On a winter day in early 2016, after months of attending the traditional Latin Mass at my local FSSP apostolate, I was asked what I thought of the Mass at a little parish called the Church of St. Bede the Venerable in St. Louis Park, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis. You see, the Church of St. Bede is a parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, and I was told the Mass was very traditional and not too dissimilar from the TLM. The parish was so small that it shared space with a Novus Ordo parish that had miraculously restored what was lost in the wreckovation of the ’60s and ’70s. I had heard of the Ordinariates and the use of the “Anglican Patrimony” within the Catholic Church, but I had no idea what that really looked like. Curious, I decided to take my wife one Sunday and see what it was all about.
I was surprised how similar to the old Latin Mass it really was. Although the liturgy was in English, it was a sort of sacral English — something different from the vernacular we use every day. The priest faced God instead of man and celebrated at the high altar. The hymns were traditional, and chant was used for all the propers. After the consecration, but before the elevation, the priest genuflected in worship of God, just as it is in the traditional Mass. Communion, although offered under both species, was received kneeling at the altar rail, with the Sacred Host on the tongue. And in what would turn out to be the most significant detail, the priest preached his homilies as a priest of God should.
After each Ordinariate Mass in the undercroft of the church was a time of fellowship and refreshment. Those gathered were a unique group, each with his own idiosyncrasies. In the best possible way, they were a group of misfits, and found that I, as a traditionalist, fit right in. It was here that I met Fr. Vaughn Treco, parochial administrator and priest of this small community, who would become not just my pastor, but my friend. I found Fr. Treco a unique man with a penetrating mind, quick to discern truth from falsehood. I could hear in his words immediately that this was a man of tradition. I still remember our first conversation. He was speaking of how even the typeface used in the first edition of the new Roman Missal was printed in a sans serif type — something our brains instinctively see as less formal. He also spoke of how, when he did celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass for the archdiocese, he would use only the Roman Canon. He spoke clearly and concisely and in a way that made it clear that he was a priest to take note of.
Over the following several months, my wife and I attended Sunday Mass there more and more. The Mass time worked well with our schedules, and we were a part of a developing community there of the sort that never seemed to coalesce at the FSSP apostolate we had been attending. Furthermore, we had direct access to our pastor, and he was always happy to discuss tradition and the struggles we face in the Church today. He gave concrete examples of how to be a good Catholic in these difficult times.
After a few months, Fr. Treco encouraged my wife and me to commit; he wanted us to pick a parish and stick with it. He reminded us that this is how Catholics had always lived — not going from place to place, but rooted in one parish. I will never forget the words he used: “Let me propose this: come to St. Bede’s, make this your parish, and help me to build the kingdom of God.”
How could I refuse such an invitation?
So the following week — the better part of two years ago now — my wife and I registered as parishioners of the Church of St. Bede the Venerable. We do still attend the FSSP parish once a month to be nourished by the traditional liturgy of the Roman Rite, but our weekly Mass is at this tiny parish. We’re a small group just trying to get holy.
Fr. Treco’s motto is just two little words: “Get holy.” It’s clear to me that this has been his goal in all my interactions with him. Get holy. You’re worried about the state of the world? Get holy. You’re worried about the state of the Church? Get holy. God ordained that you be born in this time for a specific purpose. Get holy. You struggle with a sin? Get holy. You suffer from depression and anxiety? Get holy. God needs saints. So get holy. The Scripture that reads “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” is something never taken as hyperbole by Fr. Treco. Jesus said to do it, so Father encouraged us to believe it’s possible, because Jesus said so.
After daily Mass, I would often walk back to the sacristy with my wife to engage Father in conversation. We would discuss everything from exegesis of Scripture to Church politics, as well as the successes and failures of daily life. He would always give us exactly what it was we needed, whether it was encouragement, chastisement, or something in between. Through his ministry, I have made much more progress with a particular anxiety disorder I suffer from than any amount of therapy or medication ever accomplished. I have learned how to be a husband in accord with the teaching of the Church, and how to be head of the house without lording it over my family. My wife has learned how to be a godly wife. I have ridden along with Fr. Treco as he runs errands and meets the elderly and sick for anointing and confession. He has taught us how to “get holy” in the midst of the insanity of this world. He even sent us recordings of his homilies when my wife and I were on vacation, just for the sake of encouragement. What other priest does this? The priest I want most to compare Fr. Treco to is that great pastor of souls, the Curé of Ars, St. John Vianney.
Before knowing this Fr. Treco, the idea of a priest as a father was an abstract concept that was best expressed in theological terms. But now I know what it means for a priest to be father, and even to be a dad. A dad is there when you need him. A dad provides wise counsel and intervenes when you need it. A dad tells you when you’re being stupid and encourages you when you’re down. A dad praises your successes and tells you to not linger there, but move on to the next one. This is what Fr. Treco is, for me, for my wife, and for all of his parishioners. He knows the cost of being a priest and his responsibility before God. Always his encouragement or chastisement or whatever it is his listener needs at that moment has one goal: get holy.
I heard Fr. Treco preach without fear of retribution on many occasions, speaking the hard truth. He has no illusions about the current state of the church and has no fear in telling his parishioners exactly what they need to hear so that we might be saved. I love this man like a father, and he loves us as his children and so will tell us the truth. It is this he also sought to do and faithfully did on November 25.
That’s when everything changed.
The Truth and Only the Truth
On the Feast of Christ the King on the Ordinariate calendar, November 25th of 2018, one week before Advent, Fr. Vaughn Treco delivered this homily. In this 38-minute sermon, Fr. Treco attempted to provide a deeper understanding of the current crisis in the Church and to offer a safe way forward in the years that lie ahead of us. Father showed us a clear picture of the post-conciliar church and the concessions to modernity and the world that the post-conciliar popes have made. He pointed out how this faithlessness is what allowed this rot in the Church to fester for so long and provided several ways for us simple faithful to move forward. The homily was a labor of love — one he spent 10 weeks carefully crafting to be as accurate and clear as possible.
A few days after the homily was preached, it was posted online by The Remnant. Before sharing it, The Remnant offered Father Treco the option of publishing it anonymously, but he declined, saying, “If I am going to speak the truth, then I am going to do so with my name attached to it.” (As of this writing, the homily has over 33,000 views.)
For some weeks, Fr. Treco continued to labor faithfully, preaching the truth. But around the Third Sunday of Advent, his homilies, though still full of Catholic truth, began to seem less pointed and more subdued. My wife and I began to wonder about possible consequences for Fr. Treco in response to his November 25 homily. There were some small hints that maybe something was amiss.
Backlash and Uprooting
As I was vesting and preparing to serve at the altar of God on January 20, 2019, I noted that Fr. Treco was absent. In his place was Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, ordinary emeritus of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, who has served as a substitute on a number of occasions when Fr. Treco needed to be absent. Despite our familiarity with Msgr. Steenson, something about his being there felt off. I looked at our weekly bulletin and saw that Fr. Treco’s email and phone number were no longer there and that there was a notice that read that “daily Masses are cancelled until further notice.”
At the end of Mass, Msgr. Steenson read a letter from our bishop, His Excellency Steven Lopes. The bishop explained that the November homily — the one that had gained so much attention for its unflinching evaluation of the crisis — was, in fact, the reason for his removal. Further, the bishop explained, the homily was contrary to the teaching of the Church — he did not explain how — and that, even after a personal meeting in Houston between himself and Father Treco, Father refused to recant what he had said. The bishop’s letter then announced that Fr. Treco has been removed as parochial administrator of the Church of St. Bede and that Msgr. Steenson had been assigned as parochial administrator pro tempore.
When I heard these words, I was angry, dismayed, and saddened — but not exactly shocked. What else have we come to expect from Church authorities today? Over and over, we hear about abusive priests being protected and moved around by their bishops, but a priest who is too openly orthodox or critical of what is happening in the Church he serves? Apparently, that was unacceptable. I had to keep my composure until the final blessing and the recessional. The instant I made it to the sacristy, however, I divested and left. I was struggling to control my emotions, since rage, which is what I felt, certainly would be of no use. I’d heard of stories like this of priests being removed because they dared to speak the truth, but now it was my pastor — the man who had made me feel welcome, had helped me with so many of my own problems, had taught me to “get holy” and invited me to help him to “build the kingdom of God.”
I had recently watched the 1989 film Dead Poets Society. The plot is essentially as follows: Robin Williams stars as an English teacher named Mr. Keating at an all-boys boarding school in 1959. In the film, Mr. Keating, an alumnus of the school, is hired to replace the previous English teacher, who passed away before the start of the film. His education methods are unconventional and thus not in accord with the curriculum of the school. The impact Mr. Keating has on the lives of his students is explored throughout the film. He awakens something in them — a love of words, of language, of poetry, and independent thought — that had been dormant.
Toward the end of the film, Mr. Keating is forced out by the powers-that-be because he won’t follow the program. At the very end, a seemingly disgraced Mr. Keating comes to his classroom while the headmaster teaches in his place so he can pick up a few last personal items. He walks through the room sheepishly, but just before he is about to leave, one of the young boys stands up on his desk and cries out a line from a poem by Walt Whitman that Mr. Keating had taught them the first day of class: “O Captain, my Captain!” In short order, all the other boys in the class stand up on their desks and salute the man who had made such an impact on their lives, shouting, “O Captain, my Captain!”
I texted this message — “O Captain, my Captain!” — to Fr. Treco immediately after I left the sacristy. He is guilty of nothing other than speaking out against a hierarchy that has perverted Catholic teachings, led countless souls astray, and protected an unknown but unimaginable number of despicable clerics who have sexually abused children or young adults under their spiritual care.
Fr. Vaughn Treco spoke out against the status quo, and so he has been silenced. For this “crime,” he was been removed as parochial administrator, functionally pastor, of my parish. He had his faculties for hearing confessions withdrawn. He was forbidden to preach or offer any reflections or anything of the sort. Nor was the bishop content merely to silence him. Despite the fact that Fr. Treco reaffirmed the Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity as requested by Bishop Lopes, he has been threatened with excommunication under a charge of schism. What sort of schism he is alleged to be guilty of I cannot say, but he will not take back the true words he spoke in his homily about what has gone so horribly wrong in the Church.
Today, my cry is not “O Captain, my Captain!” but rather “O Father, my Father!” Fr. Treco has become my father, the father of my wife, and the father for many others. He is being taken away because he would not stand silently by while the attacks on the Catholic Faith from within the Church continue.
So many priests fail to speak out, certainly publicly, because this is exactly what they fear. I do not fault them for it. Instead, I fault their bishops and superiors, who refuse to acknowledge the contradictions of the Second Vatican Council and the problems of the post-conciliar pontificates.
Please pray for Fr. Treco and his family. As a former Anglican priest, he is married. He has a wife, grown children, and grandchildren he cares for. Pray for the bishops and other chancery officials responsible for this decision. And pray for Holy Mother Church. Also, share the homily Fr. Treco was removed for preaching. You, and those you share it with, will be nourished by the truth.
And most of all: Get holy! Our Lord needs saints!
St. John Vianney, pray for us.
This post has been updated.