INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A PARISH PRIEST
I CONTINUED TO WRITE after my Ordination. Throughout my Ministry this has been one of my greatest pleasures. I often sacrificed sleep, writing well on into the night, when my days were specially busy in my Parish. And I frequently worked when I was abroad. I am recording some of these little ventures into literary paths as illustrative of what we may call some of the pursuits of a Parish Priest. The three earliest books written as a Priest were the following: "The Triumph of the Cross," "The Life of Offering," "The Holy Christ Child," this last a devotional account of the Incarnation. These were all well reviewed. The first and the third mentioned were brought out in London, the English Publishers in each case selling an American Edition. "The Holy Christ Child" was most favourably noticed here and abroad. It may be interesting to quote from two sources. First the London Guardian: "We must speak in high praise of this book for two reasons, first because of its devotional excellence in the presentation of the scenes and narrative of the Nativity and infancy of Our Lord, and secondly because of its theological accuracy in setting forth the fact and doctrine of the Incarnation." Then The Living Church: "By this volume the author adds substantially to his reputation already won ... it is a source of satisfaction to welcome this treasure of devout Meditation upon this Holy Mystery." It was through Dr. Alfred G. Mortimer, then Rector of Saint Mark's, who warmly endorsed this book, that I was introduced to the London firm that issued it.
It is, however, my book: "The Practice of Religion," which has run through many editions, that gives me the greatest joy. It seems to commend itself to many and as a consequence I have received a great many letters from unknown persons who have used it and in many cases owe to it their conversion to the Catholic Faith. Amongst these are a number of well-known Priests.
This book has been used not only in America but in such widely separated parts of the world as the Philippines, British Columbia, London and Paris. I was once astonished by Bishop Carson, at a meeting of the Catholic Club, when he said, "I have taken a very great liberty with Father Knowles. I have had his book translated into French for use in my Diocese!" Only part was so issued. It seemed very funny to read in the little preface: "... est recommende aux membres du Clerge et autres Fideles de l'Eglise Episcopale d'Haiti et est autorise a etre employe. Nous devons une grande reconnaissance au Reverend Archibald Campbell Knowles du Diocese de Pennsylvania pour son très excellent manuel 'The Practice of Religion' duquel j'ai tire librement comme je l'ai employé personellement pendant plusieurs annees passees," etc.
I was at one of the Regional Conferences of the Catholic Congress when the reader of a Paper advocating helpful religious books referred to "The Practice of Religion" as one that every Catholic should have! Next to me was a very attractive young girl whom I did not know, who impulsively opened a handbag, took out a copy of my book, in the flyleaf of which was written a cordial commendation over the signature of Fr. Huntington, and said, "I always use it and always have it with me!" Then she asked: was Fr. Knowles present?" I amused myself for quite a while before I admitted who I was! Let us hope the young girl still uses the Book! We are not always favourably impressed with the writers when we see them!
One of my most ambitious books was "Adventures in the Alps." It of course had a much wider appeal. From my many trips to Switzerland I feel that I know the mountains well, all parts: the Swiss, the Italian, the French, and the Austrian Alps. I have met quite a few of the real Climbers and Guides. And above all I love Switzerland. I believe that it was Sir Martin Conway who said that when he first saw the snowy peaks of the Bernese Oberland he "entered into life." Since I first saw Switzerland there has always been before me the call, "hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?" So came the book.
To get an alliterative title the Publishers used "Adventures" in the older meaning. The title was misleading to some. One reviewer facetiously said: "A boy might buy this book under the impression he was going to get a series of thrills. He would be largely deceived and that's bad for the boy as unwholesome excitement," going on, however, to say that "Adventures in the Alps" was "a pleasant souvenir of pleasant places" and "not a bad addition to a guide book." The book was brought out in London. It received considerable notice, being very well spoken of and at length.
Perhaps the best encomium was the action of Funk & Wagnalls in appropriating five chapters, which they included in their twelve-volume work entitled: "Seeing Europe with famous Authors." While pleased at being elevated to such a charmed circle, I was certainly surprised and provoked! The Firm, however, made the "amende honourable." They wrote an apologetic letter, saying that they had liked my book, had thought that it was written by an Englishman, and knowing that it was not copyrighted in America, supposed they could use it. With the letter they sent a cheque and two complete sets of their work! It was a generous action on their part. In a way the whole occurrence was a practical commendation of my book and really "a good ad!"
Unfortunately the American imprint did not reach here until just before the War. It is hard to say whether it would have been as successful here as in England. To those who have never seen Switzerland, it would never have the same appeal as it would to those who know and love the mountains and always wish to be reading about them.
My writing was always along simple lines: religious instructions, travels abroad, light fiction, and once, verse. It helped the writer. It is hoped it helped the reader. If ephemeral perhaps, it seemed to have served its purpose. If the profoundly learned or the very scholarly, or those of great renown, have passed it by, there is the satisfaction of knowing that there have been others who have been pleasured and taught and helped. At any rate, it is interesting to realize that many more thousands have been reached by my books than were ever reached by me in the whole thirty-five years of my Ministry, or for that matter, by most of my clerical friends who do not write and whose audiences have been their Parishes or where they have gone to preach!
That which I have considered one of my primary duties and which has always held for me a great interest has been the religious training of the children. Outside of the Roman Communion there is a great lack of this. I believe that one of the greatest calamities that has come to our country has been the general neglect of giving the very young systematic teaching in Religion. Even the Sunday School, which many do not attend, only provides an hour or two a week! And parents rarely give any religious instructions. It is hardly appreciated by many persons that countless thousands of children are growing up in America today with little or no knowledge of God or of the Christian Religion, often practically pagans!
At Saint Alban's our Sunday School is conducted according to the plan known as the "Method of Saint Sulpice," somewhat adapted. There is teaching and Catechism upon the Church, the Creed, the Bible, the Prayer Book, the Sacraments, and all "other things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul's health." As the Rector of the Parish I am in charge and do all of the teaching myself, the children being arranged in rows. Those present go to Mass after the Sunday School is over. It is greatly to be regretted that the Anglican Communion in America does not at least have daily primary schools where Religion may be taught.
To instil in children the principles and practices of the Christian Religion and to bring them up in the Catholic Faith is also of first importance socially and politically. For they are the coming citizens who soon will be face to face with the grave issues of the day, especially with the worldwide movements so much discussed now.
In 1903, when the Guild House at Saint Alban's was opened, every night for a number of years, the young people came to use it as a place of recreation, under committees of men and women, whom I placed in charge. There were talks, lectures, games, instructions in "burnt wood," exercises in the Gymnasium, and various other things, modelled a little after the larger experiments in London, known as "the People's Palace." Interest presently waned and after several attempts at revival, all secular works of this kind were given up. It confirmed my conviction, that except on special occasions, the Church's work should be confined to its own field: Religion.
In my younger days I became intensely interested in the conditions and the attempted amelioration of the conditions of the poor. Charles Kingsley's "Alton Locke," Jane Addams's "Twenty Years at Hull House," Whiteing's "No. 5 John Street," Kidd's "Social Revolution," Adderley's "Slums and Society," Riis's "The Peril and Preservation of the Home," Bett's "The Leaven in a Great City," and books and articles of a similar nature made an indelible impression upon me, and born to a happier lot myself, made me always sympathetic to every movement for bettering the lot of the poor and bringing proper wages and conditions for the worker. Unfortunately there is little, of personal effort, that the average individual can do. I am no politician. I am no social worker. I am no "parlor reformer." The reforms that are needed are in some ways revolutionary. Their essence is to make a wicked world godly and humanitarian, with equal justice to all. This is the part of the Church and Government, particularly of the Church. In the Middle Ages the Church espoused the cause of the poor. In the Renaissance the poor were forgotten. I have always believed that the Reformation was caused, not so much by a revolt against anything.taught by the Church, but rather by a revolt against the corruptions and selfishness of the Higher Clergy and those possessed of power, wealth and authority. Their disregard for the Christian principles which they professed, especially as applied to the treatment of the masses, I think was one underlying motive of the Reformation. It was so with the French Revolution and with the Russian Tragedy. Underneath all of the other contributory causes was the failure to live according to the teaching of Christ, the rejection of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, and all of the implications that go with those principles. The Catholic Religion, accepted with conviction and expressed in life, is the only cure for existing ills.
While being absolutely opposed to all such radical measures for reform as Communism and Socialism, and in our day, Collectivism, I have always felt the greatest sympathy for the so-called masses or working classes. Civilization for many of them has been nothing but tyranny and injustice, where often the governments have exploited them for their own ends and employers have taken advantage of them, permitting wages and conditions that are outrageous. Revolution is not the way to bring reform. Communism is an absurdity, Collectivism is an oppression, and Socialism is only sensible as applied to certain things. The Christian Religion is the only real cure. The difficulty is, in a largely pagan and unchristian world, to get its principles applied and its cures accepted.
The Church should be the leader in all that is being done for the sweeping away of abuse and injustice. The Church, representing every class, should have at heart the cause of labour, the bringing about of the proper conditions of the poor and the elimination of slum, sweatshop and child labour. So far as I can see, only the Roman Catholics, the Salvation Army and the "Catholic" or "High Church" Clergy of the Anglican Communion seem to endorse this. As to government, here in America, in President Roosevelt we have a real effort being made, wholeheartedly to put these Christian principles into practice. One does not have to understand or to approve everything that is being done in order to support wholeheartedly the first really honest attempt so to reform or even revolutionize conditions as to bring justice to all, a happier state of living based on the application of the Christian Religion, and to make "the forgotten man" have his share in the country's yields.
Since almost all of my parishioners use the Sacrament of Penance, I fancy that I have heard more Confessions than a good many Priests in larger Parishes. I think that one of the most important duties of a Parish Priest is to hear Confessions. It is not a particularly pleasant occupation. It is tiresome to sit long in the Confessional and monotonous to listen to a repetition of the same sort of sins. Most people err in much the same way, except in the case of grave or mortal sin. A Priest, however, not only should not shirk his duty to hear Confessions and to be in Church at regularly published hours for that purpose, but also should see that by his studies he is well up on Moral Theology and in the science of Casuistry.
I particularly value the experience obtained through the coming of the children. It is most interesting as a revelation of a child's mind and conscience. It is also a splendid chance to start early in instilling in these little ones the Love of God, the responsibility of Religion, and a sorrow for sin; in short, to develop Christian Character. The children of Catholic Parishes are the greatest hope of the Church. They are the Church of the future!
Two little stories may be illustrative of the naivete and innocence of a child. One is of a little girl, who, contrary to my counsel, used to write on paper a list of her naughty doings. Once, on reaching the Confessional she suddenly stopped and said: "Wait, Father, I've left my sins in the pew!" Another was a little boy, to whom I gave the penance of saying an Our Father, a Hail Mary and the 34th Psalm. After the Absolution, he seemed so long on his knees, after he had returned to his seat, that I left the Confessional, went up to him and asked why. "You told me to say thirty-four Psalms, Father!" Poor little Penitent, by his misunderstanding he had read almost thirty-four Psalms!
Once in the Confessional a little boy finished the preliminary form and then said, "Ask me questions, Father." When I had covered all the little things I thought that he could possibly have been tempted to do I said: "Now, do you know anything else?" "Yes, Father, I tore my pants!" I fear that his sense of sin in this was the wrath of his parents in that he injured his trousers! Of course, I told my "penitent" that "tearing pants" was not a sin! At least I never found it named in my books on Moral Theology!
Sometimes people think that they are specially helped by going to Confession to a "Religious," the Priest of an Order. I never could feel that way. As a matter of fact, I think that the best Confessor is generally a Parish Priest. His experience, if he has heard many Confessions, is a varied one, and being closer in touch with "all sorts and conditions of men," I think that he knows more of life and of its usual temptations. This of course is only a personal opinion.
And this leads to a reflection: too much emphasis is laid on "the Confession" and too little on "the Absolution." Yet it is the latter for which one uses Penance, the former only being the requirement for getting it. People should be taught how to make a Confession, how to be brief, clear and connected, how to be sure to include everything remembered; how to go in sincerity and truth; how to aim to have real faith, love and repentance; "in the heart contrition, in the mouth confession, in the life amendment." The Counsel should be equally short and direct. Unless the Penitent desires advice specially, the Counsel and the assigning of a penance may be of the briefest. Then comes the reward, the reason for the Confession: the Absolution. We do not need specially authorized Confessors. We need instructed Confessors, which may include any Parish Priest.
I cannot refrain from giving the following rather amusing experience as a Parish Priest. There was a poor old soul, the wife of a huckster, very ignorant, very poor and very "smelly," to whom I determined to bring the blessings and privileges of Religion, to transfer her, so to speak, into "the odor of sanctity!" I succeeded pretty well, for I got her instructed and confirmed, and saw her regularly coming to Confession and Communion.
Unfortunately she had one weakness! Almost invariably after the Mass she would come to me, pleading her poverty and begging a little help, it might be for coal, for food, for gloves, for stockings and the like. Once, however, when she said, "Father, won't you give me two dollars to buy a pair of corsets?" I lost my temper and answered: "I'm tired of this! It's bad enough to ask for something every time you come to Church! I draw the line at corsets! Besides no one wears those things nowadays!"
I suppose I relented! At any rate a few years ago we gave her a "fine funeral." The poor old soul died and her family could only raise twenty dollars for her burial. I got Mr. Bringhurst (the best and "smartest" undertaker in the city) to do his part for a very small sum, some of our members contributed towards it, the Parish and I paid the balance. So we had a Requiem Mass for the woman at Saint Alban's. Let us hope that she was one of God's poor and loved by Him!
In my life in the Sacred Priesthood I have often been called to minister to perfect strangers, not connected with any Parish and sometimes visitors in the city. How they "hit upon me" in many cases, I cannot say, but I always felt that it was my duty to respond to the call, although I never accepted the offerings or honorarium proffered me. In some cases, however, the sick or dying person desired an "Anglo-Catholic Priest," on the ground that "he knew what to do I" meaning of course his mode of ministration. I was assumed to qualify.
Once when abroad, at Interlaken, an English girl, who had met me in the High Alps, came to me instead of to the English Chaplain asking me to prepare her mother for a serious operation, which turned out to be her death. It gave me the privilege not only of ministering to the sick woman and of helping those in trouble, but also of seeing the inner workings of the little hospital at Interlaken.
Recently I went a long distance to give the Last Sacraments to an old lady from the West, who did not know me but insisted that she have the Rector of Saint Alban's rather than one of the Clergy in a nearby Parish but a few blocks away! She feared that the others would not minister to her in the way she desired.
A most trying experience was once being asked by a young Churchwoman of another Parish to call upon her father, supposed to be an unbeliever, who was very dangerously and critically ill. The poor man was not an unbeliever, only one of those many unchurched persons who had never really been taught any religion. I found him sitting up in bed in one corner of the room, each of the other corners being respectively occupied by a Baptist, a Lutheran and an "Episcopalian," all three persisting in staying! I had to ignore them and do all that I could with and for the ill man, who really seemed very responsive. Amongst other things I asked if he had been baptized. The man did not know. The Baptist woman said "No, he had never been baptized." The Lutheran woman said "He has been Christened!" The "Episcopalian" woman typically did not know if "Baptism" and "Christening" were the same in the Church. I blessed water, had the man make the Vows and gave him conditional Baptism.
I have always been singularly fortunate as to my summers. I found that I could generally spend them abroad without detriment to my work. No services were ever abandoned, but were faithfully carried on by my Curate or such supply as I had provided. My parishioners always gave me an affectionate "Godspeed" in going and a warm welcome upon my return. They never seemed envious of my good fortune but always evidenced a desire to help any plan that would make me happy. Perhaps the old adage, "absence makes the heart grow fonder'' was realized in our relations. At any rate, I have had the privilege of crossing the Atlantic twenty-six times each way, with very great benefit to my family and myself, and with no harm to my Parish and my work. During my Ministry I have met comparatively few of the clergy except those of the Catholic party or in my own city. It was not because I did not want to be "a good mixer," nor that I did not like or admire my brethren. As a matter of fact, few persons have a better opinion of them than have I. The Laity (from whom they come with their faults and virtues) cannot certainly excel them in showing a notable example of joyously and courageously living their lives and faithfully and uncomplainingly doing their work. Most of them struggle along on starvation salaries, continually facing many hardships. I think that my rather later entrance into the Sacred Ministry accounts for most of my intimate friends being amongst the Laity. Those I knew well at school and college, in business and society, were the friends that most of the clergy make at the seminary.
In Advent at Saint Alban's, before the late Mass, we sing the Litany in Procession. I think that Advent should be given more prominence than is generally the case. The Litany in Procession is impressive. Sermons on the "Four Last Things" are needed. I have almost invariably preached on these in Advent. The season of Advent gives such a splendid opportunity to set forth the Church's teaching of Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Whether my presentation was forcible, dramatic and convincing may be a matter of opinion. Once one of my parishioners said to a friend, "Father Knowles is going to give us people Hell next Sunday!" While open to many constructions, the remark shows that the sermons at least were listened to!
Bishops are so funny! Once I was having a Mission at Saint Alban's in charge of a Holy Cross Father. Bishop Mackay-Smith, always a good friend of mine, was very much exercised over a proposed "address to women only." He feared that it would be "improper," that "indelicate things would be said!", that "shocking subjects would be touched upon!" The Bishop would only permit the address upon my personal assurance that "Nothing would be said that his daughters might not hear!" Who but a Bishop could imagine any of the Holy Cross Fathers, even in the most plain speaking, ever handling the most delicate subject in any but a perfectly proper manner!
During my Ministry of thirty-five years, I was, during the early part, alone in my Church, but since 19181 have had the assistance of a Curate, the Reverend Henry B. Gorgas, from 1918 to 1927, the Reverend William H. Davis, from 1927 to 1934. Such association would appear to have been a pleasant one on both sides from the long incumbency of each Priest who was Curate. Father Gorgas has been a Rector in his time but he prefers the work of an assistant. Few people probably know that he is an unusually learned and well-read Priest, quite schooled in both Anglican and Roman Theology and perfectly at home in the Classics, the Latin and Greek Fathers and the Breviary being his constant companions. When he was assistant to the Reverend Arthur Ritchie, at Saint Ignatius', New York, he had charge of a lot of German people and used to say the Mass in German. Some of his humourous stories are delightful. I always appreciated his assistance at Saint Alban's. We have been firm friends ever since his resignation to go to Saint Luke's, Germantown.
Curates always have a rather easy time with me for I love to do things myself! For instance, my division of Sunday Services I fancy is rather unusual. We have two early Masses, plain Matins, Sung Mass and Sermon and Solemn Evensong, Benediction and Sermon. It has almost generally been my practice to say one of the Low Masses, to teach the Sunday School according to the Sulpician Method, to sing the High Mass, and preach and to sing or preach and give Benediction. I read Matins alone. This, of course, does not give my Assistant much to do on a Sunday!
Saint Paul in commending the duty of the people to support those who ministered to them, and counselling the Clergy that those who "preached the Gospel should live of the Gospel," added: "I have used none of these things . . . what is my reward then ? Verily that, when I preach the Gospel, I may make the Gospel of Christ without charge." So in my little Ministry, through the blessing of God in other ways, I have been able never to use for my family or myself any compensation that I have ever received. This in no sense accrues to any credit or merit of mine. It was simply a fortunate circumstance that contributed to my happiness and helped make my little labours somewhat unique.
An interesting event both to the Parish and myself was the 25th anniversary in 1925 of my Ordination to the Sacred Priesthood. The date being on Sunday, it was impossible for many of the clergy of Philadelphia to be present on account of their own Parish duties, but nevertheless they were well represented. The Solemn High Mass was sung at 10: 30 A.M., the Rector being Celebrant, the Reverend Father Ward, Rector of Saint Elizabeth's being Deacon, and the Reverend Henry B. Gorgas, Sub-Deacon. The Right Reverend Reginald H. Weller, D.D., Bishop of Fond du Lac, pontificated and preached, attended by the Reverend Edward Ritchie and the Reverend W. H. Cavanagh as Deacons-of-Honour, with the Reverend G. Herbert Dennison as Priest Crucif er, and the usual Mitre bearer, Boatbearer, Candle-bearers and Acolytes. The Music of the Mass was Gounod's "St. Cecilia." The Mass was preceded by a Solemn Procession.
After the Service, two hundred people were guests at Luncheon in the Guild House. At an Informal Meeting following the Luncheon, letters of congratulation and good wishes to the Rector were read, and a number of speeches were made, after which a very artistic Chalice and Paten were presented to me with the following letters, the first read by Mr. Franz, Accounting Warden, and the other by Mr. Collier, representing the various Guilds. They are given here not that I deserved the kind things said, but because they show the attitude of the people towards their Rector.
"Dear Father Knowles:
With profound gratitude, we recall the fact that all the twenty-five years of your Priestly life have been given to us. While others, from time to time, have sought you for their Rector, you have always turned a deaf ear, even to invitations which offered worldly advantages, and have ever chosen us for your people, and dear Saint Alban's as the scene of your loving and devoted work. We trust that you may never have cause to regret your choice. And we earnestly pray that God will spare you to minister to us for many years to come.
