So many incredible stories keep coming out of the blizzard that stranded pro-life groups on their way home from the March for Life. Isn’t God’s providence amazing?
You’ve probably already heard of the Great Turnpike Mass of 2016, but they weren’t the only ones to have Mass while stranded. Another pro-life group stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike was able to make it to a nearby motel where 250 kneeling students sang Gregorian chant and celebrated an ad orientem high Mass in the motel’s bar room! (Pictures at the end of this article.)
“They knelt on the floor for the duration of the Mass,” Fr. Joshua Caswell, SJC, one of the group’s leaders, told ChurchPOP. “Tears could be seen on many faces—tears of gratitude, I think.” He added: “I have never seen a more reverent scene.”
Fr. Caswell is a priest at St. John Cantius Parish in Chicago, IL. The parish is famous for its spectacular beauty and traditional liturgical renewal. They send a Crusaders for Life student group to the March for Life each year (they all wear yellow; if you’ve attended the March for Life, you can’t miss them; learn more about them here). This year, he and his brother Fr. Nathan Caswell (yes, biological brothers who are both priests!) led 165 middle and high school students to the March for Life!
Like many groups, their buses got stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Thankfully, they were near a small town and were able to all walk to a nearby motel.
It was the students who got the idea to try to have Mass at the motel. “I doubted if it were possible,” Fr. Caswell said, “but I promised I would look into it.”
He called a nearby parish to try to get supplies. “Amazingly a priest answered, and he found Catholic couple who risked a drive through the blizzard to bring us the things needed!”
His brother Fr. Nathan went to a local convenience store to try to get some candles and happened to run into two Dominican sisters. They also had been stranded with a group of students and were praying they could find a priest to celebrate Mass for them.
According to Fr. Caswell, one of the sisters, Sr. Maria Faustina, O.P., later wrote: “When I realized I had to secure rooms for another night, I told the Lord that He had better find a way to get these kids to Mass. Two hours later Fr. Nathan walked into Sheetz convenience store looking for candles!”
The only place big enough to hold Mass in the motel happened to be the bar area. The motel owners graciously let them take over the space and the students did what they could to get it ready for Mass.
“The youth cleaned the bar room as best as they could and found whatever they could to beautify the space,” Fr. Caswell explained. “Furniture was rearranged. A small crucifix over a clean bed sheet could be used as a raredos. A hotel desk bell would ring out the consecration. Br. Matthew Schuster gave a music practice to the youth. The Rosary was recited as Confessions were heard. The newly purchased linen-scented candles were lit for Mass.”
Not only did the Dominican sisters’ group come, but other people from the motel joined them, including the motel owners! “Word spread, and by the time Mass happened, there were as much as 250 people in the bar.”
Fr. Caswell describes how the Mass was celebrated: “We celebrated a sung Mass in the ordinary form ad orientem. Latin and English were used. This Mass on Saturday evening would fulfill our Sunday obligation, presuming we would travel home on Sunday (we were wrong). We certainly might have celebrated Mass in the extraordinary form, but altar cards and other necessary items could not be found in the snow stranded hills of Pennsylvania.”
They also sang beautiful music: “The students, many of whom are enrolled in our choirs, sang the Gregorian Chant ordinaries from the Missa de Angelis—and with gusto! The youth also sang some motets, including one in four parts. I think the whole experience of finding some comfort and solace in the Sacred Liturgy in this hardship really focused them. I have never seen a more reverent scene.”
Despite being in a bar, the students treated the Mass with the utmost respect: “Youth were kneeling around bar stools and behind pool tables. They knelt on the floor for the duration of the Mass. Tears could be seen on many faces—tears of gratitude, I think.”
Amazingly, the Mass had a spiritual impact on other people at the motel: “Hotel patrons were so impressed with the youth. We got a letter or two from people who were so moved by the youth’s devotion. I spoke to one Baptist, who exclaimed, ‘You know, you Catholics are all right!'”
Where do these young people get all of their energy and devotion? Fr. Caswell reveals their “secret”:
“It comes most of all their participation in the Sacred Liturgy. Many of these youth are in our choirs, they participate in the liturgies. Their life of prayer is very centered. And when you’re disciplined in liturgy, when you leave Mass, when you leave liturgy, it adds to that enthusiasm, because you have something to give.”