Project Canterbury

A History of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament
in the United States of America

By William Pitt McCune

Published for the Confraternity by Holy Cross Publications, 1964.


IT WAS IN the year 1867 that the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament began its work of prayer in the Church in this country. On September 11 of that year, in St. Paul's Chapel, Trinity Church, New York, two priests and a layman were admitted as Associates by the Rev. Charles C. Grafton, of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. Father Grafton had gone to England in 1865, to seek help in his desire for the Religious Life. There he met not only Father Benson, but others who were interested in a religious community for men, and in the Catholic revival in the Church of England. Among these was the Rev. Thomas T. Carter. "Canon Carter," he was called later, when he became Canon of Christchurch, Oxford, and "Carter of Clewer," because of his work in that village, near Windsor. Carter had gone to Clewer in 1844, and remained there until his death in 1899. During all those years he was active not only as a faithful parish priest, but as a faithful Anglican, eager to restore to the Church of England and to the Anglican Communion their Catholic heritage.

Soon after he went to Clewer, Carter, like other faithful Churchmen, was stirred and deeply troubled by two cases involving Catholic truth. The first, the Gorham case, was concerned with baptismal regeneration; the second, that of Denison, with the Eucharist. In 1856 Archdeacon Denison was sentenced to deprivation for maintaining the doctrine of the Real Presence. A protest against this judgment was made by Pusey, Keble, and other clergy. Carter was one of those who signed it. In a letter to a friend concerning this protest he wrote: "It does furnish the list of a few names, and the enemy may cut us down piecemeal. But this seems to me better than remaining perfectly silent about it, and leaving them to say, 'You accept it and you dare not speak out.' Our strength would be in united action; but this is now impossible, and the next ground of strength appears to me in bearing witness, and transmitting our witness now; it may tell for us one day, if not now. Prayer is, indeed, the great strength, and I trust that on this protest will be founded a brotherhood for revival of the truth about the Blessed Sacrament." Here, in this letter, is the seed from which sprang the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament in England, in America, and throughout the Anglican Communion. It came from the mind and soul of a man who believed in the truth about the Blessed Sacrament and was determined to bear witness to that truth, and who also believed in the strength of prayer and was determined to use that strength for the revival of the truth which was so dear to him and to all Catholics.

Very soon Carter put into action what be had written. In 1857 a letter was sent out suggesting an association for united prayer, and providing a form of prayer far use by members. Then Carter consulted with friends in London, where he had been giving a course of Lenten addresses at All Saints', Margaret Street. among these friends were the vicar, Upton Richards, and other priests, including Lowder and Mackonochie. They met in the common room at the clergy house of All Saints'. "There it was," Carter wrote, "that we resolved, with a view of establishing a settled doctrine and a basis of teaching, so as to maintain principles according to what we believed to be Church of England truth, to form the 'Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament.' The Manual shows what our principles were." In 1862 the Confraternity was formally constituted. Carter was elected Superior-General, and continued in office for thirty-five years. In 1867 the Confraternity was united with another organization, the Society of the Blessed Sacrament. During the decade since 1857 there had been other devotional societies like these two. At St. Peter's, London Docks, Father Lowder had founded one, dedicated to the Good Shepherd. Soon, however, he was admitted by Canon Carter as one of the first Priests-Associate of the Confraternity, and his guild of communicants affiliated with it, as St. Peter's Ward. Others followed the same course, being merged with the Confraternity or with the Society of the Blessed Sacrament. After 1867, when these two were united, the Confraternity was the only such society in the Church of England. It is, of course, the only one with which the American Confraternity, founded in 1867, has bean associated.

Among Carter's many interests and activities was the revival of the Religious Life. Early in his ministry he had founded the Community of St. John Baptist, for women, at Clewer. Now, not long after the beginning of the Confraternity, a community for men was being planned, the first in England since the Reformation. In letters written at this time by Father Benson and his friends, and in early records of the Society of St. John the evangelist, there is frequent mention of Carter. Some of the meetings concerning the new community were held at Clewer. Very soon there appeared in this group the young American who had come to England to try his vocation in the Religious Life. In 1865 he wrote to a friend at home: "At present I am staying a few days at All Saints', London. My intention is to attend the retreat under Mr. Carter about the 6th of July. He is the most noted Director in England (with E.B.P. excepted), the best perhaps. He is at least one of the very best. I met him the other day." This letter from Father Grafton to Father Prescott, with its references to Carter and Pusey, has a place not only in the history of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, but in that of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament. It is evidence of the meeting of Grafton and Carter in London three years after the beginning of the Confraternity. From that meeting came Grafton's admission as an Associate, and his admission of the first Associates in America in 1867. Thirty years later, when he was Bishop of Fond du Lac and Superior-General of the Confraternity in America, Grafton said at one of its annual meetings, "As I stand here before you to-day, my mind goes back to the time when I was admitted to the Confraternity in England by that saintly man, Canon Carter-I wish to express here how much I personally owe to my contact with him--for whom I with the whole Anglican Church have a growing and deepening veneration as the years speed on. The Church owes so much to his devotional life--to the many books he has compiled and edited--the head of this Confraternity." From that head and in that way the Confraternity came to America. The year after his profession in the Society of St. John the Evangelist, and soon after his admission to the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament Grafton returned to this country. In 1867 he admitted the Associates at St. Paul's Chapel in New York, and in 1868 a Ward of the Confraternity was organized in his parish, the Church of the Advent in Boston.

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