The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter: Traditional Liturgy, Booming Vocations

With priests serving 200 locations in 120 dioceses worldwide—and another 150 men currently in formation—the FSSP’s director of development reflects on the order’s unique apostolate.

Father Gregory Pendergraft, FSSP is director of development for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and the assistant director of vocations. His work consists of raising the necessary funds to operate the Fraternity’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska and the North American District House, as well as assisting communities that desire FSSP parishes to realize that goal. He also helps young men discern if they have a vocation to the Fraternity and its particular mission.

He recently spoke with CWR.

CWR: What is the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, and how was it first formed?

Father Gregory Pendergraft, FSSP: The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter is a clerical society of apostolic life of pontifical right, that is, a community of Roman Catholic priests who do not take religious vows, but who work together for a common mission in the world, and whose foundation was directly under Rome rather than in a particular diocese. The Fraternity was founded by a dozen priests and a score of seminarians on July 18, 1988, in response to a growing desire for access to the traditional liturgy and sacraments of the Roman Rite.

CWR: What is the Fraternity’s key ministry or charism? Do you only do parish work, or do you teach in schools and engage in other apostolates?

Father Pendergraft: The mission of the Fraternity is two-fold: first, the formation and sanctification of priests within the traditional liturgy of the Roman rite, and secondly, the pastoral ministration of the priests in the service of the Church. The former is the primary, for it is through priests who are both well-formed and holy that the faithful can be pastorally assisted on their own path to holiness. Both aspects of our mission are focused on and rooted in the Traditional Latin Mass and the sacraments as set forth in the liturgical books of 1962. Schools, camps, and other works often spring forth from our parish communities or are begun where they are needed.

CWR: How large is the Fraternity today?

Father Pendergraft: In the quarter-century since our founding we have grown to more than 250 priests, and we now operate seminaries in both North America and Europe, with more than 150 men currently in formation. We are currently operating at more than 200 locations in 120 dioceses—primarily in Europe and North America, but with active and growing apostolates in Central and South America, Australia, and Africa as well.

CWR: Do you get many requests from bishops to come to their dioceses?

Father Pendergraft: The Fraternity receives several requests each year to establish parishes which serve the Catholics in various dioceses throughout the world.

CWR: How did you personally get involved with the Fraternity?

Father Pendergraft: Like most of our priests, I was introduced to the FSSP when I first attended the Traditional Latin Mass, or Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, as it is often called. This form of the liturgy continues to inspire numerous candidates to seek to become priests in one of our seminaries.

CWR: Most Catholics today are not old enough to remember the Church before Vatican II. How are you received by parishioners and priests unfamiliar with the Fraternity or the Church before Vatican II?

Father Pendergraft: Knowledge must precede love. This is no different with the liturgy than it is with anything else. For this reason we try to encourage the faithful to experience the Traditional Mass so that they can see the many graces it has to offer. Interestingly, it is the younger generation among both priests and parishioners who are often most actively seeking the ancient rites of the Church. 

As far as a reaction, most often it is the liturgy that speaks for itself. When Catholics have the opportunity to experience this liturgy they are very often intrigued and interested and want to know more about it. Thus, our role is often more that of teaching rather than trying to garner interest. As we are easily identified by the wearing of the Roman cassock, we are received with every emotion possible based on the likes or dislikes of the individual with whom we have contact. Yet, the many friendships we have with the bishops and priests who have visited our parishes and seminaries and the faithful who discover one of our parishes attest to the power of charity and the desire for sanctity to overcome any obstacle.

CWR: How does your seminary education differ from that which your seminarians receive at a typical diocesan seminary in the US?

Father Pendergraft: We currently have more than 150 seminarians in our two seminaries. The formation program at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary is seven years long. It consists of the following divisions:

One year of spiritual formation: An initial “year of spirituality” introduces the candidate to the Fraternity, its community life, and a disciplined life of prayer and penance. During this time, the seminarian wears civilian dress and, in close union with his superiors and spiritual director, seeks to discern if he is truly being called to become a priest for our community. 

Two years of philosophical studies: In order to study theology, a sound philosophical formation is necessary. As many popes have recommended, the philosophical studies carried out at our seminary are according to the principles and methods of St. Thomas Aquinas. These two years of philosophy are complemented by a number of other subjects such as Latin, Greek, Scripture, fundamental theology, and Gregorian chant. Seminarians are tonsured and receive the cassock at the beginning of their second year and become temporarily incorporated members of the Fraternity.

Four years of theological studies: This is a systematic study of the Catholic faith. The principal work used is the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas. This is augmented by study of the historical and scriptural basis for the Church’s explication of dogma, as well as authentic teaching and development that has taken place in subsequent centuries. In addition to dogmatic and moral theology, exegesis, liturgy, Church history, canon law, and Gregorian chant are also studied during these years. At least a semester of apostolic work is included in the four years. 

The emphasis on Thomistic philosophy and theology is a significant difference between our seminary and many others. Another difference is the reception of the minor, as well as major orders (porter, lector, acolyte, exorcist, subdiaconate, diaconate, and priesthood). This systematic integration into priesthood provides graces and blessings along the way toward ordination. At the end of the formation process, the seminarian has progressed through a development of his spiritual and ascetic life within the context of community living.

CWR: Is the Extraordinary Form more work to learn and celebrate than the Ordinary Form?

Father Pendergraft: The Extraordinary Form is celebrated in Latin and therefore requires a working knowledge of the language. It is also a Mass that developed over centuries, and each of the actions and words were very carefully chosen (often by saints). For this reason, the “rubrics” of the Mass are detailed and require practice in order to offer the Mass as it is intended in a worthy manner. For this reason, we offer training classes for priests who wish to learn how to offer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

CWR: What do you think the Extraordinary Form liturgy brings to parishes and dioceses? 

Father Pendergraft: The Extraordinary Form liturgy sanctified generations of faithful Catholics in the past and continues its work in the present. The singular beauty and reverence of the Mass and its link to the traditional practices of the Catholic faith help to free us from the bonds of sin and the attachment to the things of the world. A strong emphasis on the need for repentance often inspires a return to the sacrament of confession, which has been called the “forgotten sacrament” in our modern age.

CWR: Do you think it’s unfairly been a source of friction between different factions in the Church?

Father Pendergraft: The rule lex orandi, lex credendi teaches us that the law of prayer is the law of belief. Thus, those who desire to change the doctrines of the Church will always reject anything that seeks to uphold them, whether it be a particular liturgy or even a simple devotion of the faithful. 

CWR: What is your relationship with the Society of St. Pius X?

Father Pendergraft: As our founders were members of the Society of St. Pius X there is a relationship built on the love of the traditions of the Faith. 

CWR: You had a young Fraternity priest, Father Kenneth Walker, murdered in Phoenix. What effect did that have on the Fraternity, and did it lead to any changes in the lives of your priests in their rectories?  

Father Pendergraft: Father Walker was a devoted priest and his death was a tragedy. Our priests, like all, take reasonable steps to ensure security while, at the same time, living in society and relying on the Providence of God.

CWR: Father Joseph Terra was injured in the attack. How has he recovered?

Father Pendergraft: By the grace of God, Father Terra has recovered well from his injuries.

CWR: As a traditional Catholic priest, when you study issues in American culture and society, what are some of the things that concern you the most?

Father Pendergraft: The loss of the sense of sin and the moral law in general are grave evils of our modern age. These are not new evils, but the modern electronic media have increased their influence dramatically.  

CWR: What needs does the Fraternity have, and is the website the best way to get news about the Fraternity?

Father Pendergraft: In order to carry out the work that God and the Church have given us, we need the prayers of the faithful and financial support to continue to form holy and traditional priests to bring the sacraments and traditions of the Faith to every corner of the world. If anyone would like to learn more about the FSSP or to receive our monthly newsletter they can write to: The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, 119 Griffin Rd., Elmhurst Township, PA 18444, contact us by email at info@fssp.com or go to our website at www.fssp.com.


If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.


About Jim Graves 180 Articles
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.