains: the floor could not support a forklift, so the parish was forced to think creatively as to how to accomplish the task. The answer came in the form of a handcrank, a crew of daring workers, and, you might say, a little help from the angels.
But the busy preparation days, the toil of installing an organ, and the myriad tasks required to make ready for a Pontifical Mass were abundantly rewarded. The festivities began on the vigil-day of the Assumption, August 14th, when Bishop Perry gave a talk on the importance of the traditional liturgy at a nearby venue.
The following evening, at 6:30pm on Our Lady’s great feast day, the Solemn Mass was offered. It was a joyful and successful event, the overflowing church testifying to the enthusiasm for this historic occurrence, visitors coming from as far away as Houston, a city on the opposite side of a very large state (and in a different time zone). For a bit of perspective on just how far that is, it would have taken you less time to drive from Denver, Colorado – two states away. Fr. O’Neill served as Assistant Priest during the Mass, Fr. Robert Ferguson as Deacon and the newly-ordained Fr. Martin Rangel-Garcia as Subdeacon. The El Paso Choral Society sang the Missa Ave Maris Stella by Tomás Luis de Victoria and the schola of Immaculate Conception chanted the Propers of the Mass. The organ, for its part, acquitted itself admirably.
We rejoice with Immaculate Conception on this remarkable occasion and with the entire Diocese of El Paso, which has again been graced with a Pontifical Mass after so great a span of time. May this be but the first of many more to come.