Wadhams Becomes Bishop of Ogdensburg.--His Life and Labors in the New Diocese.--His Sufferings and Sudden Cure.--Trials.--His Last Illness and Death.
NEAR the close of the year 1871 it had become evident that a division of the diocese of Albany was called for. The Right Rev. John J. Conroy assembled the Councilors of the diocese, and represented to them that such was the fact. He asked them to advise with him as to the character and qualities of the man who should be recommended to the Holy See for the new diocese, and also as to what place should be selected as the proper seat or see for the residence of the new bishop. The diocese itself was to consist of the Adirondack region, including the plains which border this region on the north and west. Only two towns sufficiently populous for this purpose could be considered as sufficiently central. The one was Plattsburgh, on Lake Champlain, and the other Ogdensburg, in the northwest at the point where the Oswegatchie River connects with the Saint Lawrence. The sentiments of the council were very nearly equally divided as to the location of the see.
A bishop's council had no claim at that time to make a nomination, nor was any name suggested. The principal point on which the opinion of the council was desired was the following, namely: What should be the nationality of the man to be recommended? This was a point of no little importance, for the English language was by no means universal in Northern New York, especially among Catholics. Many Canadians had settled there, and their number was constantly increasing. The opinion nearly, if not quite unanimous, was that the new bishop should understand French, but that his native and most familiar tongue should be English.
Ogdensburg was designated by the authorities at Rome as the seat of the new see, and the name of the new bishop was communicated to Father Wadhams by Archbishop McCloskey in the following note:
"NEW YORK, February 25th, 1872.
"RIGHT REV. DEAR SIR: I am instructed by the Cardinal Prefect of the Propaganda to make known to you the fact that you have been appointed by the Holy Father to the new see of Ogdensburg. The apostolic letter and other documents were in course of preparation, and will be expedited with as little delay as possible. My secretary, Dr. McNeirny, who will present you this, has been appointed coadjutor bishop of Dr. Conroy. Permit me to present you my most sincere congratulations as well as my best wishes and regards. Commending myself to your prayers,
"I remain, monsignor,
"Very truly your friend and brother in Christ,
"JOHN, Abp. of New York."
The bulls arrived in due course of time, and the bishop-elect prepared for his consecration.
The Rev. Edgar P. Wadhams was consecrated bishop by Archbishop McCloskey (the assistant consecrators being Bishops De Goesbriand, of Burlington, and Williams, of Boston) on the fifth day of May, 1872, at the Albany Cathedral, amid a throng of spectators. Many of these were old friends--bishops, priests, and laymen--who had come from a distance to witness this ceremony. The great multitude, however, were citizens of Albany, who knew and loved him well.
Among these was an old friend and comrade who had been selected by the bishop-elect to preach at his consecration. He struck a keynote on that occasion when, before concluding his sermon, he said:
"A friend is about to say FAREWELL. Thirty years ago, when my eyes were brighter and my footsteps lighter, I entered the halls of a well-known seminary in the city of New York. Coming there as a perfect stranger, I found myself in a new world and surrounded by strange faces.
With one face, however, I soon became familiar; and ever since, through a checkered and eventful life, at almost every winding of my pathway that same kind face has met me, cheered me, and helped to lighten up the road before me. From that day until this morning, when you have seen him kneeling to receive the consecrating oils, thirty changeful winters have passed over his head, but in him I see no shadow of change. It must be that great development has taken place in many respects; it must be that secret graces have been accumulating; but I see no change in character. Such as he was, so is he now; so, doubtless, will he always be. . . .
"I have been familiar with Edgar Wadhams in youth and in riper manhood. I have seen him in the pursuits of his vocation, busy in the affairs of life, and mingling among men. I have seen him at home among his native Adirondacks, surrounded by the same faces that beamed upon his childhood. And here as well as there, and everywhere, the testimony of all that ever knew him is the same, 'Faithful and True.' I have seen him in every occupation and mood of mind--in labor, in study, in prayer, in the hour of light-hearted gayety, in sorrow and in joy, groping in the midst of doubt and perplexity, or walking free again in the light of a clear path. These are the natural vicissitudes of life. They come and go; they are themselves subject to change, but they bring no change to a steadfast soul like his. They pass over and leave it, as the clouds float over the face of the constant moon, and leave her as before, still travelling on her heavenly track--'Faithful and True.' So has he always been in all the relations of life--as son, brother, friend, Christian, pastor; at his own fireside, at the sickbed, at the altar; and who doubts that in the episcopate, to which God has now called him, he will not be found the same--l Faithful and True' to the end? . . .
"Go forth, then, man of God, where God and duty call thee! Be thou the Apostle of the American Highlands, and of that broad and noble plain whose borders are a majestic lake, a mighty river, an inland ocean, and the primeval mountains. Go plant the cross of Christ among thy native hills; unfurl the Catholic banner on the banks of the St. Lawrence and on the shores of Ontario and Lake Champlain; and there where early missionaries, sighing out their holy lives and writing their names in blood, could only save a few scattered souls, do thou in happier times found churches, and convents, and schools! Go, and God's richest blessings go with thee! But be sure of this: wherever thou goest and whatever new friends may gather around thee, in the broad field of thy new mission thou wilt find none to love thee better, none truer, than those thou leavest now in tears and sadness behind thee! "
Some of Bishop Wadhams' familiar friends in Albany were anxious to retain a photograph of him before he left for his new scene of labor, and wished that this picture should represent him in his character of bishop. He very readily consented, and I was delegated to go with him to the photographer. Previous photographs had proved to be more realistic than artistic, presenting him in a dress somewhat awry; wearing, for example, a biretta with a vicious inclination toward one or the other eye. His friends wished me, therefore, to accompany him and keep him in good artistic shape. This was really a necessary precaution. He was very fond of solemnities and religious ceremonies of the highest order. He loved to see rich vestments. All this, however, was for the honor of God and to make divine worship impressive. Outside of the church and moving in the world he concerned himself very little about his personal appearance. He possessed a native dignity peculiarly his own; but he was not at all aware of it and let it take care of itself. When arrived at the photographer's gallery he allowed me to place him and pose him at discretion. His humility and simplicity of heart were proof against all temptations, and whatever his other friends may have thought of the result, he himself was, as usual, perfectly satisfied with the photograph. It would have been hard, indeed, for us all if we could have retained nothing of him in Albany except what a photographer's art can supply, but the city is still full of more truthful reminiscences which cannot easily be obliterated.
We must now follow the new bishop to his see. "It was my pleasure," said Bishop McQuaid in his funeral sermon on Bishop Wadhams, "and my honor to come with him to this infant church of Ogdensburg, just born into the rank of an episcopal city. I remember well that day--the joy of priests and people, and the welcome every one gave him."
The first care of a bishop in taking possession of a newly established see is to arrange a domicile for himself and a cathedral church. But here Bishop Wadhams encountered at once an embarrassment which only a gentleness of heart and a Christian charity like his would have disposed of as he did.
At the time of his appointment to the See of Ogdensburg the charge of the church and the congregation there was in the hands of an old and excellent priest, who had devoted himself to it and had done the best he could to bring it to a flourishing condition. The old priest occupied, of course, the parish house adjoining, and it never occurred to his mind that it would be necessary to hand over either church or rectory to the new bishop, or to take any subordinate place under him. The good father announced the bishop's arrival to his people as follows (of course I can only give the substance of his words): "You all know, my dear brethren," he said, "that for many long years I have desired and asked for and prayed for a coadjutor. God knows I needed help, but could not get it. At last a coadjutor has arrived and now things will go on better." The new bishop scrupled to dislodge the good old man, and preferred for the moment to take another house for himself, although no other could be found convenient to the church. He said Mass on week-days at a private oratory in the new house, officiating at the church only on Sundays and holidays. He satisfied himself for the time with the supervision of the general affairs of the diocese, trusting that local matters at Ogdensburg would soon arrange themselves little by little and naturally. They did not, however, so arrange themselves. The former incumbent showed no inclination to yield up any part of his responsibilities or allow the bishop to do anything but "coadjute." Things went on in this way for a long while, causing the bishop great uneasiness and inconvenience. On his visiting me one day at St. Mary's, Albany, I expressed my wonder that he should allow things to go on in this way, when it would be so easy for him to set them right and at once. "Yes," he replied, "so it would be, and if he were a different sort of man I would not hesitate for a moment; but just look at the thing as it is. He is a good man, he is a faithful priest; the building up of that congregation has been the work of his life; it would break the poor old man's heart to dislodge him; and even if he were to stay there and work in the parish under me, it would be a constant and bitter grief to him to see me make the changes which I should think necessary in the church and in the house, and to be obliged to help me in making those changes. Walworth, I can't do it with a good conscience. I cannot trample out that good man's life. I must let things go on as they are until God opens for me a good opportunity to interfere." And he kept steadfastly to this resolution.
"I remember well," said Bishop McQuaid in the funeral sermon already quoted, "I remember well the poverty in which he found his diocese, and the poverty of the city of Ogdensburg. I remember this and other occasions when he unburdened his soul to me and told me of his difficulties, and spoke of his diocese and his people, and their poverty. He spoke of their being scattered over this vast territory, and I listened with feeling and attention to him. With the kindness of a child, he said how he would lead the way, how he was going to change the character of his city and church; and when I looked at the old church, I wondered how the ingenuity of man could turn it into anything that would make it presentable as a cathedral. . . . I listened to him as he spoke of those woods and the people who were scattered through them, whom he said should belong to God's church, and with the utmost joy told me that they were opening up the North Woods; they were opening railroads into them, etc. Civilization was making rapid strides into the wilderness. ..."
The separate house he selected for his own residence at the time of his arrival, the only one he could find, was located at a distance from the church. It was a corner house, sufficiently ample, but he could only obtain possession of a part of it. He was soon obliged to remove to a plain frame house near by. Later on he found means to return to his first location, purchasing the whole lot and enlarging the building. Here he remained until his death. This residence is a fine, well-built, and solid edifice, but its furniture was very plain and simple, and cost the bishop very little. The two-ply ingrain carpet which he put down on his first arrival was still there when he died nineteen years later. To his own mind, however, everything was perfectly elegant. Although actually poor, he always seemed to feel himself quite rich, and no one could be more hospitable. The priests who came to him from different parts of his diocese always found a plate at his table, and a room to lodge in.
Although to a man who objected to all luxury, and required so little for his own comfort, the sense of personal poverty was something unknown, yet he had a clear perception of the poverty of his diocese, and was often made to feel it keenly. Once after his appointment and before his consecration, while walking with Professor Carmody on the Kenwood road, he opened his mind to his friend after this manner:
"I know, Carmody, the task I have before me. I know that country well. The population is poor and scattered. It is a land of small settlements and long distances. The people cannot be reached by railways or stage-coaches. Even good wagon-roads are few. But I'll tell you what I mean to do. I shall get a good pony that will carry me anywhere; and you take my word for it, it will not be long before I visit every family; and every man and woman, barefooted boy, and yellow-headed girl in my diocese will know me. Yes, sir-ee!"
I have heard it said, and it may be true, that Bishop Wadhams was not originally designated for Ogdensburg, but for another diocese; and that the appointment which he actually received was owing to the mistake of a clerk at Rome, who filled up a blank with his name where another name should have been entered. However this may be, it is certain that he had some characteristics which fitted him peculiarly for a bishopric among the Adirondacks. He was strong, healthy, and inured to physical fatigue. He was by nature and by training a child of the woods and mountains, the snows and floods. This made him well pleased with the location of his new field of labor. A familiar associate and co-laborer of Wadhams at the Albany Cathedral brings out this thought very happily in a sermon preached at his "month's mind: "
"At the time of his appointment to Ogdensburg," said Bishop Ludden, of Syracuse, "I was present when some person asked him whether he would accept or not. 'How can you,' they said to him, 'leave this great centre of life and go away to that barren and trackless region?' His answer was: 'My dear friends, that is my native air; I love those Adirondacks--I love those mountains, those rivers and streams; I love all there is in that territory. I love to hear the sawmills: they are music to my ears. Why, I was brought up on saw-logs!'"
And so he was. I myself have seen him walking over a fleet of logs that lay moored in a mill-dam. But although they dipped and turned under his feet, he trod among them as fearless and secure as if he were making his way along a sidewalk. It was his own impression that he knew every tree in the North Woods and could tell its name. When in the forest he walked like a master in his own house, and nature seemed to recognize him as such.
"He was the heart of all the scene;
On him the sun looked more serene;
To hill and cloud his face was known,
It seemed the likeness of their own;
They knew by secret sympathy
The public child of earth and sky."
If Wadhams was a true child of nature, nature had not given to this child a realistic head or a realistic heart. No one can say of him,
"A primrose by the river's brim
A simple primrose was to him,
And nothing more."
Nature talked to him like a mother, and he responded to her like an eager child. If the Angelus bell is now heard in so many parts of the North Woods it is due to him. I have already spoken of him as a musician. I don't remember that I have mentioned how fond he was of bell-music. To this predilection of his is due the beautiful chime of bells in the cathedral tower at Albany. It was at one time a fond hope of his to introduce a. true system of chiming, something quite different from the prevailing practice of banging out hymn-tunes on reluctant bells. He purchased rare books on bell-music, and loved to talk about peals, bob's, triple-bobs, and bob-majors. To this same fondness for bells is due also the fact that the region of the North Woods, and the level belt of land which so nearly surrounds them, has been made vocal thrice in the day with the sound of the Angelus.
He was on a visit one day to a parish among the mountains where the prospect was very fine but the grazing very poor. The worthy incumbent found it hard to keep the church in repair, and to keep either church or house warm during the long and cold winters. He did it indeed, but he had to work hard for it. The bishop said to him: "My dear father, you have a bell on your church, but I don't hear the Angelus ring." "No, bishop," the priest replied, "that's so; but in truth we are too poor." "What!" said the bishop, "too poor to ring the Angelus?" "Yes; I can't do it myself with any regularity, and there is no one here who can afford to do it without being paid. You see I am obliged to be my own sacristan, and when I am absent my cook takes charge of the church; but she has already all the work she wants to do." "Call her here," said the bishop. The woman soon presented herself. "Margaret," said the bishop, "have you got so much to do that you could not ring the Angelus three times every day?" "I could, my lord, and will, if you wish it." "You are the right sort of girl for me! Do it then, and keep it up, and you shall have two dollars a month extra."
Some time afterwards this priest came to Ogdensburg on parochial business, and said to the bishop in course of conversation: "I suppose you remember my cook, Margaret? She prays for you every day since your last visit to us." "Good!" said the bishop, "and does she get the two dollars extra?" "Indeed she does," was the reply; "she don't forget that." "And does she keep the bell going everyday?" "Indeed she does; that's something I don't forget." "Good for both of you!" said the bishop, slapping his broad hand on the table. "Now I'm satisfied." "Yes," said the priest, "but Margaret is not entirely satisfied. She wants a photograph of yourself, with your autograph on the back of it, and she asked me to tell you that she don't want one of the little things that get mislaid, but she wants a large-sized cabinet." "Glory! Alleluia!" said the bishop, starting to his feet and clapping his hands together. "She shall have one as big as the side of a house, if she wants it! But let her keep that bell going." It may easily be imagined, even by those who do not know the fact statistically, that the diocese of Ogdensburg made progress during the nineteen years of Bishop Wadhams' episcopate. New parishes were formed, new churches built, schools were established, priests were added to the clergy list, convents were founded, and the number of Catholic population increased. In a country like ours all these things take place naturally, no matter who the bishop may be. Catholics and Catholic institutions augment necessarily with the growth of the country. All this increase cannot be set down as a development of organic life. Much of it is only concretionary. Much of it even remains a mere drift or detritus. To turn all this swelling tide of life to good account, to the glory of God and the salvation of men, requires hard and constant missionary labor, the tribute of faithful and earnest hearts. Bishop Wadhams looked with joy upon the growth and improvement in his diocese, but he was too truthful and too humble to take all the credit of it to himself, and remain unmindful that the largest part of this was the work of his clergy, and he was always careful to give the principal credit of it to them and others who labored with them.
