Wadhams' Priesthood at St. Mary's Church and at the Cathedral, Albany.--The War of the Rebellion.--His Trip to Europe and the Holy Land.
I PROPOSE to treat the period of my friend Wadhams' priesthood not according to any regular biographical method, but by means of miscellaneous recollections. In this way I shall be able to illustrate more fully than I have yet done not only the spiritual character of the man, but to portray him in the discharge of his official duties and in his more familiar intercourse with others. This I can well afford to do because his career in the priesthood is not so much marked by striking events as by acts and circumstances which reveal his strong personality and the beauty and holiness of his character.
Wadhams was eminently an unconventional man--unconventional in his thoughts, unconventional in his language, unconventional in all his ways. There was an openness and directness in his speech which made many of his sayings peculiar and memorable.
Once when we were passing out from the front door of an inn he looked up at the sky and, stopping, said: "Perhaps it may rain; what do you think?" "I don't know," I replied: "let's consider a moment." "Well," said he, "while you are considering, I'll get the umbrella."
Another time when walking up State Street, in Albany, in company with Father Kennedy, then an assistant at St. Mary's and now Vicar-General at Syracuse, who is pretty rapid in his movements, Father Wadhams felt disposed to move more slowly. "Young man," said he, "how long did you tell me you had been in this city?" "About three years," replied Kennedy. "Three years in Albany! and don't know how to walk up-hill yet?" Strangers who have visited Albany will appreciate the force of the question.
Wadhams had a fine musical ear and a great fondness for good ecclesiastical music. Among his manuscripts is an article on Gregorian chant written for the New York Churchman, which, perhaps, was never published. He was quite efficient in teaching plain singing and chanting. While officiating in the Anglican church at Ticonderoga, he had a class of boys who assembled at the village inn and learned of him to read music and sing by help of a blackboard. He it was who first introduced in Albany the custom, now universal in all the Catholic churches there, of using the altar-boys to sing the responses at High Mass and to act as chanters in the sanctuary. He loved to attend the rehearsals of these boys at the cathedral. They were always animated by his presence to do their best. "Come now, boys," he would say, "hold up your heads and open your mouths. I don't want any dummies here." And then when their voices rang out clear and loud he would praise them heartily, and they were eager to please him. The regular choir in the Albany Cathedral acquired a high reputation in his time, and they owed it not merely to the great abilities of Mr. Carmody, the organist, but to the great zeal and strong patronage which Wadhams lent to that department of the service.
The popular Christmas carol, "The Snow lay on the Ground," is well known throughout the United States. It is not, however, so well known that we are indebted for it to Bishop Wadhams. He found the verses in some stray newspaper which fell into his hands, and was so pleased with their simple beauty that he was anxious to fit them to some appropriate melody. Father Noethen, of the Holy Cross Church, Albany, to whom he showed the lines, bethought himself of a favorite air of the Pifferari, who come in from the Campagna at Christmas time to sing and play in the streets of Rome. His memory of the air was, however, indistinct, and Mr. Carmody was requested to remodel it and adapt it to the words. This he did, and the form he gave to it is the one now universally used. The original air was afterwards procured from Rome, but Mr. Father Wadhatns was an intelligent man, but in our American Church, full of intelligent clergy, that cannot be set down as a distinctive personal peculiarity. The same thing may be said of many other mental qualities of his, most important to prelate or priest, but which cannot be justly alleged as peculiar to him. His great characteristics all lay in the moral order. He was no common man, he was no ordinary priest. All those who knew him well will acknowledge that there was something in him which marked him as eminent. It was a nobility of soul. It was a moral beauty of character. It was a conscience full of power, which would yield to no evil, and before which all evil quailed. Intellect, talent, rank, dignity, all sophistry and all subterfuges, lost their force before him when there was a call upon his conscience to assert itself. There was something magnetic about him, and in this moral energy all the magnetism lay. In ordinary times, however, when conscience was not put in question, he was one of the humblest, simplest, most unpretending and least self-asserting, most yielding, most easily persuaded, of mortals. He was not at all disposed to stand upon his own dignity or to urge his own opinion upon others. On the contrary he was much given to admiration of other men in whom he saw, or thought he saw, remarkable qualities of mind or attractive characteristics. He was, moreover, extremely reticent in expressing disapprobation of the conduct or character of other men where he had no special call to speak or to interfere. My impression of him is that he was not a very quick and close judge of human nature; that he might easily be deceived by those who undertook to do it warily, and was disposed to attribute good motives to all. When, however, aroused to action by some palpable attempt at wrong-doing he was a lion and feared no consequences. I give one instance.
