Project Canterbury

Early Ritualism in America
Reminiscences of Edgar P. Wadhams,
First Bishop of Ogdensburg

By the Rev. C.A. Walworth

New York: Christian Press Association, 1893.

Chapter I.
Wadhams at the Episcopalian Seminary.--His Associates There.--Some Off-hand Recollections

MY first acquaintance with Bishop Wadhams began with the beginning of autumn in 1842. At that time I entered the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church in New York City, situated on Twentieth Street at the corner of Ninth Avenue. Edgar P. Wadhams, if I remember right, began at that time his third and last year at that seminary. I felt much interested in him, partly as being a kinsman in no very remote degree, but still more by a certain frankness, heartiness, and moral nobility of character, which made him very attractive to all who knew him. Many of those who were in the seminary at that time have since made their mark in life, but need not be especially mentioned here. The most remarkable inmate of the institution at that time, and a most familiar friend of Wadhams, was Arthur Carey, a graduate of 1842, but still retaining his room at the seminary as being too young to receive orders. The moral beauty of Carey's character was of the highest type, and his intellectual superiority was also something wonderful. His influence upon Wadhams was very great, as indeed it was upon many more of us, while Carey himself was a devoted disciple of John Henry Newman, then a resident at Oxford, and afterwards a priest and cardinal of the Catholic Church. When, about a year after his graduation, Carey's name was put on the list of candidates for admission to the ministry, a protest against his ordination was made to Bishop Onderdonk by Dr. Anthon, of St. Mark's Church, and by Dr. Smith, of St. Peter's Church in Twentieth Street. He was charged with "Romanizing" tendencies. A committee of eight clergymen was appointed by the bishop to try him. On the committee were Drs. Smith and Anthon, his accusers, and Dr. Seabury, also a pastor in the city. Dr. Seabury published all the proceedings of the trial in the New York Churchman, of which he was then editor. Carey was closely questioned, but, young as he was, the acuteness of his mind and the accuracy of his learning were so far in advance of his accusers that they were subjected to constant confusion, and unable to push their inquiries as far as they would for fear of betraying their ignorance. This gave much amusement to Dr. Seabury, who was friendly to Carey, and afterwards to many readers of the Churchman. Bishop Onderdonk and the majority of the examining committee acquitted Carey of unsound-ness in his doctrine, and soon after he presented himself to receive ordination. The ceremony took place at St. Stephen's Church, New York. This ceremony was interrupted in a manner so solemn and so startling that no one there present can ever forget it. The bishop, before the laying on of hands, solemnly addressed the congregation and demanded: "If there be any one here present who has aught to say why any of these candidates should not receive," etc.--"let him come forth in the name of God." To the astonishment of all, Dr. Smith, of St. Peter's, arose in the middle of the church and protested against the ordination of Arthur Carey. The protest was couched in the most solemn language, beginning, if I remember right: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen," etc.

When Dr. Smith sat down, the Rev. Dr. Anthon arose and made a like protest with the same solemn formality. The charges of both were the same, namely, that Arthur Carey was unfaithful to the doctrine of his own church and imbued with the errors of Rome. The sensation that followed was something fearful, though the silence was profound. My father, who sat beside me, trembled from head to foot, and turned to me with a look of awe and wonder which I can never forget. "The bishop will ordain him all the same," said I. When Carey's accusers had finished their protest, Bishop Onderdonk arose from his seat and addressed the congregation. His attitude was majestic. He looked indignant and determined. He informed the congregation that the charges against Arthur Carey were not then brought forward for the first time; that he had already given him a trial upon the same complaints; that the same accusers had been appointed among his judges then; and that Carey had been acquitted at that trial as perfectly sound in the faith. The bishop praised him also as eminently fitted for orders both by his great talents and by the moral beauty of his character. "Therefore," he said, "I shall now proceed to ordain Mr. Carey with the other candidates, in spite of the scandalous interruption of these reverend protesters." All present then breathed again with a deep feeling of relief, and the ceremonies went on to the end.

As memory serves me, among those ordained to a deaconship at that time was Edgar P. Wadhams. He loved Carey and sympathized with him fully. Carey died at the close of the following winter, on his way to Cuba, and was buried in the ocean. Wadhams and I were in company when the intelligence of his death came, and we mourned for him as men mourn for a brother.

