Rorate Caeli

The Wonderful FSSP Community in Phoenix, Arizona (Updated)

In the past few days, some readers have asked us about the spiritual health of the Fraternity of Saint Peter's community in Phoenix, Arizona. 

The FSSP has been in Phoenix since 2004, where they have created with so many local faithful and the support of successive bishops the Mater Misericordiae parish.

Unfortunately, as in all religious communities, there is the occasional disgruntled parishioner -- and if such a parishioner has many followers online, he or she can give the wrong impression about the congregation. That has recently happened with Mater Misericordiae, and we reached to our readers to send their testimonies of life in that community. What we gather from what we received is that this is a spiritually healthy and strong congregation of people deeply devoted to Almighty God, His Church, His Mother, and His Sacraments.


From a Catholic couple:

My family and I have been parishioners at Mater Misericordiae in Phoenix for over 3 years. In that time Fr. Passo has been a true spiritual father to our family. 

We have had a member of our family struggle with scrupulosity, and when we asked Fr. Passo for help in this area, he stepped in. He called up a trusted spiritual director of his and did his research to learn the best way to help this person. And when he invited Fr. Ripperger to speak at our parish mission, he specifically asked him to speak on scrupulosity, because he found several of his parishioners were dealing with it.

Fr. Passo teaches very clearly during his homilies, and says hard truths sometimes. But in the confessional, he is gentle, while also giving wise advice on the spiritual life. 

He goes out of his way to get to know all the members of our ever growing parish. I'm sure others have mentioned how fast our parish has grown and that at every Mass we are standing room only and the entire hall is filled. During one of his most recent homilies, he started by thanking us all for being so patient in putting up with an uncomfortable arrangement, and that our consistency in dealing with it every week was an example of holiness to him. He has been working for a long time to secure a bigger church for us, and asked the parish to pray a novena to the Infant of Prague (whom he has a special devotion to) for that intention. 

In the years we've been there, he has requested the people of the parish to enroll in the Brown Scapular, complete the 33 day consecration to Blessed Mother, and this year St. Joseph, encouraged us to pray various novenas and take part in various devotions. My family and I have grown so much in our spiritual lives and it is partially due to Fr. Passo. 

I've never seen a priest work so tirelessly for the souls entrusted to him. He takes the sacraments and the spiritual very seriously, and because of that, his parishioners do too. 

I hope I've given you enough to see that one person's bad opinion is definitely not the whole picture.


From a reader who would prefer to remain anonymous online:
I started going to Mater Misericordiae due to Taylor Marshall's push for people to go during the Advent of 2019, right before the pandemic. We went a few times, but mostly stuck to our Novis Ordo parish.

Then, the pandemic hit. I remember being at Mater and Fr. Passo stood up telling everyone, "If the Diocese forbids Communion on the tongue, we will not be able to offer Communion at all, as we do not permit our Blessed Lord to be given in the hand." And that stuck with me.

The pandemic raged for a while and our Novus Ordo church closed down without any real hope of it reopening. My wife gave birth to my second son and I knew getting him baptized would be a problem.

I made the executive decision to baptize him at home and then sent an email to Fr. Passo about having the rest of the rite done in the church when the pandemic was over.

He emailed me back and asked for my phone number, then called me to ask how I'd performed the baptism, told me it was a valid baptism and said that he would have done the baptism in the church had I called ahead of time.

This was March of 2020 when most churches wouldn't let people onto their property and Fr. Passo was still performing baptisms.

On April 3rd, 2020 (I just checked), we received an email. Fr. Passo was opening up his parish. He had brokered some kind of deal with the Diocese and he was offering Mass, 10 people at a time, for his parishioners.You had to sign up and it was only a few people, but they allowed for a rotation and everyone was able to come to Mass at some point. I know people who were able to celebrate Easter 2020 at Mater because of Fr. Passo. In May, maybe June, they opened it up to 100 people at a time. Father offered 5 Masses every Sunday and opened up daily Mass entirely (because fewer than 100 people went to daily Mass). At this point, because Mater is so small, effectively the entire parish could come to Sunday Mass.

When my wife and I were thinking about using NFP for a year so that she could get back into a healthy lifestyle, Fr. Passo listened and gave us sage advice. He was kind, empathetic, but also firm and fatherlike. I've sought his counsel several times over the last year. When I was wrong, he would kindly, but firmly tell me so.

Fast forward to August and Fr. Passo decided to start up CCD classes for children so that everyone who was ready could get the sacraments. In August, he made it VERY clear that if you wanted your children to get the sacraments, they would need to come to the CCD class.

My wife and I approached him, told him that we had a lot of teaching material at home and that we wanted our daughter to not have to go to the class because of how difficult it would be to bring our whole family an hour early and entertain toddlers, then sit through Mass.

Father let us know, again kindly but firmly, that community is an important part of the Church. He wasn't going to allow us to teach her at home, without the community, because we needed to regain that community we lost during COVID.

He knew that, in order to become a community again, we needed to be together, in person. We needed to talk to each other and laugh with each other and cry with each other, instead of at our homes watching on TV. Community was and IS very important to Fr. Passo.

