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Seattle Catholic is not affiliated with the Archdiocese of Seattle
Seattle Catholic
A Journal of Catholic News and Views
7 Jun 2004

Tribute to a Catholic Man

by Peter W. Miller

David Henry Bresee

"If the liberals don't despise you, you're doing something wrong," he would say with his usual blend of insight and humor as he lay on his leather couch, unfiltered cigarette in one hand, steaming black cup of coffee in the other. During the days I spent sitting in this man's living room, I would hear many such insights, stories and admonitions — some I quite easily remember; others I wouldn't dare forget.

Sitting across from him, often for hours on end, we would discuss sports, literature, politics, tradition, philosophy, etiquette, and anything else subject to human conversation. But while exploring any other topic, the discussions would inevitably come back around to the state of the Church. It was a subject that at one moment could leave him speechless, stunned in disbelief — in another, shouting in righteous rage. More than anything else, the recent devastation visited upon the Catholic Church had broken this man's heart.

From the moment he was received into the Church, he viewed the Faith as nothing less than the supreme and ultimate treasure, compared to which all else paled. As a young man, he set out on his own in search of truth. It was in the pages of old books — books which still fill immense shelves to this very day — he would find the words that would help Our Lord turn his mind, then his heart toward His Church. Starting with the autobiographical conversion process recorded by John Henry Newman, and moving through the works of men named Paul and Thomas and Hilaire, the splendor that is the Catholic Faith was unveiled to him in page after page of undeniable truth.

He would soon locate a priest and begin the preparation for his entrance into Christ's Church. This was the early 1960's — long enough removed from our day, that a good priest could still be found, but still recent enough that the looming suffocation of all things Catholic could certainly be foreseen. From the new "scholarly" and "historical" interpretations of Holy Scripture that had become so popular, to the renegade liturgical experimentation which had been common in his own parish for years, the direction of the future was even then quite clear — but the alacrity and severity of the destruction to come could hardly be fathomed.

A Catholic Traditionalist

This man had absolutely no sympathy or patience for liberals nor schismatics — and would not tolerate anyone making excuses for either. He adamantly refused to separate his defense of Catholic Faith from the subjugation due to his authorities. Seldom had he a kind word to speak of his pastor, bishop or Pope, but neither did he sanction nor perform any action which would disregard or minimize their invested authority. Each of the parade of effeminate and liberal priests that would presume the title "pastor" over the years, he would endearingly refer to as "my pastor."

He would also refuse to let anyone slide toward compromise or adopt a near-sighted view of Church history. When those around him would start lionizing some Church leaders in the Vatican as staunch conservatives fighting the liberal element in the Church, he was quick to remind them that not too long ago those same men were the liberal element that the true conservatives were battling against.

The struggles that sent most traditionalists scattering across the country in search of solace, he chose to fight in his own parish, at his own church. In a modest house across the street from a historic gothic church, he would make his stand.

Staffed and managed by Dominicans, his parish provided a unique opportunity for an intermittent reprieve from the Novus Ordo — the Dominican Rite of the Mass. Already over two hundred years old when Pope St. Pius V (a Dominican himself) consolidated the Roman Rite of the Mass, the Dominican Rite was allowed to continue in use among the followers of St. Dominic. Since those days, and still today, no Dominican priest has been in need of a bishop's permission or an indult to offer Mass according to this ancient rite.

Since the days when the Novus Ordo was first brought to town, the Dominican Rite would come and go from his parish. A single elderly priest was allowed to offer the Mass, but not without constantly struggling against a revolving list of conditions and restrictions. In a repeat of recent history, this Mass was subject to the machinations of hostile bureaucrats, who saw the ancient rite as, at best, a quaint eccentricity for the nostalgic — at worst, a breeding ground for an outdated type of Catholicism they despised. Various efforts to "improve" and "update" the Mass were attempted, mimicking some of the more puzzling modifications of the Roman Rite — the priest turning around and facing the congregation, the recitation of various parts of the Mass in English, Communion given in the hand, eucharistic ministers, etc. Each new novelty would be met with protest, as members of the congregation refused to assist at a Mass where such disregard for the liturgy was on display.