Besides myself, several of Wadhams' companions at this Episcopal Seminary have since become Catholics. The first was Edward Putnam, who left the seminary for that purpose in 1844. He became a priest and officiated for a while at St. Mary's Church, Albany, in 1848 and 1849, a short time before Father Wadhams' ministrations in the same parish.

An intimate friend and companion at the seminary both of Wadhams and Carey was James A. McMaster, a very peculiar and notable character, both when at that institution and during many long years afterwards as editor of a very influential and popular Catholic periodical, the Freeman's Journal. McMaster should, in the natural course of things, have been ordained at the same time with Carey and Wadhams. He was, however, too troublesome a responsibility for Bishop Onderdonk to carry. Not only were his tendencies toward Rome very decided, but he loved to make that fact stand out. He was always delighted when his strong enunciations of belief or opinion spread alarm in the Protestant camp. It became necessary to sacrifice McMaster in order to carry Carey and others through.

Whicher, another companion of Wadhams at the seminary, was ordained a year later, and became pastor of an Episcopal church at Clayville, Oneida County, N. Y. About ten years later he became a Catholic. The late Monsignor Preston, vicar-general and chancellor of the Archdiocese of New York, a distinguished convert of this period, entered the seminary after Wadhams' departure, but in time to make acquaintance there with some students of the same circle and stamp. He moved into my room when I left it, saying, with what he intended for a great compliment, "I am happy to enter into quarters so decidedly Catholic." The full pith of this remark can scarcely be understood by those whose experience has never made them familiar with the Oxford movement, and who cannot remember, as Bishop Wadhams could, how rife this General Seminary was at that time with the air of Puseyism, which had a marked phraseology of its own, generally earnest enough, but having also its humorous side.

Father William Everett, for so many years pastor of the Church of the Nativity in New York City, was a classmate and friend of Wadhams at the seminary, and one of the leading spirits there among that class of students who aimed at being catholic without any intention at the time of becoming Catholics. He entered the church in 1850 or 1851.

On receiving deacon's-orders in the Episcopal Church, Wadhams was assigned to duty in Essex County, N. Y., the whole county, if we remember right, being included in his jurisdiction, his principal station being at Ticonderoga, with occasional services at Wadhams Mills and Port Henry. I maintained a correspondence with him during the remainder of my own stay at the seminary, and in the autumn of 1844, or early in 1845, I joined him in Essex County. My eyesight had so far failed me that for the time being I could not prosecute my studies. I longed for his society, and at the same time we had initiated a plan, very sincere but romantic enough to be sure, for introducing something like the monastic life into the North Woods. Another student of the seminary was also in the scheme, who proposed to join us later in the year when he should have graduated. I carried with me a full copy of the Breviary, in four volumes; for we anticipated a time to come when we should grow into a full choir of monks and chant the office. We spent much of our time that winter at Ticonderoga village. Later, however, we established ourselves more permanently at Wadhams Mills, lodging with his mother, who lived alone in the old house. We occupied two bedrooms and another large room, which we used as a carpenter-shop, for we had learned that monks must labor with their hands when not occupied with prayer or study. We boarded ourselves, that is, we did our own cooking. I officiated as cook, occasionally helped by my friend. We did pretty well at first, aided by the instructions and supervision of the old lady, although she occasionally laughed at us, as when our fingers stuck in the dough, or when she found the bread all burned to a crisp for want of watching.

Wadhams' favorite idea was to educate boys of the neighborhood, training them specially to a religious life, which should serve finally to stock our convent with good monks. A handful of boys who gathered with other children on Sundays in the school-house for catechism seemed to afford a nucleus which might afterwards develop into a novitiate.

We actually laid the foundations and built up the sides of a convent building. It was nothing, indeed, but a log-house and never received a roof, for the winter was intensely cold and the ensuing spring opened with events which sent me into the Catholic Church and to Europe, leaving nothing of the convent but roofless logs and a community of one. But I mistake; Wadhams had a Canadian pony which, in honor of pious services to be thereafter rendered, we named Béni, and a cow which for similar reasons we named Bonté.

