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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 V.
Wadhams' Life at the Sulpician Seminary, Baltimore.

THE life of Edgar P. Wadhams now enters upon a new epoch. He dwells beneath a new sky. He breathes a new air. All his surroundings are new. His old companions are all still dear to him, but in one sense they are far away. They no longer see by the same light; they no longer look at the same stars. Their religious intercourse is broken up; and yet, to a true Christian, that intercourse of soul with soul is the best, holiest, sweetest that life affords. It follows, therefore, very naturally that almost all of Wadhams' correspondence changes. The familiar friends of earlier days for the most part cease to write letters, or at least such letters as men love to lay by for re-perusal. I find among Wadhams' papers a letter from the Rev. Armand Charbonnel, dated August 6th, 1846. Before he entered the seminary at Baltimore, Wadhams must have visited Vermont, where he made or renewed an acquaintance with Father Charbonnel. This French priest was a Snalpician, had been a professor at St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, and afterwards at St. Sulpice, Montreal, and still later became Bishop of Toronto. He had advised him to prepare for the priesthood by entering the seminary at Montreal, or still better, if possible, to make his studies at Rome or Paris.

In his letter Father Charbonnel communicates to Wadhams the conversion of Rev. Mr. Hoyt, already referred to. This connects naturally with the current of our reminiscences and is a matter of interest. We give it in the words of the letter:

"Rev. Mr. Hoyt, of St. Albans, made his First Communion on last Sunday week, after having been previously baptized and absolved; and he received again on last Sunday, when his wife and four children were baptized and confirmed, as well as himself. He is a man of learning and property, but not settled as yet about what he will do. His countenance is remarkably sweet and noble; as for his lordship, Bishop Hopkins, he is mad with our new brother's change, or perversion. Requiescat in pace. He went so far lately, speaking against Catholics on that occasion, that one of his near relatives, a Protestant, left the church crying out: 'I am sick with such a bitterness!'"

It will be remembered that this Bishop Hopkins of Vermont had a public controversy with Archbishop Kenrick of Baltimore, in which the principal question discussed was the validity of Anglican orders. I recall to mind that Arthur Carey had at one time lived in Vermont in familiar relations with Bishop Hopkins, either as an inmate of his household or pupil in one of his schools, and always spoke of him as a man of great intelligence and learning.

I fear the reader is already wearied with so many letters. The narrative of events, personal recollections, and anecdotes are livelier and easier reading. But to historical minds that value faithful reality more, who wish to see the past just as it existed to the eyes of those who lived in the past, letters have a deeper interest. However, be this as it may, letters henceforth will not figure much in these reminiscences. We give just one more. It is a voice from across the sea, addressed to the abbot of St. Mary's, now dethroned, and a student at the seminary in Baltimore. It is a joyous and affectionate hail from the disbanded community of one.

"WlTTEM, December 1st, 1846.

"MY DEAR WADHAMS: You see I date from another place, because, having happily finished my novitiate at St. Trond, and taken the vows, I am now busy like yourself in preparing for the priesthood. You have some idea perhaps of the great joy I felt on receiving your letter and finding you safely anchored in the harbor of the Church. God be thanked, my dear friend, that we have no longer to deal with the shuffling principles of Puseyism, but with the firm, unchanging, and unshaken faith! I should have written you a reply long ago to testify my joy at the happy step you have taken, but thought I would delay until I had made my vows; and the new circumstances in which I find myself have occasioned still further delay, for I am scarcely yet domesticated in my new abode. The liberty I took to chatter to you about your vocation was wholly on the supposition of your being at Wadhams Mills all alone among Protestants. Of course, you have now spiritual guides and every means of determining to what life God calls you. May our Blessed Lord grant you a long and useful life and the souls of many of your countrymen to testify in your favor at the day of judgment. I would love still to embrace you as a Redemptorist, but that is a matter with which I ought not to meddle too much. I will commend your vocation to our Blessed Lady, who knows what is best for you and for the good cause. McMaster, you know of course, has left us. He carries our good wishes and prayers with him. He made a long and careful trial of his vocation, and though it was found that God did not call him to the religious state, still, his good will will find its reward. His departure was much regretted by all his fellow-novices, who loved him and speak always of him with much affection. Of course, you can conceive the feelings of us two Americans [Isaac Hecker and myself]. Present him my good wishes and warm love should you fall in his way.

