How St. Dorothy’s lost its chapel and found a home in a bar
Independent Catholic church community now calls St. Matthews Tavern on Mills Avenue home
Published: January 15, 2014
But even with the humble philanthropies and Sunday Masses and wailing hymns, St. Dorothy’s does not earn any respect from the Orlando Diocese. The church is described as “not truly Catholic” on the diocese’s website, along with this explanation: “There are churches in Central Florida who use the term ‘catholic’ even though they have not been decreed by the local bishop, are not in communion with the Holy See and do not recognize papal authority. Therefore, attendance at a service on Sunday at one of these churches will not fulfill your Sunday obligation for participation in the Mass.”
And though Father Jim says that there’s “no disrespect, or hatred or anything; it’s just the way we approach Catholicism is where the difference is,” you get the sense that independence from the strict traditions of Roman Catholicism – and its exclusive and archaic social constraints – is what inspires the priest to get out of bed a little happier every Sunday morning.
At the Jan. 5 Mass at St. Matthew’s – “the Liturgy for the Feast of the Epiphany, or the Three Kings,” he says from the altar – Father Jim begins by voicing concerns for a member of his parish who, he says, has “given up” on life, is in the hospital with his heart operating at only 29 percent, and must lose weight if he hopes to survive. He asks God to give the man “a swift kick in the ass,” adding that we’re all aware of how fond God is of giving said ass-kicks. (His condition has improved since, Father Jim says later.)
Later, Father Jim precedes his sermon to the congregation by reminding them of his origins in the classroom. Then he proceeds to charm the group with something linking the actual science of astrology with the biblical Magi and the star of Bethlehem, as if to say religion isn’t all cryptic mythology. The star of Bethlehem is a real, provable fact. “Science and religion can go beautifully hand in hand,” he says.
“We are always looking for historical facts,” Father Anthony, assisted by his walker, stands up to say.
Despite some media assurances from Father Jim that the group is considering making St. Matthew’s its permanent home, at least some of the congregation would like something more traditional and permanent. At the end of the Jan. 5 Mass, one member named Kathleen stood up to ask everyone in the room to pray for a “permanent church,” adding that though she appreciates bar owner Matt Fassl’s generosity, there’s something missing at St. Matthew’s: a place of worship for people of all ages to call home.
“I think every child should have that opportunity,” she says. “We can’t do it in a bar.”
How St. Dorothy’s came to be in a bar is a sort of religious parable unto itself. Fassl, who is 30 and heterosexual, has worked as a (sometimes shirtless) bartender at local gay bar Savoy and worked in St. Matthew’s previous incarnation as Paradise.
“I’m not insanely religious,” says Fassl. “I went to Catholic prep school for a couple of years. I have a friend who is a medium; I met him like five years ago here [while working at Paradise]. He brought up something, and I can’t remember but it was something that sticks with you – something about my health. To the point where it kind of disturbed me.”
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