As with any indult arrangement in existence today, the establishment of this Traditional Mass was far from permanent. Despite the disputes over rubrics and creative "improvements" foisted upon the congregation, its offering would cease for periods of time, the scheduled Mass would be moved earlier and earlier in the morning until it was being held before dawn, and the attendants were subjected to the ridicule and derision of their fellow parishioners (as traditionalists have come to expect from the "tolerant" and "pastoral" cheerleaders for the revolution). Ultimately, the Latin Mass in his parish would be brought to a halt with the passing of the sole elderly priest who would offer it. With no remaining priest willing to offer the Mass and a pastor actively hostile to all it entailed, the "divisive" Catholics who made up the congregation, some of whom in the parish for decades, were left without a Mass.

Rather than put up with or fight back against such continuing opposition over the years, many conservative parishioners and their families would leave. Some would go to the parish across town where they were told there were no altar girls, or where the pastor was courageous enough to mention abortion from the pulpit once every couple years. Some would seek out the Eastern Rites. Still, others would establish or join "independent" chapels. But this man stayed.

It was his parish, and he decided long ago that he wasn't going to be chased out by anyone. It's easy to ignore a person who left in disgust years ago — much harder if he remains involved with the church, is outspoken at parish meetings, or returns to kneel in the pews every Sunday morning.

Even as his body was failing him, he would walk to the church each Sunday morning and take his place in the pews. But rather than a Latin Mass, offered according to a rite dating back centuries, he would be subjected to a sing-along guitar mass, complete with short-haired middle-aged "altar girls" tasked with snatching the ciborium from the tabernacle, and "homilies" from teenage girls telling what an "totally awesome" time they had at World Youth Day. What would be a trying penance for any Catholic with a sense of the sacred was downright purgatorial for this man. But every week, he would make the walk to his Church and kneel in his pew, refusing to participate in the irreverent circus that passed for the 9:30am Sunday Mass. As the congregation would stand to sing or hold hands, he would kneel with his Dominican Missal, turning the old pages to the Mass written and offered for the defeat of the infidel. A pair of large noise-reducing ear protectors typically employed in sport shooting, would grant him some semblance of peace while songs such as City of God and Lord of the Dance were performed around him.

Like most places, his parish went through a significant amount of changes in the last half of the 20th century. From the charismatic "healing" services that encouraged people to "speak in tongues" and literally roll in the aisles with hysterical "holy laughter," to the Dominican brother who considered parental baptism preparation classes an appropriate forum for displaying Vietnam war footage and giving anti-war speeches, to the new age nuns who wanted him to change the name of his dog "Pagan" so as not to confuse the schoolchildren, to the priest who proudly announced that he would be modeling his pastoral approach after that of Archbishop Weakland, to the banjo-playing Dominican who considered a bluegrass band in the sanctuary during Mass to be a valid exercise in "inculturation" for a Northwest parish.

Priests and pastors would come and go, with very little to differentiate one from the next. Parishioners likewise would come and go, but this man stayed. For it was his parish.

Upon his death, the parish would bear witness the only appropriate farewell to this man from their midst — a traditional Requiem Mass offered for the repose of his soul.

A Catholic Father

Like all Catholics who know and live their Faith, this man entrusted all aspects of his life to Our Lord's Providence. Failing to comprehend the extreme naturalism of his fellow Catholics, he took seriously Our Divine Savior's promise that he would take care of his own. Working a blue-collar job and perpetually in a financial position considered far from stable, he was not concerned with how many kids he could "afford." He raised eleven children in what was considered a bad neighborhood for families, and on an income most would cite today as sufficient cause to use NFP. There were times he would come home from work with less money than was needed to feed his family, but he would put his trust in God that He would provide what was needed ... and He always did.

His children would never experience much material wealth, but what they did receive was something much more valuable — the Catholic Faith. Considering first and foremost the souls of his children, he was determined to keep them out of diocesan schools, opting instead for smaller school communities and homeschooling options. As a result, his children are today living their Faith. They are starting large families, and committing themselves to make the same sacrifices to ensure that the Faith is passed along to their children in the same way.

This man and his faithful, supportive wife made do with all the difficulties inherent in raising a large family on a modest income — a prospect so foreign today to the secular world, and even most Catholics. When medical assistance was needed, he worked out a special arrangement with the doctor or dentist. When the dairy bill was overdue, he arranged for an exchange of services against his balance. When a larger vehicle was required to transport more children, he filled the need with a used hearse.

Even as adults, his children sought their father's advice for every large decision they were facing. And, as should always be the case, the consideration of what their father would think of a particular course of action was continually at the forefront of their minds. And it still is. Not only his children, but also others who knew him would come to him with problems, respecting his experience, knowledge and wisdom. He would advise family, neighbors and friends on everything from career choices to family disputes to the naming of children (names which he believed should be based not on how "nice" they sounded, but for the saints whose lives they bore witness to each and every time they were used — as with Dominic, Catherine, Ignatius and Bede).

