Mrs. Mueller, 9/19/12

American Anglican bishop goes to Rome; brings cathedral congregation with him
Circuitous road to Rome started with 1976 General Convention

By Mary Ann Mueller
Special Correspondent
Sept. 19, 2012

ORLANDO, FLORIDA---Traditional Anglican Communion Bishop Louis Campese was speechless on Sunday, Sept. 16, as he joyfully witnessed his flock of American Anglicans be shepherded into the Roman Catholic Church.

"Oh, I'm still on Cloud Nine or Cloud 10," the former bishop of the Anglican Cathedral of the Incarnation told VOL Tuesday afternoon. "It was just amazing."

Bishop Campese's road to Rome was long and arduous ... 36 years long. It was filled with pitfalls and stumbling blocks, crooked turns and blind alleys, wonderings, questions and uncertainty. And finally that day came - 36 years to the day that the Episcopal Church voted in favor of women in the clergy - when he humbly led his Anglican cathedral congregation into the Catholic Church and witnessed firsthand the fulfillment of a dream, the fleshing out of a vision, the answer to Christ's prayer for Christian Unity and his own prayer to live long enough to see it all happen.

The bishop's flock is nearly 200 members strong - babes-in-arms, youngsters, teens and adults - yet, one by one, 140 young adult and mature adult members of his congregation were confirmed as Catholics at the hands of Monsignor Jeffery Steenson of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, and Catholic Bishop John Noonan of the Catholic Diocese of Orlando. The younger children, family and friends looked on as another historical first was happening in the Ordinariate. This is the first time a cathedral parish has crossed over the Tiber and into the Ordinariate. Together the two Catholic ordinaries confirmed and received all who were seeking entrance to the Catholic Church at Incarnation.

"We have finally reached the promised land," Campese said likening his journey to the Israelites wondering in the desert. "My people are in a safe harbor. That's the important thing."

Sunday, a subtle change was made to the church's website. "Welcome to Incarnation Catholic Church," says the splash page, proclaiming to all the world that a change of substance had been made. The colorful banner also proclaimed "Incarnation Catholic Church - Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter" and the, now familiar, Ordinariate crest graced the placard.

Louis Campese started out as an Episcopal priest in the Central Diocese of Florida, but the Church of the Incarnation was never an Episcopal property. While in the central Florida diocese, the young priest eventually came to the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Maitland, Florida. There he became friends with an older fellow priest - a retired Army major general who read for Orders in the Episcopal priesthood. The late Bruce Medaris and the future bishop were like-minded. As the Episcopal Church went off the grid on Sept. 16, 1976, with the approval of women in the priesthood during the LXV General Convention, the die was cast. The Episcopal priests realized that for their souls' sake, they had to leave the church of their priestly ordination.

Together they forged into the deep and became a part of the early stages of the Anglican Continuum coming out of the Congress of St. Louis which, one year later, on Sept. 16, 1977, produced the Affirmation of St. Louis document denouncing the ordination of women and affirming the traditional Anglicanism. Fathers Campese and Medaris came under the spiritual leadership of Bishop Peter Francis Watterson - who eventually became Catholic himself through the Pastoral Provision. Bishop Watterson was one of the original four founding bishops in the early Anglican Church of North America.

Incarnation was founded as a mission church in the early Continuum movement with 18 brave souls. Incarnation is the first Continuing Anglican church to be built from the ground up. Before the church was built in the thriving College Park neighborhood, the fledging congregation met in a variety of Orlando-area living rooms, warehouses, and funeral homes. Since that initial founding, Louis Campese has been busy faithfully preaching the Gospel, celebrating the Sacraments, and watching his congregation steadily grow, both spiritually and in numbers.

Eventually, the road to Rome took a turn and Incarnation became a congregant part of the Anglican Church in America - the American branch of the Australian-based Traditional Anglican Communion. Fr. Campese became Bishop Campese when he was consecrated bishop and became the bishop ordinary of the Diocese of Eastern United States with the Anglican Church of the Incarnation being elevated to a cathedral.

When the Traditional Anglican Communion was formed in 1991, it was universally understood that the small Anglican denomination's spiritual trajectory was that of a continuing Anglican-based communion. The clergy and faithful would actively work toward seeing the implementation of Christ's Priestly Prayer of Unity fulfilled in their generation through corporate reunion with the See of Peter in the Roman Catholic Church.

In October 2007, members of the TAC House of Bishops travelled to Portsmouth, England for a plenary session in which they formally signed a petition asking the Vatican to please consider their full, corporate and sacramental union with the Catholic Church.

At that time, the TAC bishops, including Bishop Campese, signed the petition as well as a copy of the Catechism to the Catholic Church and its accompanying Compendium declaring their faithful adherence to the doctrines of the Church of Rome as expressed and taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This was a solemn event that Bishop Campese took to heart. He has never wavered from that point. The image of the Chair of St. Peter stays imprinted on his soul and in his memory.

Bishop Campese made it his goal to see the fulfillment of his denomination's expressed desire for Catholic unity. He worked tirelessly with his Anglican congregation guiding their souls, forming their consciences, and developing their Catholic faith.

The TAC petition chugged through the various departments of the Vatican. Two years later, Pope Benedict XIV formally answered the heartfelt TAC petition in a document entitled Anglicanorum Ceotibusa corner was turned and the long desired end was slowly coming into focus.