You have given to us material evidence of your labours here, in the erection of buildings which adorn this sacred place. Saint Alban's Church, a memorial to your honoured father, George Lambert Knowles, Esq., ranks among the very best buildings of its kind; a perfect gem of French Gothic architecture; and the little Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, which you have raised as a memorial to your dear mother, Matilda Josephine Knowles, is also of matchless beauty. All who visit Saint Alban's ought to feel the devotional uplift of this sacred shrine. Here we have the abiding Presence of Our Lord in the Tabernacle; here the Mass, the Lord's Own Service, is offered day by day; and here we have all the stately ceremonial of the Catholic Church.
Through the helpful books which you have written, the sphere of your influence reaches far beyond the bounds of our Parish. The 'Practice of Religion' has sown good seed in many places throughout the nation. But the privilege of having your personal ministry belongs to Saint Alban's; and there are many of us who owe to you, under God, all we know and love and prize of our religious life. Perhaps you think today of many souls who have been brought close to you, whom you have baptized, taught, absolved, saved from error, fed with the Bread of Life. Many who were here when you first came to us are now in the Waiting Church, helped by your prayers and intercessions at God's Altair. May we not Believe, that all your people, living and dead, have a place in your heart?
Words cannot adequately express the affection of a grateful people to a faithful parish priest, and we earnestly hope that in the years yet to come, you will find more and more the true loveliness of Christ in the lives of your devoted people.
Therefore, we, the Vestry, and Parishioners of Saint Alban's, ask your acceptance of the accompanying gifts (a Chalice and Paten) as a slight token of our love and esteem, inscribed as follows:
TO THE GLORY OF GOD,
AND IN LOVE AND GRATITUDE
FOR THE BLESSINGS BROUGHT THEM
THROUGH A MOST DEVOTED MINISTRY
PRESENTED BY THE PEOPLE OF SAINT ALBAN'S
TO THEIR RECTOR THE REVEREND ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL KNOWLES
ON THE TWENTY-FIFTH ANNIVERSARY
OF HIS ORDINATION TO THE SACRED PRIESTHOOD
NOVEMBER 12, 1924.
'HE FED THEM WITH A FAITHFUL AND TRUE HEART; AND RULED THEM PRUDENTLY WITH ALL HIS POWER.' "
The following is the other letter in part:
"Dear Father Knowles:
We, the members of the various Guilds, Confraternities, and Organizations of Saint Alban's Church, Olney, Philadelphia, extend to you, our earnest felicitations, on this most joyous and unique occasion, when you are celebrating not only your twenty-fifth anniversary in charge of this Parish, but, also, the twenty-sixth anniversary of your ordination to the Sacred Priesthood.
Apart from the beauty of its structure, Saint Alban's has been noted in the past for its firm stand on Catholic Faith and Practice. Right from the very beginning of your ministry, this has been the key-note and today we are reaping the reward, by being privileged to assist in the celebrating of the Holy Mysteries, in the dignified manner, so necessary to the Catholic mind, and befitting our Holy Mother the Church.
It has ever been your most earnest and consistent endeavor to mould the ceremonial used at Saint Alban's, along the most approved lines of the best known liturgical authorities, so that your key-note makes the Church of Saint Alban's a very real stronghold of the Catholic Religion.
During these many years past, wonderful results and great strides have been made, which could only have been expected, when one realizes the firm foundations laid, in the minds of your spiritual family, in your teaching of our most Holy Faith, so that only the very highest expression of love and devotion to Almighty God, could or would be expected in our spiritual life. ...
We rejoice in knowing that through the Endowment Fund and also our Charter of Incorporation, Saint Alban's will always be a centre of the Catholic Faith, it being one of the Articles that only the True Religion shall be taught and practised within these walls and so shall the work which you have so ably started on such a firm foundation be handed down to posterity; and generations yet to come will ever have before them a vivid reminder of the first Rector of Saint Alban's Church, Olney; for what is written in Saint Paul's Cathedral, is just as true here, 'Lector, si monumentum requiris circumspice';-- 'Reader, if thou seekest his monument, look around.'
We pray you, dear Father Knowles, to accept these poor expressions of affection in the sincere spirit in which they are written, and so, we shall leave you to enjoy the fruits of your life's labour, secure in the knowledge of the affection of your own people at Saint Alban's."
As I review my ministerial life, how small it seems as compared with the really noble and heroic work in the Church! How sadly it contrasts with the labours of a Missionary in some foreign field, Liberia, the Philippines, China or Japan, or in our own land amongst the Indians or in Alaska! Or what a comparison it makes with those who have sacrificed everything to work in the slums of a great city! It is the Missionary and the Priest in the slums who are doing the great work for Christ, offering salvation to those who know not God. Such workers are the great souls of the Church, who are really walking in the Master's footsteps 1 Of course city and suburban Parishes have to be ministered to, and the people there are also God's children, but the lot of such Parish Clergy, even of the most sacrificing, is a very easy one as compared with those who work in the far-off Mission fields or in the slums of a great city.
There was an incident that occurred in the last few years that will ever be a source of much satisfaction. During the late War, one of the Priests of this Diocese, foreign born, originally in the Eastern Church and a very good Theologian, was disciplined by Bishop Rhinelander for excess in drinking. He took to bootlegging and through his knowledge of Hebrew made a meagre living from the Jews! He at one time ran an elevator! He supplemented the pittance on which he lived by appealing for money to his brother Clergy. As it seemed a dreadful thing for a Priest to live in this way, some of us resolved to try to rehabilitate him. Bishop Garland was sympathetic but not sanguine of success. He, however, suggested a plan which I engineered and through the cooperation of Dr. Jefferys of the City Mission and the generous contributions of a number of Clergy and Laity, particularly Father Joiner, Father Conkling and Father Niblo, we had our frail and erring brother given a post at the City Mission. He never knew that we were paying his salary. He made good. He redeemed himself. He began to exercise his Ministry. And an opportunity offering, he was given charge of a certain part of the Mission's work and then regularly paid by those in charge with no further contributions from my little coterie of helpers. Rehabilitated as a faithful Priest, he recently died, fortified by the Last Sacraments, while many grieved at his going but rejoicing in his reformed life. Well does the Salvation Army say: "A man is down but he is never out."
I fancy that few people in the Church do not know of the Morehouse Publishing Company and the several generations of the Morehouse Family who have ever done so much for the Church. It has only been of recent date that I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Clifford P. Morehouse, the very able and courteous Editor of The Living Church, one of the younger members of the family, but one who has already proven himself a man of liberal ideas, sound churchmanship and a charming writer. It seems strange that I never personally met his father or grandfather. With both of these I frequently corresponded over a long space of years on matters connected with religion. I remember how they ever favoured my books and literary ventures with warm praise and commendation. It is happy for our Communion that we have a Church Publishing House of such high standing and such enduring traditions of courtesy and consideration to all.
During the World War, before our country entered into the conflict, I posted a Notice at Saint Alban's, which as I remember read: "Discussion of the War is forbidden in the Church and Guild House. All are requested to follow this counsel." As a result, Saint Alban's, while contributing to Liberty Bonds and the War Chest and having a Special Chapter of the Red Cross, was a place of peace, where, as many said, they could go in their worry and anxiety and in Church forget the War. I never believed that the House of God should be made the propaganda of War or the place for a Priest to air his views. In my Confirmation Class that year were two men, one of English descent, one of German, whose names were Thomas and Francis Joseph. My policy kept them great friends. Even we poor Clerics, including the "Religious," enjoy a little nonsense now and then! Our good friends, the "Franciscans" at Mount Sinai, Long Island, once made such a moving but withal humourous appeal that I sent them the following as a letter, in this doggerel verse masquerading as prose:
"From a Friend of the Order!
Dear Reverend Brothers do beware--of how you make us sinners care--that in these days far from benign--you too do face the minus sign. For when you seek in efforts rash--you find no food, you find no cash!--And then to us you tell your fears--and almost move us to shed tears! While those your prayers so touch our wills--that we must fain send dollar bills--to fill the gap beneath your habit-- with sundry things, perhaps a rabbit! We feel for you but don't forget--that money's very hard to get. If we had lots, we'd give galore --and even want to send you more! For all of you good Brothers dear--deserve a full and plenteous year--with lots of shirts and shoes and socks--to wear beneath monastic frocks. And in your Church and house to find--all that is needed to your mind, to show God's glory and to be--examples to societee! May food and raiment come your way--and cash your every bill to pay! And as this doggerel stuff you scan--do not forget that YOU BEGAN! So 'mea culpa' let it be--if you don't like this verse from me--but that my friendship you may see--I now enclose a banknote V."
And to my great delight and amusement I received the following witty acknowledgment from one of the good Brothers:
"To a Friend of the Order:
Dear Reverend Father, with great glee--we have received the banknote V. We hope great wealth will be your store--that you may send us many more! Our larder was so very flat-- we thought we'd have to eat the cat--then came your verse and crackling note--the cat still lives; so does the goat! Others were moved, though not to tears--to lay our economic fears. Some kind friends sent, what could be finer--some sets of lovely colored china! And some sent food; for many dinners --we'll have to thank your kind of sinners. We think your parish should take note--of verse their able Rector wrote--and if with this view you agree--we'll send you many copies free. Give them to those whose depressed station--requires poetic elevation. And if from home you're driven in fear-- you'll always find a haven here."
Twice Saint Alban's had the privilege of being chosen for the annual service and meeting of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, with the Right Reverend Reginald H. Weller, D.D., then Bishop of Fond du Lac, "pontificating" and preaching. We always had a most impressive service, Solemn High Mass and Procession, and Saint Alban's seemed particularly suitable, since the Confraternity not being very large, the Congregation filled our Church where it would not a larger one.
The greatest function at my Parish is an annual observance of the evening of Corpus Christi. Then a large number of the Clergy and the Acolytes come from other Churches, and we have the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament. The building is always packed and there are some who look forward to this service and who attend every year.
It was during the War that we had a most amusing experience at Saint Alban's. A very nice family moved into Olney and came to my Parish. The young daughter, who was to be married to a Priest of the Diocese, arranged for her wedding at Saint Alban's without my knowledge, both of the parties apparently being oblivious to the requirement that the Rector must give his consent. Nevertheless we fixed matters amicably and a certain quite distinguished Priest came a long distance from another part of the city out to Olney and married them at Saint Alban's. After the ceremony, however, he was a very much peeved cleric, for the Bridegroom, for a marriage fee, had given him only a book entitled "Swat the Kaiser!" I fear that our clerical friend would have felt more inclined to do his worst, not to the Kaiser but to the Bridegroom.
In November, 1933, came an inexpressible sorrow that will be lifelong, in the unexpected death of our daughter Mary Clements, who in 1931 had been married to Alan Maxwell Palmer. Mary Clements was a very lovely character, attractive in every way, bright and happy in disposition, merry, vivacious and full of the joy of life. She was the spirit of every gathering, always radiating sunshine and endearing herself to all. At school she had been looked upon as a leader and in Society she had a delightful time. With all of her fun and merriment she always stood for the highest ideals and standards, in fact, she was an inspiration to all who knew her. One story is characteristic: at a ball a young man, who had been imbibing too freely, asked her to dance, and was turned away with the remark: "Don't dare to come near me, Jimmy, until you're sober!" She had the happy faculty of making offenders sorry without hurting their feelings and of making goodness attractive.
With all of her love of her friends and her pleasure in being with them, she was a most devoted daughter, one who enjoyed the companionship of her father and mother. She never came home from a ball or a dance without knocking at her mother's door and speaking to her. Nothing could have exceeded her unselfish devotion to her mother in her mother's long illness beginning in 1930, from which fortunately Mrs. Knowles recovered, nor her comforting sharing of my anxiety.
When she married, she became the joy and life of her husband, making her pretty little house at Chestnut Hill a very delightful home.
Many people never dreamed of the very deep spirituality and the very real religion that Mary Clements possessed beneath all of her fun and merriment. To those who could see and know, there was a most unusual purity and loveliness in her life and character. And at the same time she was most natural and human. Society never spoiled her nor made her careless in the practice of her religion. As a rule Mary Clements went to Confession every fortnight, made her Communion every Sunday, went regularly again to High Mass, and attended the Daily Celebrations during Lent. Without being what is called a "Church worker," she did lots of lovely things for others, and as a little girl and as an Associate she did much to brighten up Saint Anna's Home for Aged Women.
I had the very unique and precious privilege of baptizing my daughter, preparing and presenting her for Confirmation, hearing her first Confession, ministering her first Communion, and solemnizing her marriage, and during her entire life she made her Confessions to me (until she was grown up), and excepting for a few weeks during the past few summers, almost invariably received the Blessed Sacrament at my hands. I also sang her Requiem at Saint Alban's, the most sad and most difficult duty I have ever performed, yet carrying with it the comforting thought that I was still ministering to her, in this last thing that I could do for our dear daughter. It was indeed the ultimate of "bitter-sweet!"
Few lives as short as that of Mary Clements' show such beauty, dignity and simplicity and leave such a sunny memory. "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God." We had the joy and privilege of having her for twenty-four years. God gave her to us. We tried to give God to her. We gave her back to God! In a sorrow that will ever endure is the joy in the memory of one who was loved, loving and lovable. We do not understand, "the ways of God are wonderful and past finding out." Yet in Christian Faith and Hope we remember: "He Who holds the Cup of sorrow is the God of love, Whose Son hung upon the Cross."
In looking backward and in looking forward there is a great contrast! Surveying the field today, one cannot but be impressed with the blight and curse of a civilization that in our country is largely becoming unchristian. No so-called progress and advance can compensate for a growing lack of religious faith and practice. And there is no real happiness or security in a world largely Godless. Since the War there has been less and less appreciation of the finer things of life. There is still a saving remnant who believe and practice Religion, who love Literature, Music, Art and Architecture and all that appeals to the intellectual and spiritual faculties. Yet in all ranks and classes of society the many are mainly materialistic, their ideal being but the enjoyment of the automobile, the moving pictures and the radio, and for some the so-called pleasures covered by the cocktail and the night life. It is "highbrow" to affect doubt about God, the Church and her teaching, although these self important critics fail to see how ridiculous they are in opposing their opinions against those of the greatest minds of all times, who have been firm believers! Saint Paul, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Doctor Pusey (to select a few at random), are certainly no insignificant authorities in defense of the True Religion! They overtop those today!
It is at death that these truths stand out. Even in a small Parish one learns many things, sees many ways of dying. Of course a person if "doped" passes out to judgment dead to the world, but in the case of a conscious man or woman, death is a reality. In my limited experiences I have seen beautiful "passings" fortified by the Sacraments, full of faith, hope and repentance. And I have witnessed quite the reverse. It is really an awful experience to prepare for death one who knows nothing of religion, who does not remember a prayer, who has not even a glimmering as to the future. It does not matter whether the life has been good or bad, at death one needs God! And for people to prevent a dying person from knowing of his coming departure, and so prepare for it, is to my mind one of the greatest sins one can commit! For it is, as it were, to build a barrier between the dying soul and his God.
In these "reminiscences" I have purposely refrained from much reference to those in the living present. An humourist has said that "no one should write an autobiography who wishes to keep his friends!" This, however, will hardly apply to me, for "I have no axes to grind," nor "disagreeable things" to say.
That no one may feel aggrieved or slighted by a lack of notice, I will now venture upon a real "indiscretion" and follow the Scriptural counsel: "let us now praise famous men!" And as "famous" is a relative term, I take it that all of us "poor, miserable sinners," in the secret depths of our "meek, lowly, and humble hearts" regard ourselves as "famous men," for we are all saints in the making, and saints are famous, only our sanctity is harder to admit than the fame!
Sometimes every Priest is like a "little Jack Horner," who in his little corner thinks "what a big boy am I," only unfortunately generally minus the "plum." So all of my Clerical friends are famous, and if one may venture upon a sweeping assertion: "all are jolly good fellows," whatever interpretation imagination attaches to the title. They could possibly write much better reminiscences than these of mine, which I could make so much better if I could only put them in! "Safety first," however, is generally a wise procedure.
