History of Our Community

Saint Athanasius Society (2000 – 2007)

Brief History of the Genesis of the Latin Mass and the St. Athanasius Society in Lancaster
by Dr. Robert Carballo

The present-day success story of Catholic tradition in the Lancaster area, with a thriving congregation loyal to the immemorial Mass and sacraments at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Cabbage Hill, had a very modest beginning indeed prior to its formalization by the Harrisburg Diocese at St. Anthony’s parish a little over a decade ago.  Yet, given the historically slow, gradual development of movements and initiatives in the 2,000-year history of the Catholic Church, two decades is not really a very long time.

It was shortly after the beginning of this century that a letter to the editor of The New Oxford Review—a journal published by Dale Vree and a group of Anglican converts to Catholicism—triggered what would become the traditional apostolate in Lancaster.  Such are the wonderful and mysterious workings of God’s inscrutable Providence.

In response to that letter, Erick Wittemann took the initiative in contacting me, noticing that I wrote from Lancaster and sensing I shared his interest in preserving Catholic tradition. Together, we explored how to best serve the Church by fostering her immemorial liturgical traditions.  This was to be, initially, a purely lay endeavor.

The first step in this effort was the recitation on first Fridays of Our Lady’s rosary, led and attended by a hand-full of area Catholics in the School Lane Hills neighborhood, just west of Lancaster City.  Those attending the first few months were no more than seven or eight persons: Erick Wittemann (Willow Street), the late Ray Anater (Akron), Tom Smith (York), the late Claire Lombard (Columbia), Juan Gonzalez (Lancaster), David Romeo (Lancaster), Jack Ferguson (Maytown), the late Jefrey Jamouneau (Harrisburg), and Robert Carballo (Lancaster).  On occasion, the “small band of brothers,” in Shakespeare’s felicitous phrase, would be graced with the visit of a priest—such as Father Glenn Hartman, now at Mater Ecclesiae Chapel, East Berlin, N. J.

With time, the group had the blessing of spiritual direction from the late Father John Campion, an old and venerable priest then in charge of the remote country mission of Our Lady of Refuge in Doylesburg, Franklin County, Pennsylvania.  Father Campion, a man in his eighties then and a family descendant of the famous English Reformation martyr and priest-scholar St. Edmund Campion, drove the approximately one-hundred miles (one way) to guide our rosary, give short spiritual conferences and offer the traditional mass.  With his assistance, the humble apostolate acquired a new and more expansive dimension.

The first Friday masses started in the basement oratory (arranged specifically for this purpose) of my home where the rosary had been prayed for about a year.  The oratory was appointed as decorously as circumstances allowed to make it worthy for the celebration of the immemorial liturgy of the Church’s Latin rite. Eventually—music being the most indispensable of the arts for liturgical celebration according to the Church’s tradition—the Gregorian chant choir, Te Deum Laudamus Schola, ably led and trained by Philip Crnkovich, was invited to sing at the masses, thus adding to the beauty and prayerfulness of our worship.  Hence, on many Fridays we could count on the well-trained, professional schola to provide Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony in addition to classical hymnody, the men in cassock and surplice as is the tradition of the Church in her concern to add dignity and solemnity to her worship.  At this time attendance grew to about twenty or twenty-five—and the basement oratory began to feel, happily, a bit crowded. It should be noted that some present-day parishioners of the Latin Mass congregation at St. Joseph’s—like Mr. and Mrs. John DeMarco of Lancaster and, occasionally, Judith Boutin of Camp Hill—started attending the first Friday masses.

School Lane Hills Private Oratory

At this point, the lay leadership, with Father Campion’s guidance, formed the Saint Athanasius Society in 2000 as an informal pious union of the Faithful (a structure allowed by Canon Law 298).   The purpose of the Society was to attain a more structured and visible presence, as well as to petition the Bishop of Harrisburg for a regular Sunday Mass in the near future.  The Society also began efforts to contact other priests to come to Lancaster to offer the Mass, with the dual purpose of ocassionally relieving Father Campion from his long drive and to provide for the future.  A few priests came—some only once—among them Father Richard Munkelt, PhD, today a professor at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, and Father Philip Stark, MA, now a chaplain for the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Still River, Massachusetts.  It should be added that this apostolate would have been much more difficult, if not  impossible, without the wise advice and practical aid provided by two veteran champions of Catholic Tradition, both now deceased: Mr. Bob Charleton, early and indefatigable leader of the St. Lawrence community, Harrisburg, before and after it came to its beautiful present home, and Mr. Conde McGinley of Parkesburg.  May God reward richly these two soldiers of the Immemorial Faith.

St. Athanasius Society Parish Mass and Picnic, Our Lady of Refuge Church, August 2001

The St. Athanasius Society, from its inception at the first Friday rosary, accomplished (though not without some interruptions) what it set out to do: build a base for Catholic Tradition in the Lancaster area.  Many prayed, worked, wrote, and, above all, responded to God’s graces in this hour of need of Holy Mother Church. All the work, petitions, and difficulties would eventually lead to the positive action of Bishop Kevin Rhoades, Ordinary of Harrisburg, in establishing a permanent traditional apostolate at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Lancaster, in May 2008 under the papal provision of Benedict XVI’s motu propio, Summorum Pontificum.  The genesis and growth of the traditional apostolate in Lancaster prove, once more, the old adage that “with God all things are possible.”  Deo gratias!

Lancaster Latin Mass Community (2008 – Present)

History of Our Community
by Mark O’Neill and Erick Wittemann

“Dominus vobiscum… Et cum spiritu tuo…Oremus. It’s been nearly 40 years since the words of the Latin Mass echoed through the sanctuary of  St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church.” wrote Helen Colwell Adams in her 2008 Lancaster Sunday News article entitled, “Return of Latin Mass Fills Church”.

Given the increasing number of Lancastrians who were driving to Harrisburg’s Latin Mass, a group of concerned Catholics petitioned Bishop Rhoades in 2008 to allow a new Latin Mass community to be formed locally. The bishop approved the establishment of the new community and directed that the celebrant should be Father Frank Parrinello, FSSP, a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter which is a religious order that exclusively offers the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM).  Father Parrinello generously drove each week from the FSSP apostolate in Harrisburg to celebrate Mass at 6 p.m. on Saturday nights at St. Anthony’s in Lancaster.

This establishment was in accord with Pope St. John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei in which he directed that the former liturgy should be made available in a “wide and generous” manner by diocesan bishops.  In 2007, Pope Benedict further expanded the right of Catholics to have broader access to the ancient liturgy. He did this through his motu proprio entitled, Summorum Pontificum in which he wrote that, “…any Catholic priest of the Latin rite…may use either the Roman Missal published in 1962 by Blessed Pope John XXIII or the Roman Missal promulgated in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.”  Furthermore, Pope Benedict wrote , “Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.” This document resonated with Catholics worldwide including several of the faithful who lived in Lancaster.

After many prayers, the time for the Latin Mass was moved to Sundays at 1:30 p.m. When Fr. Parrinello was transferred, Fr. Pang Tcheou, then a campus chaplain at Millersville University, took over for Fr. Parrinello.  A short time later, Bishop Rhoades appointed Father Tcheou as pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes in Leola. Bishop McFadden, our next ordinary, then asked Fr. Joseph Howard to offer the Latin Mass at St. Anthony’s.  Since Fr. Howard had been trained in the old rite, he was a suitable replacement, but his commute from his parish in Harrisburg eventually led to the appointment in 2013 of newly-ordained Fr. Dan Richards to care for the growing Latin Mass Community while he also served locally at St. Leo’s Church.  Fr. Richards had previously assisted at the Mater Dei Latin Mass Community in Harrisburg for several years as a seminarian at Mount St. Mary’s. After a blessed tenure as our celebrant, Fr. Richards was transferred to Gettysburg to serve as campus minister at Gettysburg College in 2014.  This opened the door for the return of Fr. Tcheou!

With the installation of Bishop Gainer in March 2014, a relationship was cultivated with Fr. Tcheou that led to our community’s first TLM Pontifical Mass on Nov 1, 2015.  This was only the second Pontifical Mass celebrated by the ordinary of the diocese in more than 40 years.  (The first was also celebrated by Bishop Gainer when he visited the Carmelites in Elysburg.)   This first pontifical began a wonderful tradition of Bishop Gainer visiting our community annually from 2015 to 2023 where our children would celebrate First Holy Communion from the hands of the bishop.

Fr. Tcheou led discussions with former St. Joseph pastor Fr. Allan Wolfe which led to the transfer of the Latin Mass apostolate from St. Anthony’s to our new home. The inaugural Latin Mass was offered at St. Joseph’s on August 14, 2016! In June 2018, we were delighted to have our first celebrant in-residence with the appointment of Fr. Brian Olkowski as parochial vicar. Our community reached a historic milestone in October 2019 when Bishop Ronald Gainer visited us to confer the Sacrament of Confirmation during a Solemn Pontifical Mass. While he kindly visited our community annually, this was the first time that Confirmation was offered. A detailed account of that memorable day along with professional photos can be viewed here.  Sadly, our community was shuttered following the coronavirus outbreak in 2020 and remained largely dormant until the canonical appointment of our former celebrant Father Pang Tcheou as pastor of St. Joseph parish in May 2021.

Shortly after his appointment as pastor, a member of the lay faithful approached Father Tcheou about the feasibility of inviting Bishop Athanasius Schneider to the parish during the bishop’s annual visit to the United States.  Fr. Tcheou graciously agreed and sought a formal invitation from Bishop Gainer who kindly gave his permission and extended a warm invitation to Bishop Schneider.

On Sunday, October 10, 2021, Bishop Schneider celebrated a Pontifical Mass at the Faldstool.  Attended by a record crowd of nearly 600 faithful who came from across the diocese and from neighboring states, it marked the high-tide of the Traditional movement in Lancaster.  The day was the culmination of many months of planning and showcased our community’s growth and maturity to the host a prelate of such global significance in the Church today.  Since Bishop Schenider’s pastoral visit, our community has steadily grown.  His encouragement and call to holiness continues to inspire our community as we celebrated our community’s 15th anniversary on May 14, 2023. Bishop Gainer was on-hand to offer his last Mass for our community before the installation of Bishop Senior. We look forward to welcoming Bishop Senior and hope to continue the annual tradition begun by Bishop Gainer in 2015 of the Visit of the Ordinary.

15th Anniversary of the Lancaster Latin Mass Community


Check out our Gallery page for pictures and videos of some of our big events!

Special thanks to all the priests who have served our community over the years:

Fr. Parrinello unfortunately passed away on January 7, 2023 at the age of 55 after suffering a heart attack while visiting his father. In addition to helping start our Latin Mass community, he also opened a much-needed Catholic counseling and therapy practice that helped people across a number of midwestern states. His ministry was marked by his personal holiness. He was also a particularly gifted counselor. We remember him in our prayers. His obituary is available at https://www.christysmith.com/m/obituaries/Frank-Parrinello/Memories.