By Sean Gallagher
History was made at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on April 7 when 17 Anglican Christians in Indianapolis became Catholics according to rules established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 in his apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus.
The rules in this document were drawn up after several groups of Anglican Christians from around the world asked the pope for a way to become Catholics while still maintaining aspects of their spiritual heritage.
Earlier this year, Pope Benedict approved the establishment of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which functions like a diocese for former Anglicans in the United States and Canada.
The 17 members of the St. Joseph of Arimathea Societyin Indianapolis that were welcomed into the Church byBishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator, are the fourth group of former Anglicans to join the ordinariate.
“It’s glorious. I’m happy. I’m satisfied,” said Luke Reese, leader of the society, a husband and father of six children, and former Anglican priest. He is in formation to be ordained a Catholic priest in the ordinariate.
The apostolic constitution allows for former Anglican priests who are married to be ordained priests following the practice established by Blessed John Paul II about 30 years ago.
Bishop Coyne was happy to play a role in this historic event.
“It was definitely an honor to welcome the families of the new Anglican communion here in Indianapolis,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to help them become a rich part of our local Catholic community.”
Father Stephen Giannini, archdiocesan vicar for clergy, parish life coordinators, formation and personnel, served as a liaison between the Anglicans and the Church as they sought to become Catholics.
“It has been a privilege to assist the Anglican families who became members of the Catholic Church during this year’s Easter Vigil,” he said. “We look forward to continuing our support for these faithful Christians. It is truly a blessing for us all as together our faith is deepened by Christ’s peace in the Catholic Church.”
In comments sent to The Criterion, Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, the leader of the ordinariate and formerly a bishop in the Episcopal Church, offered his support to the new members.
“I am praying for Luke and his people,” Msgr. Steenson said. “It takes much courage and faith to make this journey, to leave familiar things behind. But almost everyone I know who has come into full communion describes it as a coming home experience. If this community focuses on the joy of being Catholic, they will grow and prosper in the Holy Spirit.”
Reese said that his group coming into the Catholic Church, which he described as “the powerhouse,” may very well lead to many more people joining in the future.
“But it’s all up to God,” said Reese, 43. “We’re going to be content with whatever God gives us.”
Currently, the group gathers at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis on Sunday mornings to pray Morning Prayer according to the Anglican tradition then attend the parish’s 9:30 a.m. Mass.
Although that parish is not part of the ordinariate, the new Catholics are happy to worship in a community much larger than their previous one.
“For a long time, we’ve been very isolated,” said Gina Reese, 43, Luke’s wife. “We felt like we were on a desert island. Finally, we’re coming into the fullness of the faith and into a larger community. For me, that represents a lot of hope and excitement and joy.”
Rebecca Williams, her husband, John, and their six children were also welcomed into the Church along with the Reese family and Lee Ashton. Peggy Ashton, Lee’s wife, was unable to attend the Vigil. She expects to be welcomed into the full communion of the Church in the near future.
Rebecca also appreciates worshiping at Holy Rosary for the benefits that it gives her family.
“To let our children know that there are more people out there that are seeking to faithfully follow God and worship the same way we do makes us feel part of something more,” said Rebecca, 32.
Among the members of the group, only Lee Ashton was raised in the Anglican tradition. His wife, Peggy, grew up as a Baptist as did John Williams. Gina Reese and Rebecca Williams weren’t raised in any faith community. And Luke Reese grew up within the Methodist and Presbyterian traditions.
Luke said that, starting last fall, the group studied the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults in preparation for being received into the Church.
Luke and Gina met when they were music students at Butler University in Indianapolis during the 1980s and 1990s. They learned about the Anglican spiritual tradition when Luke became a paid member of a choir at an Episcopal parish in Indianapolis.
“We fell in love with the liturgical form of worship,” Luke said. “It’s absolutely stunning. The worship is just so beautiful.”
Gina felt particularly drawn to the Anglican tradition by its beautiful choral music.
“That still is a highlight for me,” she said. “It’s an important part of our heritage.”
About 10 years ago, Luke was ordained as an Anglican priest and ministered within the Traditional Anglican Communion, a worldwide group of several hundred thousand Anglicans that separated themselves from the communion led by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Luke and his small group desired to come into the full communion of the Church before Pope Benedict issued Anglicanorum Coetibus.
That desire stemmed in part from their dissatisfaction about a continuing trend of schisms among Anglicans.
“Schism really is a sign of internal problems,” Luke said. “And there’s been schism after schism after schism. We were just fed up with it.”
As a lifelong Anglican, Lee Ashton had experienced this divisiveness for a long time. He thinks the establishment of the ordinariate will draw many Anglicans like himself into the full communion of the Church.
“There is a significant number of disaffected Anglicans who have grown restless because they don’t have an orthodox, conservative home that they could go to,” said Ashton, who is a lay student at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad. “In the past, there wasn’t a mechanism to unify with the Church of Rome. And now the mechanism is here, and I think a lot of them are going to say that this is a great solution.”
At the same time, Ashton recognizes that coming into the full communion of the Church is a positive step and not just a rejection of division among Anglicans.
“It’s actually a beginning point,” he said. “It’s a good place to start a journey.”
Luke Reese, his family and the small group of Anglicans have been on a journey of faith for many years, and are happy to continue it within the Catholic Church.
“It’s taken a few twists and turns,” Luke said. “But once you get to your destination, it seems so natural.”
(For more information on the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, log on towww.usordinariate.org. For more information on the St. Joseph of Arimathea Society, log on towww.stjoearimatheasociety.org.) †