“We Now See Everything Differently”: How Mission Tradition Is Bringing the Traditional Catholic Faith to Mexico
Millions of souls across Mexico have never assisted at a traditional Latin Mass. But as more and more Mexicans encounter the beauty of tradition, they find it changing their lives for the better. Fr. Daniel Heenan, FSSP, who was ordained in 2014, has spent his entire priesthood working at the FSSP apostolate in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Mission Tradition staff recently spoke with Fr. Heenan to get an update on his work in Mexico. Here are highlights of that conversation. We hope his story will inspire you to support Mission Tradition.
Mission Tradition: It’s well-known among traditional Catholic circles that the FSSP parish in Guadalajara has faced a difficult situation in its archdiocese. Can you give us an update on the standing of your mission and how the immediate future is looking for you?
Father Heenan: Things have been kind of tranquil, I guess you could say, in the sense that we aren’t bothered too much. Our day-to-day life hasn’t really changed. Unfortunately, we lost the security of having our own personal parish because it was suppressed. In practice, I don’t know what was achieved by that. It really just adds more paperwork because I have to send my parishioners to other places when they want to get married or something. So it just makes things more complicated.
We’ve also been running into a few little roadblocks—for example, we couldn’t have Confirmation this year. So we’re kind of waiting. We’ve put in another written request to be able to celebrate Confirmation. We have several couples who are doing their wedding preparations. Our church is so small that in the past, people have sought out bigger churches and nicer parts of town for their weddings, but that has now been forbidden.
MT: Are you saying people used to have traditional weddings in other venues, but now they can’t?
FH: That’s right. For many years here, we had a nice relationship with most of the diocesan clergy where we’d get invitations to say Mass for this or that occasion in other places. It was a novelty for people, and it was never polemical or anything. Now that’s gone away. Of course, most of the problems have not been in Guadalajara, but rather in other places. We had several places we were visiting regularly and hoping to establish apostolates, and they’ve all been abolished. So we were kicked out of Aguascalientes, a neighboring diocese where we were celebrating Mass every two weeks and had hopes for an apostolate. Also, we were kicked out of Yucatan, where we also wanted to start an apostolate. The faithful have been in contact with us from all over the country, because really, the FSSP in Mexico City and Guadalajara is almost the “only show in town” for Latin Masses in the whole country, if not the whole of Latin America. So we haven’t been able to make any progress in other parts of the country. In fact, we’ve tried to go have meetings with bishops, but it’s been very difficult.
MT: On a brighter note, I wanted to check in on some of the projects you’ve mentioned in previous communications. You mentioned receiving two new priest candidates at Casa Cristo Rey.
FH: Yes, we’ve had two priests discerning joining us, with several others in communication with us. That’s kind of an interesting development because we haven’t had that in the past. These are priests investigating the possibility of joining the FSSP.
MT: Excellent. And you had six seminarians participate in the Junipero Serra Institute over the summer?
FH: That’s right. Our Spanish-language immersion program that we run every summer has been a little bit adversely affected by Traditionis Custodes. In previous years, we had diocesan seminarians from the U.S. come down. Hopefully we’ll get that back up again. But we’ve had our FSSP seminarians come. We’ve also had priests from the Institute of Christ the King come. They spend the six weeks learning Spanish, touring the country, and getting some pastoral experience. The feedback for this program is always great.
MT: Is the idea that the priests who participate will be able to go back to their apostolates in the U.S. and better serve their Spanish-speaking parishioners?
FH: Exactly. There are several alumni of our program who are now priests working in different areas. For example, Fr. Daniel Alloy, Fr. Joe Loftus, and Fr. Joseph Dalimata are all serving in places with large Spanish-speaking populations now and putting to use what they’ve learned during summers with us.
MT: That’s great news to have so many men there—but of course it increases your operating expenses.
FH: That’s right. We’ve also received seven candidates in our pre-seminary program. It’s still a project in development, trying to balance parish life and the house of formation. These guys are taking a full course load, so we’re paying teachers and feeding seven more mouths. It costs us about $4,500 per month to support seven more men!
We’re constantly doing little projects around the house to make it more habitable for so many people. In fact, we just finished a project, and we’re probably going to send a grant request to help with it. We had to redo a bunch of plumbing because the pipes in our house were the same pipes that were put in 50 years ago, and we’re finding leaks and clogs all over the place. So we had to replace a lot of piping and we put in a water filtration system to try to eliminate the clogging.
We did that in conjunction with another construction project. Because of the additional priests, we had to make another priest suite so that we can have a separation between common bathrooms used by the candidates and the priests’ living quarters. So we had to install a bathroom and another priest suite. The total for that project came to about 277,000 pesos, which is nearly $14,000.
MT: You’ve also been working to expand and beautify your chapel, right?
FH: Yes. We installed a bigger sacristy. At the chapel in our house where we have the Divine Office for the priests and candidates and a daily public Mass for the faithful, we had a very tiny sacristy. We got some donations from people here to begin a project to move our sacristy from up front near the sanctuary to a little vestibule. This almost tripled the size of our sacristy.
