The Birth of The Angelus
At the present time, the Society of St. Pius X is enjoying an ever-widening apostolate with the organic growth of its parishes, its many priestly and religious vocations, and the numerous religious houses and monasteries affiliated with it. As the tree bears more fruit, it is to be feared that its connection with the roots of the traditional movement may somewhat diminish. Forgetting the past is a sure recipe for failure. Here are a few considerations about the humble beginnings of one aspect of the life of Tradition in the United States: Angelus Press and its magazine, The Angelus.
The Angelus: Mrs. Slovak, perhaps a short history of the first years of the Society in the United States is in order.
Irene Slovak: The Society of St. Pius X was first established in the U.S. in Armada, Michigan, after a visit of Archbishop Lefebvre, and this led to the establishment of the seminary of Armada which functioned for a few years until 1979, when it moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut, and operated until the opening of Winona in 1988. The headquarters of the SSPX moved rapidly to Oyster Bay, New York, with Fr. Clarence Kelly being appointed the first District Superior. He printed a small bulletin for the English-speaking world titled For You and for Many.
The Angelus: I understand that Father Bolduc was instrumental in the work of The Angelus.
Irene Slovak: In 1974, Fr. Hector Bolduc, originally from New Hampshire, was ordained priest at Ecône by Archbishop Lefebvre. A group of Catholics in Houston, Texas, contacted the Archbishop to ask for a priest for their group, which numbered by then about 200 people. He answered their request and sent Father Bolduc to tend to the care of the American faithful in the Southwest portion of the country. He purchased a church property in Dickinson, Texas, on November 18, 1976. This became Queen of Angels, which was dedicated by the Archbishop July 10, 1977. Also involved in the work there were to be the long-lasting fixtures of the Dickinson priory: Sister Grace and Father Carl.
The Angelus: Could you present to our readers these heroes of the first hour?
Irene Slovak: Father Bolduc was very dynamic and could be described in layman’s terms as a “mover and shaker.” He laid the foundation, and we are indebted to him. At the end of his life he was concerned for the records he had of the early years, which he said filled a dozen four-drawer file cabinets. He wrote, “I have never been asked for my recollections of the early SSPX days although I was involved in the purchase, acquisition, and building up of most of the large houses or churches of the SSPX, all of which are still thriving.”
Not much has been recorded of Sister Grace. With the help of Father Bolduc, she literally escaped from her Benedictine convent in Arkansas to join the traditional movement to preserve her sanity and her vocation. She was a fixture at Queen of Angels for many years helping the priests and lending support wherever she was needed. She was the school nurse as well.
At the same time, Father Carl, a Capuchin from Wisconsin, as was the custom in the good old days of the penal colonies, had been relegated to Australia to amend his traditional leanings. As if by Divine Providence, there he met with the Archbishop, who was attending the Melbourne Eucharistic Congress held in 1973. Father was very unhappy with the changes in the Church after Vatican II, and he asked the Archbishop to help him. The Archbishop responded to his request and sent him to join Father Bolduc in Texas. He never formally joined the SSPX but, as there were so few priests in the beginning, he and Father Bolduc traveled many air miles to missions all over the southwest part of the U.S. and Mexico. When he wasn’t traveling he was enlisted as printer for The Angelus. Father was very experienced, having worked as a printer on one of the six Indian reservations in Montana where he was the pastor during the 1960s. During the mid-1980s Father Carl was prior at Queen of Angels.
The Angelus: I do not quite understand. You spoke about For You and for Many as the official bulletin of the Society in the U.S. Why then have another one, The Angelus, which fulfilled exactly the same function?
Irene Slovak: Here we would have to go back to the question of the Nine, priests who eventually broke away from the Archbishop in 1983. But by 1977, Father Kelly’s publication For You and for Many was printing things and emitting judgments on issues which were not in agreement with the aims of the SSPX. I know there were particularly heavy criticisms of the Pope with a covert tendency to sedevacantism. The Archbishop wrote Father Bolduc asking him to establish a new publication that better represented the principles of the Society and of its founder. Later on, the Archbishop created the U.S. Southwest District and entrusted it to Father Bolduc who, by that time, had acquired properties in several states, the largest being St. Mary’s in Kansas in 1978. The apostolic field had grown so much that it made sense to divide the U.S. into two districts.
The Angelus: So, when was The Angelus created? Was it produced before or after Angelus Press itself?
