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May 5, 2004

Fifty Years of Priestly Zeal

The lead article on this site, "Caritas Super Omnia," discusses the importance of the Supernatural Virtue of Charity, especially as we seek to restore the Traditional Latin Mass and the fullness of the Catholic Faith it best protects and expresses. We must understand that those who have not come to the same conclusions we have reached or who do not act in the manner we think advisable in the midst of our ecclesiastical circumstances are nevertheless being used by God to plant seeds for the restoration of the fullness of Christendom, including the Traditional Latin Mass, in ways that may not be fully appreciated until the intentions of all hearts are revealed on the Last Day at the General Judgment of the Living and the Dead. Those of us, for example, who have come to understand the necessity of avoiding the Novus Ordo, no matter how well it is offered by priests who dearly love God and who are zealous for the sanctification and salvation of souls, must nevertheless see in priests and members of the laity who have tried to do their best in the diocesan structure our fellow Catholics who are trying their best in an almost unprecedented set of circumstances to try to build up the Mystical Body of Christ that is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Although the full story of priests who have stayed in diocesan structures to teach the fullness of the Catholic Faith despite all of the institutional constraints imposed upon them will not be told until the Last Day, there are opportunities to catch a little glimpse or two of the devotion of men who have been persecuted, ostracized, marginalized and rather generally abused as they have taught the Faith as it was revealed to the Apostles by Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and handed down over the course of the centuries under the protection of the Holy Ghost. Such an opportunity presents itself with the imminent retirement of an incomparable pastor of souls, Father Daniel Johnson, who will preach the sermon at a Traditional Latin Mass at Saint Mary's by the Sea Church in Huntington Beach, California, on Sunday May 9, 2004, that commemorates his fiftieth anniversary of priestly ordination and the end of his tenure as pastor of St. Mary's by the Sea.

Father Johnson could not have imagined when he was ordained in 1954 the tumults that would beset Holy Mother Church in the half century of the ministry that lay ahead of him. Father Johnson answered a call to study for the priesthood for one reason: to save souls by giving of himself as an alter Christus to the service of the true Church Our Lord created upon the Rock of Peter, the Pope. Embracing the life of total self-denial to become a "man for others," Father Johnson forsook biological fatherhood in order to become the spiritual father of countless thousands of souls. He was from the start noted for his prayerfulness, his humility, his deep devotion to the Mother of God, and the clarity with which he preached the Holy Faith. Father Johnson was just one of many men ordained in his class fifty years ago for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles who would have remained completely unnoticed had it not been for the cataclysmic events of the Second Vatican Council and the novelty known as the Novus Ordo Missae. That Father Johnson's fidelity to the priesthood and victimhood of the Chief Priest and Victim of every Mass, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, has become noteworthy is one of the saddest commentaries on what has happened within the Church in the past five decades.

Father Johnson began his tenure as pastor of Saint Mary's by the Sea Church, which had been a mission church of Sts. Simon and Jude Church in Huntington Beach, in 1979, three years after the Diocese of Orange had been created by Pope Paul VI in 1976. He was sent to St. Mary's by the Sea, which was considered at the time to be a remote outpost of the diocese, more or less as a punishment for his refusal to distribute Holy Communion in the hand when the American bishops, after countenancing this sacrilege in a de facto manner for several years, received  "permission" from Pope Paul VI to present this as an "option" for the faithful. Father Johnson was assigned to Saint Joseph Church in Placentia, California, at the time. Also in residence at Saint Joseph Church was Father Frederick Schell, S.J., who was conducting catechetical classes with Father Johnson. Father Schell decided that he could not distribute Holy Communion in the hand, preaching against it in November of 1977 before he began to exercise his rights under Quo Primum to offer the Immemorial Mass of Tradition in several places in southern California from that time until shortly before his death on September 28, 2002. Father Johnson took a different tack, refusing to distribute Holy Communion in the hand but choosing to remain in the diocesan structure. It was his abject refusal to go along with the revolutionary program of the American bishops that caused him to be "banished" to St. Mary's by the Sea in 1979.

