Catholic church eyes Brookline

Friday, December 18, 2009


Staff Writer

BROOKLINE – It’s been some time since there was a Catholic church here, but that could change in the new year starting with a midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at the Brookline Chapel.

The Rev. Timothy Johnson II, pastor of St. Mary’s Old Catholic Church, will celebrate the holiday Mass.

Johnson, who was ordained by the North American Old Catholic Church in October, is the chaplain for the Amherst Fire Department. His church, which is not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, is one of 20 Old Catholic churches in the country, and the only one in New Hampshire.

A former firefighter, Johnson works as an emergency dispatcher for the Amherst fire department and ministers to his small parish during nonworking hours.

Johnson lives in New Ipswich with his wife, Cassie, and said he has celebrated Mass in his living room twice in the last two months.

At the same time, he’s been searching for a permanent home for his church.

Recently, he said, he began talking with town officials about using the Brookline Chapel.

The Old Catholic Church was established in the Netherlands in the 19th century, the result of a break with the Roman Catholic Church.

According to one short history of the Old Catholic Church, Old Catholics differ from Roman Catholics in several ways. For one, they don’t recognize the pope as having jurisdiction over all Christian churches.

Old Catholics are also guided by different rules: celibacy is optional, married men may be ordained, and divorced Catholics may remarry within the Old Catholic Church without getting an annulment.

The liturgy the Old Catholic Church uses, moreover, varies from community to community: Some maintain the Tridentine Mass in Latin, while others have adopted the liturgy of the Second Vatican Council.

“We have the same sacraments, some in Latin,” Johnson said. “We outreach to people who feel lost, who are not connected with the Roman Catholic Church. We tell them the church is still there for them, and God is still there for them. He hasn’t turned his back on them.”

Johnson said he studied for the priesthood through a correspondence course, an online seminary, and was ordained on Oct. 11 in a ceremony at the Brookline Chapel.

He said his new parish is small: between 10 and 15 people attended the Masses held in his home in October and November.

“I want to get the word out, to find a permanent home,” he said.

Raised a Roman Catholic, Johnson made his First Communion and was confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church.

He wanted to become a Roman Catholic deacon, but for about a dozen years the New Hampshire diocese didn’t run a class, he said. (The Manchester diocese will begin a new five-year class of deacons next year.)

“I found the Old Catholic Church and felt this was where I wanted to be,” Johnson said.

For more information about St. Mary’s Old Catholic Church, visit or contact Johnson at

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 24 or at

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