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.


Bishop Weller's successor as Superior-General was the Rt. Rev. Benjamin F. P. Ivins. His predecessor, Bishop Grafton, and he had been Bishops together, Diocesan and Coadjutor of Fond du Lac. His successor came not from the same diocese, but from the neighboring diocese, Milwaukee. The two Bishops had been associated, however, in work in the same state and in the same province of the Church, especially at Nashotah House, the Church's seminary in Wisconsin, where Bishop Ivins had been Dean. Since 1926 he had been among the Bishops-Associate of the Confraternity, present at many of its annual meetings, and presiding at some of them in Bishop Weller's absence. It is not surprising, therefore, that at its Conference in 1936 the Confraternity elected him Superior-General.

It has been the great good fortune of the Confraternity in this country to have Bishops willing to serve it in this way, and by doing so to help it to serve our Lord and his Church. These good Bishops, as Associates and Superiors, have proved themselves true servants of the servants of God. It is a blessing which has not been granted to the Confraternity in England. There the organization has enjoyed scant favor from the episcopate. The names of Bishops are notable for their absence from lists not only of Superiors but of Associates. Bishops have not become members, nor have members become Bishops. The records in England show only one, the late Bishop of Guildford, who was active in the Confraternity as a diocesan. Among English suffragans and missionary Bishops there have been a considerable number, and two of these, in Australia and South Africa, have recently become Provincial Superiors. In this country not only its four Superiors-General, but some thirty other faithful Bishops have given their names, and also their labors and prayers, to the Confraternity.

The first Conference after Bishop Ivins' election as Superior was in Los Angeles. This move across the continent was a new departure, characteristic of the energy and imagination of the new administration. There was novelty in the program as in the place. The Council met on June 2 at St. Matthias' Church, after an ordination to the priesthood by Bishop Stevens of Los Angeles. That evening there was a service at St. Matthias', of Solemn Vespers, Procession and Benediction, with sermon by Father Gushee, of Christ Church, Ontario. On June 3, the Octave of Corpus Christi, the Conference met after Solemn High Mass at St. John's Church. In the evening Bishop Stevens, Bishop Ivins, and Father Mitcham were speakers at a banquet.

For its next Corpus Christi the Confraternity returned to the East, keeping the festival in New England, a far removal from Southern California. Two former Conferences had been held in Boston, both at the Church of the Advent. On this third visit the Cowley Fathers were hosts in their Church of St. John the Evangelist. In revisiting Chicago the Confraternity was made welcome in parishes where it had not met before, the Church of the Redeemer and St. Timothy's. Not only new parishes but new cities appear on the list during these years. In 1943 the Conference was at St. James', Cleveland, and in 1946 at the Church of the Incarnation, Detroit. Meanwhile provincial festivals increased in number and regularity. In 1940, for the first time, there were eight of these, one in each of the eight provinces of the Church. This good record continued for several years, marking the attainment, under Bishop Ivins, of a goal which Bishop Weller had in view in his labors to establish a provincial system in the Confraternity. Now at last throughout the Church due honor was being paid each year to the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ on the festival of the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

In all this the Superior-General, like his predecessor, had able assistants. When Bishop Ivins came into office Father Stoskopf was Vice-Superior; and Father Hooper, Treasurer-General, Secretary-General. Father Stoskopf had been elected eleven years before, Father Mitcham, five; and Father Hooper, one. They had all seen service, and continued faithful through Bishop Ivins' term of office. Their experience and knowledge, as well as their loyalty and devotion, must have meant much to the Superior, and theirs, like his, was a great contribution to its history.

The offices in the Confraternity have never been sinecures, and certainly not that of Secretary-General. On him is laid not only the usual secretarial burden of records and correspondence, but in this devotional society the task of organizing its festivals and conferences and of publishing and distributing its Intercession Papers. All this brings him into frequent and intimate contact with the Associates of the Confraternity, bishops, priests, and laity. There is pastoral care involved in being Secretary-General and of this the annals of Father Mitcham's twenty years of service are a personal record, not merely official but very human. A new edition of the Manual and a new supply of Medals were among his first chores, and proposed changes in the Intercession Papers involved much correspondence. He devised a new method of dealing with some of the difficulties of his; office. Appended to each intercession Paper was what he called a "little Letter" to the Associates. Little as they are, and no longer contemporary, these letters are still good reading. They are concerned, of coarse., with details of his work as Secretary, but also with the life and work of the Confraternity. Along with questions of rules and records and finances are instructions on intercessory prayer and Eucharistic worship, all brief and clear, direct and personal. In one letter he writes: "A good priest remarked to us lately that there is so much Repetition' in the Intercession Papers. Of course there is! Is there not the same in the Prayer Book or the Rosary? To 'thunder at Heaven' must be done with 'repetition which is not in vain.' If our constantly repeated prayers have brought about Reservation (for instance) at a hundred or more altars, wine will say, 'Stop praying for the same thing?' "Another fetter is proof of the trials of a secretary, and of the spirit with which Father Mitcham met them: "In the regular course of our work your Secretary receives a more or less voluminous correspondence month by month embracing all kinds of subjects. While we try to keep an open mind and maintain a sympathetic attitude to all those 'who are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness or any other adversity' it is evident that your secretary-general cannot be a father confessor on the one hand or an arbiter of parochial difficulties on the other." Among the observations on intercessory prayers are these: "Almost every month we are obliged to decline really urgent requests. This month we rejected three: one evidently sincere, one merely silly, one vindictive." "Many petitions touching war conditions have to be rejected because they are controversial or political." "Most gratifying is the patriotic enthusiasm with which petitions have come to us (we have been swamped with them) touching the government and the financial crisis. We ask our Associates to allow the prayer I for the President and Congress to suffice: our limited space precludes further special reference to the many ramifications of the emergency."

The shadow of war hangs over these letters. The Second World War and America's part in it affected the history of the Confraternity during the time in which they were written. It, like the government, suffered a financial crisis. Year after year Father Hooper, in his report as Treasurer-General, noted a deficit in current expenses. Dues and offerings fell oh. As desperate remedies dues were increased from fifty to seventy-five cents, and a further increase to a dollar a year was proposed. This had once been the amount, but in 1904 it had been reduced to fifty cents. In spite of the crisis it was decided that a dollar was too much to ask of Associates. The Confraternity has never been a plutocratic society. Now, during the war, not only its own work but its help to others was curtailed by sheer poverty. Priests asking for vestments had to be content with old ones made over, since there was no money to buy new vestments, or vessels. If it had not been for the small endowment, and the smaller income it brought, the Confraternity might have gone bankrupt. The tide turned, however, with the approach of peace. In 1943 there was no deficit, for the first time in nine years. Grants were made once more to priests in need. Significant, in the light of the ending of the war, is the record of sending a chalice to a Japanese concentration camp, and vessels to the Anglican cathedral in Jerusalem. The war had brought the American Church into touch with the Anglican communion throughout the world, and the American branch of the Confraternity was mindful of its Associates elsewhere. The Conference of 1940 sent assurance of its sympathy and prayers to the Conference in England "in this time of distress," and greetings were sent again in succeeding years.

One casualty of the war, unique in the history of the Confraternity, was the omission of the Conference in 1945. Instead of the usual minutes we find only this Memo, signed by W. M. Mitcham, Sec.-Gen.: "The 77th Annual Meeting which was to have been held at the Church of the Incarnation, Detroit, on the Octave of Corpus Christi, 1945, was not held by reason of war-time travel restrictions."

Three years earlier, however, even in war-time, the Confraternity had persevered in plans to observe the seventy-fifth anniversary of its founding in this country. This Jubilee was celebrated on Armistice Day, November 11, 1942, in New York. The service, at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin was a Solemn Pontifical Mass, followed by Procession and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The celebrant was Bishop Ivins, and the preacher was the Rev. Leicester C. Lewis, of St. Luke's Chapel, Trinity, New York, the parish in which the Confraternity in this country had begun, seventy-five years before. After the service there was a luncheon at a hotel near the church. The toastmaster was Bishop Ivins, and the principal speakers were Father Mitcham and Father Crawford, of St. Barnabas' Church, Omaha. Father Mitcham, in his record of this meeting, says that Father Crawford's words, on past accomplishments of the Confraternity and future need for it as witness in war and peace, were a "never-to-be-forgotten" speech. Associates who were present will agree with him, and will also remember his own paper, and the history of the Confraternity, written and delivered in his own lively style. Not only the speeches and the sermon, but the service, and the devotion of the great congregation, and the enthusiasm of the people throughout the day, made this Jubilee a memorable occasion. It is to be hoped that the approaching Centenary in 1967 may be like it in its witness to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of Blessed Body and Blood.

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