Father Johnson could have done what many of his priestly confreres did after being punished for a display of fidelity to the authentic Tradition of the Church. He could have sat back after twenty-five years of priesthood and simply had done the minimal amount of sacramental work while he tended to his administrative duties as a pastor. He could have spent a lot more of his time playing his beloved game of golf. As a priest who cared only about the sanctification and salvation of souls, however, Father Johnson was determined to do his priestly work with remarkable zeal. He walked every single street within the parish boundaries, knocking on every door of every house and every business therein, understanding that a pastor of a Catholic parish has the responsibility to care for the souls of everyone within his boundaries, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He has walked every single street within the parish boundaries of Saint Mary's by the Sea Church a total of three times in the past twenty-five years.

The fruit of Father Johnson's zeal is hard to overstate. He brought souls back into the Church who had fallen away from the practice of the Holy Faith. He shepherded souls into the Church who belonged to other religions or to no religion at all. Father Daniel Johnson offered old-fashioned convert instruction classes, consisting of thirteen ninety minute sessions, three times a year. An administrative assistant in the rectory of Saint Mary's by the Sea Church told me on May 4, 2004, that it is estimated that 557 people converted to the true Faith during Father Daniel Johnson's pastorate. His convert instruction classes were so comprehensive that they were recorded so that attendees could borrow the tapes and listen to them over and over again. Among the 557 people who converted to the Faith as a result of Father Daniel Johnson's incomparable pastoral zeal for souls were Jews, Protestants, Mohammedans, Buddhists, Mormons and a variety of those who did not have any religious faith whatsoever. Among those converts to the Faith were my own dear wife, Sharon, and her sister, Bridget Turpin. Sharon tells me that many ordinary parishioners took Father Johnson's classes to learn more about the Holy Faith. Many of Father Johnson's converts took his classes two and three times after they had been received in the Faith, as was the case with my sister-in-law, Bridget.

Indeed, Father Johnson is very much responsible for the family that surrounds me as this is being written in our motor home, which is now parked in a campground on Long Island before we take off on the road again to give lectures to promote my online traditional college, Christ the King College, that will be launched in September of this year. Sharon converted a year after her sister had gone through Father Johnson's convert instruction classes, being received into the Faith on July 30, 1999. It was through Bridget's husband, Benoit, who was then the President of Una Voce of Orange County, that I was invited to give my "Living in the Shadow of the Cross" lecture program at St. Mary's by the Sea in March of 2001. I met Sharon on March 11, 2001, and it was a short time after that that we realized we were meant to be married. None of this would have been possible had it not been for Father Johnson, who trained Sharon and Bridget so very well, and who was so open to having me, known to be a critic of the American bishops as a result of my years of writing for The Wanderer. Father Johnson was most gracious in welcoming me to his parish in 2001, playing a very instrumental role in helping to make the arrangements for my marriage to Sharon, which took place at Our Lady of Fatima Chapel in Pequannock, New Jersey, on June 7, 2001. How wonderful it was that we were able to visit Father Johnson with our dear daughter, Lucy Mary Norma, who was born on March 27, 2002, several times in the past two years.

Sharon tells me that Father Johnson was so very pleased to take his convert students into Saint Mary's by the Sea Church near the end of the thirteen week program. He showed them the altar rail, which he restored to the church and kept throughout his twenty-five years as pastor. He maintained kneeling for the reception of Holy Communion and never once gave out Holy Communion in the hand, although an associate, Father Eamon Mackin, would do so on the left side of the altar rail to those who desired to use this "option" in the Novus Ordo. Father Johnson taught his students reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, fostering Eucharistic piety and total consecration to Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart as the cornerstones of the interior life. Indeed, the parish instituted solemn Eucharistic adoration on Mondays through Friday from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.  during Father Johnson's tenure, with special devotions and Benediction on Thursday evenings. Father Johnson encouraged his convert students to develop the habit of Eucharistic piety.

Father Johnson made a special point of discussing the beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass in his convert classes. He encouraged his students to assist at the indult Mass he offered at noon on Sundays. He preached eloquently in his sermons about the importance of restoring the Traditional Latin Mass, giving every support he could to Una Voce of Orange County, which, inspired by his own love of the Immemorial Mass of Tradition, was able to get a reluctant chancery office to grant "permission" for that which needs no permission at all, the Mass of our fathers, to be offered on certain holy days and feast days, such as the traditional feast of Corpus Christi. Father Johnson, though, did all he could given the institutional constraints imposed upon him.