In July, 1890, when on a visitation to Port Henry, he was greeted with a complimentary address by the sodalities of St. Patrick's parish. In this address much was said of the growth of the diocese under his administration, which was attributed simply to his personal zeal and labor. The growth of the diocese was a thought in which the good bishop took great delight. The tribute to himself did not please him so well. After complimenting the address as something very beautiful and very grateful to his feelings, he said:
"You speak of the diocese. No doubt you know a great many things about the diocese. There may be some things, however, that you do not know. I can give you some statistics. I found the diocese with forty priests, and now there are seventy-six. I found fifteen, perhaps twenty--no more--religious women in the diocese. Now there are considerably over a hundred teaching, some seven or eight employed in our orphan asylum and hospital in Ogdensburg as a beginning--but all the rest, you may say, teaching. What you attribute to me, however, must be passed over to the credit of the priests of the diocese, of each one of them. It reflects to the credit of the religious orders--the religious men, the sisters. It reflects to the credit of the laity; of young women like you, the Children of Mary, members of the Rosary Society and other Sodalists; married women also, and married men, all full of devotion, all working together for the poor, for the church, in union and charity with each other and in unity with the Vicar of Christ. That's what makes things grow! "
That same open, unmasked, guileless character which had endeared Bishop Wadhams to the people of Albany drew also all hearts to him in Ogdensburg. A movement was set on foot there by his fellow-citizens to celebrate the eighteenth anniversary of his consecration by a public ovation. It was well known that the humble prelate was as little fond of ovations as he was of presents, and they would gladly have made it "a surprise party," but it was not easy in such a town to take him by surprise. It was necessary to secure his consent. A committee was therefore appointed to wait on him and tender him a public banquet. The bishop was embarrassed. His heart was as genial as it was humble. And then, again, there is never more danger of giving offence than when kindness is not met cordially. He got out of the embarrassment in this way. "I see, I see," he said. "What you propose is an anniversary banquet. Thank you; thank you. That would be glorious. You shall have it.
You will come to my house on the fifth, all of you--the more the merrier--and we will have a big supper. I will provide the entertainment. Leave that to me." And so it was done, the bishop taking all the expense on himself. One of the Protestant gentlemen present caused much merriment by reporting to the bishop the remark of a beggar whom he had found perched on the steps at the entrance. "Isn't it a fine thing to be a bishop, sir!" said he. The bishop enjoyed this as a capital joke, and it is needless to say that the beggar lost nothing by it.
This is nearly the old familiar story of the Irishman who said, as he leaned upon his spade: "Laboring work is not that bad after all; but for a nate, dacent, aisy job give me a bishop!"
The good citizens of Ogdensburg, who had plotted this feast as an honor to a man they admired, were not disposed to be outwitted after this sort. They therefore got up among themselves a purse to defray the expense and sent it to the bishop. The bishop was surprised, but not outwitted. His delicacy would not allow him to send the purse back. He saved, however, his personal independence and maintained his known aversion to public honors and to receiving costly presents for his own use, by hastening to apply the contents of this purse to the decoration of his cathedral. The handsome draperies, red and gold, which were then placed in the sanctuary, still hang there, bearing witness how well the good bishop understood the danger of those public flatteries called testimonials, the natural influence of which is to poison the heart and bind the hands of the recipient. Father Conroy not long after, taking advantage of the bishop's absence, pointed to these decorations from the pulpit and said to the people: "It is like everything he does, what is his is ours."
Perhaps no better place can be found to introduce an anecdote which illustrates a certain moral majesty which often invested the person of Bishop Wadhams, and which was sometimes awakened by the very sound of his voice. A burglar once broke into his house after midnight when the household were all asleep. He entered the bishop's room, whose slumber was not so deep as to prevent his awaking.
"Who is that?" said he in a gentle voice. "Is it you, Father Byrnes?" naming one of the household who was ill at the time. There was no answer. The bishop then demanded more sternly, "Who is that, I say?" "I am a burglar," was the unexpected reply. "Oh, you are a burglar, are you?" said the bishop, quietly. "How did you get into the house?"
"By the back door."
"By the back door, eh! Well, that's the wrong door to come into a bishop's house by. Do you know you are in a bishop's bedchamber now?" (No answer.) "Stay where you are for the present. I want to have a little talk with you."
The bishop then proceeded to dress himself partially, after which he struck a light. Then, with the candle in his hand, he proceeded to inspect the person of the burglar, who stood overawed and trembling before him. Perceiving that the man was barefooted, the bishop inquired, "Where are your shoes?"
"I left them at the door when I entered."
"Well, then, come downstairs with me and show me where you left them." The shoes were found standing inside of the back door, as the burglar had reported.
"Now then," said the bishop, "sit down on that chair and put on your shoes." The burglar did as he was ordered and then, all abashed, turned to leave the house by the same way that he had entered, but the bishop held him back.
"No, sir," he said. "I can't allow strangers to leave this house by the back door. Come with me." The burglar followed him to the front door, which the bishop unlocked and opened.
"One word more, my friend," he said. "Have you taken anything belonging to this house?" The burglar showed him his empty hands.
"Have you put nothing in your pocket?"
"Nothing, bishop, nothing--so help me God!"
"Well, good-night, my friend! But see here. The next time you come to visit me, come to this door and ring the bell."
The strange man disappeared in the darkness and was never seen in the neighborhood again.
I give the following incident to show certain traits in the character of Bishop Wadhams which, if not of the highest consequence, were very noticeable and will remain imprinted in the memory of those who knew him. It shows especially the warmth of his natural affections, with a self-forgetfulness and a simplicity of action which readily threw off the restraints of conventional and artificial life.
He was engaged one afternoon in giving confirmation to a class of children, with some adults, at a settlement in the Adirondacks called Black Brook near Saranac Lake. Just as he was about to begin the ceremony he saw, to his great surprise, sitting on one of the benches before him a sister of his whom he had not seen for many years. "Why," he said, "is that you?" Overjoyed at the sight, and quite forgetful of all other surroundings, he stepped forth from the sanctuary into the aisle all vested as he was, and with his mitre on, and throwing his arms about her saluted her with a hearty kiss. It then broke upon his mind that he had done something unusual. "Don't be scandalized," he said to the congregation, "it's my sister! My own dear old sister! She has come all the way from California! I haven't seen her for years." And the congregation were not at all scandalized. Simple-hearted as they were and all unartificial, they were more edified by this sudden display of natural affection than they would have been if they had seen the good bishop giving the "Pax" to his assistant priest at the altar in the midst of a pontifical High Mass, and with all the solemn dignity intended by the rubric.
Bishop Wadhams was never a society man, and it was not at all in his nature to become very conventional in his ways and manner. He was, however, a thorough gentleman in all that such a term implies of true courtesy and consideration for others. I give one instance.
