FAIRBANKS — A nun and two priests reflected on the changes in the Roman Catholic Church on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, which convened on Oct. 11, 1962, opening church doors to modernization and the world.
Sister Dorothy Giloley and the Revs. Gerald Ornowski and Jack de Verteuil recalled life as it was both pre- and post-Vatican II, and the many changes the ecumenical council has wrought. The discussion was held at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church.
For Giloley, a sister of St. Joseph, the transformation in dress, required demeanor and outreach work was dramatic.
Today, Giloley dresses in conservative modern clothes, but remembers well the ankle-length “habit” she wore before Vatican II, which she estimates weighed about 10 pounds.
The habit, she said, echoed back to what women wore in 1650 in France, where and when the religious order was founded.
Also excluded were traditional veils and “custody of the eyes,” meaning always looking down and not at people directly, she said.
“We went through all the changes,” she said. “For sisters, it opened up more ministries besides teaching and nursing.”
Giloley is director of religious education at the Fairbanks Catholic Diocese and is teaching a class on the Second Vatican Council.
While looking back on an “idyllic” pre-Vatican childhood, Ornowski recalled, meatless Fridays, no food or water after midnight if one planned to receive Holy Communion the next day, and Mass said in Latin rather than the vernacular.
All three presenters remember the Latin Mass, a change Ornowski doesn’t miss.
Although he was an altar boy and studied Latin in high school and in the seminary, he said, “I never cared for the Latin thing.”
Change to the vernacular globally came slowly, he said. “It took about 10 years to take root.”
The main change or biggest change in the church since the ecumenical council met, (1962-1965), de Verteuil said, is that Vatican II firmly placed the body of the church — the people of God — above the hierarchy — the teaching authority of the church.
The laity or body of the church are participating more fully as deacons, involved in social justice issues and other programs, while the role of the priest is to call people to worship.
But a second vision of Vatican II, de Verteuil said, that hasn’t come to fruition yet, is the involvement of church communities and leadership centered around and sharing together in the Eucharist and in Scripture like the early church.
Ornowski explained that the organization of the church until Vatican II was modeled after early day chieftains and later monarchies. Today, the collegiality model that came out of Vatican II involves a collaboration between the laity and the hierarchy with the pope having the final word.
“A lot of things have been blown open,” Ornowski said, “and lay people are beginning to be listened to.”
The speakers concur on the point that Vatican II has never been against the doctrine of the church.
The three presenters are optimistic about the future and course the church is taking, though, de Verteuil said, it is somewhat under attack by extreme, right-wing fundamentalists in the church.
The speakers expect it will take several more decades before all the intents of Vatican II will be fulfilled and urge all believers to continue the dialogue.
“Keep that intelligent vision alive. Talk to your bishop,” de Verteuil said.
“Our wonderful church will survive,” Ornowski said. “We’re seeing the ending of the last feudal system. Clericalism is coming to an end ... and we will become a more flexible church, a more sensitive church.
The Vatican II program was sponsored by a local chapter of Call to Action, a Catholic movement for justice and equality in the Catholic Church and society.
Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.