"I have no idea of what is going on in America. Pray, does the good cause make progress? Do the Puseyites convert themselves, or do they take the back track, and swallow down again all the great Catholic sentiments they have been accustomed to utter? God have mercy on them, for it is a fearful thing to approach so near the Holy Ark, and then turn their backs. What is the state of the seminary? Is there still left a leaven of holy mischief, some good seed of truth which gives hope of fruit to the salvation of those poor Anglicans?

"As for my future destiny, you know, of course, that the vow of obedience leaves me no choice. I am at the disposal of my superiors, thank God. I can say, however, that I have commenced a course of theology which will most likely last two years. There is, therefore, little prospect of my returning to America before that time, should I return at all.

"I send you this by means of some of our Fathers who leave very soon for missions in America. My present address is 'Wittem--par Maestricht--Limbourg.--Holland. Care of Rev. FF. Redemptorists, etc.'

"The country in which I am resembles very much New England in its scenery. The people are whole-souled Catholics--poor, but full of faith. The little children when they meet us run up to touch our hands with their little hands, esteeming it as a benediction no doubt. Close by us, on the summit of a hill, is a large cross, or crucifix, which can be seen from a great distance, with a 'Way of the Cross' leading up to it, where the people may celebrate the different stations of Our Lord's passion in a manner exceedingly appropriate. I was much struck when I first saw it, and thought of you, who love so much to see such things by the wayside. And now, farewell, my dear friend and brother in Christ! Our sweet Lady guide and protect you always, and build in both our hearts a convent of retirement and contemplation better contrived and better executed than our quondam monastery at Wadhams Mills--where she herself may preside as our good Lady Abbess, with Jesus for the great Head of our Order. Your faithful friend and brother in Christ, C. WALWORTH."

Wadhams had been received into the church in June, 1846, by Dr. Peter Fredet, then registrar of the Sulpician Seminary. Father Deluol was president. He received tonsure and minor orders from Archbishop Eccleston, September 2d, 1847. Two years later he was made deacon. He was ordained priest at St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Albany, by Bishop McCloskey, January isth, 1850; and continued to reside in that city, as assistant priest, rector of the Cathedral, and later as vicar-general, until he became Bishop of Ogdensburg.

Although separated from my friend Wadhams by the broad Atlantic for a period of five years, including the whole of his course at the Sulpician Seminary of St. Mary's, Baltimore, two sources of information have just been opened which supply me with some very definite and valuable information concerning his seminary career. Father Griffin, a venerable priest still living at St. Charles' College, Ellicott City, Md., was a companion and intimate friend of Bishop Wadhams while at the seminary. Though now advanced in years and unable to write, he remembers very well the young convert from the Northern Woods, and the olden times when they were together in Baltimore. His reminiscences have been communicated to me, in answer to my written inquiries. I have also letters from the Rev. H. F. Parke. Although, to borrow his own description of himself, "well worn with forty years of mission labors of all sorts--from the Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina to the Mason and Dixon lines"--and now obliged in his old age to lie by as chaplain to the Visitation Convent in Wheeling, West Virginia, Father Parke remembers Wadhams well. He also was his companion at St. Mary's, and "warms up at his name and memory" to send me valuable contributions.

