Fisher More College is appealing a recent order by Bishop Michael Olson of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth prohibiting the traditional Latin Mass at the college, school officials said Thursday.
“We are going to explore our canonical rights to appeal this decision,” said Michael King, president of the small Catholic college housed in the historic former Our Lady of Victory convent and school on Hemphill Street.
“The first step is sending a respectful letter to Bishop Olson asking him to rescind his order.”
In an interview, King said celebration of the traditional Latin Mass is at the spiritual core of Fisher More College.
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“If we can’t have that, then it ends our mission. It might close the school,” he said.
“We don’t question the validity of the Ordinary Mass,” King said. “What we do believe is that the traditional [Latin] Mass orients us Catholics toward God.”
If Olson cannot rescind his order, the letter asks that he refer the matter to the Fort Worth Diocesan Board of Conciliation and Arbitration. King said the school has hired a canon lawyer to explore other avenues of appeal, including taking the issue to the Pontifical Commission at the Vatican.
A spokesman for Olson said the bishop would not comment on the matter on grounds that it is a private matter between the bishop and the college.
Olson was ordained fourth bishop of the diocese on Jan. 29.
King said that Olson met with him on Feb. 24 and sent a letter on that day announcing the school did not have permission to celebrate the Latin Mass in its chapel.
Past Fort Worth bishops have limited the celebration of the Latin Mass and have strongly supported the Novo Ordo (New Order) vernacular Mass that emerged in the 1960s after the Vatican II council made many changes in the church.
Olson’s letter noted that “the Extraordinary Form [Latin Mass] is available to the faithful every Sunday at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Fort Worth.” His letter said Fisher More would be allowed only to “celebrate the Mass in the Ordinary Form [in the vernacular] by priests who explicitly have faculties for each celebration as granted by me as the Bishop of Fort Worth.
“Failure to comply with the above stated norms will result in my withdrawal of permission to celebrate the Eucharist in your chapel along with withdrawal of permission to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in the Chapel,” the letter continues. “I make these norms out of my pastoral solicitude and care for the students of Fisher More College as well as for your own soul. I urge you to comply with them.”
Olson did not make the letter public, but a copy was first publicized by a traditional Catholic website, Rorate Caeli, and picked up by other websites that advocate the Latin Mass.
Several comments on the websites were critical of Olson’s decision, while other people urged taking a wait-and-see attitude in case other issues that are not yet known were involved.
‘As we worship’
The college was founded in 1981 as the College of St. Thomas More. In May 2012, the name was changed to also honor St. John Fisher, who like More, was beheaded in 1535 by King Henry VIII for opposing the king's divorce and refusing to recognize King Henry as head of the Church of England.
The college campus was in a residential area on Lubbock Avenue until June 2013 when it was sold to TCU. The school moved to the historic six-story Gothic Revival red brick building on Hemphill. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and was once the motherhouse of the western section of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur.
A sign in front of the building bears the Latin inscription Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi, meaning “As we worship, so we believe, so we live.”
Latin Mass was celebrated at 7:30 every morning and at 10 a.m. Sunday.
At the college on Thursday, a sign on front door said, “No Mass Today,” and the school’s website stated that all Masses have been canceled.
King and other students were in the chapel at noontime Thursday praying and saying the rosary.
“We talked to the students right away,” King said. “We actually read Bishop Olson’s letter. This is so highly charged, we didn’t want to misinterpret what Bishop Olson was saying. Some students were shocked. Some were upset, but they’ve taken it pretty well.”
The letter to the bishop from the college urged him to rescind his order “in behalf of the students and faculty of the college whose legitimate aspirations to assist at the Mass celebrated according to the liturgical rites of ancient use have been unjustly prejudiced by the norms which you have established.”
One section of the letter contends that the prohibition of the Latin Mass, in the view of Fisher More, is “contrary to the spirit” of a statement in 2007 by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI stating that the Latin Mass is a legitimate form of worship.
Fisher More recently went through a financial crisis that threatened to close down the school. Students staged a last-minute fund drive and raised more than $250,000 to keep the school open this semester. Fundraising campaigns are continuing, and King said many donors are traditional Catholics.
“I have a lot of hope that God will provide a way for us to continue,” King said. “We have some hope Bishop Olson will sit down with us and find a way.”