A seminary student had carried his irregularities so far that he was dismissed from the institution. He had friends, however, who were anxious to have him take orders. Great influence to this end was brought to bear upon the bishop. Several persons, on the contrary, ranged themselves stoutly in opposition. Wadhams in particular was so shocked by the very danger of such a thing that he declared his determination, if necessary, to protest publicly against it in the church should the candidate present himself. No measure so strong as this was eventually called for. The bishop, being convinced of the young man's unfitness, refused to admit him to orders. Examples could easily be given where high authority was made to bend in presence of that same lofty and determined conscience.
There was sometimes a certain appearance of antagonism in Wadhams in which his outward ways and language did not always correspond with the qualities of his heart. He had a directness and even bluntness of speech which coming from some persons might easily be taken for rudeness. His friends, however, knew well that it came from the truthfulness and simplicity of his nature, which made it impossible for him to adopt the ways of a courtier by the least evasion of truth. At the same time his heart was full of a kindly charity which, even in little things, made him fearful of giving offence. I will give one or two instances.
On one occasion while he occupied the position of rector of the Albany Cathedral a small party of friends, mostly laymen, were lingering at his room one night after bedtime. He was not fond of late hours, and on this occasion was evidently drowsy. I saw him pacing up and down the room uneasily, and I knew that he was endeavoring to formulate some hint to his friends of his anxiety to retire, and without hurting their feelings. I knew very well what was coming and watched for the result. "Gentlemen," he said at last, as if a happy expedient had just struck him, "I don't know what you are going to do, but I am going to bed." All who were present knew him well, and no one felt in the least hurt.
The world will never remember Wadhams as an eminent preacher. I am confident, however, that in the record of heaven his name will stand in the list of true evangelists. The people who listened to him heard from his lips the true word of God, delivered in simple language, sometimes blunt, sometimes quaint, always unconventional, and oftentimes made powerful and impressive by the very simplicity of the speaker's style, which lent strength to the matter. His was an eloquence which, if it gained nothing from rhetoric, never lost anything through being commonplace. Not knowing of any published sermons of his, I can, unfortunately, give my readers no example to illustrate the spiritual power of his preaching. I fear it will seem something like caricature to confine myself, as I needs must, to its simplicity and originality. He never wasted words in the endeavor to introduce his subject gracefully or conventionally. If the gospel of the day did not suit his purpose, he either took his text elsewhere or, starting from the gospel of the Sunday, he soon landed himself in the field where he proposed to work. One Sunday morning, the fifth after Pentecost, he read the gospel for that day, and then began his sermon as follows:
"It is not unusual to make use of this gospel by preaching on the evil of venial sin. I don't intend to preach this morning on venial sin. I wish to have you all understand that there is a sin which, whether venial or not, is something very ugly and very mischievous. It's a sin to come late to Mass and walk down the broad aisle in fine feathers and fluttering ribbons, as if it were something highly respectable to disturb public worship by coming late. I do not wish to be understood as objecting to putting on good clothes to come to church with, but I do object to coming late to Mass, to disturbing others who are praying, and to your making a parade of yourselves." This is not the form usually prescribed for an exordium, but it certainly led up to the subject in hand and helped to make the sermon impressive.
We wish in these reminiscences to make some mention of Father Wadhams in connection with the War of the Rebellion, in which he took a most lively and serious interest. In April, 1861, when Fort Sumter was attacked, Colonel Michael K. Bryan was in command of the Twenty-fifth Regiment, which left Albany immediately for Washington. On the night of April 21st, 1861, came the order from Governor Morgan to leave. The men, mostly workmen, gathered suddenly at the armory at the tolling of the bells, a signal already agreed upon, and at eight o'clock were all in line. Their wives and children had only time to bid them "good-by" at the armory, the hurry not allowing all of them to go from their workshops to their homes. Most of the soldiers of this regiment, as well as the colonel and lieutenant-colonel, were Catholics. John M. Kimball, Esq., a prominent lawyer of Albany, volunteered to go with them, and received a temporary appointment as chaplain. In any case a departure so sudden must needs be attended with much confusion, but in this case there existed great excitement throughout the city and an apprehension of imminent danger. The news of the savage assault on a Massachusetts regiment in Baltimore as it marched across the city from station to station, and telegrams on April igth and 20th, stating that Davis was "within one day's march of Washington with an army," and that troops must hurry on at once or that city would be lost, created a desire in the minds both of Catholic soldiers and their families to prepare for the worst by a due reception of the sacraments. Father Wadhams accordingly offered to accompany the troops, so far as might be necessary, to aid in this preparation.