Near the close of his life, but before his last illness, old age and increasing infirmity made it difficult for him to dress without assistance. This office was commonly performed by a laboring man in his service named John, whose duty it also was to attend to the fires. One morning when this man came into his room the bishop felt it necessary to take John to task for malfeasance in office.
"You neglect the fires, John," he said. "The house is too cold; I feel it and the whole household suffers from it." John took the reproof humbly and quietly, only taking advantage of a short pause to say, "Did you have a good sleep last night, bishop?" Being determined to make an impression on the mind of his attendant the bishop continued to enlarge upon the matter. When this was over John only replied, "Is there any other matter, sir, you'd like to mention?"
"No," was the reply, "you may go now.--Yes, wait a moment!" Then, after a short pause, the bishop continued: "John, when you came into my room a little while ago you wished me good-morning; I forgot to return the salute. Afterwards you asked me if I had had a good sleep; I forgot to answer that also. I found fault with you instead, and you never said a word or looked sullen. John, I can't afford to let you be more of a gentleman than I am. Good-morning to you, John. Did I have a good sleep? No, I had a very bad night of it. No fault of yours, though. And now you may go, John, and God bless you."
What the bishop was in his household such he was in his whole diocese and in all his intercourse with the world. He was as much of a gentleman with the least of his inferiors as he was with any of those who ranked above him.
A bishopric in the hands of a man who devotes himself earnestly and conscientiously to his high office involves a life of constant labor, and that a labor attended by many and constant embarrassments. Bishop Wadhams was not a man to shrink from labor. He was a hardy man, both in body and mind, and found happiness in his work. The greatest trouble which his diocese gave him was not from the tax it necessarily made upon his physical powers or mental faculties. It was a pain, and the pain lay at his heart. The pain came when he saw manifested in the flock committed to him anything like discordant feeling or bitterness of contention.
Whatever mischiefs may have hitherto existed in our American Church, its past records will show very little of the spirit of disunion. The clergy have been loyal to their bishops, the congregations have been loyal to their pastors, and the people have dwelt together in a brotherhood of true Christian love. It is manifest, however, that latterly with a change in sources of immigration, which, instead of flowing in one or two large streams, is now fed by a great variety of springs from all parts of Europe, extending even into western Asia, a new condition of things has been engendered. A jarring of nationalities shows itself, all claiming the privilege of engrafting into this country, into its social life, and into the very worship and government of our church, their several peculiarities. These alien elements are not only calculated to disturb and displace what they find here, but they jostle with each other, and they constitute a great practical problem to be solved by our church in our day.
The diocese of Ogdensburg has had its own share in these difficulties, and the heart which most keenly felt the strain has been the great, loving heart of the late Bishop of Ogdensburg. Toward the close of his life his increasing infirmities caused him to apply to the Holy See for a coadjutor. This excited a contention, and the nationality of the proposed coadjutor was the subject of the contention. The trouble assumed such proportions that the wearied bishop finally decided that the wisest course was to withdraw the application and endeavor to bear his burden alone. It is not my purpose to enlarge any further upon this matter. I have only introduced it as a matter too real and too important to be entirely suppressed, and because it will throw light upon the closing scene of the good bishop's life, now soon to be recorded.
Some twelve years after his elevation to the episcopate Bishop Wadhams was attacked by a complication of physical disorders which were not only extremely painful, but interfered with the prosecution of his duties, and even threatened his life. Feeling that a serious crisis was at hand, he came quietly and unannounced to Albany, and, taking a room at St. Peter's Hospital, he placed himself under the care of Dr. Keegan, a visiting physician of that institution, in the hope that a period of quiet rest and skilful treatment might fit him again for active labor.
The sufferings of Bishop Wadhams at this hospital before obtaining relief were, according to Dr. Keegan, as dreadful as human nature can experience. He found him at one time sitting doubled up on his bed in a perfect agony of pain, covered with perspiration, shaking from head to foot and sobbing like a child. "Don't think hard of me, doctor," he said, "to see me cry in this way. I can't help it. I am only a man. Nothing either more or less." During all the time of his illness, however, he never uttered a word of impatience or complaint. Only the body was shaken. The soul was steadfast. "I recognized at once," said the doctor, "that I had under my hands no common man. He was a man of heroic mould."
