Don Gregorio

One or two people have written in on the subject of Fr Gregor Hesse (1953-2006). The bare bones of this priest’s life inform us that he was born in Vienna (Austria) and studied at the Angelicum in Rome to earn doctorates in theology and canon law. He was ordained a priest by Archbishop Aurelio Sabattani in St. Peter’s Basilica, officially incardinated in the Diocese of Wagga Wagga in Australia through the good offices and wrangling of a Czech bishop in Rome helping traditionalist seminarians who wanted an alternative to Archbishop Lefebvre’s seminary at Ecône. He worked as a secretary for Cardinal Alfons Maria Stickler in the Vatican Secret Archives.

He lived for many years in the USA as an independent traditionalist priest and died from diabetes in 2006, aged 53. Rad Trad published an interesting article on him in November 2014. As I knew him in Rome in 1985-86 – we called him Don Gregorio – Rad Trad’s write-up seems fair. I also spent a week with him in 1990, because I was employed as a sacristan at St Augustine’s chapel in Lausanne during my last year of studies at Fribourg, and he was asked to come and celebrate Holy Week. That was quite an experience!

This chapel is now run by the Fraternity of St Peter, and is certainly the better for it.

Fr Gregor’s talk was rather “hard” and lacked diplomacy of any kind. It did not, however, lack humour. Sometimes his language was extremely harsh – … questo stronso di Paulo Sesto, which I will leave untranslated for the benefit of English-speaking readers. His doctrinal position was something more or less between Archbishop Lefebvre and the sedevacantists.

He was at one time running a kind of “rat line” to get traditionalist seminarians ordained through the official Church and within canonical norms. Don Gregorio seems to have been the origin of a group of priests associated with the chapel in Lausanne I mentioned above. This group found various ways to claim the title of Canon, and two of them were the founders of the Institute of Christ the King in Italy, dressed up to the nines in blue robes. In 1990, the priest in charge of the chapel in Lausanne had been asked to leave by the local Bishop and later ended his own life in France in shameful circumstances. I was asked in the spring of that year to look after the chapel by the lay owners of the chapel, and welcomed visiting priests who celebrated Mass for us. A kind of ecclesiastical Scarlet Pimpernel, Don Gregorio knew the right people in Rome, Bishop Pavel Hnilica in particular, and it would appear that he set up the Institute of Christ the King through the Diocese of Mouïla in Gabon. At some stage, there would have been a parting of the ways between Fr Hesse and Fr Wach as the former became more radical and the latter more conciliatory with the authorities in Rome.

When I knew Fr Gregor in Switzerland, he spoke excellent English with an American accent and spoke highly of his life in the USA. He strongly sympathised with American conservative politics. He taught me during that Holy Week of 1990 how to taste good red wine and all about steam railway locomotives and trams in cities like his native Vienna and Zurich. His vocal imitations of steam locomotives were quite realistic and he was still a small boy at heart. He was also a fan of the Munsters and often hummed the theme tune as he went about life:

Don Gregorio was indeed an eccentric character between a very strict, scholastic and legalistic kind of Roman Catholicism, his love of red wine, The Munsters, steam trains and city trams. His clerical dress and manner betrayed a certain nostalgia for the baroque era of the Latin and central European world. He was quite a character when one got him talking about the railways in Austria with the old steam trains! Even I don’t get that crazy about sailing boats! In terms of red wine and cooking, he was to the priesthood what Rossini was to the opera. Perhaps he felt a need to stand out from the American melting pot and the more excessive conspiracy theorists and religious nutcases in the USA! I lived for more than two years in the equally eccentric seminary at Gricigliano, an egg that was hatched from the same clutch. It all probably gave me my own unusual outlook on life.

Oooooph! Ooooooph! Ooooooph! Choooooo! Chooooo! Cheers…

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6 Responses to Don Gregorio

  1. I love The Munsters! I have the DVD set.

    I tend to think the Munsters family are a parody of Jewish-Americans who have emigrated from Eastern Europe.

  2. The Rad Trad says:

    Thank you for this wonderful piece! I am not so sure Hesse’s opinions were between the SSPX and SVism though. Much of his surviving talks reflect the mood and outlook of the SSPX in the 1990s (JP2 is probably pope, but there is a possibility not, the Novus Ordo is invalid in vernacular etc)

  3. Father James says:

    Thank you for this great post. I stumbled upon some videos of Fr. Hesse on YouTube and enjoy them very much. He has a unique take on things and I would love to learn more about Fr. Hesse and some of his writings, talks, perspectives. Are you aware of any more resources about him?

    I was in the seminary plugging away in the late 90’s and early 2000s and although I came to love the traditional Mass and have learned and studied more about the traditional world of theology, etc. over the years, I had never heard of Hesse up until recently.

    You can tell that he was certainly brilliant and a character par excellence. It would be a shame if he is simply forgotten because he died too young and the rest of the traddie world has moved on to bigger and better (and bluer) things!

    • He was quite a character. There were also his down points. He could be very overbearing and behave like a bully. On the other hand, he had a way of appealing to people. He was more of a scholastic than I was. He did his theology at the “Lazy A” (the Angelicum). I went to Fribourg where it was more “ressourcement” and neo-patristic. Eccentricity can only go so far, as I have found in my own life.

      I saw the difference between him and many of the indoctrinated people to whom he spoke or took part in discussions. I have ceased to relate to RC traditionalists (they see me as an apostate) and I do better in my smaller religious world.

      Other resources? I think what is on the internet in the way of recorded talks is about all there is. Eventually, others will find old cassettes and convert them into digital format, and post them too on the internet. Unfortunately, it is a fact that most people are totally forgotten within 50 years of their deaths. Perhaps that is a good thing so that their spirits can move on.

      • Aslm says:

        Point taken and I appreciate your reply. In these days of massive confusion and collapse, I liked hearing his very witty take on things. Believe me, I know the type where eccentricity is charming but then it can go into overload.

        “Lazy A” made me laugh. Believe me, I consider my degree from the Greg to be equally worthless. The Roman education has become a complete farce unless perhaps if you are willing to put up with the Opus Dei masochism at Santa Croce. Cheers!

  4. Chris Bates says:

    Greetings from the United States!

    I too, have benefited greatly from Fr. Hesse’s talks on YouTube and elsewhere. However, there is a website: http://www.oltyn.org, where you can purchase Fr. Hesse’s conferences. They are selling 6 audio CDs on Vatican Council II. Keep up the excellent posts!

    Pax et Bonum,

    Chris Bates

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