His friend, Father Schell, knew that the Diocese of Orange had started the indult Mass in 1988 at the Serra Chapel in Mission San Juan Capistrano, which was offered for years by Father Harry Marchosky, and at Saint Mary's by the Sea to try to put him, Father Schell, out of business. Nevertheless, Father Schell knew that God would use the indult Mass to give some people an exposure to that which had been taken away from them unjustly by the Church and reduced illegitimately to the level of a papal and/or episcopal privilege to be dispensed arbitrarily. And though Father Johnson would never talk about his friendship with Father Schell, the late Jesuit pioneer in defense of our living liturgical tradition told Sharon and me in 2002 about their friendship, indicating that there was not the slightest bit of resentment that his friend was offering a Mass to put him out of business. Indeed, Father Schell knew that the traditional Mass would only grow the more it was offered. He found it to be particularly wonderful that his friend was given permission to offer the Immemorial Mass of Tradition to which they were both so dedicated but had decided to promote by means of different paths.

The fact that Father Johnson and Father Schell remained friends despite the different ways in which they had decided to preserve the Faith in the midst of the liturgical and doctrinal revolutions says a great deal about the charity each of us must have concerning the decisions others make to promote and to preserve and to restore the Traditional Latin Mass. Yes, I want to see every priest do what Father Schell did--and what Father Stephen Zigrang and Father Lawrence Smith has done in the past year. However, there are different ways to do the work of restoring the Traditional Mass. Father Johnson's exhortations in behalf of the Traditional Mass bore fruit in many souls. My own wife, who had assisted at Holy Mass offered by Father Marchosky and Father Johnson, was shocked when she saw the horror of the Novus Ordo as it was offered in different venues in New Mexico when I was lecturing there after we were married in 2001. I realized then that though I had been attending the Traditional Mass on Sundays exclusively for some years that I had a special obligation to seek out the Mass of Tradition on weekdays, which resulted in our decision to avoid the Novus Ordo entirely and to seek out the Traditional Mass wherever it is offered by a validly ordained priest who exercises his rights under Quo Primum and who recognizes the See of Peter is not vacant. It is through Father Johnson, therefore, that I found my way indirectly to the great oasis of the Holy Faith that is Our Lady Help of Christians Chapel in Garden Grove, California, which is carrying on the work of the late Father Schell under the direction of Father Patrick Perez, who is assisted so well by the aforementioned Father Lawrence Smith. Many others have found their way to the fullness of the Church's tradition as a result of Father Johnson's exhortations and the exquisite manner in which he has offered the Traditional Mass. Father Johnson has been so dedicated to the restoration of the Traditional Mass that he has helped to sponsor young people to travel to France so that they could participate in the annual Chartres Pilgrimage for Restoration. There are not many diocesan pastors, including those who offer the Traditional Latin Mass in an indult setting, who can claim that distinction.

No less than three different chapters of the Legion of Mary operated within the boundaries of Saint Mary's by the Sea Church during the pastorate of Father Daniel Johnson. There are daytime and evening chapters, complementing a youth (or junior) chapter that spends a great deal of time evangelizing the Spanish-speaking Catholics within the parish. Father Johnson was steadfast in his support of the Legion of Mary, which reinforced his own work of visiting every house and business within the parish. Father Johnson's tender love for the Mother of God reached the impressionable hearts and souls of the countless numbers of children who were baptized and grew up in Saint Mary's by the Sea Church. How wonderful it was to see so many well-dressed and well-behaved young children who had developed such a deep devotion to Our Lady as a result of Father Johnson and the Legion of Mary chapters he permitted to operate within his parish boundaries.

The fruit of Father Johnson's pastorate is hard for the revolutionaries to deny. Starting with 400 families when he arrived in 1979, Father Johnson is leaving Saint Mary's by the Sea with over 1550 families having registered in the parish. He has such a great devotion to serving the flock that has been entrusted to his pastoral care under their eternal salvation for a quarter of a century. He has brought Holy Communion to the sick and the homebound at all hours. He has anointed the sick and the dying. He has blessed homes and received the consecration of many of his parishioners to Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. He has quite literally spent himself as an alter Christus, both when acting in persona Christi in the sacraments and when serving as the shepherd of souls in both the supernatural and natural concerns of his parishioners. Father Johnson made sure that confessions were heard every single day, including Sundays, before the offering of Holy Mass. When Father Zigrang was visiting the parish to attend a conference in 2002 sponsored by Una Voce of Orange Country, which conference featured Father Zigrang's good friend, Father James McLucas, the editor of The Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture, Father Johnson said to him in the church, "Ah, a priest! You, into that confessional!"