There is one thing that I can do to show my regard: I could wish for many of them to be a "Canon" of the new diocesan Cathedral foundation! The list seems rather crowded, but like a railway car, there is always room for more in this rather unique organization. It has only a Chapel built, but it has a Registrar, an Assistant Registrar, a Treasurer, a Counsellor, eight Clerical Canons and eight "Lay" Canons (whatever they are!). It also has a Cathedral League, with an honorary President, eleven honorary Vice-Presidents, a Chairman, a Treasurer, a Secretary and an Executive Committee. I do not know if their duties are arduous or if they help one another. In the "Mikado," Pooh-Bah did better. He combined all offices in himself. He was "the whole show." I approve the Cathedral, even the futuristic site, but in my simplicity, I must own to never hearing before of "Lay Canons," and I wonder at the many officers!
"The Priests' Convention" in Philadelphia in 1924, "The Catholic Congress" in 1933, and the various regional Congress meetings have all greatly influenced the Church life here, especially the first named. These, however, are events of local history, well known to all, and are hardly matters of personal reminiscence. Unfortunately life in America has become so materialistic, so pleasure-loving and so unspiritual, that the effect of these Anglo-Catholic Revivals is limited. They should be continued and supported to be sure, but those in charge, while still optimistic, might do well to remember that many of those who so lustily sing the hymns are not hard to persuade to forego Mass if the disposition so moves. There is no doubt, however, of the vast influence of this Catholic Movement upon the whole Anglican Church. One cannot overestimate the good that it has done. A very strange meeting occurred in my life some years ago when going on the little mountain railway to Miirren, Switzerland. Seated near my party were two elderly ladies and a Sister in the habit of the Order of Saint Margaret. As we changed from the "funicular" to the electric railway, the Sister found herself seated next to me. As she curtseyed to me, I spoke to her, and conversing for a few moments, I learned that she was from the Convent in Boston, on vacation. When she found that I was an American Priest she asked me my name and where I was. Fancy my astonishment when answering: "I am Father Knowles, the Rector of Saint Alban's, Philadelphia," the Sister said: "Oh I used to dance with you!" Then it came out that when we were both young she, a member of a well-known Boston family, visited Philadelphia and going out in Society met me! We remembered specially one party in which I led the Cotillion. I told her that I was trying to get the sisters for Saint Alban's.
On Sunday, Nov. 11, 1934,1 observed the 35th anniversary of my Ordination to the Sacred Priesthood and my 35th anniversary of my charge of Saint Alban's. I suppose that it is unique for one to spend one's entire Ministry in one place. Our people thought so and turned out "en masse" for the Solemn High Mass of Thanksgiving at 10:30, when the present Bishop of Milwaukee, the Right Reverend Benjamin F. P. Ivins, S.T.D., came on specially and "pontificated" and preached. The service was notable and the sermon was splendid. It seemed very fitting for one who had been ordained by a former Bishop of Milwaukee (Dr. Nicholson) to have the present Bishop (Dr. Ivins) officiate. As is my custom I was Celebrant, with two old friends, Fr. Steel and Fr. Gorgas respectively, as Deacon and Sub-Deacon. The Deacons of Honour to the Bishop were Fr. Ritchie and Fr. Davis. It was a pleasant incident to find amongst many letters and telegrams, one from Mr. Clifford P. Morehouse offering his congratulations and best wishes.
There are few of our Right Reverend Fathers in God who can measure up with Bishop Ivins, the leader of the "Catholic party." The strength, sympathy and magnetism of his personality seem to radiate! One feels that he has a real interest in those about him, that with him consecrated effort and reverent devotion mean far more than money or numbers, that he wishes to help any cause which he approves. He is a real "Father-in-God"!
I had asked that no present be made to me, so some of my friends raised an "additional thanksgiving fund" for the Endowment Trust and the Vestry gave a most appreciative written testimonial of their love and regard for their longtime Rector, in glowing terms far beyond even one's imaginary desserts!
Throughout my life, I have been in the habit of writing down certain Counsels which particularly appealed to me. I am going here to record a few of them, which may be helpful to others.
First I give as a most helpful general guide the following: "It is not doing the things we like but liking the things we do that makes life blessed." "The path that God chooses for us is the path that leads to God." "Seek true joy and one finds God: seek God and one finds true joy."
Shakespeare seems to exhort, never to compromise, for the praise of men:
"Act well your part: there all the honour lies, Stoop to expediency and honour dies; Many there are that in the race for fame Lose the great cause to win the lesser game. Who pandering to the town's decadent taste, Barter the precious pearls for gaudy paste, And leave upon the virgin page of time The venomed trail of iridescent slime!"
And when sorrows come and sunshine fades away, what better than Saint Augustine in these memorable words:
"When God gives earthly blessings,
When God takes away earthly blessings,
For it is the same God who gives and takes away
But He never takes Himself away from one
Who gives thanks!"
I remember the text used by Dr. Mortimer in preaching at my Ordination: "And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever, and the words from the Epistle for Saint Luke's Day, on which Festival I entered the Ministry: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the Faith" If one could only make the last text one's life record, the first promise might be realized!
Such sayings are little reminders in the journey of life, little signposts on the way. Earthly glory, worldly praise, human regard are but evanescent things! Most of us have our little day, our little time of worldly achievements, our little circles of friends and admirers, but when one "crosses the bar," in a brief moment we are forgotten! And why not! Only let one hope that he leaves an honourable record even if it soon fades away. In the words of Christina Rossetti, we should say:
"If thou wilt: remember;
And if thou wilt: forget!"