Our log-house cloister was built on a lovely spot under the shelter of a hill which bounded a farm inherited by Wadhams from his father. The farm contained a fine stretch of woodland on the south, while the greater part from east to west was open and cultivated field, the half of which, high and terraced, looked down upon a lower meadow-land which extended on a perfect level to a fine stream bordering the farm on the east. Beyond the brook and along its edge on the road from Wadhams Mills to Lewis,

There was much debate before we fixed on the site of our convent. A fine barn stood already built on the natural terrace near the south side, while under the terrace at the north end was a magnificent spring of the purest water. Where should the convent be, near the barn or near the spring? Every present convenience lay on the side of the barn, and the horse and cow were actual possessions. But our hopes looked brightly into the future. What would a great community of hooded cenobites do without a holy well near by? So we laid the foundations of the future pile on the edge of the terrace just above the spring. We did not consult either Béni or Bonté. In the mean while Wadhams and myself endeavored to practise, in such ways as actual circumstances would permit, a religious life, the truest type of which we even then believed to be found in the Catholic Church, though our knowledge of it was very imperfect. We commenced Lent with a determination to fast every day on one meal alone and that not before three o'clock, with no meat, not even on Sundays. As we worked hard in our carpenter-shop besides other physical exercises, this privation soon began to tell upon us. I took the cooking upon myself, he assisting in washing the dishes. My principal talent lay in cooking mush. This agreed with me and I throve on it very well, but Wadhams, who was large, strong, and full-blooded, and to whom fasting was always something very severe, began after a time to look pale and wild. "Look here," said he one day--"look here, Wai-worth! This mush may agree with a fellow like you, who have no body to speak of; but I can't stand it. I don't want to eat meat, but you must give me something else besides mush." "All right," said I, "you shall have something better to-morrow." So I killed a fat chicken and got Mother Wadhams to show me how to prepare and cook it. When my friend came in for dinner I pointed it out to him triumphantly. "But," said he, "I can't eat meat in Lent!" "Well," said I, "I don't want you to. That is chicken." I really believed that chicken was allowed among Catholics, and succeeded in convincing him. We found Lent much easier after that.

It was not easy for Wadhams to make the necessary rounds through Essex County in the winter-time. When starting from Wadhams Mills he could always command a horse and sleigh, but when setting out from other points he was often obliged to trudge through the deep snow for many miles on foot, to the great admiration even of the hardy inhabitants of the North Woods, who wondered at his sturdy strength as well as at his zeal. His fondness for children was remarkable. He would often rein in his horse or stop in his walks to question some strange child on the road. "Where do you live? What is your name?" he would ask; and always "Have you been baptized?" and "Do you say your prayers?" And if answered favorably, he added, "Good for you; that's the kind of boy to meet!" He took me with him to witness a baptism. It was somewhere in the neighborhood of Port Henry. There was a whole family to be baptized, as I now remember, nine in number, all on their knees ranged in a row along the kitchen floor, which was the biggest room in the house. The zealous deacon did not spare the water. I held the basin, which was nearly empty when he got through, while the children and the floor were wet enough. He had no faith in sprinkling. It may seem that the surroundings of this ceremony were not very solemn, but I never saw people more deeply impressed by a religious rite than these poor, simple cottagers.

The frank, open, guileless simplicity and energy of Edgar Wadhams' character, and a certain moral heroism which was always his, made his influence magnetic whenever any call to duty roused him into action. He then took command, and there were very few who felt like resisting. He had received the impression that a certain gentleman, a familiar friend and parishioner at one of his stations, frequented too often the village inn. There may have been nothing very serious in the matter, but he was a man of high character and influence, and a good church member. Mr. Wadhams felt it his duty to interfere. He announced his determination to me, and asked me to help him in drawing up a pledge to keep away from that inn, which he intended to make him sign. The gentleman was himself a man of great energy and pride of character, a captain of one of the lake boats, and more accustomed to command than to obey. "All right," I said, "go ahead. He won't sign it, but it may do him some good to see it." "He will sign it," was the reply. "I should like to know how he will get out of it." The captain was thunderstruck. "Who told you to bring this to me?" said he.

"Did-----?" (naming a common friend). "No matter about that," was the resolute rejoinder. "There it is, and you must sign it." He did sign it. His own strong nature yielded in the presence of a pure and noble spirit the magnetism of which he himself, a true man, could not help but recognize.