It was this man in whose living room I would sit one winter evening, trembling to get the words out, as I asked for his fourth daughter's hand in Holy Matrimony. His words of advice are still fresh in my mind. First, he instructed me not to move away, where he could not see his daughter and grandchildren, and could not be part of their lives. Being around one's extended family is more important than any distant career or personal opportunity ever could be. Secondly, he told me to never take my Faith for granted. It must be the first, second and third most important thing in my life, to which nothing else even comes close. And I would never be a good husband or father if I didn't sincerely believe that. As usual, he was right.

At the hour of his death, this man would receive a reward for which every Catholic parent hopes. With his final breaths and his wife who loved and supported him for forty-four years by his side, he witnessed his adult children kneeling around his bed, praying the rosary for his soul soon to depart from this life.

A Catholic Man

This man did not attend college or receive any formal advanced instruction. He educated himself through the wisdom of the Saints and Church Fathers, recorded in old books. The more he read, the more he wanted to read. An entire wall of his living room was converted into a ceiling-high bookshelf to accommodate the overflowing collection of books — almost all of them hardbacks printed before 1960 (after which point, the physical and intellectual quality of books dropped off to the point where he could no longer justify spending money on them).

He started in the trade of carpentry as a young adult, and worked six days a week up until the time his body failed him in the final months of his life. In a world full of desk jobs and salespeople, he worked a classic trade, building the frames for residential and multi-family homes around the city. It was demanding physical labor, exposing one daily to the elements of nature, but it was honest work.

He did not conduct business in the typical materialistic and litigious fashion known today. His word was his contract and he never broke it. When he said he'd do something, he'd do it regardless of what it would take. And when someone made a similar promise to him, it was more than expected to be followed through.

When his conscience did not allow him to give what little he could offer financially to his parish, he provided support in other ways. Taking on construction projects in the church building and around the grounds, he took time off work to contribute to his parish in this way, neither asking nor accepting any compensation in return.

His devotion to another carpenter, the spouse of the Blessed Mother, would remain with him throughout his life. He would name his company after St. Joseph, seat his family in a pew beside this saint's statue, and although it pained him not to see it return to his parish before he passed away, when a local weekly Latin Mass was granted in his final years, it was established in a modest location downtown bearing the name "St. Joseph's Chapel."

While most right-wingers favored moving to more rural surroundings away from crime and sin and corruption, he believed Catholics belong in the cities, where they are needed most. That's where the pagans are, that's where the sodomites are, that's where the abortionists are, so that's where the fights are going to be and that's where Catholics need to be. Just as he refused to abandon his liberal parish, he refused to abandon his liberal city. He'd say, just as Sts. Peter and Paul went to Rome, Catholics need to go to cities — and stay there, live there and fight there.

He was a large man of immense strength. When he shook your hand, his hand would wrap completely around yours. He carried himself with the dignity and class befitting of a man. When photographed, he did not force a fake smile for the camera, but maintained a solemn and dignified expression.

Never one to mince words, he cared very little what other people thought of him, and warned against the temptation of wanting to be accepted, or considered by others as "nice." His opinion was often offered, solicited or not, and he was not afraid to call a spade a spade. If he found something objectionable, everyone around would know about it.

This man was one of the few self-proclaimed reactionary monarchists of his day, one who lived by a medieval code of ethics. He did not tolerate insult or attack (physical or otherwise) directed towards anyone in his family, and was not afraid to back up his words with his fists. In a Church staffed by the liberal and the effeminate, with parishes filled by women and overgrown boys, he certainly seemed out of place. But he was also something sorely missed in the Church since Vatican II — a man.

Conclusion

His life was not the kind of story that garners much attention in the secular world. He was not rich or famous; nor did he reach any exceptional materialistic accomplishment that secularists would hold in high regard. But from a Catholic standpoint, his was a life well lived and he was an extraordinary man well worth knowing.

He was completely dedicated to his Faith and his family. Now his children are living and passing on that same Faith, and the fruits of the seeds he planted will be gifts for his grandchildren and their descendants.

He was among the last of his kind — a throwback to a time that seems far more than several decades removed. He was a strong Catholic traditionalist and a loving Catholic father, but above all, he was a truly Catholic man — David Henry Bresee ... requiescat in pace.

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