May 2023 Print

My Path to Tradition

By Tom Aspinwall

1. Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up, and what was your level of exposure to Catholicism as a child and as a young adult? 

I grew up in a middle-class home. My mother was a Catholic, and I received the foundation of my faith from her. Her faith was in the small things, like praying to St. Anthony to find the car keys. A favorite saying of hers was to “give it up for the poor souls in Purgatory.” I have three brothers and four sisters, so our home was busy and noisy as large families are. I received my first communion at the age of seven and felt holy and content, due in large part to the Sisters who taught me. As part of catechism, I remember Fr. Alamena, teaching us never to touch the Host, and I never forgot that. I didn’t attend many other Catholic activities after my First Communion, other than Sunday Mass. I did serve Mass at St. Andrew Avellino Seminary in Denver for a short time. I remember studying the Latin responses on Saturday morning–and how the text in the book was strikingly beautiful to me. I thought at that time that I might have vocation to the priesthood. I attended public grade school and, so I didn’t have the kind of exposure to the Church that traditional families have. I was confirmed at the age of 13 and still remember clearly the preparation classes and the ceremony.

I attended the Holy Cross Abbey school in Canon City, Colorado for one year as a sophomore in 1967, which was an influential social experience, but not really a religious one. We attended Sunday Mass, which was always concelebrated, and even though there were many Benedictine Monks and Sisters at the Abbey, I didn’t feel particularly religious. I did not return to the Abbey after that year and returned to public high school.

Sometime during the late 1960’s, although I wasn’t told at the time, my mother was offended by the treatment of one of her friends at our local parish. So, our family began to look for another church to attend. I remember going to different Catholic churches like St. Andrew Avellino Seminary where my brother and I served Mass. At some time after that, my mother began to attend Pentecostal services without the rest of the family. Since there was no influential person encouraging me to go to Mass on Sunday, and without really noticing it, I lost interest in the Catholic faith.

In college and as an adult I was completely absorbed by the popular culture. I did not return to the church until I was about to be married, much later in my life.

I returned to the faith mostly with the help of my lovely wife. While we were dating, the subject of marriage became more and more important. My wife, who was not Catholic at the time, was influenced by an older faithful Catholic woman who made rosaries for distribution. And because of her influence, my wife was inspired to join the Church. Since I had told my wife that I was raised as a Catholic, I soon found myself attending marriage counseling with her in front of Fr. James Purfield, the pastor at a local parish. And the rest is history.

2. What experience first piqued your interest in Tradition?

My wife and I have always wanted to attend a church that gave us a sense of Tradition and belonging. We had chosen to attend a local parish just on the basis of the architecture of the Church that we saw while driving by on a Saturday afternoon. But when we had to sign up and wear masks to attend an uninspiring Mass during the COVID scare, we left the Novus Ordo and never looked back.

We found an FSSP Chapel, and attended Mass there, but didn’t feel that it was right for our family. The St. Isidore’s Church out on the plains kept appearing in my mind–I’m certain that it was the Holy Ghost’s doing. After we saw an interview with Fr. Robinson on a Taylor Marshall video, we knew where we had to go. We drove out to St. Isidore’s the next Sunday and have felt welcomed and at home ever since.

3. What issues did you wrestle with during your conversion to Tradition, and how have you found resolutions to those concerns?

We felt a sense of abandonment by the Catholic church. My family and I tried to be faithful Catholics. But the change in atmosphere that we experienced during the Pontificate of Pope Francis made us feel more and more alienated. We did for a while enjoy a period of contentment in a Novus Ordo parish, but it was because of the priest, not the church.

The conversations that I have had with friends that still attend Novus Ordo parishes are difficult. I know that they are sincere Catholics, and that they are concerned about my choice to attend what they think is a schismatic church. They bring up the statement by Denver’s Archbishop Aquilla that SSPX Masses do not fulfill the weekly obligation. And they ask that I return to what they feel is the true church. I do feel a sense loss because of the choice I feel I had to make.

But I don’t feel that we have left the Church. I feel that we are closer than ever to the faith of our Fathers and the glorious Saints and traditions of the Catholic faith. And I don’t feel in any way that I or my family have made a mistake in attending an SSPX Chapel. I believe that the modernist culture that the Vatican is appeasing is an evil culture, and that the SSPX provides protection for my family from that culture.

4. Why did you settle on the SSPX as opposed to some other TLM community?

My family attended a funeral Mass at an FSSP Chapel, and we did try to attend Masses there, but the reception that my family had at St. Isidore’s was much more supportive. Also, the zealous dedication of the priests at St. Isidore’s for the souls of its parishioners is comforting beyond words. And the story of Archbishop Lefebvre’s principled adherence to the faith of our Fathers is inspiring and reassuring. The depth of scholarship and open explanation about the founding of the SSPX that is available online and that is preached from the pulpit, reinforces the clear line of beliefs from the beginning of our Lord’s Church to today. The strong links to tradition and the openness about the formation of the Society make the choice very clear.

And the most wonderful part of attending St. Isidore’s parish is the people and priests of the parish. On the very first day, we were greeted and supported and felt right at home. We have made many close friends who are just like us in our desire to be in a truly Catholic parish. St. Isidore’s has given us a home, where we can contribute and participate and feel loved.

5. What practices or devotions within Tradition have you found to be most fruitful for you? 

The Rosary is our mainstay. It brings our family together and gives us a chance to remember what is most important every day. Also, using the 1962 Missal is like opening a door to the past–it gives us a way to fully participate in the Mass. We put a font for holy water by our front door and also sprinkle it liberally when needed.

6. Now that you are a traditional Catholic, what are the greatest challenges that you face?

The only challenge is driving 40 minutes to get to St. Isidore’s. Explaining my choice to attend an SSPX parish is very simple: my family and I are remaining faithful to the true and wonderful Catholic Faith!

7. Do you have any advice for the reader who may be considering, but not yet committed to, Tradition?

If you have any curiosity about the Traditional Mass at all–just find an SSPX Chapel and go! The experience of a sung Latin Mass is breathtaking; and the embrace of a lively Catholic parish is a welcome oasis in this crazy, mixed-up world.