(Roman?) Catholic — Part Six


The fourth installment of this series mentioned that Christian monasticism hails from the Coptics, with St. Anthony of the Desert as the founding father. He lived from the middle of the third century to the middle of the fourth. 

Two hundred years later, another monk, St. Benedict, started a monastic movement in Europe which preserved European civilization at the time of the barbarian invasions. Because the Benedictine monasteries were centers or havens of learning and agriculture, St. Benedict has rightly been called “the Father of Western Europe,” “the Patriarch of Labor,” and “the Father of Peace.”

Midway in time between these two great monks, another Spiritual giant was gathering like-minded men for a monastery in Syria on the banks of the Orontes River. St. Maron died in the first half of the fifth century, just about halfway between St. Anthony and St. Benedict. The monastery had around 300 individual hermitages associated with it. By the middle of the next century, the monastery was administering many parishes in Syria and Phoenicia. 

Although St. Maron was Syrian, his disciple, Abraham of Cyrus, sought to convert the non-Christians of Lebanon to the Spirituality of his master. Today, the Church of St. Maron, the “Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch,” is almost entirely Lebanese, approximately three-and-one-half million strong, with about half living in Lebanon and the rest centered in enclaves around the world.

At the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, three continents join: Europe, Asia, and Africa. While this is conducive to trade routes, it has also been conducive to routes for armies and generals of ambitious kings and emperors. Lebanon has been trampled by Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Druze, Ottomans and others. It is no wonder that many Lebanese have fled to a diaspora.

In the United States, Lebanese immigration has had three phases. The first two phases, 1850-1920 and 1940-1990, saw mostly Christian immigrants, but now Lebanese immigrants are mostly Moslem. While these families settled in many clusters across our country, not a few found home right here in this part of Massachusetts.

To care for the Maronite Catholics, Pope Paul IV gave them a bishop (eparch) in 1966. In 1971, a full diocesan structure was established as Eparchy of St. Maron of Detroit. This eparchy was transferred to Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1977, and in 1994 it was divided with the new Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon for the western part of the country with the cathedral located in Los Angeles, Calif.

When the Maronite Church gained organization and bishops in this country, Father Norman Ferris (a priest of the Roman Rite Diocese of Fall River and biritual because of his Lebanese heritage) became a Maronite priest, subject to the Maronite Rite. We have one other Roman Rite priest of Fall River at present who is biritual, Father Herbert Nichols. He is not Lebanese, but he loves their Liturgy and people so much that he obtained permission to regularly celebrate in both rites.

There are two Maronite parishes in the territory of the Roman Rite Diocese of Fall River: St. Anthony of the Desert in Fall River and Our Lady of Purgatory in New Bedford. Any Roman Rite Catholic is welcome to attend their services and fulfill Sunday obligation and receive the Eucharist. They are Catholic!

St. Anthony of the Desert Church is located at 300 Eastern Avenue, Fall River. If you Google “St. Anthony of the Desert, Fall River” you can find much information about the parish and the Mass schedule.

Our Lady of Purgatory is located at 11 Franklin Street, New Bedford. As with the Fall River parish, you can gain much information about the parish and the services if you Google the name.

Great joy came to the parish of Our Lady of Purgatory in New Bedford when one of their boys who grew up in New Bedford was ordained for the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn on Feb. 11, 1983. His name is Michael Thomas. Subsequently he became chorbishop on Dec. 12, 2005. He is now the vicar general of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn and the pastor of Heart of Jesus Maronite Catholic Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

In the Roman Rite, the three Sacraments of Initiation — Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist — are separated by several years for young people, but are celebrated together for adult converts to Christianity. In many eastern churches they are celebrated together for adults and infants. The Maronites celebrate Baptism and Confirmation (Chrismatization) together for infants and postpone Eucharist until the same age as Roman Rite children.

For several generations, the Maronites in this country have followed the Roman Rite practice of celibate clergy. They are now returning to the tradition of ordaining to the priesthood married deacons who are mature and stable in their married lives and who are able to move with their family to wherever the bishop needs them.

Many people are fans of the TV drama “Blue Bloods,” but do not realize that some of the buildings that are regularly seen on the show are not police buildings, but the office buildings of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn. 

Another connection of Maronites to the U.S. entertainment scene is found in the career of Amos Muzyad Yahkoobb Kairouz (1912-1991). If that name does not ring a bell, perhaps you knew him better as the star of “Make Room for Daddy” (1953-1964) and the founder of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. His stage name was Danny Thomas. 

The other Western Syrian Rites, Antiochian and Malankar, do not have a presence in our immediate neighborhood, so I shall move on to a brief examination of the North Syrian, or Cappadocian Rites, and in particular the Byzantine Rites. 

Father Martin L. Buote is a retired priest of the Fall River Diocese and a frequent contributor to The Anchor.

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