Project Canterbury

Reminiscences of a Parish Priest.
by Archibald Campbell Knowles

New York: Morehouse, 1935.


THE STORY OF SAINT ALBAN'S is short but its growth and development are rather unique. Not even the most far-seeing optimist could have dreamed of the little mission which was started on Rising Sun Lane, becoming the Saint Alban's of today, or of that muddy farmland of Olney growing to be the attractive suburb of homes that makes this section of the city now so popular.

Started in 1891 by the Convocation of Germantown, the little Mission at Olney had its services in true Apostolic fashion in "an upper room" Here came "all sorts and conditions of men'' but in small numbers, who were ministered unto by Clergy of neighbouring Parishes of varying views. This rather hazy atmosphere of theological teaching ended in 1892, when the Mission was handed over to the Reverend Samuel Upjohn, D.D., the Rector of Saint Luke's Church, Germantown, who personally made himself responsible for the work. Saint Luke's as a Parish never had any connection with Saint Alban's.

Dr. Upjohn immediately impressed upon the Mission the fundamentals of sound churchmanship. He was peculiarly fortunate in persuading many prominent Priests and Bishops to visit Saint Alban's from time to time, thus arousing an unusual interest in the Mission. The record of Baptisms, Confirmations and Communions during this time was most commendable, and especially considering the strong sectarian sentiment of the community, then as now opposed to the Church.

Through the combined contributions of the people and the generous offerings of outside friends, a large piece of ground was purchased at the corner of Second Street and Tabor Road, Olney. Here was built a lovely little stone Church, designed by Mr. George T. Pearson, similar to many to be found in English country villages. The new building was opened for worship on the Festival of Saint Thomas, 1897, with a Celebration of the Holy Eucharist. This removal to the new Church practically ended all but the nominal connection of Dr. Upjohn with Saint Alban's.

Dr. Upjohn allowing me at Ordination to take title with him at Saint Luke's, suddenly suggested to me that I should assume charge of Saint Alban's. That event, perhaps so unimportant in itself, was the means, under God, of the development of the work into the present Parish. And all the more strange, since I had never heard of Olney, nor of the Mission! Yet I was pleased with the proposition and agreed to Dr. Upjohn's suggestion. I took charge of the work, where I have continued throughout my entire ministry, refusing many attractive opportunities of more prominent place and advancement, but amply compensated by seeing that difficult and discouraging field change and blossom into a strong little centre of Catholic Faith and Practice.

"Young men dream dreams and old men see visions" The dream has come true and the vision sees future hands carrying on a work to reach more and more souls with the blessings and privileges which, under God, I have been enabled to establish. "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God giveth the increase" "We are labourers together with God"

Little by little, Olney changed. In course of time, the farmlands gave place to pretty houses, the muddy roads to paved streets, trains and trolleys made Olney a stop, all manner of improvements came, until this section became one of the modern and progressive suburbs of the city of homes.

The development of Saint Alban's, however, was no easy thing, especially in view of the definite, positive teaching that Doctrine, Discipline and Worship must go together and the insistence that Belief must consistently show itself in Practice. At first an extraordinary movement of people, to and from Olney, many only remaining a short time, prevented any rapid growth of the Congregation. This was still further retarded by the unreasoning prejudice of people coming from so-called "Low Church Parishes," against a Teaching, Worship and Practice which they did not understand. Yet, as is always the case (which despondent Parish Priests who teach the Faith should remember), the Truth was triumphant, and slowly and surely the present standard came to be accepted at Saint Alban's by all those who would listen and learn, and there came into being a splendid Congregation almost unique in its unity and uniformity as to Faith and Practice.

From 1898 to 1907, when Saint Alban's became a Parish, the work was largely a labour of love. In temporal matters, through the financial aid of my family and friends, and helped by such funds as I myself and the members of the Congregation could contribute, there was carried on a constant improvement, enlargement and adornment of the Church and grounds. The property was freed of all indebtedness, beautiful shade trees and shrubbery were planted, and walks were laid out. Additions to the buildings were made: the Sacristy in 1899, the Guild House in 1903, the Tower in 1906. Within, a Rood-Screen, a Reredos, an Organ and many artistic appointments were installed. By 1907, Saint Alban's had become a notable little Church, materially and spiritually a real religious centre, an "ecclesia docens," where people went to worship God, and fulfill their Christian Duties, free from that demoralizing inducement of social and secular pleasures so frequently offered elsewhere as a kind of bribe to faithfulness in religion!

