Rorate Caeli

New Book Tells the Dramatic Story of Traditionalist Movement in the USA

In many conversations online and in person about the situation in which we traditional Catholics find ourselves in 2022, one thing I have seen again and again is a temptation to discouragement or despair on account of the threat—or the reality—of that which we love being torn out of our churches, our towns, our families. This is a natural reaction but it’s one we need to take steps to channel in a positive and fruitful direction. I think the feelings are primarily due to the fact that in the halcyon days under Summorum Pontificum traditional Catholicism was spreading organically and it had become (at least in some places) almost easy to find Mass, to have baptisms and confirmations done, to set up weddings and funerals, and so forth. The sudden attempt to throw everything back to the 1970s has caught a lot of people, especially in the younger generations, completely off guard and unprepared.

Many are ready and willing to fight, to protest, to wear out doorsteps, to go underground, to do whatever it takes, but all of us need encouragement. One of the ways we can recalibrate to the new situation is to take a little while to learn about what the traditional movement was like in its early days and how it surmounted one seemingly impossible obstacle after another. Enter the pithy new book by Stuart Chessman, Faith of Our Fathers: A Brief History of Catholic Traditionalism in the United States from Triumph to Traditionis Custodes (Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2022). In just over 150 pages, we follow trials and conquests, setbacks and breakthroughs, from 1965 to 2021. An appendix provides facsimiles of early pastoral policies for traditionalists that have to be seen to be believed.

This is certainly an opportune book for this moment in our battle for the soul of the Church. It is a godsend especially for Americans (though it would be of interest to others outside the country) who have yet to dig deeply into the history of a movement they entered without perhaps realizing it was a movement—indeed more like a militia ready to rise up. This little work may be just the thing you need, or a friend or a family member needs, to realize that we’ve been here before, and we can get through this again with God’s help.

From the publisher’s description:

How comes it that so many centuries-old practices, customs, and beliefs of Roman Catholicism—above all, the traditional Latin Mass—have endured into this third decade of the twenty-first century despite over fifty years of official ecclesiastical disfavor and even violent attempts at suppression? Why the growing interest in and energetic support for so much that was supposed to have been consigned to oblivion after the Second Vatican Council? In the mid-sixties a “traditionalist movement” was born (largely of lay leadership, but numbering many like-minded clergy and religious) that resisted the auto-demolition of the Church and labored mightily to keep her liturgical and doctrinal patrimony alive wherever and however they could. The story of this determined effort needs to be told now more than ever for new “converts” to the Latin Mass and for younger generations unfamiliar with the great sacrifices of their forerunners.

In this compact and informative book, Stuart Chessman tells the tale of the traditionalist movement in the United States of America, from its birth in the era of Triumph (1965–1975) to the mounting tensions with “conservative Catholicism” (1975–1985), to the dawning of hope in the “Indult regime” (1985–2007), leading into the broad daylight of Summorum Pontificum (2007–2021), and then descending into progressive darkness under Pope Francis (2013–), who has chosen total war with Traditionis Custodes. Throughout, the author judiciously attributes praise and blame, draws timely lessons, makes warnings and prognoses, and delivers a message of patient determination and well-founded hopes for the future.

“Stuart Chessman’s Faith of Our Fathers is truly a book for our time, when the Traditional Movement in the Church faces serious opposition from Rome. Its fine history is necessary reading for young priests and laity at the heart of the Movement today. We must know whence we came to understand where we are and whither we would go. One of the chief contributions Mr. Chessman makes is his clear explanation of the difference between Conservatism and the Traditional Movement. He looks to the future when the Traditional Movement must be a force of reform for the whole Church. Required reading for every Traditional Catholic.” —FR RICHARD CIPOLLA

“There is no page in Stuart Chessman’s book that fails to draw attention to the underpinnings of the ‘traditional Mass movement’ in the U.S. Despite its title, this is no mere history course. Chapter by chapter, Chessman erases the clichés and occasional slander about traditional Catholics—that they are unhappy old people swimming in nostalgia, for example. Faith of Our Fathers is a real service to the Church, and will be read and welcomed by many, perhaps even by many a bishop quietly cheering us on by now.” —ROGER A. MCCAFFREY

“The clear and informative pages of Stuart Chessman’s Faith of Our Fathers equips us with all we need to delve into the origins and development of American traditionalism, as well as understand the problems and temptations this movement suffers from today, not only in the United States, but throughout the world.” —ROBERTO DE MATTEI

Stuart Chessman, Faith of Our Fathers: A Brief History of Catholic Traditionalism in the United States from Triumph to Traditionis Custodes (Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2022). 162 pp. Paperback $16.95. Cloth $26. Available from or Barnes & Noble.