From The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton
edited by B. Talbot Rogers, New York: Longmans, Green, 1914, pp. 154-159
A Journey Godward
of a Servant of Jesus Christ
transcribed by David Donnell
THE DIOCESE OF FOND DU LAC
THE committee in charge of the Bishop's anniversary appointed Dr. Dafter to write an account of the state of the diocese at the time the Bishop took charge of it. Dr. Dafter had been connected with it from its foundation, in which he had taken a prominent part. He had been one of the leading clergy, president of the Standing Committee, and delegate for many years to General Convention. His paper is as follows:
THE DIOCESE OF FOND DU LAC
A PAPER BY THE REV. WILLIAM DAFTER, D.D.
In any statement of the condition of the diocese of Fond du Lac during the period marked by the death of our first Bishop and the consecration of our present honored and beloved diocesan, one word suffices for an epitome. Poverty was everywhere.
The diocese had been born thirteen years before in a time of financial distress; prematurely born, some thought, and it subsequently had been subjected to the discipline of feebleness and poverty. But at no time were conditions, from the financial viewpoint so distressing as just previous to the consecration of Bishop Grafton.
The reason for this is not hard to find. Even as Maine is called the Pine Tree State, so might the diocese of Fond du Lac, in the days of Bishop Brown, have been called the Pine Tree Diocese. For the fortunes of the business community are linked inseparably with those of the religious community. It was then but natural and to be expected that, with the passing of the pine tree, the knotless saw-log, the huge piles of lumber that marked the sites of busy mills on every stream of any size, there would come a change. The change did come. It came suddenlyalmost as between suns. And its effect was no less great upon the Church than upon the business life of this part of Wisconsin.
For more than a score of years before the time to which I refer, the great lumber interests had been building small townstowns which later were to become branches of the diocesan tree. Uppermost in the minds of the pioneer timber "kings" was the problem of converting pine trees into cash in the quickest possible manner. They were for the most part men from other States, from large cities. As a rule, they cared little for the towns they were building. When the timber was gone, and there was nothing left with which to satisfy their desires, they departed, taking their millions with them. The legacy which these men left behind for the dwellers in the towns they had created was poverty. In place of the virgin forest they left cut-over or burned lands, denuded of their wealth; lands in many cases not considered of enough value to warrant paying taxes on them. And in what had been the lumbering towns there remained only the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, a population which scarcely knew which way to turn in order to provide bread for the hungry.
A few years before, men had been scarce in this section of the State. There were no contract labor laws in those days, and the result was that foreigners were imported to work in the woods and in the mills. Virtually none of these was qualified to cope with the conditions presented when the timber was exhausted. In most cases a single means of gaining a livelihood was offered. It was to convert the cut-over, burned, denuded pine lands into farms. But the men, the imported foreigners, left behind by the lumber "kings," were anything but farmers. To wrest wealth from the soil by growing crops required an evolution which only time could accomplish. And in the interim everywhere was poverty. These were the conditions that confronted him when our present diocesan came to us in 1889.
The remembrance of the struggles and self-denial of our first Bishop, who with so much heroic faith and labor laid the foundations of this diocese, come freshly home to us at this time to enkindle our interest. The general condition of the diocese was so perplexing and discouraging that Bishop Brown once said he was the first Bishop of Fond du Lac, and he feared he would be the last.
I mention this only to show how discouraging the outlook seemed. It was not said by the Bishop by way of discouragement, for Bishop Brown's faith was pre-eminent and by it he overcame obstacles that would have appalled a less spiritual man. He was so full of the love of God and fellowship of the Holy Ghost that his hopefulness would see light where others saw only gloomalways believing that God would bring light out of the darkness.
In 1888 there were connected with the diocese thirty-three clergymen, of whom about eighteen were engaged actively in serving. The salaries of the clergy averaged $368 per annum, aside from the small stipends paid by the Board of Missions. The value of Church property in the parishes and missions was $208,901, and on this there was an indebtedness of $29,571. The endowment fund for the support of the Episcopate amounted to $8189.
In addition there was St. Monica's School, in charge of a small sisterhood of the name, which did noble work under great trials and with heroic faith and self-sacrifice. Upon this institution there was an incumbrance of thirteen thousand dollars. The cathedral had been partly restored and rebuilt after the fire of 1884, and upon it there was an indebtedness of fifteen thousand dollars.
There were two missions in the diocese that had attracted more than local notice, and, to the mind of Bishop Brown, gave promise of extraordinary and far-reaching blessing: one, to the German people under the leadership of Mr. Karl Oppen, formerly a Lutheran minister; the other, to the French and Belgians in the peninsula just north of Green Bay, known as the Old Catholic Mission, under the leadership of the Rev. J. Rene Vilatte.
Bishop Brown was singularly and specially interested in these two movements because they seemed to him to promise a practical solution of the difficult problem of how to deal with the question of Catholic reform among the foreign population drifting from the old moorings in the unrest of our American life.
Unfortunately the leaders in both these movements, starting out as mendicants, soon wandered from the straight path. Perhaps the less said about them the better. Mr. Oppen's work came to naught, and he has been called to his account. Concerning Mr. Vilatte, I am at a loss for words to express myself.
The financial condition of the diocese generally at this time was so distressing, so apparent on every hand, that it were needless almost to refer to specific instances of seeming misfortune. In all the diocese there were only nine parishes termed self-supporting, together with forty-odd mission stations, which, to say the least, were not self-supporting. But to add to this burden there had been a series of disasters, as they appeared, which cannot be passed without mention.
In an address to the Council in 1888, Bishop Brown spoke of the burning of the cathedral and of Grace Church, Ahnapee, and of the destruction of St. Paul's Church, Oshkosh, by a tornado; also of the loss of twelve years' savings of the Oneida Indians for a new church through the failure of a bank in Green Bay. "All this," he said, "makes up apparently a budget of woe, but not so in reality. It only shows that the onward path of the Church is hard. It is a great trial of our piety and energy. But that good will come out of the seeming catastrophes I have never doubted. I trust that the rolling away of the dark clouds may reveal some blessing."
And the blessings came in due time. God, in His great mercy, relieved him of his heavy burden and gave him rest before the worst of the great storm had burst upon him, saving him from a broken heart, which surely must have been his had he lived a few months longer.
When Bishop Brown, on his dying bed, knew that the end of his labors and trials had come, and his dearest friends gently urged that he would be so greatly missed, he replied sweetly, but forcibly: "No sentiment. All will be well, whatever may happen."
I have quoted here his dying words. The clouds were rolling away and the heavens were open. He saw by faith that the toil and hardships he had suffered were not in vain; that God's blessing would be upon the diocese, and that where His blessing is, man's feeble work would be consecrated to endless good. He saw by faith that the blessing would surely come. And it did comein the peace of God vouchsafed to him, and in the successor God raised up in answer to his prayers and ours.
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