Part VI: Move to the Country
In January of 1958, the community moved from Cambridge, ironically, to the town of Harvard. They acquired a 300-year-old farm on a beautiful tract of land overlooking the Nashoba Valley where they settled down to a semi-monastic life with private vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Dairy farming and gardening helped support the community. They also received income from publishing devotional books which they distributed nation-wide.
Ten years later Sister Catherine Clarke died. The co-foundress had been a constant source of edification and inspiration to the community. As an able administrator she helped co-ordinate the various projects of the apostolate and contributed in many ways a unifying influence. With her passing and Father Feeney now 70 and in weak health, the community began to fragment.
Disagreements between those devoted to the apostolic life are nothing new. Saints Paul and Barnabus went their separate ways and there are numerous branches of many religious orders, for example the Franciscans. Within a complexity of issues that divided the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary one of the most important was what should be done to rectify the injustice of Father Feeney’s “excommunication”. It was assumed that any course of action to resolve the case would be initiated by Father in unanimity with the community. Unknown to the founder, however, several Brothers representing a majority of the members initiated negotiations with the hierarchy in the summer of 1971. Humberto Cardinal Medeiros, the successor to Richard Cushing in Boston, became the principle agent for a “reconciliation.” The negotiations remained a secret, unknown to Father Feeney and the rest of the community, because they would have strongly objected to any need for “reconciliation” since it implied the validity of the censures, i.e., that there was a need for Father Feeney to be “brought back into full communion” with the Church. Father had officially appealed the excommunication and had never thought himself to be outside the Church. That claim would have to be dropped, by default, if the reconciliation were not in fact also a vindication of the beleaguered priest.
A reconciliation approved by Rome was completed in 1972. In a regular Tuesday evening lecture at the Center with auxiliary bishop Lawrence Riley from Boston, Father Feeney and everyone present recited the Athanasian Creed. Unknown to Father, this profession of faith was accepted as a submission to Church authority. The reciting of the Athanasian Creed was significant for it begins, “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled without doubt he shall perish everlastingly…” This is the very teaching Father Feeney had supposedly misinterpreted and, as some claimed, for which he was put out of the Church. Whatever else might be said about the reconciliation, the champion of the dogma “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus” remained ever faithful to his own cause.
The original community split into several groups at this time. A majority opted to form men’s and women’s Benedictine communities. In doing so they espoused the liturgical changes of Vatican II and chose contemplative life rather than the active apostolate of the original foundation. To all appearances, Father Feeney’s crusade for orthodoxy was on the verge of coming to an abrupt end.