Msgr. John Slattery remembered as a ‘founding father’ of Springs diocese

By Veronica Ambul | Colorado Catholic Herald

Msgr. John Slattery, the first vicar general of the Diocese of Colorado Springs and founding pastor of St. Patrick Parish, died Nov. 28 at age 87. Msgr. Slattery had been residing at Mount St. Francis Nursing Center.

Msgr. Slattery was born in Denver on July 5, 1931. He attended Annunciation School and enrolled in St. John Vianney Seminary in 1949. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Denver on June 1, 1957, by Archbishop Urban Vehr.

Shortly after his ordination, he was named assistant pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, where he remained in until 1966. He was then named pastor of St. Mary Parish in Breckenridge, where he served until 1970. He served as pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish from 1970-1976. He was then named pastor of St. Jude Parish in Lakewood, where he remained until 1981.

In 1981, at the request of Auxiliary Bishop Richard C. Hanifen, Msgr. Slattery was named the founding pastor of a newly-created parish in northeast Colorado Springs — St. Patrick. For the next six years, he celebrated Mass in a retail space on North Academy Boulevard, while overseeing the planning and construction of St. Patrick Church. The site of the new church — a roughly five-acre property on Brook Park Drive — had been donated by prominent Colorado Springs businesswoman Bonnie Fitzpatrick, owner of the Dublin House restaurant.

“It was a challenge; I loved it,” Msgr. Slattery said of starting the new parish. “It was probably the premiere experience of my priesthood.”

In January 1984, Msgr. Slattery was named vicar general of the newly-formed Diocese of Colorado Springs, a role that he held while still serving as pastor of St. Patrick. In 1987, he became administrator of St. Paul Parish. In 1991, his term as vicar general ended and he was named rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral, where he remained until 1997. He then served at Divine Redeemer and Corpus Christi parishes until his retirement in 2000.

In 2009, he was one of three priests in the diocese to be designated a Prelate of Honor by Pope Benedict XVI. With that, he gained the title of “Reverend Monsignor.”

Msgr. Slattery “will go down as a ‘founding father’ of the diocese,” said Bishop Emeritus Hanifen.

Bishop Michael Sheridan said that “Father Slattery’s service in the Diocese of Colorado Springs is legendary. I know how much Bishop Hanifen relied on him in those early years, and I am deeply grateful for all that he has done to serve the mission of the Church in our diocese.”

COMING UP: Nothing about us without us

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA