(www.RemnantNewspaper.com) In early 1997 I was a food stamp-collecting regional airline pilot riding a city bus in Miami listening to Rush Limbaugh on my Walkman, when I heard a local news story that would forever change my life. A reporter was interviewing Fr. Timothy Hopkins, following reported vandalism and desecration of a near life-sized statue of the Blessed Mother outside his church. From the secular reporter’s introduction I had no reason but to suspect this was anything more than just an ordinary Catholic parish in Little Havana—a section of town I avoided even during daylight hours because of its reputation for drugs, Santería, prostitution and cock fights.
But my curiosity was piqued when the pastor began to speak. I heard an educated man with a London accent describe the gangs of Pentecostals in the area, the sermons of local protestant clergyman who steal parishioners from traditionally Catholic ethnicities, and the true source and nature of contempt for Our Lady. I thought this all sounded refreshingly un-ecumenical, and so resolved at that moment to seek him out.
I hopped off the bus and looked for a payphone. Providentially, a girl standing outside a storefront on Calle Ocho thrust one of those new cellular phones at me and said in Spanglish, “Free phone call anywhere US, just take brochure.” Within a few minutes I was in contact with Fr. Hopkins, and began walking the rest of the way to the Shrine of St. Philomena.
Upon my arrival I found a modest-looking building that I later learned was the foundation for a synagogue that had never been completed back in the 1930s.
After snooping around for a few minutes I finally met Fr. Hopkins, who extended a hand covered in dirt and even a bit of blood. He had been planting roses. He soon began the tour of the place, which he had promised over the phone, and took me down some stairs to the vestibule wherein two papal blessings from John Paul II were displayed prominently, along with a chart of the popes, mantillas and plastic rosaries for the faithful. Most of the church was below ground level.
Upon entering I immediately realized that I was in one of those traditionalist chapels I’d heard of but only vaguely, and this one was even still redolent of incense. My previous experience with the traditional Mass had been two surreptitious visits to an SSPV church in Miami run by one of the original nine dissident priests who’d bolted from Archbishop Lefebvre years earlier. The sermons I’d heard were about why the pope is not the pope—which served to keep my initial shock in check by a growing sense of confusion.
When I followed Father Hopkins into the sacristy I saw a large photo of Archbishop Lefebvre. A bit incredulous, I stammered: “Wasn’t he excommunicated?” I listened as Father made his case in defense of the Archbishop, but I could barely understand his argument and wondered if I was in the proximate occasion of sin just for being in this church. I wasn’t really sincere when I said I’d come back for Mass sometime. But to show some appreciation for the time Father had generously given me, I purchased a copy of Martin Luther, Adolph Hitler’s Spiritual Ancestor from his bookshop on my way out the door.
The small book turned out to be so engrossing that I was back within days to see what else was for sale. It was there and then that I was introduced to Michael Davies, The Remnant and the TAN series of books by Belloc. Gradually, I grew more at ease and would attend Father Hopkins’ traditional Mass on Sundays, even if I was still hedging by making sure my obligation had been fulfilled the previous evening at a novus ordo vigil.
After reading my first book by Belloc I told him, “Father, I would never have thought that being English made you any less a Catholic but this book has convinced me that by being Catholic you are more English.” He beamed and said, “Lesson well learnt, my young Irish friend.”
He then told me how he had been raised an Anglican and propagandized about “Good King Hal and Queen Bess.” Yet, he was a high church Anglican who never fell into the Calvinist trap and loved Our Lady and the Souls in Purgatory. Nevertheless, he couldn’t stay protestant even if becoming Catholic meant giving up liturgy, lace and masonic preferment. Still, everything about the Novus Ordo caused him anguish. While in Africa he said he used to visit the local Anglican cathedral because the environment was so much more conducive to prayer than the minimalistic structures he worked from as a novus Catholic priest. He once told me how while still an Anglican minister, he went to buy a monstrance. A clerk, himself in cassock, asked him, “Pardon me, would you happen to be an Anglican?”
“Yes, how did you know?”
“Well, this is a Catholic store and most of our customers are priests. You’ve picked out an ornate monstrance a Catholic priest these days would likely not go in for.”
Before he was thirty, Father Hopkins had secretly offered his first traditional Mass. “It wasn’t pretty; I had no help and I was in doubt about the propriety but it permanently altered my life.”
He was ordained by Bishop Biaggion Terrinoni of Marsi, Italy.
I never learned how he transitioned to the SSPX; he was simply “SSPX friendly” during the 15 years I knew him. In 1989, he came to Miami to oversee the National Shrine of Saint Philomena, maintained by an association of Catholics known as "The Friends of Saint Philomena, Inc." When the local ordinary employed tactics designed to deter Catholics from associating with the Shrine, Father Hopkins applied to Cardinal Mayer of the “Ecclesia Dei” Commission in Rome for a public “celebret” for the Latin Mass and found his Eminence gracious—so gracious, in fact, that he sent a letter stating the Shrine was run by a “group of Catholics seeking their legitimate aspirations” and were not “schismatic”. Even that didn’t improve the relationship between the Shrine and the Archdiocese; and so Father Hopkins willed that the Shrine would go to the SSPX upon his death.
Unfortunately, his death came much sooner than any of us had anticipated. The news reports indicated that Father Hopkins had died from an accidental gunshot. Una Voce Miami reported that “News of the death of Fr. Timothy, age 56, in an accident at home, has been a terrible shock to all who knew and loved this kindhearted and tireless Catholic priest. He was…a long-time friend of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X. As a staunch defender of Christian Civilization and devoted shepherd of souls, Fr. Hopkins founded the National Shrine of Saint Philomena at 1621 SW 6 Street, Miami, FL 33135. The Shrine offers the Catholic faithful the Traditional Latin Mass. All who were touched by his piety, intellect, faith, and pastoral solicitude mourn him. He will be sorely missed.”
I was surprised to hear this for a number or reasons, not least because I knew Father was no novice with firearms and had prided himself on being something of a marksman. I made some inquiries. It turns out that while the police could not rule out self-inflicted gunshot there were plenty of reasons to doubt it. A knife had allegedly been found on the floor, there is no eye-witness to his death, and the police do not rule out an accident.
In addition, all the evidence suggests it had been a normal All Souls’ Day for Fr. Hopkins. He’d offered Mass, heard confessions, took appointments, had said his entire breviary, cared for his mother and walked the dogs. Not exactly the routine of one who was suicidal.
Readers can draw their own conclusions. I know Father had enemies. He had enemies in Planned Parenthood, for example, whom he tormented with Eucharistic Processions. I suppose he had enemies in the Archdiocese, as well, especially after he’d taken in the controversial Father Enrique Rueda, whose mysterious death I also covered for this paper. www.remnantnewspaper.com/Archives/2010-ryan-rueda-rip.htm
Fr. Hopkins took the battle to the front door of the merchants of death, and I will not despair of the death of the man who introduced me to tradition. Fr. Hopkins had great love for the Souls in Purgatory and it is fitting that he would die on their feast day. He used to say that stipends offered for the Holy Souls may be the investment that pays the highest dividends in this world and the next.
Evidently, the Society of St. Pius X feels the same way about Father, since the SSPX offered a beautiful Requiem Mass for Father Hopkins on November 7.
May he rest in peace!