The idea of marrying never seems to have occupied Wadhams' mind. From the time of his entering upon the study of divinity the marriage state for him was out of all question. His views in regard to all clerical celibacy are plainly and strongly stated in a correspondence between himself and an old school-fellow, a candidate for orders also, like himself. This correspondence took place in 1843, while Wadhams, then an Episcopalian, had just begun his career of deacon in Essex County. His friend, already uxorious in intention and very garrulous on the subject of girls, took occasion to consult his old classmate. The reply came in a letter from Port Henry, dated October 18th, 1843. A few extracts will suffice to show Wadhams' deep aversion to the idea of a married clergy. It amounts to an abhorrence:

"My view of a priest is, that he is a man so long as he remains unmarried, and as soon as he is married he is an old granny. ... I am not a fit person to ask advice upon this subject. My prejudices are wholly and forever against a married clergy. They are generally a fat, lazy, self-indulgent, good-for-nothing, time-serving race. . . . To your second argument, that there is not enough to keep a celibate employed, I know not what to reply."

Of course no reply could be made by a young minister to such an argument as this, without strange thoughts of the value of a church and clergy where so little occasion for clerical work could exist.

The question of clerical celibacy was one much mooted amongst Episcopalians at this time, and particularly by the students at the General Seminary. One party strongly decried the marriage of clergymen as un-Catholic, and professed to see the seminary surrounded by old maids, spreading their snares for unfledged seminarians. On the other hand, the evangelical party with equal vehemence denounced celibacy as popish and a revival of that heretical doctrine, "forbidding to marry," against which St. Paul cautioned the early Christians. A practical joke was played at the seminary upon one of the students, an earnest opponent of celibacy, by pinning against his door a pair of baby stockings, underneath which was written, "A plea against popery!" Such discussions, of course, had contributed to augment Wadhams' aversion to marriage.

During my visit to him in Essex County, and in the spring of that year, we found time to spend a few days in Montreal. To us, whose minds were so strongly inclined to the old church and the old faith, the chief attraction was the desire to see a Catholic city, and the Catholic life and Catholic institutions which abounded there. When we came to the coast of the St. Lawrence, opposite Montreal, the river was breaking up and not yet free from floating ice. There was no way to cross except in batteaux, and though the boatmen assured us the passage was sufficiently safe, it looked highly dangerous; in fact the flood was so high that an American gentleman and lady who, like us, were on their way to Montreal, were afraid to cross, and much time was lost while the boatmen were urging them to get into the batteau. A French gentleman belonging to Montreal was there also, and, wearied by the delay, succeeded in rousing their courage by appealing to their religious pride. "Come, come, my friends!" said he, "don't be alarmed. You are, I am sure, good Protestants, and ought not to be afraid to die. If you do, you'll go straight to heaven without any purgatory. I am nothing but a poor papist and full of sin; and yet you see I am not afraid. Entres, monsieur; entrez, madame!"

We were anxious to hear the boatmen sing. In those days all the world was familiar with the "Canadian Boatman's Song," but not everyone had heard Canadians sing it. The men were too much occupied with their labor to be in a humor to sing. We would not have pressed the point; but our French companion, who seemed to be a man of authority and well known to them, insisted upon it, and stood up to enforce his orders. "Yes, messieurs, they shall sing for you. Chantes! mes frtres, chantez! Quoi! Chantez, dis-je!" They did sing, and we had romance enough to enjoy it, although not a little alarmed by the wild riding of the boat and the blocks of ice that surrounded us. "Great Christopher!" said Wadhams, "this is glorious."

In Montreal we cared little to see anything except its churches, its convents, and its religious services. At the Gray Nuns' we each bought a rosary. We inquired with much interest whether these were blessed, but were informed that this was not done before selling, and that we must apply to a priest to get them blessed for our special use. Of course, not being of the true fold, we were not in a condition to get this done. We did the next best thing to this that we could think of. We dipped them into the holy-water font at Notre Dame. This was done on the sly.

To us, who knew little at that time of the history of Montreal, and of the interest which old traditions attach to so many of its localities, the chief point of attraction was this great parish church of Notre Dame. Its size astonished us, but the religious novelties which we witnessed there were still more wonderful. Conscious of our ignorance, we were afraid of committing some transgression at each step. We felt devout enough to kneel at every altar, but were afraid of exposing ourselves to ridicule by some blunder. A young Frenchman took us to Vespers with him. When the "pain bénit" was handed around through the pews our Catholic friend told us to take some and eat it; but utterly ignorant of what it was, we dared not even touch it, though he laughed when he saw us shrink from it and said it wouldn't hurt us.

