With the melody of a traditional English country folk tune floating through the church hall at St. Francis de Sales Oratory, young adults partnered up on the dance floor as Anna Kalinowska, dressed in a white ball gown, called the movements from the stage:
Forward, two, three, four.
Backward, two, three, four.
Together. Apart. Swing your ladies in. Together. Apart. Turn your ladies under.
The Fête des Fleurs Eastertide Ball held at the end of May is one of several social dances offered at the oratory throughout the year, organized by its young adult group, Sursum Corda. St. Francis de Sales Oratory offers the Tridentine Latin Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal and is administered by canons of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.
Sursum Corda, Latin for “lift up your hearts,” promotes Catholic friendships in which young adults lift each other up in their Catholic faith, said Canon Pierre Dumain, a native of France who has been at the oratory since 2018 and helps oversee the group’s activities.
Canon Dumain said that the activities, which also include hikes, float trips, movie nights, talks given by the canons and more, are meant to encourage young adults to strive for sanctity in everyday life, ultimately extending Christ’s presence in an increasingly secularized culture.
“The Mass is the source of our faith, but the source is the beginning,” he said. “We have to be Catholic in everything. We need a group to build close friendships and to nurture one another. It is essential for the life of the soul. As part of the Catholic life, we have to share with one another and communicate the love and joy of our faith.”
Kalinowska, 30, joined the oratory in 2017. As a young girl, she learned the movements of traditional English country dance, which entails walking in patterns or “figures,” and was popular among country people in England and the colonies from the mid-1500s through the early 1800s.
Several young adults at the oratory who have experience with English country dance proposed the idea of offering the dances at the oratory. Kalinowska has given lessons to teach others the movements, and she said that the dances are meant to be a way to enjoy each other’s company while learning the art of ballroom dancing.
Explaining that everything flows from the Mass, the social activities of Sursum Corda are meant to be an extension of the faith community, Kalinowska said. “We see the most formal ceremony in the Mass, but then even here in our congregation, we see that we can still do formal ceremonies (like dance) and have fun with each other,” she said.
Katie Bock, 35, has attended Mass at the oratory with her family for almost a decade. In the last few years, she has branched out, becoming more involved with Sursum Corda. And yet, she said as a young adult, the oratory is one of the first places in which she’s felt connected to the parish as a whole.
“I have felt the most on fire for my faith here as part of a community,” Bock said. “It brought to life why we come together as a Church and not just on your own. You can do a lot on your own, but are you thriving? This is where I feel inspired, as a community at large, with everyone together.”
Sursum Corda attracts a large number of single Catholics, but there are newlyweds and families with young children, too, Canon Dumain noted. This year, St. Francis de Sales has 15 weddings on the calendar; some of the engaged have met through Sursum Corda’s activities.
Olivia Norris, 25, joined the oratory about two years ago, moving from southern Illinois, where she was going to college, so she could attend the Tridentine Latin Mass here. “I just love traditionalism because it’s countercultural,” she said. “I found a reverence for the Eucharist that I have found nowhere else. That inspires a different type of community that is tight-knit.” The dances are an important social activity where young men and women can come together in a public setting, she added.
Norris introduced her friend, Gracie Stegmann, 27, to the Tridentine Latin Mass at St. Francis de Sales about a year and a half ago. Stegmann and her fiancé, Michael Hayden, are expected to be married at the oratory on Oct. 7. “The community has been the biggest aspect for me,” Stegmann said. “I feel like we have made a family within here as well.”
Sam Underwood, 24, moved to St. Louis from Florida, seeking a strong community of Catholic young adults. Noting the large number of young and growing families at the oratory, he said, “those are fruits of beauty and tradition that I have never seen before.”
Sursum Corda is a national initiative to foster the spiritual lives of Catholic adults (18-35) within the apostolates of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. In St. Louis, the group is part of St. Francis de Sales Oratory.
Sursum Corda, Latin for “lift up your hearts,” promotes Catholic friendships in which members lift each other up in their Catholic faith and encourage others to strive for sanctity in everyday living, ultimately extending the reign of Christ in society.
Activities include participating together in the liturgy, faith discussions guided by the priests of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, social activities and charity work throughout the year.
To learn more about the group’s upcoming activities, visit the Facebook group: stlreview.com/3XQuOGa
To learn more about St. Francis de Sales Oratory and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, visit stlreview.com/3JTjcMS