I remember going to confession with Fr. Passo and I confessed that I had missed Christmas Mass, not because of illness or of fear of the virus, but because I couldn't be bothered. He told me that it was very important to come to Mass every Sunday that we could, even with the dispensation and how he was worried about the lack of attendance that he'd seen over Christmas.

Even though it was hard on our family, we obeyed him. My wife and I discussed whether or not it'd be a sin for her to stay home with the kids and watch Mass on TV. We researched and we talked to some Catholic talking heads and we were still unsure. We were struggling. Not sure why it didn't dawn on me before, but I asked Fr. Passo whether it would be wrong or sinful for my wife or myself to stay home with the lesser behaved kids while the other would take the kids who COULD handle it to Mass.

He told us that St. Therese didn't go to Mass until she was 11 and that there was nothing sinful about my wife staying home to take care of the younger children while I brought the older ones. (Bonus: Now that it's something that they have to earn instead of something we force them to do, my kids are excited at the chance to go to Mass.)

My wife's mother just recently got remarried to her 4th husband. None of them had died, but none of the marriages were in the Church. My wife sent an email asking for advice, but I knew that Fr. Passo's inbox is difficult to manage, so I was able to ask him between Masses on a Sunday. He told me, "You can't go because it's a mockery of Holy Matrimony, but it sounds like your mother-in-law's other marriages were probably invalid and the annulment process should be fairly painless. Tell her to give me a call and we'll work it out."

The first part was what I expected, but not the second part. My mother-in-law doesn't go to his parish and he's never met her, but he was willing to make time in his schedule to meet with her and guide her so that her marriage would be valid in the eyes of the Church.

I could write for another several hours about all the amazing things that Fr. Passo has done. What it comes down to is that he's a caring father. Most men will have a few children, maybe 15 or so at most, but Fr. Passo has hundreds of children and he knows their names. He gives no quarter to sin. He is tough, but he is fair. I'm a nobody, but he knows my name. He asks about my wife when she's not there and about my kids. He congratulates me when good things happen and he is there when there is sorrow.

We don't see eye to eye on everything. There are things that he's strict about that I'm not keen on, but he's my father. I treat him like I treat a good father. I believe he knows more about how to save my soul than I know. He probably has blind spots, but I KNOW I have blindspots that he's seen in me.

He's corrected me kindly and he's made me a better husband and father.

To anyone who doubts his kindness and love, come to Mater Misericordiae. Meet the people. Say hello and see how happy they are. See how loved he is.

He's not a dictator, he's a father and he sees us all as his children. If he sees you going astray, he'll correct you, guide you back. If you've been missing a lot of Mass and you want something from him, he'll tell you to come back to Mass first, then talk to him about the thing you want, because he wants you to be at Mass. And if you genuinely can't come to Mass, talk to him ahead of time. Let him know as soon as you can as to why you won't be there. I guarantee you that he'll be sympathetic.

Like any good father, some of his children won't like how he treats them, but he treats them all the same. It doesn't matter if you're an internet celebrity or a nobody, like me.

Thank you for listening to my rant.

From these two testimonies, and others we are still receiving, one can see how complex is the nature of the activity of a priest amidst our contemporary struggles. But the Mater Misericordiae parishioners seem to be very lucky indeed! Congratulations to Fr. Passo and the other priests serving there.

UPDATE: We will be adding additional testimonials from Phoenix parishioners below:

From as long-time parishioner:

 have been in Phoenix nearly ten years; my arrival coincided with the FSSP mission here getting its first chapel. Previously, Masses were held at a nearby N.O. parish. The chapel was erected by Father Terra, and the parish began to grow. In 2014, Father Kenneth Walker, the young curate, was brutally murdered in the rectory. Father Terra was badly injured. After his recovery, Father Terra was moved to another diocese, and there were a few years of tumult as a few different priests came through. I had a feeling of uncertainty.

Father Passo arrived in 2017, first as curate, then as pastor. The numbers have exploded. He is a true spiritual father, he seemingly knows every parishioner, and he does the work of five men. His efforts during Covid were heroic... he managed to keep the church open, increased the number of Masses and the Confession times, when all the N.O. churches were totally shut down.

To paint him as some kind of tyrant is comical. Of course he is firm on the things that matter; that's exactly what makes a solid priest. Yet he is caring and kind. Gentle in the Confessional but also matter of fact. Immensely devoted to the Sacred Heart, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to Saint Joseph. He dedicated his priesthood to Our Lady of Guadalupe. One of the best priests of the Fraternity that I have met in over twenty years.

He has been making plans for expansion since the day he arrived, and the parish was just awarded a five-acre property by the diocese.

I'm sorry I don't have time to write more. I hope you can let everyone know, everything is fine in Phoenix. We are well taken care of. This coming Tuesday, June 1, is the eighth anniversary of father's priestly ordination. Could I ask your readership for an Ave on that day?

From a recent parishioner:

Regarding the FSSP church in Phoenix, in the long year and a half our family has been there we have been treated with nothing but truth and love. A true father admonishes his children and does it lovingly but firmly. All the priests that have come through Mater Misericordiae have been a beacon of hope in a dark world. They have opened their arms and have never turned us away. I know they have gone to bat for the parish and the parishioners. Mater is a place of security and brings us everyday closer to Jesus with their desire to give us the sacraments. 

We are so blessed to have priests that will speak truth as well as live the truth.