Irene Slovak: The first issue was published in January 1978. In the beginning, only the monthly periodical was being produced, printed, and mailed from Dickinson. However, there was a separate entity called “Angelus Press” that sold many books already in print. Practically speaking, Angelus Press was incorporated in the state of Texas as something completely independent of the SSPX. Its first president was Father Bolduc.
In June of 1978 there is an insert in that issue of The Angelus which reads in part:
“Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, has appointed THE ANGELUS PRESS as official editor and publisher of books, pamphlets, and all official publications of the Society emanating from International Headquarters of the Society in Switzerland.”
The Angelus: What was the reason for the name and the logo of The Angelus?
Irene Slovak: Father Bolduc chose it and dedicated it to Our Lady as Queen of Angels, the same name as the Dickinson chapel. The logo was crafted by a local woman artist in Dickinson. The quill and paper represented the written word.
The Angelus: The title and a logo for a magazine are nice enough, but by themselves they do not get things done. Who were the leading figures behind the scenes?
Irene Slovak: Naturally enough, the first crew to work at the magazine were gathered from among the parishioners. The “Angelus ladies” were Sue Broussard and Irene Slovak on the more practical side of things. Carlita Brown was an extraordinary typist, did all of the layouts, and prepared each page for printing. Dr. Mary Buckalew was also involved right from the start as a reliable proofreader. Father Bolduc had to eventually leave Dickinson for St. Mary’s after the fire which consumed the Immaculata Church. In June of 1984 Father Laisney came and took over the job of Editor as well as District Superior. Carlita was enlisting people to write. It was the grass-roots, but many good writers came forward as there were few outlets for traditional Catholic writers to pursue. Dr. Malcolm Brennan wrote a column on the English Martyrs. Dr. Mary Buckalew kept an on-going column variously titled but having finally been titled “Catholic Truth vs. the Spirit of Vatican II.” She also was immensely helpful as she proofread the many books that were published. American seminarians at Ecône gave us a glimpse from the cradle of the SSPX. And there was always an article about Archbishop Lefebvre or from him; “The Bishop Speaks” was a regular one.
The Angelus: Any other prominent writers at the early stage of the magazine?
Irene Slovak: I can recall Mary Martinez who wrote from Mexico but was also our Vaticanist pen. Father Carl created the popular column “Ask Father Carl,” which became later the “Questions & Answers.” Then we had always some priestly help: Father Cooper and Father Laisney; Father Post came on board when he was posted to Dickinson.
I must mention also the great support given us by Michael Davies. We met him at a Remnant Forum in late 1978, and I remember that we asked Michael to write for The Angelus. He jokingly related the outcome of the deal by explaining that the balance finally tilted to the side of “Yes” right when he was offered a bottle of Scotch by gracious ladies all too happy to reel in such a big fish!
The Angelus: Did you have a mailing list to start with or was the first publication a shot in the dark?
Irene Slovak: At the beginning, we printed about 1000 copies. A Catholic publication in the Northeast had ceased publication. Father Bolduc acquired all of the names of their subscribers as well as equipment to make name plates and a machine to stamp the names for mailing purposes. That was our humble first mailing list and from it we received many subscriptions. The high watermark of 3500 subscribers was reached during the 1980s and 1990s. Father Carl was getting his hands dirty as he bought and ran an old offset printing press which served for a long decade, until 1991, the year The Angelus moved to St. Louis. Over the years a collator was purchased which put to rest the tiring job of hand collating each issue as well as the books. The last issue we worked on was the one dedicated to the death and burial of the Archbishop in March 1991. That was the saddest one we ever did but the most gratifying. What a debt we owe to him. One of the happiest memories I have was during one of his visits I was able to tell him, “Thank you.”
The Angelus: How would you describe the spirit which moved you in these early years?
Irene Slovak: Now we come to the heart of the matter. What motivated us? We were fighters. Most of us had fought vigorously in our own parishes against the changes of Vatican II. When it became necessary for us to leave our parishes, we broke many ties with family and friends and even our revered priests who considered us to have “left the Church.” We were outcasts from our own fellow Catholics. We witnessed good priests who resisted the changes put out to “pasture” by their bishops and we wept for them.
Archbishop Lefebvre gave us a home and sent us priests who were also fighters like he was. The Angelus became our means of communication to others, to those who were also suffering, often without the Mass or Sacraments, to encourage them in the fight for the Faith. Our joy was in being able to be a link that spread the Apostolic Faith so that others might know it had not died. We are blessed to have been in the company of these early pioneers who paved the way for the growth of the Society. They were fearless, unhampered by human respect.
The Angelus: Were there any improvements in time? Perhaps the first issues of The Angelus proved too simple? Did anyone complain about the content of the articles?
Irene Slovak: Our articles never gave the suspicion of sedevacantism, even when criticizing the strange behavior of the Pope at times. However “simple” it was in the beginning, we never shied away from telling the truth about the errors of Vatican II, and never concerned ourselves with trying to please our adversaries.
The Angelus: What about the publishing side? Which books were edited and published by the Angelus Press?
Irene Slovak: We mentioned getting Michael Davies from England to write for us regularly from December 1978 onwards. By the following August, he had already written his first book of the Apologia and before too long the famous Liturgical Revolution trilogy comprising Cranmer’s Godly Order, Pope John’s Council, and Pope Paul’s New Mass. Other little books of Michael Davies were also published and, in 1982, the Archbishop’s I Accuse the Council. All such books were the work of Angelus Press. The volunteers were collating the books by themselves: we gathered around a large table, set the various copies by reams and started turning around the table joining the third set to the second to the first until, finally, the whole book was gathered and set apart.
I recall being so proud of the first book of Michael Davies we printed. Michael had just arrived at the airport and while riding back toward Dickinson he was handed a copy, hot off the press. To our embarrassment, when he opened the book, the pages inside were upside down. Happily, Michael had a very good sense of humor, but he also never let it be forgotten, retelling the story at every opportunity. He was also fond of joking about our way of setting the book: “This is the way these Angelus ladies produce a book: they gather the pages together and they glue them in a toaster!”
The Angelus: Were there any other apostolates you were involved in, in the printing world of Angelus Press?
Irene Slovak: By 1979 or 1980 we branched off and started the printing of a calendar for the traditional world. And then we had holy cards which were made into Christmas Cards.
The Angelus: What was the original spirit of The Angelus? Would you say that it has varied substantially later on?
Irene Slovak: With the dedication and leadership of the Archbishop, Father Bolduc, and Father Carl, we had a determination to fight against the injustice of having our Faith and our Mass become something we could no longer recognize as Catholic. There was a fire that spurred us on to stand up against the forces that would silence us if they could. We never fooled ourselves that we were ever more than a little spark, but with Our Lady’s help we hoped some found comfort and support in what was done here.
We can’t appreciate what doesn’t cost us something or require sacrifice to attain. Now we are in our twilight years looking back. It has been a situation that has lasted almost our entire lives. Are we tired? Yes. Would we have done it differently? No. We stood as a contradiction then to all the Modernist heresies that had come into the Church.
Our work at the beginning was a breakthrough to voice the message of Tradition to the world. Souls were in expectation of the growing movement around the whole country. Our prime duty at that time was to spread the message of the Archbishop as clearly and simply as could be: the defense of the Mass of all times, the arguments against Vatican II, and the crusade of Catholic family life in our traditional circles.
Needless to say, the early stages of the struggles have left their marks and are still present in the publications of the Angelus Press as the present large selection of the yearly catalog bears witness. Also the Society’s means of reaching souls has grown considerably. In a world where the media’s ongoing revolution from words to image advances, the printing apostolate has somewhat taken the back seat behind the Internet, its websites and blogs, and the short videos which are meant to guide people to more serious thinking and reading. Yet, all in all, we cannot say that things have varied substantially from what they were 36 years ago, as the present purpose of The Angelus as the written word of the SSPX testifies:
“The main goal of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X is to preserve the Catholic faith in its fullness and purity, to teach its truths, and to diffuse its virtues. Authentic spiritual life, the sacraments, and the traditional liturgy are its primary means of bringing this life of grace to souls. The Angelus aims at forming the whole man: we aspire to help deepen your spiritual life, nourish your studies, understand the history of Christendom, and restore Christian culture in every aspect.”
The Angelus: Do you have any last thought about the place or mission you were called upon to fulfill as one of the “Angelus Ladies”?
Irene Slovak: Looking back I have to wonder, “Why me?” How did I come to be involved in this work at this critical time in the Church’s history? God has blessed me abundantly through the Society. There was and still is a special bond among those who were part of these early years. I think it is a credit to those missionary priests who, together with the laity, worked so hard to rebuild what the new Church had rejected. We shared the pain of losing the Church we grew up in and then the joy of finding it again. God bless them, and we pray for the day when the Catholic Church returns to the Faith of our Fathers. If it is true that the pen is mightier than the sword then let’s use it with the courage of our predecessors.