Among those to have passed through Saint Mary's by the Sea over the past quarter-century has been none other than the inestimable Michael Davies. Father Johnson was so honored to have had this great defender of the Mass he loves so much visit with him and to offer him words of encouragement for the work he had done at Saint Mary's by the Sea. Although Mr. Davies assists at Holy Mass most frequently at Our Lady Help of Christians when he has visited southern California in recent years, he recognized in Father Daniel Johnson a priest who had given of himself tirelessly despite the obstacles that had been placed in his path by the events of the past forty to forty-five years. Every traditional Catholic, no matter where they assist at Holy Mass, should emulate Mr. Davies's admiration for Father Johnson's fidelity to the Holy Faith and his great zeal for the sanctification and salvation of souls.

The future of Saint Mary's by the Sea is uncertain at present. Stories abound that Father Johnson's successors will remove the altar rail, end kneeling for the reception of Holy Communion and distribute Holy Communion in the hand. These stories are not outlandish. As my article in the April 30 issue of The Remnant notes, the Diocese of Orange is seeking to end the indult Mass that Father Johnson has offered since 1992, replacing it with the Novus Ordo offered in Latin, as though knowledgeable traditional Catholics will be satisfied with a Mass that even in its Latin editio typica is a less full expression of the Faith and is replete with problems that have been well documented in many books, especially those written by Michael Davies. The structure of the Novus Ordo is so unstable and the prisoner of subjective circumstances that the work of a great pastor of souls such as Father Daniel Johnson can be undone in its external trappings within a short period of time. As my wife Sharon has noted, "The wreckovators will be in one door as Father Johnson is going out the other."

None of this fazes Father Johnson, a man of deep humility, at all. The wreckovators and revolutionaries cannot take away the graces that he has added to the world by means of the Masses he has offered and the honor and glory he has given the Blessed Trinity through Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. They cannot take away the merit he has so richly earned for his fidelity. Father Johnson knows that his reward is to be found only in eternity. That is the only reward he has sought throughout the half century of his priesthood, which he has continued to exercise despite his suffering from an aggressive skin cancer that has weakened him considerably in the past few years. He has offered all of his suffering and weakness to Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart for the salvation of souls and for the good of Holy Mother Church. He trusts that Our Lady, whose parish he has shepherded for half of his priesthood, will help the flock he loves so much to continue their practice of the Holy Faith and to find their way into the fullness of the Church's authentic patrimony and her authentic Tradition.

Each of us should offer one five decade Rosary for Father Johnson on Sunday, May 9, 2004, as scores of his brother priests and hundreds of his parishioners gather to honor him at the Traditional Latin Mass at Saint Mary's by the Sea in Huntington Beach. There are people who assist at Holy Mass at Our Lady of Help of Christians who will be singing in the choir for that Mass, demonstrating the great respect in which Father Johnson is held even by those who have sought out a fully traditional environment without any of the unjust and invalid constraints imposed by the Vatican and by local chancery offices. We also need to send our letters of thanks and appreciation to Father Johnson for his great example and for his courageous silence in the midst of the humiliations he has had to suffer to defend the Holy Faith and the Traditional Mass. And we need to continue to pray for him, keeping in mind that priests are held by God to a higher standard of judgment than those of us in the laity. Sharon tells me that Father Johnson demanded his flock repeatedly to "Pray for me!" Indeed, we must and we will.

As I noted earlier, priests like Father Johnson were not novel when he was ordained. It has been the novelties of the past forty years that has made the fidelity and courage of Father Daniel Johnson so exemplary. His bravery and devotion to the priesthood bestowed upon him half a century ago will be understood and appreciated fully only on the Last Day. For the moment though, it is right and just to offer this pastor of souls our expression of gratitude and appreciation. Thus, thank you Father Johnson for all that you have done for the Church. Thank you for all that you have done for Sharon and me. Thank you for what you have done for my in-laws, the Turpins, and for the promotion of the Traditional Latin Mass. Thank you for remaining faithful when so many of your confreres have been so faithless.

Saint Mary, Star of the Sea, pray for Father Daniel Johnson.






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