To Wadhams' musical ear the chanting at this church opened a new world of religious delight. In the sanctuary stood rows of chanters in rich copes. Their singing was followed at times by a burst of music from the organ-loft. A crowd of children lifted up their voices from one of the galleries. This was supplemented by another crowd of children whose echo came in with a new surprise from the opposite gallery. All this may seem very commonplace to those who began life as Catholics, heirs of the faith and "to the manner born," and who live near to cathedrals or large churches. These can have no idea of the effects produced on the minds of men brought up in the barrenness of Protestantism by the infinite variety of thought and worship in the great church Catholic. Perhaps it is to his remembrance of these services at Notre Dame that so many of our New York congregations owe the combination of choir and sanctuary music first introduced at the Albany Cathedral by Bishop Wadhams, when he was its rector.

Shortly after this visit to Montreal, and about the opening of the summer of 1845, I left my friend for New York City in order to enter the Catholic Church. We parted with great regret, but his mind was in no mood to undertake to dissuade me from my purpose. When, however. I urged him to go with me--"Don't hurry me, Walworth," he said; "I am in a position of responsibility and confidence, and when I leave, if leave I must, it shall be done handsomely. You have no charge. You have only to let your bishop know what you are about doing, and then do it."

I have no recollections nor any data to show in what way Wadhams announced and perfected his withdrawal from the Anglican body. He was not a man to neglect any necessary civilities, nor to forget any kindly relations which had existed between him and early associates in religion. That he was cautious, however, as well as frank and generous, appears from the following fact. When asked to send in a formal renunciation of the Episcopal ministry, he did not think proper to do so. Perhaps he thought this might seem to imply a recognition on his part of some validity in the deacon's orders which he had received in that sect. It was far from his mind to acknowledge the Anglican body as a branch--even a dead branch--of the true Catholic Church.

I carried out my own purpose by a letter from me to my diocesan, Bishop De Lancey, of Western New York, asking him to take my name off from his list of candidates for orders. This letter crossed on its way one from him directing me to come to Geneva for ordination. I then went to New York, where I made my profession of faith in the Church of the Holy Redeemer in Third Street, and soon after left, in company with McMaster and Isaac Hecker, for the Redemptor-ist novitiate at St. Trond, in Belgium. Wadhams became a Catholic the following year. A letter to me, addressed from Baltimore, brought the announcement of this happy event. I cannot find the letter itself, but one characteristic passage in it is pretty well fixed in my memory. I had just before written to him giving some account of our convent life at St. Trond. "It's all right," said he; "I am a Catholic now as well as yourself. But don't talk to me about your convent rules and routine for getting up early, reciting the office, meditating, fasting, discipline, recreations, and mortifications, and all that sort of thing. I have just been scoured through a general confession. You can't beat that."

After our separation in 1845, which took place at the steamboat landing near Ticonderoga, we did not meet again until the winter of 1851, when I was a missionary and he a priest at Albany in the household of Bishop McCloskey, and officiating at St. Mary's, then the cathedral of that diocese. We were afterwards together once more for a year at the new cathedral in Bishop Conroy's time, and continued to live near each other in the same city until his consecration as Bishop of Ogdensburg, and his departure for that see. He was pleased with his appointment and displayed no affectation of humility in regard to it. "You must feel somewhat depressed," I said to him, "in view of all this new responsibility." He replied, "No, I don't. I like it first rate." He asked me to draw a device for his official seal. Looking upon him as an apostle to the cold region of the Adirondacks, and venturing upon a poor joke, I drew an iceberg, with a sled drawn by a reindeer at the foot of it, and above it the north star. The motto which I chose for him, suggested by this star, was "Iterpara tutum." "Well," said he, "I like the motto and the star, but we don't need any icebergs or reindeer at Ogdensburg." He was much attached to the district embraced in his diocese and to all its interests. "Hang it!" said he once with great animation, "I should like the people of New York to find out that we are something better than a convenient water-shed."

Project Canterbury