Father Griffin tells us that Wadhams entered the Baltimore Seminary impressed with a feeling that he had come to the source, the centre, the cradle of Catholicity in the United States. He put himself absolutely in the hands of the superior of the seminary, then the Very Rev. Louis Regis Deluol, S.S. I saw Father Deluol at Saint Sulpice, in Paris, early in the winter of 1850. Four Sisters of Charity from the United States dropped in upon us at the same time, and a very lively and delighted American party we made. The picture of the genial and superb old man is strongly impressed upon my memory. In Father Deluol the young neophyte found a pronounced admirer and warm friend. The seminary also numbered among its faculty Messrs. Verot, afterwards Bishop of Savannah, and still later transferred to the see of St. Augustine; Lhomme, who afterwards became president of the seminary; Fredet, then registrar of the seminary, and Dubreuil. Socially and spiritually, therefore, the ex-Anglican deacon could say, as I am told he often did say, Funes ceciderunt mihi in praeclaris. "He was happy, thoroughly happy," writes Father Parke, "without a doubt or misgiving left to ruffle his peace of mind." The superior placed Wadhams under the instruction of the Rev. Father P. Fredet, D.D., or rather, as they used to say at the seminary, of Mr. Fredet, It was evident to him that Wadhams had been already well instructed in the faith before his arrival, and he was, therefore, soon received into the church, and baptized solemnly in St. Mary's Chapel. His kneeling for three years to so austere an ascetic as Fredet in confession--the same priest who reconciled him to the church--gives us an inkling, says Parke, of how bravely he was then travelling in the pathway of the Crucified.

St. Mary's Seminary in Wadhams' time could only accommodate nineteen students. Of these the average attendance in the divinity classes was about twelve; the rest were collegians of the petit seminaire, or philosophers.

Among his companions were the late Father Bernard McManus, of St. John's, Baltimore, and the Reverend Francis Boyle, of Washington City. With these for many years Wadhams maintained a long and loving intimacy, frequently visiting and receiving visits from them. To them must be added, besides those already mentioned, John McNally, afterwards pastor of St. Stephen's Church, Washington City; John Henry Walters, of the Wheeling diocese; Francis Xavier Leray, afterwards Archbishop of New Orleans; Jacob Walter, of St. Patrick's Church, Washington City; John Larkin, of New York City; Henry Hennis, of Philadelphia, and William Lambert, of Pittsburgh, brother of Father Lambert, of Waterloo, N. Y. Right Rev. Thomas P. Foley, of Chicago, was ordained in 1846, and must, therefore, have graduated just before Wadhams' arrival. As, however, Mr. Foley continued for some years to reside at Baltimore, becoming vicar-general of the archdiocese, he must be numbered in the group of friends in which Wadhams now mingled, and which helped to develop a character so open to all good influences.

The period of our friend's introduction to this new and valuable circle of friends was a very lively one for the American church, as Father Parke reminds us: "It was the era of Brown-son's submission to the church, and of hunger to get hold of his essays. Even the stolid Dr. Fredet enthused over them, and compared their writer to Suarez in breadth and depth of treating his subjects; McMaster from his tripod was making things lively and interesting; while such writers as Martin J. Spalding and Dr. Verot were handling, with gloves off, the Southern Quarterly Review, for its defective reviewing of D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation; others were canvassing Dr. Jarvis' reply to Milner's End of Controversy; while the United States Catholic Magazine, edited by the Rev. Charles I. White and M. J. Spalding, later our Archbishop of Baltimore, was then at the height of its usefulness."

Wadhams now found himself in a new world of manly religious thought and sound theology. He had escaped from the sentimental baby-house in which so many Anglicans were amusing themselves. The Catholic thought which now attracted him, and with which his mind was fed, was no longer a diluted water-gruel. His teachers dared to say what they meant, and were not obliged to present the truth in some form of language which left open a safe door of retreat. He was at last free, and felt his emancipation.

I am anxious that Mr. Wadhams should be presented to the reader at this day in the same shape and light in which he appeared so long ago to his new friends at the Catholic Seminary. We will let Father Parke take the stand first. This is his testimony:

"His subdued, manly, dignified bearing, and frank manners, were in his favor from his entrance. Before being a month in the house, the impression made on the superiors and his fellow-students was deep, favorable, and lasting. All were of the belief that Wadhams would stick and prove an acquisition. His profound piety and scrupulous exactitude in observance of rule and addiction to the practices of the interior life, his lightheartedness and capacity to enjoy a joke, and take part in the recreations and sports, soon made him a general favorite."