They started that afternoon, crossing the river by the ferry and taking the cars on the eastern side. Father Wadhams commenced immediately hearing confessions in a corner of one of the cars, a continual silence being maintained on that car until he had finished. Late that night the train, a special and slow one, reached Poughkeepsie, and the good priest, having finished his work, was able to return to Albany. He had found an opportunity in the mean time to receive into the church Counselor Kimball, baptizing him on the train with such water as the drinking-tank contained. Survivors of the regiment assure me that the counselor never officiated as chaplain, though often urged by his gay companions to do so. He did, however, do most serviceable duty as adjutant of the regiment, to which rank he was soon thereafter assigned.
The death of the gallant Colonel Bryan, at Port Hudson, La., was communicated to Father Wadhams in a letter from Dr. O'Leary, surgeon of Bryan's regiment, dated at New Orleans June 18th, 1863. What the good priest's sorrow was at this intelligence may be in some degree gathered from the following passage of the letter: "He lived about an hour after receiving his wounds. He seemed to feel conscious of his approaching end and died like one going to sleep. I have just arrived in this city with his remains and shall send them home at the earliest opportunity." He then adds: "A nobler man never lived. A braver soldier never wielded a sword. A truer Christian never knelt before his Maker."
Although a strong Unionist of the most devoted type, Father Wadhams was always gentle in dealing with soldiers and partisans of the States in rebellion. He could not reconcile himself to their reasonings, but he comprehended very well how much of excusable human nature there was in their sentiments. He was often, however, much shocked even when his gentle nature urged him to keep silence. An Albanian was living in one of the southwestern States before the war, and was a captain there of a well-drilled company of infantry. When the war broke out this company was summoned to arms. It seemed to him a point of honor, and a duty to the company and to the State in which he for the time being resided, to turn out with the rest in the service of the Confederacy. After the war he returned to the North and resided in Albany. Wadhams was surprised one day at hearing- it mentioned that this gentleman had been a rebel. "You don't mean to say," he asked, "that you actually fought against us in battle?" "Well, yes," was the reply, "in several battles." "But you didn't kill any of our brave soldiers, did you?" "I can't say, Father, that I did, not exactly: but I will tell you the nearest thing to it that I remember. One day when I was senior captain in command of a regiment, and had my men picketed behind a fence, a troop of Federal cavalry passed by on the road. I gave the order to fire. The consequence was that thirteen saddles in that troop were left empty."
The good Father asked no more questions. He was simply shocked and remained silent, fearing to say too much if he spoke at all. He felt that cruel war bitterly. I often heard him allude to empty chairs at farm-houses in the neighborhood of his own homestead amid the Adirondacks. His nephew Pitt, son of his brother Abraham E. Wadhams, was killed in the war at Chancellorsville.
In 1865 Father Wadhams and his friend, the Rev. William Everett, who, as we have seen, had been his fellow-student at the Twentieth Street Seminary, planned out a journey to be taken together through Europe and to the Holy Land. They met in London and travelled through Paris, Venice, Milan, Rome, and Naples to Egypt and Syria. In Rome they were presented together to His Holiness Pius IX.
A more earnest man than Bishop Wadhams can scarcely be imagined. To his mind duty always rose up above every other consideration. "Faithful and true" were written upon his forehead, where all men could read the inscription; but yet he was light-hearted, joyous, and easily amused, while his laughter was always hearty and perfectly contagious. Father William Everett, on the contrary, his warm and intimate friend, was always as grave and serious in his manner as he was earnest in his soul. This made them sometimes seem strangely mated, the one taking hearty delight in things which the other regarded as trifling. In the course of their journey through Europe Wadhams was interested in almost everything new or strange which presented itself to his eye, while Everett, who had a great taste for Christian archaeology, was interested in little else than sacred or historical things. When passing along one of the streets of Turin the former was attracted by an exhibition of Punchinello, and stopped to enjoy it. This mortified Father Everett, who thought it an unseemly thing for clergymen to take interest in a diversion of such a nature. "Do come on," said he; "this is scandalous." "Why, no," said Wadhams, "it's capital!" And he could not be induced to move on. In this he was unexpectedly sustained by two passers-by, old friends of his from Albany, Chancellor Pruyn and his lady, who also stopped to see the show. And thus Everett was compelled to become an unwilling spectator. The two friends prosecuted their journey in company until they reached the Holy Land, which to Everett had always been the main attraction and the chief object of his trip. An account of this visit and of a special pilgrimage to Bethlehem, contributed by Everett himself to The Catholic World for 1868, can be found in the January number for that year. They arrived at Jerusalem in the evening of January soth, 1866, and were conducted through the darkness, dusty and weary, to the Franciscan hospice. On entering the sitting-room their first surprise was a Troy stove, not calculated certainly to nurse sacred or archaeological sentiment in the mind of a student like Everett. There was something else in the apartment quite as American as the Troy heater. It was the figure of a tall, lank man with his hat on his head, his feet projecting above the stove, and smoking a cigar. Removing his cigar, but not either hat or boots, the gentleman turned his head to gaze at the new-comers. They were unmistakably countrymen of his own. "Halloo!" said he, "when did you arrive in Jerusalem?" "We've just come," they replied. "Oh! have you?" said he. "Well then, let me tell you, you've come to one of the most infernal dirty holes that ever you saw!" The incongruity of such a welcome to the Holy Land struck Wadhams' sense of the ridiculous, but to the more solemn enthusiasm of his companion such words and the whole scene were a profanation from the shock of which it was not easy to recover.