Once the concept of various Anglican Ordinariates spanning the globe was announced, during the Fall of 2009, Our Lady of the Atonement Anglican Use Catholic Church opened its doors to welcome their TAC spiritual brethren with a gala Becoming One Gathering. Bishop Campese, and a dozen of his parishioners, travelled to San Antonio, Texas to meet others - Episcopalians, Anglicans, and Continuing Anglicans, from throughout the United States and Canada, who would eventually be joined together to become one united Catholic family in as-of-yet-to-be-announced North American Ordinariate.

"Father (Christopher) Phillips has been so helpful," Bishop Campese noted of the OLA pastor who founded the mother church of the Pastoral Provision. The former Anglican bishop said he was very grateful to Anglican Use Catholic priest for his godly patience, unwavering understanding, and encouraging support as the Ordinariate began to unfold.

After Anglicanorum Ceotibus was announced, Bishop Campese undertook a vigorous three year program of Catholic catechesis to insure, when the time came, that his people would fully understand what it means to be a Roman Catholic living their faith out within the familiarity of the Anglican patrimony. The converting Anglican bishop thoroughly schooled his cathedral parishioners in Catholic theology, prayer, sacraments, devotion, and spirituality. He believes they understand their new Catholic faith better than many Catholics do.

It wasn't until he was sure that his people fully understood the spiritual implications of their being received into the Church of Rome, that the pieces started to come together for Sunday's stirring Confirmation service.

However, the good bishop was busy studying, too. He and his clergy were actively participating in the Ordinariate's online Saturday Seminary program. It is during this intense time priestly formation and theological training that Bishop Campese was able to hone his own spiritual preparation as a Catholic cleric.

Currently, neither Bishop Campese nor any his former cathedral clergy - Fr. William Holiday, Fr. Scott Whitmore and Fr. Jason McCrimmon - have been ordained as Catholic clergy. He is praying that Fr. Holiday will be able to be ordained as a Catholic cleric in the not-too-distant future, but Fr. Whitmore has decided to take a little more time to discern the perimeters of his priesthood, while Fr. McCrimmon has chosen to remain Anglican and live out his priestly ministry as a chaplain in the US Navy.

As far as Bishop Campese goes, he is simply content to be a practicing Roman Catholic. He is now a Catholic lay person, and is addressed as "Mr. Louis Campese, a former Anglican bishop", an Ordinariate spokesperson told VOL.

Once the confirming ceremony was over, the service moved on to the celebration of the Mass and the distribution of the Eucharist. The reception of his first Holy Communion as a Catholic was such a spiritually powerful experience that he is still unable to verbalize his first encounter with Catholic Communion. He remains thoughtfully mute at the vivid remembrance.

At the tender age of 78, the new Catholic convert is three years older than the mandatory retirement age of Catholic clergy, yet he remains energetic and passionate. So, will he be ordained a Catholic priest? That question is still up in the air. However, the former Anglican bishop is convinced that he has accomplished the most important task of his entire priesthood and bishopric. He has safely delivered those Anglican souls under his leadership into the Roman Catholic Church where they were brought into full sacramental communion, and visible unity with other two billion other Christians sharing the same catholic and apostolic faith. Therefore he has humbly, and in obedience to his new Church, laid down his miter and crozier. His task is complete. His is the first TAC congregation to officially become a part of the Ordinariate. Other groups are waiting in the wings.

However, the former bishop's responsibility with the Parish of the Incarnation is far from over. He has been appointed by Monsignor Steenson to remain as Incarnation's Parish Administrator, allowing for the seamless continuation of the day-to-day operation of the newest Catholic Church in the United States. For the most part, the parish life at Incarnation will remain as it has. The Sacraments will be celebrated, the Gospel will be preached, and the various organizations and ministries will continue on unabated.

Until Fr. Holiday is officially ordained a Catholic priest, the sacramental care of the new Catholic parish will fall on the shoulders of the Catholic Diocese of Orlando. Fr. Joseph Roberts, formally of Our Lady of the Lakes in Deltona, Florida, is going to fill in the gap.

Sunday was not the first time that Monsignor Steenson visited the central Florida parish. He last visited on Palm Sunday. Then the Catholic Monsignor was impressed with the Anglican congregation's on-going preparations to be Catholic. He called his Holy Week experience an Ordinariate "happy story".

The Monsignor then encountered his new congregation with much joy and gratitude as he celebrated the congregation's "courageous decision to come into full communion with the Catholic Church," resulting in the "culmination of their ecclesial journey."

The Catholic Monsignor voiced his great respect for Bishop Campese saying that he was truly inspired by the Anglican bishop's tenacity and leadership as the elderly cleric successfully shepherded his cathedral congregation into the Church of Rome. Monsignor Steenson also encouraged these new Catholics to fully live out their newly acquired Catholic faith.

"We can make the most glorious and wonderful professions of faith, but unless we live it in our daily lives - each step of the way - it's not complete," Monsignor Steenson cautioned. "As joyful and as wonderful as this moment is as we affirm our faith and our desire to become Catholics ... we have to live each day of our lives faithful to the word of Jesus Christ."

Incarnation joins several other full-fledged Anglican Use parishes in the Ordinariate including: Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston, TX; St. Thomas More, Scranton, PA; Mount Calvary, Baltimore, MD; and St. Luke's, Bladensburg, MD. St. Mary the Virgin, Arlington, TX, now a part of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, is slated as the next Anglican Use parish to become a part of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline.