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December 21, 2008

He’s a fisher of men restoring the sacred

By Dolores Madlener



Father C. Frank Phillips, pastor of St. John Cantius, holds a chalice that was a gift from Blessed John XXIII to Msgr. Martin B. Hellriegel, who gave it to Phillips as an ordination gift.Catholic New World/Karen Callaway

He is: Resurrectionist Father C. Frank Phillips, pastor of St. John Cantius Parish on the near North Side and founder and superior of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, a new religious community with a new charism in the church. Their motto: Restoration of the Sacred, in the context of parish ministry.

Growing up: “We were from parishes, not so much neighborhoods in those days — St. Peter Canisius on North Avenue. My mother was in the first graduating class. My whole family went there. I had an older brother and sister and a younger sister.”

Neighborhood: “Ours was the first house built on the block in 1910. They were all old houses even when I was a boy. We grew up together: Protestants, Catholics, Polish, Lithuanians, Spanish, Italians, blacks.”

Having fun: “Very seldom do I remember ever staying home. We always had the neighborhood. We went everywhere, not in cars or buses, we walked — played 16- inch softball or football. We had empty prairies to make forts and capture the forts.”

School: “I went to Quigley for two years and then switched to Weber High School. That was where my vocation was actually fortified.”

(312) 243-7373

Christmas Eve: midnight Dec. 24, Pontifical Tridentine Mass, celebrated by Bishop Joseph Perry.


  • 7:30 a.m. — Extraordinary Form of the Mass (Tridentine Low Mass in Latin)
  • 9:00 a.m. — Ordinary Form of the Mass (English)
  • 11:00 a.m. — Ordinary Form of the Mass (Latin)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Extraordinary Form of the Mass ( Tridentine High Mass in Latin)

How did it happen? “I’d never been close to a religious community before. The camaraderie and friendship between all the priests at Weber was something new to me. You saw the fathers working in the big backyard, and they were always at choir or band rehearsals and all the football and basketball games.”

First steady job: “It was as assistant organist at St. Peter Canisius. In 8th grade I was playing the early Masses. My parents had an appreciation for the arts. That’s where I got started so many years ago.” He studied at the American Conservatory.

Priesthood: He entered the Resurrectionist novitiate at Woodstock, Ill. “It was still farmland in those days.” In 1970 he attended seminary in St. Louis and did graduate work in music at St. Louis University. Ordained in 1977, he served at St. Stanislaus Bishop & Martyr and then taught at Weber for 11 years until becoming pastor of St. John Cantius in 1988, a Resurrectionist parish. “All the big churches along the expressway were, at one time or another, staffed by Resurrection Fathers.”

Mentor: “The priest who was probably most influential in forming me was from Germany — Msgr. Martin Hellriegel, when I was in St. Louis. If you ever sang ‘To Jesus Christ our Sovereign King,’ he wrote it actually as an anti-Nazi song.”

A new community in 1998: “One of the things we did at the parish was restore the Latin High Mass, in the new rite, naturally. We went from an almost empty church to filling up. Young men approached me that they were considering priesthood.” He sent them to the Resurrectionists. “But it wasn’t the right charism.” The archdiocesan priesthood wasn’t the right charism either. “So about 10 years ago another priest and myself, under the direction of Father John Hardon, Father Benedict Groeschel, and Msgr. Richard Schuler, came up with a different charism.”

Attraction? “What attracts them is that we do the traditional Mass, now called the extraordinary form, and the present Mass, called the ordinary form. We’ve been doing both for about 18 years at the parish. So when Pope Benedict’s ‘Motu Proprio’ came out last year, it was almost like ‘Wow, we’ve been doing this and it’s working.’ So with the permission of Cardinal George, and our provincial and council, we were able to gather men interested in doing both forms and begin living the communal life, based on the rule of St. Augustine.” Cardinal George named them Canons Regular of St. John Cantius.

How do you recruit? “They either find us on our Web site,, or priests recommend them. Some are from as far away as Saskatchewan, Canada. Our total is 21 at this time; eight priests; five in Holy Apostle Seminary, Cromwell Ct.; and the rest are either juniors, brothers or second year novices.”

Your average day: “No day is really typical but the format is basically the same.” They are up by 4:30 a.m. and pack the day until 9:30 p.m. with Mass, meditation, liturgy of the hours, work, study, sports, recreation, chant, more study, and “There’s some meals in there someplace.” Doing things together as a family is “a strong part of the charism.”

‘Marketing’: “Father Scott has launched the Web site, a tutorial for priests on the extraordinary form of the Mass. Six years ago when I was in Rome for a renewal program, I happened to meet Cardinal Ratzinger. I told him what we were doing. He said, ‘Finally a community that does both the old and the new together.’ That was like the shot in the arm that I needed.”

Favorite author: “Over time I’ve been reading more and more of Ratzinger. I have to speed read to keep up and then re-read to understand. I also read articles and books on architecture.”

Motto: “Always keep your sense of humor.”