Posted by Oakes Spalding, June 20, 2018
An ordination at St. John Cantius
A reader wrote to me yesterday, asking why there had been no posts or updates on the situation with Fr. Frank Phillips and the Canons Regular at St. John Cantius in Chicago.
You can read about the case and some of my initial reactions here. But below is a short summary:
Approximately three months ago, Fr. Phillips was removed as pastor of St. John Cantius and as head of the order he founded, the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, after the Archdiocese made public that there were “credible allegations of improper conduct involving adult men.”
Cardinal Cupich appointed Scott Thelander, a member of the Canons Regular and Pastor of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish in Springfield, Illinois, as interim Administrator of the church and interim Superior for the Canons.
It was also announced that as Fr. Phillips was ordained by, and was still a member of the Congregation of the Resurrection (the “Resurrectionists”), he would be investigated by that body.
As a parishioner, I can confirm that on the surface at least, life in the last three months has gone on as usual. In specific terms this means that, among other things, Cantius has continued to offer sixteen regular Masses a week, celebrated in both the “Extraordinary” and “Ordinary” forms, as well as all the Sacraments as normal and what seems to be our regular schedule of special Masses and religious, quasi-religious and secular events.
Two Canons brothers were ordained to the diaconate on May 12.
The Canons and St. John Cantius have continued their mission to, in Fr. Phillips’s words, “restore the sacred” in the parish and the larger Catholic community, as well as continuing to be a recognized hub for sacred art and music in Chicago.
Obviously, parishioners and friends continue to feel grief and worry and entertain all sorts of thoughts and speculations as to what happened, is happening and will happen concerning Fr. Phillips, the Canons and Cantius itself. But Mass attendance in the stunningly beautiful but unairconditioned church has not decreased and the ubiquitous multiple Sunday morning confession lines are as long as ever.
Why haven’t I written about it? The answer is simple: the Canons desired that friends of Cantius refrain from any public commentary, speculation or “news” reporting until the investigation was concluded and an official announcement or possible further official actions were taken by the Archdiocese, the Resurrectionists and the Canons. This is of course very reasonable for many reasons, most of them obvious.
I don’t believe it’s a dereliction to report that it seems now to be understood by many that a resolution will occur quite soon, and that thus many questions will shortly be answered. Will all of them be answered? I honestly don’t know. I’ve never been even peripherally involved with a situation like this. But I trust that the good priests and other good men and women involved will work to insure that there is as much transparency as possible.
In an interview for Restoring the Sacred, a film about the recent history of St. John Cantius that was featured on EWTN, Fr. Phillips said that his goal was very simple: to create saints.
This is of course the default mission for any pastor, but it deserves to be restated. If you haven’t seen this wonderful short documentary, I urge you to.
What is a saint? I’ve always felt that this story about our patron, the 15th century Polish priest and professor John Cantius, was particularly evocative. It was told every year by Fr. Phillips. Here is a version of the story from an article in Crisis magazine:
The radical nature of St. John’s commitment to God is perhaps best seen in his extreme generosity with his own personal possessions. Early sources refer to the most remarkable instance. Once while travelling, apparently on one of his many pilgrimages near and far, he was accosted by bandits, something not very surprising since clergy, often well-to-do, and unarmed, made especially inviting targets. After the thieves had stripped him of all his travelling money and everything of value, they threatened him with bodily harm, and demanded to know if he had any other cash. He said no, and they went on their way. But, in fact, he had some extra coins sewed into his clothing, and feeling contrition at having lied, he ran after them shouting that yes, indeed he did have more, confessing his fault. Bemused by this behavior, the robbers gave him back all they had taken. He was also famed for his generosity to the poor in the ordinary occasions of life, giving away his excess money and even the clothing off his back and the shoes off his feet whenever he saw poorly clad paupers in cold weather. Besides his own once stated reason for copying his own manuscripts, that is, avoiding idleness, many scholars have thought he likely did so also in order to have more money to give away to the needy. As a more direct service to God yet, he was reputed to frequently stay up late into the night, praying prostrate or kneeling on earth, and to practice voluntary fasts, although, unfortunately, nothing much survives in the early sources about the details of his devotional practices.
They gave him back all they had taken.
Does this always happen in “real life”? It certainly wouldn’t seem so. And it didn’t exactly happen with Our Lord.
But this I know with certainty: God sees all. And He is the God of justice in all its forms.