Their devotion was less disturbed on a visit to Bethlehem, which they made on foot, a distance of about six miles. Here was no Troy stove, nor irreverent Yankee, nor stove-pipe hat, nor profane cigar. They stood under an olive-tree in front of the holy grotto which had served as a shelter to the shepherds when watching their flocks by night. Uncovering their heads devoutly, they chanted the "Gloria in Excelsis" with a recollection more tranquil and a joy that could scarcely have been surpassed by that of the shepherds themselves. Wadhams' stay in Jerusalem was short, only a fortnight; but this was not enough to satisfy an archaeological pilgrim like Everett, who remained much longer. When returning to the United States the latter brought back many choice reminiscences of the Holy Land, books, maps, illustrations, charts, and plans in relief, rarely to be met with. These were for a long time a source of interest and pleasure to friends of a like taste when, in New York, they visited the rectory of Nativity Church.
Father Wadhams' large heart, less interested in sacred scholarship, was nevertheless equally full of devotion, and full also of the thought of friends. Every beautiful object that met his eye struck him as an appropriate present for some friend at home. He brought back with him a large extra trunk filled with these souvenirs, collected from various places. If it were possible for me to remember the names of all the parties whom he had thus specially borne in mind when abroad and to whom he brought back some appropriate gift, it would seem almost incredible. His brethren of the clergy, members of the cathedral congregation and of St. Mary's, singers in the choir,sacristan,altar-boys, and all the domestics of the house, a very multitude, had something in that trunk to show that they had been remembered. How he managed without the help of saddle-bags to carry so many objects of devotion, rosaries, crucifixes, medals, images, etc., into the presence of the Holy Father to be specially blessed and indulgenced by him, is a wonder which I cannot explain.
There are some men who will never allow that they have changed their opinions. Father Wadhams was not one of this kind. It cost him very little to say: "I used to think so, but I was mistaken." He was always equally ready to acknowledge any moral wrong or defect in what he himself had done. On one occasion, when rector of the Albany Cathedral, the house was disturbed at night by an intoxicated man who would not leave when ordered away, but continued to ring the bell and pound at the door. He claimed that his wife was sick and that the priest must come immediately, but his answers to inquiries showed that his senses were very much confused. Being compelled to rise and dress himself in order to quiet the disturbance, Father Wadhams descended to the hall with hat, overcoat, and cane. Opening the front door, he seized the fellow by his collar, dragged him down the steps and along the pavement as far as the first corner, thrashing him in the mean time with his cane. The man cried out lustily. A policeman coming up and seeing what was the matter said, "Can I help you any, Father?" "No,"was the answer, "I can dispose of this job myself." Leaving his prisoner, however, at the corner Father Wadhams did not venture to return to the house without first making sure of the condition of the woman reported as sick. He found her, as he had supposed, in no need of a priest and full of regret at the trouble which her husband had caused. "I am glad to know," she said, "that you gave him a good beating. He deserved it well. The longer the marks of your cane stay on his back the better. It may bring the grace of God down on his foolish head to remember the holy hands that did it." Father Wadhams always regretted this night's adventure. When some of his household sought to justify what had been done, saying that the fellow had deserved it richly, he said: "No, that will not answer. I have done wrong. It was far more important for me to control my own temper than to chastise a turbulent drunkard."
