“I would watch the priest or altar servers swinging censers back and forth,” Msgr. Salvador Culotta commented with a grin at the memory. “I thought that if I counted how many times they did it, I would know something others wouldn’t at school. Boy was I wrong! Many things changed from when I was 5 to now.” It was then that young Msgr. Culotta knew that he wanted to be a priest.
These changes would emerge over the 65 years of religious life Msgr. Culotta has served since his ordination at St. Mary Seminary Chapel, La Porte, including the “New Mass” that was introduced on Nov 29, 1964. This major change occurred a year after the creation of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and before the Council itself had ended.
“I remember celebrating Mass in Latin,” Msgr. Culotta noted. “We would have our backs to everyone. So those changes ensured active participation from people. By speaking in English, it made things more understandable and facing everyone was a welcomed change.”
Catholics who recall the new practices introduced in late 1964 would likely agree that this was “the day Mass changed.” Revision of the Rite of Mass would take place five years later. These changes included removal of altar rails so people would stand to receive Communion, singing of hymns in the vernacular, and the encouragement of active participation during Mass by the people.
These changes would help guide and shape Msgr. Culotta’s religious path as he served as chaplain to Houston’s Methodist Hospital, not shying away from what was considered the heaviest workload during the time. He also taught medical ethics at Sacred Heart Dominican College in Houston and was elected state president of the Catholic Hospital Chaplains Association. After leaving Houston, Msgr. Culotta was posted to the historic St. Mary Cathedral in Galveston and served as chaplain to the John Sealy State Hospital. While in Galveston, he also taught classes at Dominican High School and directed the Galveston Cursillo Movement.
In 1966, Msgr. Culotta’s path lead him back to the newly established Diocese of Beaumont. “I’m from this area,” he explained, “so I wanted to be closer to friends and family. I went a lot of places, but requested to come back here.”
On June 15, 1978, Msgr. Culotta was a founding pastor at St. Jude Thaddeus, Beaumont. This would be the first Catholic church built in Beaumont in over 50 years and had a membership of 300 families. The parish would become the fastest growing and most progressive within the Diocese of Beaumont. Later, the parish showed its appreciation for Msgr. Culotta’s service by naming the parish hall in his honor.
In June 1990, Msgr. Culotta was named pastor of St. Pius X where he was serving when Pope John Paul II named him a monsignor in 1997. He retired in 1999.
Editor’s Note: The Priesthood: a Look Behind is Part I of a two part publication. Part II will be released on June 12.