Fr. Daniel Cooper, SSPX

23 02 2020

As you can see, I really don’t have this whole consistent blogging thing in me anymore. Part of this is due to time commitments, but a larger part is I have ran out of things to say. For years, I have struggled with belief and unbelief. Indeed, this has been a struggle for me most of my adult life. It has only been fairly recently that I could really say that, yes, I do believe in God. This has been the case even though I have consistently identified on the outside as a Catholic, and have put up a good front as was expected of me. To be honest, I don’t find answers in Catholicism, and I’m about tired of looking. And to continue that honesty, I would rather not elaborate on it. Those who have been paying attention will probably have some inkling of my actual predilections. I just don’t want my public writing to degenerate into justifications as to why I left Catholicism or why I think Christianity is wrong. I don’t find that useful, and I don’t think it’s very truthful in my case. To my Catholic and Christian readers, I want you to stay on that path. I support you on it, even if I can’t follow along.

To that end, there is one last thing I would like to write as a sequel to my post on a bad priest which is a brief note on the very good priest who was his successor at the priory where I lived. As with most well-run institutions, the sudden removal of the head was met with an easy transition to the leadership of another seasoned priest. In this case, that was Fr. Daniel Cooper. Tall, plain-spoken, and sincere, he was the polar opposite of the disgraced Fr. B. In Father Cooper, I met a traditionalist priest who was a priest first, and a traditionalist second. He had entered the SSPX seminary straight out of high school and was one of the last priests to be ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. As a high school student, he had been a basketball player and in my estimation must have been a typical U.S. teenager. Indeed, once his mother came to visit and she seemed to be a perfectly normal U.S. elderly woman in slacks and with a decisively non-“trad” demeanor. In other words, while I have no doubt concerning Fr. Cooper’s loyalty toward the Society of St. Pius X, he seemed completely non-ideological about his priesthood. As indicated by the beautiful statue of the Cure d’Ars in his office, he was a priest first and foremost, and took his responsibilities very seriously.

Fr. Cooper’s method of being a priest was completely unaffected. His Mass was not particularly memorable for its piety, his chanting was lackluster, and I can’t really remember a sermon that was especially memorable. Though he was conducting retreats, I can only think that more than half of his effectiveness was in his being an authentic priest standing before the retreatants, and that was probably enough. He ran the priory with great sobriety, and the retreat center returned to having the ethos of a religious house rather than of an aspiring cult compound. At table, I was able to experience Fr. Cooper’s nearly adolescent mannerisms and quirky sense of humor. Sometimes it just seemed like there was a big kid knocking around in his head: just a normal dude who loved sports and jokes, but who had a pious streak that allowed him to be happy as a priest. In other words, Fr. Cooper was the type of priest who stepped out of a 1950’s movie that takes place in a highly idealized church setting. He was too perfect: aside from an occasional flare up at me, I don’t think I noticed him do anything remotely sinful, or talk badly against anyone.

Like Fr. B., I didn’t have any direct interactions with Fr. Cooper on a daily basis. He wasn’t my spiritual director, and he pretty much left me alone after my duties were more or less established. I guess he saw that I was a good kid, and I did my best to not dispel that impression. A couple of anecdotes: once I was serving Mass for him in the chapel, and as I was accustomed to doing, I would lift up his alb slightly as he ascended the steps of the altar. This time, as I extended my hand to lift the bottom of his alb, he swatted it away quite emphatically. I was a bit traumatized throughout the Mass, but afterwards he explained to me rather sheepishly that he had shorts on underneath and didn’t want me exposing his bare leg. Still, I don’t think I ever tried doing that again at any of his Masses.

The second anecdote is when I was visiting my family away from the priory. As memory serves, they were hosting a girl’s camp which meant I needed to go home for a week. While I was home, I accidentally ate meat on a Friday, and I was racked with scruples as young people tend to be. Upon my return, I brought my issue to Fr. Cooper who very gently assuaged my conscience about it, but then he dropped the bomb that the higher ups in the SSPX thought it best that I attend seminary in South America since I already spoke Spanish. That was a rather interesting next few days, but I decided to accept their decision without much hesitation.

Life in the priory under Fr. Cooper also developed a healthier dynamic. This is when Bob the Hippy came, and he remained up until the time I left. Then came M. the Mexican with whom I practiced my Spanish. We were briefly joined by a young man from St. Marys’, KS, the SSPX stronghold, who had to sober up after flipped his truck ten times while driving drunk and survived without a scratch. Here I also began to explore the local Ruthenian church which no one found problematic. While my time at the priory before being shipped off to seminary lasted a good nine months, really it was more or less uneventful and I settled into a very edifying routine.

The last anecdote that I have about Fr. Cooper takes place after I came home from seminary in South America a couple of years later. As I stated previously, I left seminary on good terms but was told I should probably pursue a monastic vocation. The initial plan was for me to go to the Benedictine monastery in New Mexico aligned with the Society of St. Pius X. Instead, I decided to look into a couple of Greek Catholic monasteries, one of which I ended up joining. As a courtesy to Fr. Cooper for all of the support he had given me, I thought it appropriate to tell him personally of my decision. I actually dreaded doing this, but again, he met my apprehension with gentleness and understanding. His only question was, “Well, are they Catholic?” When I replied in the affirmative, he just told me, “What’s the big deal then?” And that was that.

Years ago I learned that Fr. Cooper came down with cancer. I was long out of the SSPX orbit, but I was sincerely hoping he would beat it. A couple of years ago, he finally succumbed to his illness. One of my bucket list tasks is to visit his grave in the metro Houston area. It’s the least I could do for a man of God who did so much for me, and who, as far as I can tell, was completely without guile or malice; one of those few people I have met who never let power go to his head, who maintained both innocence and wisdom in his heart.

“But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the wise; and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong…That no flesh should glory in his sight…He that glorieth, may glory in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:27-31)


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2 responses

18 03 2020
Karl

Hello there. I discovered your blog yesterday and am really enjoying it, having spent most of life as a “transcendental vagrant’, drifting in and out of Catholicism. Hope it’s not too impertinent a question, but are you currently a practicising Catholic? Your twitter would suggest so, but the first couple paragraphs here the opposite. Please do keep blogging!

24 02 2020
Arthur McGowan

No matter how you may be struggling, never leave the Catholic Church. Never.

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