Over the years, Christendom’s chaplaincy has striven to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as sacredly as possible, presenting students with the Mass in all its beauty and grandeur. This has impacted many students’ lives for the better, helping them fall more deeply in love with the Mass and its rituals. It has impacted others as well—in particular Fr. Daniel Gee.
As a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Fr. Gee was assigned to Christendom as chaplain in 2008 after serving as a missionary in the Dominican Republic for five years. When he arrived, he had little knowledge of the rich traditions in the celebration of the Roman Rite. When he left two years later to become pastor of St. Rita’s Catholic Church in Alexandria, Virginia, he was a different priest—one deeply enamored with the liturgy and ready to make St. Rita’s one of the most vibrant parishes in the diocese.
After attending one of Fr. Gee’s ad orientem Masses, one would have little reason to believe that he was ever anything but steeped in the traditions of the Church.
“I really hadn’t seen liturgy like that until I went to Christendom, so it really changed the way I saw things,” recalls Fr. Gee.
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One of four children and the son of a rear admiral, Fr. Gee studied for the priesthood at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, after which he served as a parochial vicar at two parishes in the Diocese of Arlington before being assigned to the Dominican Republic. There, he was more concerned about staying alive while driving his moped through the dense woods of that third-world country to serve his parishioners than he was about using incense or which type of vestment he should wear at Mass.
When he was assigned to Christendom as head chaplain five years later in 2008, Fr. Gee did not know exactly what to expect. He knew that the liturgies on campus were celebrated with great pomp and circumstance, and that Masses were often said in Latin—neither of which he had had any experience with.
At that time, two other priests were serving as associate chaplains on campus: Fr. Seamus O’Kielty, a retired Irish priest, and Fr. William Fitzgerald, O.Praem, a Norbertine. Together, they exposed Fr. Gee to the beauties of the Roman Rite, with Fr. William even teaching Fr. Gee how to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.
Soon enough, Fr. Gee’s understanding of the Mass and sacred traditions deepened. He began to organize processions on campus to accompany solemnities, learned the beauty of Gregorian chant, increased the number of confession opportunities, discovered the beauty of Divine Mercy Sunday, and even enjoyed wearing a biretta and cassock. By fully absorbing and embracing everything taught to him by Fr. O’Kielty and Fr. Fitzgerald, Fr. Gee both helped the college community grow in love of the liturgy and the Faith, but also helped himself find a new way of looking at the priesthood.
Fr. Gee learned and accomplished much in just two short years at Christendom, before being reassigned as pastor at St. Rita’s in Alexandria in 2010. When he arrived, St. Rita’s was a growing parish, following a foundation laid by former parish priests Fr Denis Donahue ’89 and Fr. Paul Scalia. Fr. Gee arrived armed with everything he learned at Christendom, ready to make the parish and its accompanying school as vibrant as the campus he had just left.
Slowly but surely, he worked to improve the Sunday liturgies at St. Rita’s, replacing hymns with Mass propers for the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion Antiphons. He switched to celebrating Mass ad orientem as well, and eventually restored kneeling as an option at the parish’s altar rail. The Extraordinary Form Mass that he first learned at Christendom continued at St. Rita’s and the parish began to become a hub of liturgical expression for many.
From the moment Fr. Gee arrived at St. Rita’s, he sought to make the parish and its accompanying school one of the best in the diocese, helping to open a preschool, beginning Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and making the transition to a classical curriculum.
To help him with all of this, Fr. Gee invited Christendom alumni to join him in rebuilding St. Rita’s parish by taking on influential positions in the school and in the parish. There are currently eight alumni now working at St. Rita’s, with six in the school—Melissa Manaker, Jennie Dhanagom, Megan Rolla, Mary Kate Vander Woude, Dori Rutherford, and David Klosterman—and one, Klarissa Blank, serving as the Director of Religious Education for the parish. Additionally, former Christendom math professor and alumnus, Fr. Vincent Bork, serves at St. Rita’s as parochial vicar.
According to Fr. Gee, these alumni came to St. Rita’s because “they enjoy the number of confessions and the liturgy, much of which was cultivated in the years I was out [at Christendom].”
For Klarissa Blank, however, it is even more than that—it was the opportunity to help continue Christendom’s mission to “restore all things in Christ” in what is now one of the most vibrant parishes in the diocese.
“I think the most noticeable impact our Christendom alumni have had is in our school,” says Blank. “Through my involvement with our sacrament preparation, I have been blessed to see firsthand the fruits of our alumni and all of our schoolteachers’ efforts in forming the children of St. Rita in our Catholic Faith. This formation cannot help but carry over to our broader parish community, strengthening the deep devotion found here.”
To attend Mass at St. Rita’s now is to see the hard work of Fr. Gee and his Christendom alumni staff and teachers paying off. The pews are filled with growing families experiencing the beauties of the Catholic liturgy in the Mass and learning about the traditions of the Faith in the classroom.
“From teaching classes in the school and religious education program, to assisting with home projects, to celebrating the sacraments, Fr. Gee is a part of the daily lives of our parishioners. All that goes to show that our parish and school are certainly thriving, with many young families attending Mass here, and a large and vibrant Hispanic community making St. Rita’s their home,” says Blank.
Christendom exists to help form lay people so they can go out and restore the culture. The college’s vibrantly Catholic education and social life impact more than just the students, however, as evidenced by Fr. Gee’s story. Now, an entire parish is reaping the benefits of his two years in Front Royal, Virginia, changing the lives of families, and improving an entire parish.