In 1907, Saint Alban's was organized into a Parish. As usual, when a Mission seeks such a change in status, there were a few persons who opposed. While these were less than twenty in number, they represented those who were blessed with the most money. These did not like some of my teachings. Unfortunately the Reverend Dr. Upjohn allowed himself to be drawn in and he wrote me, disapproving of my insistence on Fasting Communion and Auricular Confession, and said that I was going too strong in teaching the honour due to Our Lady, yet he personally held all of these opinions. His espousal of the cause of the objectors, for which later he was very sorry, gave them the courage for a contest. I had with me, however, all of the other members of the Mission, and if we had known it, we had won from the start.

There were three rather funny incidents connected with this little Parish controversy. At one meeting a very prejudiced man began to speak against what he called my "always talking about the Church and not the Bible," warming up to say, "I do not believe that there is a Bible here!" He stopped suddenly as the audience roared with laughter when I opened a little closet on the platform, showing on its shelves about fifty small Bibles!

At another meeting to consider organization, we heard of a rumour that our opponents were going to state that Bishop Whitaker would not give assent (which turned out to be entirely untrue). Mr. Sharswood Brinton, an intimate friend of mine (who with Mr. George Wharton Pepper, another friend, was acting as Counsel for us), whispered to me: "Have the meeting adjourned at once after the opening." To the discomfiture and amazement of the opposition this was immediately done, my adherents, who constituted ninety per cent of the members, having been instructed by me to vote for whatever we proposed, whether or not they understood it at the time. In this case one of those who opposed, when he saw the motion for adjournment carried, in his anger kept calling out: "It beats any political gang! Regular boss rule!" He did not seem to know that people may trust their Priest and cheerfully follow his lead!

The third incident was the last meeting before the Bishop. Our opponents all the while had relied upon the strong support of Dr. Upjohn. Just before this meeting I had convinced Dr. Upjohn of his mistake, and one may picture the chagrin of our opponents, when I read a letter from him, then endorsing and urging the granting of our petition to organize Saint Alban's into a Parish. I am glad now that I had the opposition and the experience. It does one good! It forms friendships and strengthens character. It also gives one a chance of cultivating Christian Charity. Since then the Parish has steadily grown, although continually handicapped by many families coming to Olney and then moving away further into the country. In a way this spreads to other communities the teaching there set forth, but it limits a marked increase in numbers.

Saint Alban's is unmistakably a Catholic Parish where there is everything that has been restored to the Anglican Communion by the Catholic Revival, and where all of this has the hearty acceptance by the people as well as by the Priest. The Mass of course is the great objective. The Blessed Sacrament is perpetually reserved; there is a daily Celebration; there are no late Communions; almost all go to Confession; the children are taught by the Clergy according to the "method of Saint Sulpice"; the music is generally the Ancient Chant, Plain Song or Gregorian; those Confirmed receive three months' instruction; Lights, Incense and Vestments are used; full Catholic Ceremonial obtains; and Benediction, the Stations of the Cross, at times the Rosary, and Votive Statues, aid the devotional life. Funerals are always in Church and are Requiem Masses, with the "Burial Office" said at the house. I never could understand how any who had lost their loved ones would deny them the benefit of a Requiem Mass, the offering of the Holy Sacrifice for the repose of their souls. This surely is the last act of love and devotion which they can make for the dead. Our people at Saint Alban's are carefully taught along these lines and in the proper care and reverence of the dear departed.

I like to teach and I like to preach. I do not believe that one has to be specially gifted to do either. That which is needed is to have the teaching and the preaching plain, clear, direct, forcible and persuasive, carrying conviction to the mind and assent to the will. One should be able: (1) to think clearly and quickly; (2) to be able to express his thoughts in well-chosen and well-spoken language; (3) to understand the subject and to present it effectively, and (4) to have a sincere belief in and conviction of that which he is setting forth. Some may think these requirements are pretty ''stiff." I believe that they are very natural and normal, or can be acquired.

It is rare that a Priest has the chance of developing a work almost from the beginning and of continuing in charge to consolidate all that has been done into a stable and enduring Parish. This has been my experience. In the exercise of my privilege, I have always had before me the thoughts suggested by the following texts: "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do," "He goeth before them and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice," "I am a man under authority: and I say to this man go and he goeth; and to another come and he cometh, and to another do this and he doeth it" These we may say stand for "guidance," "example" and "authority," and for all one will fall far short of this ideal, there must be some realization of the main principles, to result in a mutual regard of Priest and People, with continuous courtesy, consideration and cooperation. For all the discouragements, disappointments and differences, this bond of affection and esteem obtains at Saint Alban's even as if all were saying, "the love of Christ constraineth me" In looking back it seems as if Saint Alban's is almost like one big family. For excepting the very oldest, most of those now with us have been Baptized, taught for Confirmation, Absolved and Communicated by "Father Knowles." Perhaps the best picture of my relations with my people is shown in the following little episode. I once said to the Vestry: "You good people have generally followed my wishes and have done what I desired." A Vestryman arose and said: "Father Knowles, you are mistaken! We have always followed your wishes and always done as you desired!"

Every organization connected with Saint Alban's is of a religious nature. Even the Vestry is so constituted and their spiritual obligations stressed more than their temporal responsibilities. We may occasionally have dances, card parties and bazaars in the Parish Building, but no Guild is of a purely secular nature. "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do," and "Ye do serve the Lord Christ" are the thoughts and ideals held up. There are wards of the world-wide organizations, "The Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament'' and "The Guild of All Souls." There is the Parish "League of the Faithful" obligating its members to attend Mass every Sunday, to go to Confession and Communion at least once a month, to receive the Blessed Sacrament fasting, and to offer outward adoration to Our Lord objectively but supernaturally present. Then there are "The Altar Society," "The Guild of Saint John for Servers " "The Church Committee," and "The Guild of Saint Mary the Fir gin" this last having as its motto "orare et labore" with three main objects; (1) prayer and intercession; (2) furthering the work of the parish; (3) helping missionary and charitable works. During the War we formed a separate unit of the Red Cross. We avoid "red tape." The Guilds are informally run, with proper persons in charge, who are responsible to the Rector and have proven themselves reliable and efficient. Nothing of importance is ever done without the consent and approval of the Rector. My rules, regulations and wishes are most faithfully and willingly followed.

If one desires to see a great prominent Parish with large throngs of people, with multitudinous activities, with many rich members, with all sorts of secular pleasures, one does not want to look at Saint Alban's. If, however, one values rather all that makes for the religious and devotional life, the teaching of the Faith and the preaching of the Gospel, then, for all its many limitations, Saint Alban's, with its beautiful church and worship, will satisfy many souls.

On October 27, 1914, my father, Mr. George Lambert Knowles, "entered into life." This event had a notable influence upon Saint Alban's. For I resolved to replace the then existing Church and Parish Building by more notable ones to be erected as a Memorial to my father, to whom I had always been deeply devoted and who had been a generous benefactor of Saint Alban's. In 1921, this Memorial was enlarged to embrace Matilda Josephine Knowles, my mother.

To some, attached to the lovely little English Church built in 1897 and subsequently greatly added to and improved, the proposal may have seemed unwise, unnecessary or wasteful, but if so, no objections or criticisms were voiced. The Vestry, always willing to support the Rector in anything that he wished to do, gave their consent and left the carrying out of everything entirely in my hands. And when the new Saint Alban's was consecrated in all its beauty, the people's pride in their new place of worship made them quite content that the little Church, in which they had met for so many years, should be but a happy memory of the past!

The Corner-Stone of the new Church was laid on February 24, 1915, and the main structure completed and consecrated on June 20, 1915. From that date on to 1930, there was the record of continuous additions and embellishment. With its main building and two Chapels, rich in colour and carving, its beautiful windows, reminiscent of scenes in Scripture, History, and Tradition, its various appointments, so complete and inspiring, Saint Alban's well merits the praise that it is "an architectural gem."

The original Corner-Stone of the first building was relaid with appropriate ceremonies in the new Church on February 24, 1915, being placed in the wall of the Chancel Apse and having deposited in it various things, including a Bible, a Prayer Book, certain writings of the Rector, and records of Saint Alban's. The Parish was to continue to teach and to practise the True Religion, the Catholic Faith which came from Him Who said: "Upon this Rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

The Consecration of the Church occurred on the third Sunday after Trinity, June 20, 1915, the Right Reverend Reginald Heber Weller, D.D., officiating (acting for and by request of the Bishop of Pennsylvania). The service used was an adaptation of that in the Prayer Book with additions from mediaeval sources, as arranged by the Rector and approved and used by Bishop Rhinelander when he consecrated the first little Church of Saint Alban's.

The day was a beautiful one and the Congregation very large. The one drawback was that, being a Sunday, few of the Clergy of other Parishes could be present. The service began with two groups: (1) that of the Choir, Clergy, Acolytes and Sacred Ministers; (2) that of the Acolytes and attendants upon the Bishop, who was vested in Cope and Mitre, proceeding around the Church to the entrance Tower.

Arriving at the entrance door (which was closed and on the other side of which within the Church were the members of the Vestry, representing the people or Congregation) the Procession stopped. Impressively giving three loud knocks upon the door, the Bishop said:

"Lift up your heads, O ye gates and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors and the King of Glory shall come in."

to which from within the Church came the answer:

"Who is the King of Glory?"

Then the Bishop said:

"It is the Lord strong and mighty, even the Lord mighty in battle. The Lord of Hosts. He is the King of Glory."

Then after further question from within the Church, the Bishop said:

"Open in the Name of the Lord." and as the doors were opened the Bishop entered saying:

"Peace be to this House from God Our Heavenly Father. Peace be to this House from God the Son. Peace be to this House from God the Holy Ghost. The Blessed and Undivided Trinity."

whereupon answered the Clergy, the Choir and the Congregation:

"Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest."

The Procession, reforming in line, then entered the Church and went up the centre aisle, chanting to the familiar Plain Song Melody the Veni Creator and Psalm 24, the Bishop and Choir singing alternate verses. When the Bishop was seated in the Sanctuary, and all had taken their places, the Instrument of Donation and Endowment was then read by the Rector:

"To the Right Reverend
Reginald Heber Weller, D.D. Bishop of Fond du Lac.
Right Reverend Father in God:

We, the Rector, Churchwardens and Vestrymen of Saint Alban's Church, Olney, Philadelphia, in praying you to consecrate and set apart this building for the praise and worship of Almighty God, do so with the distinct and definite purpose that this Parish should ever stand as an exponent of Catholic Faith and Practice, obedient to the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, setting forth most clearly the teaching and practice of Fasting Communion, Sacramental Confession and Eucharistic Worship, with the Ancient and Catholic Ceremonial, such as Vestments, Lights, Crucifixes, Incense, etc. This was the intention of the Founders, Benefactors and Incorporators at the time of organization in 1907, is set forth in a special preface to the By-Laws, has had the written assent of the Congregation, is the basis of the Endowment Fund, and is the condition upon which the gift of this new Building was made and accepted. This understanding constitutes a solemn pledge and sacred trust which the Rector, the Churchwardens, the Vestrymen and the Congregation are obligated to safeguard and to hand down in perpetuity.

We present this Church for Consecration, free from all debt, mortgage, lien or encumbrance of any kind, as a building erected to the Glory of God and in loving memory of George Lambert Knowles (the father of the Rector, the Reverend Archibald Campbell Knowles, and long time benefactor of this Parish) that this building may be forever set apart from all unhallowed uses, for the praise and worship of Almighty God according to the use of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."

This bore the signatures and seals of the Rector, the Wardens and the Secretary of the Vestry.

The Bishop, sitting in his Chair, on the Gospel Side of the Sanctuary, having had presented to him the Instruments of Donation and Endowment, continued the Service according to the Form in the Prayer Book for the Consecration of a Church.