Father Griffin's memory sees him in the same light. He speaks of him thus:

"Wadhams was a man in every way sincere, who knew no wish but what the world might hear. There was nothing stern about him, but he was always earnest in everything that he undertook. He was remarkable for his regularity in the observance of the rules and every duty. He was a marked man, but without any show of eccentricity. This, however, can be said, that the earnestness and common sense which characterized him were made emphatic by a simplicity of heart and manner that never forsook him.

"In Lent he was a strict observer of the fast, though the observance cost considerably to his nature. In the morning he, as everybody else, took a cup of coffee with a water-cracker the size of a silver dollar. Dinner was at 1.20 o'clock. One day," says Father Griffin, "meeting Wadhams after the teaching of his morning class (about 12.40 o'clock), I asked him: 'How are you, Mr. Wadhams?' With his usual earnest tone, 'Don't talk to me,' said he; 'I feel as if I could eat brickbats.''

"He lived in the seminary, but had to teach in the college. With the other seminarians he joined in all the games. He seemed to take much interest in the game of wooden balls. When he made a good play, he would lift his hands vigorously into the air, with an oft-repeated cry of---'Sam Hill! didn't I give a good hit?'

"From the beginning he gained the respect, the esteem, and the good will of the inmates. His name came to be held in benediction among all his friends in the seminary."

In regard to his theological studies, and to his abilities as a teacher in the college, the testimony of Father Griffin is that his success was fair. That his success in study was not rated at more than fair, is not to be attributed to any want of superior intelligence. It came from a defective memory for names and words. This defect attended him through his whole life. It made recitation in class less easy. In particular it made him a poor scholar in languages. Although often obliged to speak in French, especially when travelling abroad or when making visitations in his diocese, he never could master that tongue or indeed any other. This same defect often embarrassed him when meeting with familiar friends. He could not readily recall their proper names and addresses, and was not infrequently obliged to ask for these, to his own confusion. Any one, however, who might be tempted to mistake the want of this particular gift for a lack of keen intelligence, was soon forced to change his mind, on better acquaintance. The distinction which I have just endeavored to make is forcibly brought out by Saintine, in his story of Picciola. In speaking of a certain learned man who at the age of twenty-five years had a complete knowledge of seven languages, and was more notable for a love of discussion and quotation than any power of wise observation or reflection, the author remarks: "One can be a fool in several languages." Montalembert had in his mind a similar distinction when, standing in the tribune of the French assembly and seeing around him a voluble crowd of red republican orators, he made them furious by calling them "little rhetoricians" (petits rhéteurs).

One thing I deeply regret. I cannot give to the reader not personally and intimately acquainted with Wadhams any just conception of that interior piety which made his life a true walk with God, and which certainly characterized him at St. Mary's Seminary. True, I have quoted the language of witnesses who state this strongly, and I myself might enlarge upon their statements. Statements and enlargements, however, of this kind make little impression upon most readers. The language of eulogy is something so customary, and so freely and largely used, that they give little heed to it, and retain little of it in their memories, except when presented in facts which leave it pictured and framed into a distinct portrait of the man. The witnesses of Wadhams' life at St. Mary's are too few and they are too far away. Even if they were more numerous and nearer, still Wadhams was not a man to talk much about himself, and least of all to talk much of his own emotions or any of that secret intercourse which he held with his Maker. Familiar friends get to know something of this interior life of a good man, but only little by little, and this mostly by inferences drawn from outward actions. Wadhams does not seem to have kept any diary or preserved copies of letters or papers of his own writing. The most-sacred and best part of his life is, therefore, the least known to us. This is the great defect of the present "Reminiscences." I feel the defect deeply. It seems to me that I am presenting to the public a caricature of my friend rather than a real likeness. I am forced to dwell upon traits which, although really characteristic, yet belong only to the surface of the man, leaving the deeper and higher soul in shadow. I fear to have dwelt too much upon what is only peculiar, strange, striking, or amusing, rather than what is edifying. I have no excuse but this, that I do my best. To represent a holy soul like Wadhams' truly and adequately would require a spirit like his own. Here, then, I must close this account of his life at Baltimore. It is the best that I can furnish.

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