We also had a carpenter make some new furnishings. We had been using the kneeler of the front line of pews as our communion rail. The people who sat in the front didn’t have any kneelers because we moved it up in front of the sanctuary as a Communion rail. So we had a cast iron Communion rail made with a nice design, and we’re now waiting for the carpenter to finish the top piece so we can put on the cloth that goes over the altar rail. And finally, we moved and refurbished the confessional in our house chapel.
MT: You’ve also been expanding your online presence?
FH: Some of that was by necessity because one of the places where we used to give a weekly catechism class cancelled us. So it made sense to do more stuff online. We invested in some computer equipment to help. Our candidates for entering the Church now take some of their classes online. We bought another computer and installed a big screen so that they can all see the transmission of the class professor remotely, and we purchased cameras so that the professor can see the candidates.
What we wanted to do, too, is create a virtual classroom so that we could have classes for the faithful, where people can attend but also easily transmit. People in other cities would like to be able to participate in some of the formation and have asked us if we could offer more teaching online.
And then there’s YouTube. Everyone’s watching stuff on YouTube. So what we want to start doing—and this is some of the reason for the investment in the equipment—is to put up short little capsulas, or capsules. These are five-minute formation videos that we’ll produce on a regular basis so that we can get our name out there a bit more and reach people who aren’t in Guadalajara.
MT: It seems your most ambitious project right now is to purchase a building near your church to accommodate catechism classes and your parish bookstore.
FH: Well, we were looking at purchasing a building but that fell through. In the end, it was providential. For the past several years, our catechism program has been growing, thanks be to God. But we don’t have any space because our church only has one room for the class, and it’s up a very difficult staircase. We’re in a dilapidated part of the city, and they little by little sold off properties that were part of the church property. So we’ve always been limited by this because we hardly have space for anything besides Mass. But we still did catechism. We put kids everywhere! We stuck one group in the bell tower, another group in the side chapel, another group in the choir loft—pretty much wherever you could put a little group of kids. It made for a very noisy church because we would have different groups talking at once.
Last year, we knew we weren’t going to fit in the church. It was just going to be impossible. So we were looking for a new place. There’s a school two blocks away from the church that offered to lend us the facilities on Saturday morning for catechism, and all we had to do was pay a little bit for cleaning up afterwards. So that was a great arrangement. Unfortunately, that school had to close at the end of that year, so we were again in the same situation. They were going to sell the building to somebody else. But then a benefactor here popped up and offered to pay the rent. So now we’re renting that building.
We named it the Isabel the Catholic Cultural Center. It’s a great blessing, and it opens a whole realm of possibilities for work and projects because the owner was happy to rent it to us and said we can keep this deal for as long as we want. Our benefactor is even investing in some remodeling. But there are many other costs that go into it. For example, I’ll need to hire a part-time administrator just for that building because we have to coordinate schedules and services and so on. The operating costs for the center are around $3,000 per month. And we needed to install a security system, which costs $16,000.
What we’re starting there this year is a pilot program for a hybrid school. It will be a classical education school that they hope by next year will be a fully functioning hybrid school. They hope they’ll be able to export it to other places that want to follow the same model. In the U.S., there are many options for homeschool curriculums that you can do through correspondence. Here in Mexico, families don’t have the same choices.
It’s really exciting. We just had our first meeting yesterday. We’re planning catechism classes and cultural events. There’s also a part of this building where we’ll experiment with a group of lay brothers. The FSSP has never had lay brothers, but it’s something we’ve talked about. There are a few guys interested in this project and they’re going to live there and help take care of the building and see what happens.
Also, the building has a nice courtyard and we eventually want to move our bookstore from this little nook in the church to that building. We could also open a little coffee shop because we’re right on the downtown streets. It could be an interesting opportunity for evangelization—a coffee shop with Catholic art and Catholic books, and maybe we’ll have talks or different events periodically.
MT: It’s good to hear that things are growing despite the environment in your archdiocese. After eight years in Mexico, what have you seen the mission accomplish?
FH: Everyone in Mexico is culturally Catholic, but there’s a ton of lukewarm Catholics—especially the men. I’ve seen people who encounter something we do, whether it’s the Mass or a group we run, and it really opens their eyes to see the Catholic faith in a whole new light and to take it seriously.
Just the other day, we had a marriage formation group in the home of a parishioner. Afterwards, the host walked me to my car. He’s a quiet, reserved man, but he told me, “I just want to thank you so much because the FSSP and the parish have changed our lives. We now see everything differently.” He even told me that after many years, he and his wife are finally expecting another baby because, thanks to our teaching, they realized they need to live differently.
In spite of temporary setbacks with church politics, we’re convinced that tradition has the potential to explode. People contact me from all over Latin America. It reminds me of the parable of the mustard seed. We’re just a little blip. But for some reason, many in the Church are scared of us. I think that’s because they realize that a lot of people are looking for what we do, which is simply what the Church has always done. People are hungry for tradition. We hope that with patience and perseverance, we’ll see a big explosion of tradition in Latin America over the next several years, with many new opportunities opening up.