From Luther to Saint Ignatius, a meeting with Sten Sandmark

Source: FSSPX News


On Saturday, July 29, the day before his abjuration at Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet in Paris, I was able to meet with Pastor Sten Sandmark thanks to Winfried Wuermeling, the dynamic secretary general of UNEC. We had to record an interview for Radio Silence. Doctor Iung who put together a thorough file for Donec Ponam, joined us.

Sten Sandmark is dressed in the black habit of the Augustinians, the order to which Martin Luther belonged. What is striking about him, at first glance, is the contrast between a soft voice and a strong chin. When I ask him how he discovered the traditional Catholic mass, he tells me he waited for this moment for forty years. In 2005, the pilgrims of UNEC, following the footsteps of St. Bridget of Sweden, asked permission for their chaplain to celebrate the Tridentine mass in his church, which he accepted. And there, he saw the mass he saw celebrated by Catholic priests in Sweden before Vatican II, when he was just 10 years old. Today, he says, these Catholics only have a hideous mass…no more Gregorian, a liturgy in the vernacular, etc. For it must be said, he adds, that the Lutheran service in Sweden has preserved much of the pre-conciliar Catholic rite. He then shows us photos of his church in Oskarshamm where the altar is still turned toward the cross and where the communion table still separates the choir from the nave. But, he confesses, “we don’t have apostolic succession and my mass was invalid: there was no transubstantiation. When I discovered this, I was shocked.

-        At what moment did you realize your mass was invalid?

-        After the UNEC pilgrimage, I received a visit from Fr. Schmidberger. We talked for two days and at the end I said to myself: I am nothing.

When he confided to the only Catholic bishop of Sweden his desire to convert, the bishop – imbued with the conciliar ecumenism – advised him to remain Lutheran while being “Catholic at heart”. This was, according to him, a way to be a Catholic missionary in the midst of Lutheranism. As a means of spiritual support, he sent him a Christmas card!

As to the question of whether some of his congregation might join him and convert to Catholicism, Sten Sandmark responds that there will perhaps be some conversions; but that he advised them not to rush off in the direction of the conciliar Church and that it was better to stay in contact with the Society of St. Pius X.

I ask him if he wants to celebrate a mass he knows is valid some day. He says that after 31 years in Lutheranism he would like to know that in his mass there is truly the presence of Christ. But, abandoning himself to the designs of Providence, he adds: “If the bishop (one of the four bishops of the SSPX, editor’s note) does not permit me to become a priest, I will submit”.

Recalling the conversion of Julian Green who needed to be certain that he was truly pardoned when he confessed his sins, I ask Sten Sandmark about the validity of confession. He tells me that this question is very important for him. For five years, he heard confessions in a psychiatric environment or in prisons, but his absolutions were invalid: he did not have the power to grant absolution. He heard confession like a psychiatrist hears his patients, while nevertheless desiring to introduce them to Jesus Christ. He read many books to try to understand the life of these people, but he recognizes: “I did not absolve them”.

During the interview, Sten Sandmark confides to us that the members of his family, particularly his mother, told him they were not surprised by his conversion, that they even expected it. I ask him a final question:

-        Which saints prepared the way for your conversion by their example and writings?

-        I read the revelations of St. Bridget, St. John of the Cross, Thomas à Kempis and St. Theresa of Avila. They have been my spiritual guides, but one day I discovered the Blessed Virgin Mary (Here the converted pastor takes a long pause, his eyes filled with tears). We certainly have some beautiful statues of Mary in our churches in Sweden, but they are only statues. Now I’ve discover her, herself, and I speak to her. I feel the intimate connection there is between the prayer of consecration of the mass and the Blessed Virgin Mary. That’s why I can no longer remain among the Lutherans who do not believe in it.

The next day, the eighth Sunday after Pentecost, after his abjuration and his profession of the Catholic Faith, Sten Sandmark received confirmation and made his first communion. Monday morning, he took the train from the Gare de l’Est to go to Zaitzkofen, Germany. There, he will take the 30-day retreat following the Exercises of St. Ignatius.

Fr. Alain Lorans