Our reminiscences would be like Italy with Rome left out if we were to say nothing of that charity which was the ruling spirit of Father Wadhams. He maintained it with a singular forgetfulness of himself. As a man he lived for others. As a friend he never forgot the claims of friendship. As a Christian he always saw Christ in the pleading faces of the poor. As a minister of Christ he never forgot that great ruling principle, which he always taught and always followed himself, that "the priest is for the people, not the people for the priest." His charity was always toned and colored by that guilelessness which so peculiarly characterized him. His own simplicity and singleness of heart made him unsuspicious of others. As a natural consequence he was easily imposed upon by strangers, taking for granted that others were as sincere as himself. What we mean, then, will be easily understood when we say that he carried charity to a fault. If the honest poor could count upon his generosity, others less honest could often play upon his simplicity. During his absence in Europe in 1865 I occupied his place temporarily as rector at the Albany Cathedral. I found that by his arrangement the money received in the poor-boxes was divided every week by the sacristan-among a number of poor persons. Having some suspicion in regard to the wise application of this money, I got a list of these people, which I submitted to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, asking them to report what they knew or could learn of the character of these pensioners. The report was unfavorable to the whole list. Either they were quite capable of taking care of themselves, or could not safely be trusted with money. They were, therefore, all dropped from the list. Only one, an old man, appealed from the sacristan to me. Father Wadhams, he said, had always allowed him his weekly dole of twenty-five cents, and why should it be kept from him now? I answered that it was known to me that he had enough to live upon without it. "Well," he replied, "that's partly true. It's not a necessity, but it was a convenience. It was just enough to supply me with tobacco." It would be needless to enlarge upon the great number of worthier objects of charity to whom living was made easier and happier by the same bountiful hand.
What Shakespeare makes Othello say of himself may, nevertheless, be well applied to the open-hearted and guileless subject of these memoirs. He was--
"One not easily jealous, but being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme."
Duplicity, fraud, treachery, once detected in one to whom he had given his confidence, there came a shock from which he could not easily recover and give a second confidence. He and I had both formed a very favorable opinion of a priest of the diocese, chiefly derived from a certain appearance of modesty and ecclesiastical dignity which we saw in him. Father Wadhams, from holding the administration of the diocese for a while during the bishop's absence, was brought to know of many things in the conduct of this man, some of which showed moral weakness only, but other things hypocrisy, treachery, and a fraudulent avarice. Wadhams brought him to bay and hunted him out of the diocese with an inflexibility and rapidity of action which astonished me.
He was once visited by a newspaper reporter, who did not announce himself as such, but came to the house in the character of a fellow-citizen who was anxious to make his acquaintance. He talked so pleasantly and cheerfully that Wadhams was highly entertained, and talked very freely in return. He was much disconcerted shortly after on finding the conversation reported in a daily newspaper, containing many things not well adapted for publication. Before his indignation had time to cool the visitor most unwisely called again. A rapid retreat through the front door became necessary, and terminated the intercourse. I do not remember the precise words which my friend used on this occasion, but they were perfectly intelligible and brief. In substance they were like those of Lady Macbeth when dismissing her guests from the banquet table: "Stand not upon the order of your going, but go at once!"
The purity of Father Wadhams' character amounted to a degree of delicacy which is rare even among the virtuous. I recall the modesty which pervaded his manners and language as something truly angelic. In all my reminiscences of him, which reach through so many years of intimacy, embracing often circles where the most free and joyous conversation abounded, I never heard a word from his lips suggestive even of that stultiloquium so strongly condemned by the Apostle Paul, and so especially unworthy of the lips of a priest. It was so before he became a Catholic, it was so before my acquaintance with him began. It was so from his boyhood up. No one that ever knew him well can doubt that his very soul was virginal. An old friend and school-companion of his gives his testimony to this feature of his character in the following words:
"During his whole college life, I, who knew him better than any other human being all that time could know him, know that he never spoke one impure word or said anything that a man would be ashamed to repeat in the presence of his mother, sister, or niece. I am to-day a better man than I should have been had I not been intimate with Wadhams."
I might easily suppose this trait to be due to a certain excellence of nature. Perhaps it was. The friend just cited, however, seems to regard it as a gift of grace, for he says: "He was truly a devout man even from youth up."
If in these reminiscences my main purpose has been successful, I have shown that Wadhams was in no sense an ordinary man. I do not mean to assert that all his talents and qualities of heart were above mediocrity. I mean only that he was in no way commonplace, neither in thought nor manner nor language. I attribute this to the fact that he was too truthful and simple-hearted to borrow nonsense from any source, however conventional or popular the nonsense might be.
Lacordaire was accustomed to say: "Je n'aime pas les lieux communs." I don't remember ever to have heard Father Wadhams say this. It was true of him all the same. His ways, thoughts, and feelings were all his own, all unborrowed. He was, therefore, in no sense a commonplace man.