Then, preceded by Crucifer, Acolytes, Thuri-fer, Boatbearer, and the Sacred Ministers, and accompanied by his Chaplain, the Bishop proceeded to the Font, where the Sacrament of Baptism is administered, the Sanctuary Rail, where the Sacrament of Confirmation is given, the Altar, where the Holy Sacrifice is offered and the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ is received, the Pulpit, where the Word of God is preached, censing each in turn and blessing according to the form set forth.

The little Procession then returned to the Sanctuary and the Bishop again was seated in his Chair. Then Father Odell, acting as Chaplain to the Bishop, read the "Sentence of Consecration:

"In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen. Whereas, the Rector, Churchwardens and Vestrymen of Saint Alban's Church, Olney, in the City of Philadelphia, have certified to us that the Church edifice erected for them in said City is free from all lien, mortgage or other financial indebtedness and have requested us to consecrate it to the worship of Almighty God in loving memory of George Lambert Knowles,

Now therefore we, Reginald, by the Grace of God, Bishop of Fond du Lac, acting for and at the request of the Right Reverend Dr. Rhinelander, Bishop of Pennsylvania, this twentieth day of June, being the Sunday in the Octave of the Feast of Saint Alban the Martyr, have taken this Church edifice under the spiritual jurisdiction of the said Bishop of Pennsylvania and that of his successors in office, separating it from all common, ordinary and worldly uses. And have solemnly consecrated it to Almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, under the dedication of Saint Alban, for the reading and preaching of God's Holy Word, for administering Holy Baptism, for Absolving Penitents, for conferring Holy Confirmation, for consecrating and offering the Holy Eucharist, for solemnizing Holy Matrimony, for blessing the faithful in God's Name and for all other Holy Offices of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Given under our hand and seal in the said Saint Alban's Church, Olney, in the City of Philadelphia, on the day and in the year above written and in this fifteenth year of our Consecration. (Seal) + Reginald, Fond du Lac."

The Bishop then gave the following Blessing to the Founders and Congregation:

"Blessed be Thy Name, O Lord, that it hath pleased Thee to put it into the hearts of Thy servants to appropriate and devote this house to Thy honour and worship; and grant that all who shall enjoy the benefit of this pious work may show forth their thankfulness, by making a right use of it, to the glory of Thy blessed Name; through JESUS CHRIST Our Lord. Amen.

"Almighty God, Who art the Giver of all good things and in Thy Holy Word hast given us the pattern of Divine Worship and hast commanded all things to be done decently and in order, bless and sanctify, we beseech Thee, this Building with all the appointments thereof dedicated to Thee, and to Thy blessed martyr Saint Alban; the Altar, the Font, the Pulpit, the Lectern, the Sacred Vessels and Sacred Vestments, the Cross and the Holy Rood, the Sacred Ornaments, and all other places and things used in Thy worship or for Thy Service, that the Word and Sacraments may be duly and reverently administered and all things done for Thine Honour and Glory. And also we beseech Thee to bless all who minister here and all who worship here, all of which we ask through the merits and mediation of JESUS CHRIST, Our Blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen."

Following this was a Solemn Procession, at the end of which the Solemn High Mass began with the Rector as Celebrant, Father Ward as Deacon, and Father Hathaway as Sub-Deacon. The Bishop pontificated and preached a splendid sermon upon "The Church: the Body of Christ." The Mass was one of Schubert's.

From beginning to end the Service, while long and elaborate, was most beautifully, impressively and reverently rendered. It seemed to mark as the primary motive of all at Saint Alban's: the Glory of God and the bringing of souls into union with Him through Sacraments and Worship. "Except the Lord build the house, their labour is but lost that build it."

It may be interesting to know that although organized under the Vestry System, there are also three Trustees, self-perpetuating, of what is known as: "The George Lambert Knowles Memorial." Their approval is absolutely necessary in the choice of any future Rector. At present these Trustees are: the Right Reverend Dr. Ivins, Bishop of Milwaukee, the Reverend Spence Burton, the Superior of the Cowley Fathers, and I, myself. Upon my death one of the family is to fill my place.

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