SAN ANTONIO, Texas (ChurchMilitant.com) - Texas Catholics have suffered a loss at the hands of San Antonio's Abp. Gustavo Garcia-Siller.
At the end of Mass Sunday, parishioners at Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church (OLA) were stunned to learn Garcia-Siller had commanded three Poor Clare nuns attached to the parish back to their motherhouse in Alabama after nine years in San Anotonio. They had been in the process of raising funds to build a monastery.
The sisters left Sunday morning before the announcement was made; parishioners weren't even given the chance to say goodbye.
The whole affair, inside sources at Our Lady of the Atonement allege, is a retaliatory tactic by the archbishop. They believe Garcia-Siller banished the nuns as an act of revenge after losing his battle over the parish, which last year was transferred from Garcia-Siller's control to the Anglican Use Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter in Houston.
Members of the Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration — an order distinguished by its orthodoxy and traditionalism — Sr. Grace Marie, Sr. Elizabeth Marie and Sr. Mary Peter originated from Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, the Hanceville, Alabama convent established by the late Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, PCPA, founder of EWTN.
Their call to San Antonio dated to September 2007, when then-Archbishop Jose Gomez invited them to Texas to launch a new foundation in the Alamo City.
On August 11, 2008 (the Feast of St. Clare), they arrived in San Antonio to begin their mission: the establishment of a Texas monastery — the Poor Clare's second cloister in the South — under the patronage of St. Michael the Archangel.
Their base of operations was in a house lent to them by Fr. Christopher Phillips, then-pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement, a parish recently brought under the umbrella of the Anglican Ordinariate.
From their earliest days in Texas the young nuns worked diligently and prospered, establishing a blog to respond to the Culture of Death, starting an organic soap business, and establishing a live radio program.
Sunday morning, the parish read a letter written by Mother Dolores Marie.
Our three sisters in San Antonio, Texas ... have been blessed to encounter Christ's light in the many holy men and women they've met during their nine years of ministry in the Hill Country. Honoring the request of Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, the Sisters are returning to our monastery in Hanceville, Alabama this week. Like the Magi, they will follow the Light of Christ in discerning their next steps, confident in God's providential care.
The letter explained that parishioners could stay in touch with the sisters via email at email@example.com.
Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church was founded decades ago by converts from the Anglican Church.
In the 1980s, Fr. Christopher Phillips, then an Episcopalian priest with a wife and children, converted to Catholicism after St. Pope John Paul II established a Pastoral Provision permitting Anglicans (Episcopalians) to leave the rapidly deteriorating denomination.
Together with a small core of other Episcopalian converts, Fr. Phillips established Our Lady of the Atonement, becoming the very first Catholic parish in the United States to incorporate Anglican liturgical and musical traditions into the Mass.
In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI established a series of Personal Ordinariates (similar to diocesese) for Christians raised in the Anglican tradition who wanted to become Catholic, including the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which covers all of the United States and Canada.
Father Phillips — with the backing of Abp. Garcia-Siller — petitioned to join. But the parish hit a snag: The Personal Ordinariate's initial head insisted that as a precondition of joining, Our Lady of the Atonement would have to surrender its property (land, school, buildings, etc.), which parishoners had worked for more than 30 years to build.
As a result, Fr. Phillips rescinded his petition. Garcia-Siller, meanwhile, pledged to support any future resubmission.
In 2016, the Chair of St. Peter received its first bishop, Steven J. Lopes. Bishop Lopes immediately set out to rectify OLA's plight, seeking help from Pope Francis himself.
Under the Pope's guidance, Fr. Phillips resubmitted his petition to transfer Our Lady of the Atonement from the Pastoral Provision under the umbrella of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, to the Ordinariate.
This seemed to incite Garcia-Siller's wrath. He insisted he was fine with OLA leaving his diocese, but demanded the parish surrender its property as a precondition for doing so — a reversal from his 2012 position.
Father Phillips refused; standing firm, he pushed the petition forward.
According to sources inside OLA, Garcia-Siller dug in his heels, refusing to forward to Rome the material required to settle the question of authority over Our Lady of the Atonement.
In January 2017, the archbishop announced he was removing Fr. Phillips as pastor so the priest could "dedicate some time to reflect on some specific concerns that I have shared with him." Parishioners denounced the move as "illegal and abusive." (Fr. Phillips was reinstated shortly after, but has since retired.)
In March 2017, Pope Francis gave final approval for Our Lady of the Atonement to join the Anglican Ordinariate.
This, parishioners believe, set the stage for Sunday's expulsion — a move they have described to Church Militant as punitive, vindictive and godless. Their sadness is compounded by their recognition that the loss is bigger than their parish. Our Lady of the Atonement lost three beloved sisters. Texas lost an entire monastery.