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.


THESE WORDS, as they stand in the records, are Dr. Ewer's farewell to the Confraternity, In 1883 he died. He had been Superior-General for fourteen years, and his death is the end of an era in the Confraternity in America. His immediate successor was the Rev, H. G. Batterson. Dr. Batterson had been active in the Confraternity from the beginning, and had borne valiant witness to its principles, especially at St. Clement's, Philadelphia. He served as Superior-General, however, for only one year. In 1885 he was succeeded by Father Brown, of St. Mary's, New York, who had been Secretary-General since the first election of officers in 1858. Father Brown continued faithful in the Confraternity till his death, but he was Superior General for only two years. In 1887 he was succeeded by the Rev. E. A. Larrabee, of the Church of the Ascension, Chicago. This shift from East to West marks a change, not only in the history of the Confraternity but in that of the Catholic revival in the American Church. It has been pointed out that, although the story begins in the East, there is another chapter in the West, not much later, beginning with the consecration of Bishop Kemper in 1835 and the foundation of Nashotah House in 1841. By 1867 the Catholic movement was strong in the Mid-West. In the first decade of the Confraternity's history in this country there is no more heroic figure than De Koven, from Wisconsin, and no more eloquent spokesman for the Objects for which it was founded. There is no evidence that De Koven was ever affiliated with the Confraternity, but the Society has always recognized its debt to him, and in recent years has joined with the Community of St. Mary in the gift of a tabernacle in his memory in the chapel of the De Koven Foundation at Racine, Wisconsin.

As Associates were admitted and Wards formed in the West, opposition to the Confraternity arose there, as in the East. An instance of this is to be found in the diary of Sarah Maria Kirke, who was known as Sister Sarah, and worked in Nebraska ender Bishop Clarkson. She writes: "The Bishop proposed to admit me to the office of Deaconess, to begin the formation of such an order (educational and hospital work). I underwent an examination in his presence which was satisfactory. A day was then appointed when I was to present myself at the Pro-Cathedral--as it really was--to be publicly admitted by him. Before the date, however, he learned I was a member of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, a society for prayer recognizing the real presence in the Holy Sacrament. He immediately informed me I must relinquish my membership in it, for he could not accept any of its members for work in his diocese, I declined to accede to his request. He then desired me to join the staff of Brownell Hall, the diocesan school for young ladies, temporarily, in the absence of one of the staff through illness. I assented. While there the Bishop called and had a lengthy interview, renewing his wish for me to take charge of the hospital that he might re-open it, though requiring under compliance with his wish that I withdraw from membership in the C.B.S (as it was known). The good Bishop urged that, by withdrawing from the obnoxious Confraternity, it would not involve the renunciation of the principle underlying that society. I cou1d not, however, see this from the Bishop's standpoint," Sister Sarah's manuscript was published long after it was written, under the title of The Life of One of God's Saints. However that may be, she was certainly a stalwart champion of the obnoxious Confraternity and more than a match for the good Bishop.

He and others did not approve, but priests from Nebraska, Wisconsin, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio became Associates of the Confraternity, and also members of its Council. Papers by Dr. Elmendorf, of Racine College, were read at some of the Conferences. These continued to meet, however, in the East, at St. Mary's, New York, until 1886. In October of that year Father Brown, as Superior-General, called a special meeting of the Council, not in New York but in Chicago. Priests were present from both East and West. Questions concerning Wards, Medals, Manuals, and Intercession Papers were discussed, but more important was the decision to hold the next Annual Conference in Chicago. This was made subject to written approval by the Council-evidence of possible disapproval by others in the Confraternity. The meeting was held in Chicago, the Council on the eve of Corpus Christi at St. Clement's, the Conference on the feast at the Ascension. Father Larrabee was elected Superior-General, and the Rev. J. Stewart-Smith, of Elgin, Illinois, Secretary-General. Another indication of the increasing strength of the Confraternity in the West was the recognition of two new Wards in Illinois, at Springfield and Warsaw.

For three years Father Larrabee continued as Superior-general, and the Council and Conference met at the Ascension in Chicago. In 1888 the Confraternity was reported to be "in a condition of great prosperity," and the Intercession Paper to be giving "general satisfaction," A resolution was passed, however, against publications except those connected with its immediate objects, with a reminder that the Confraternity was designed for devotional objects exclusively. Evidently the move from East to West had not taken the Confraternity out of the Church militant, or ended all difficulties among its members. There was need to remind them again and again of the Objects to which they were bound to bear witness if they were to do its work. Authorizing the Secretary to advertise in Church papers, this same Conference stated that "the importance of urging the claims of the CBS upon the more devout and Catholic minded people is affectionately urged, on account of the CBS itself, and as a help to a more devotional life." Other helps were suggested in a paper on the Sacrament of Unction. In the discussion following the paper Father Taylor, of St. Paul's, Springfield, Illinois, told of the consecration of oil for the sick by Bishop Seymour, and stated that it would be supplied to any priest asking for it. Since then this has been one of the ways in which the Confraternity has served the Church. Soon when the Superior-General was a Bishop, he consecrated the oil, and with it all the Holy Oils, on Maundy Thursday each year.

In 1899 came a call, clear and stern, from the Confraternity in England, and its Superior and Founder, Canon Carter: "That, without disturbing the 'status quo' of the CBS, the following resolution should be forwarded to all Priest Associates: That the Superior-General be requested by the Council to issue a Circular letter to all the Priests of the CBS drawing their attention to the fact that the third Object of the Confraternity has not been sufficiently emphasized, and reminding them that Fasting Communion is a universal custom of the Catholic Church." This resolution was approved for the American Branch, which thus took its stand with the English Confraternity for the discipline as well as the doctrine and devotion of the Church.

Meanwhile worldly affairs continued to demand attention, and in one case action, for the good of the organization. It was found necessary to incorporate the Confraternity. This was done, under the laws of the state of Illinois, on December 7, 1888, and at the next Conference, in Chicago in 1889, the American Branch of the Confraternity elected as trustees of this corporation its three officers, the Superior-General, the Secretary-General, and the Treasurer-General. Later a fourth officer, the Vice-Superior, was added, to meet a legal requirement that one trustee must live in Illinois.

The next year the Council and the Conference met again at the Ascension in Chicago. In the election of officers Father Larrabee nominated as Superior-General the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton, who on April 25, 1889, had been consecrated Bishop of Fond du Lac. It was more than twenty years since he had admitted the first Associates to the Confraternity in this country, and they had been busy years for him. His interest in the Religious Life had been manifest not only in his membership in the Society of St. John the Evangelist, but in his foundation of the Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity. For sixteen years he was rector of the Church of the Advent in Boston. In 1888 he resigned, and with the Sisters went to Providence; then in 1889 to Fond du Lac. Wherever he might be, he continued faithful to the Confraternity. He organized one of its first wards in this country at the Advent, and two more later, Wards of the Holy Nativity, in Boston and Providence. The records of the Confraternity note his presence during all this time at meetings in the East and in the West.

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