The relief obtained from the skilful treatment received in Albany at St. Peter's Hospital, although most serviceable and for the time effectual, did not amount to a permanent cure. The effectual and permanent cure came on the 8th of December, 1886, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. At half-past six o'clock on the morning of that day he celebrated Mass in his private chapel. This Mass was the concluding exercise of a novena which he had instituted to obtain a cure from heaven. The sisters of the Sacred Heart Academy ("Gray Nuns,"socalled) had at his request taken part in the novena, and were present at the Mass. The disease left him suddenly at the consecration of the Sacred Host, and never returned again. He became overpowered and burst into tears, which flowed abundantly during the remainder of his Mass, but at the end he could not control his feelings and gave full vent to them. He continued at prayer in the chapel until half-past nine. Two of the sisters remained with him there. Several times he said to Sister Stanislaus: "O my child, if I could only tell you what the Immaculate Queen has done for me! I, so unworthy!" This he repeated over and over.
The central figure of the sanctuary dome in his cathedral, representing the coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Eternal Father, was painted there by his orders in memory of the cure thus obtained through her intercession.
We owe these details to Sister Stanislaus, to whom he made a full revelation of the whole occurrence a few days before his death. As he said Mass frequently at the Sacred Heart Academy this sister became well acquainted with his method of making thanksgiving after Mass, and with his habits of devotion. His close and familiar conversations with Our Lord in the Blessed Eucharist, with the Blessed Virgin, and with St. Joseph were something remarkable. She tells us that "after his usual morning Mass he would sit down and actually talk to the Blessed Virgin, telling her what she should give him, commending such and such an interest to her care."
In February, 1891, old age and over-taxed energies brought him. down again and near to death's door. A circular letter of the vicar-general, sent through the diocese and to friends outside, announced what was believed to be the approach of death, and fervent prayers were sent up for him from many altars which he had helped to build, and where his face was familiar and beloved. To the surprise of all, however, he rallied so as to afford strong hope of his restoration once more to active duty. His physical condition at this time, as well as something of his warmheartedness and the Christian tranquillity of his soul in sickness, may be seen in the following letter, dated August 3ist, 1891:
"REV. DEAR FRIEND WALWORTH: I cannot tell you how grateful I feel for your most excellent and affectionate letter, through the hands of your devoted niece.
"I was brought to death's door, and received all the sacraments of Holy Church by sickness that took me to my bed on February i2th last. Since the ist of July I have been strong enough to fast and receive Holy Communion occasionally. I went down very slowly, and very lowly, and very far; up to the present I have not been able to celebrate Mass, but am in hopes to be able to do so before many days, once in a while.
"As you well say, my working days are nearly ended as far as taking the road again. I am able to ride out every day, read a very little, write none.
"Your allusions to past years and our Catholic lives touch me most sensibly, but it is a matter of which I cannot write at present. Who can be more happy than we?
"With kindest and most affectionate regards and blessings for yourself and Miss Nellie,
" I am, very sincerely in Christ, "E. P. WADHAMS, Bishop of Ogdensburg"
The above letter is in the bishop's own handwriting. It begins with a certain show of firmness and good penmanship, but grows gradually more straggling, until at the close a failure of strength is very evident, and the signature is little better than a scratch.
"See what a letter I have written to you with my own hand" wrote St. Paul to the Galatians. Other of his inspired epistles were written in bonds and from Rome. They contain the same careful reminder that he used his own hand to write. His room in the Roman prison still remains. It was a very dark one, unless he was allowed the light of a lamp. He must have taken his scroll to the little window and written there upon the sill, on which a flush of daylight fell and still falls. It cost him something, this work of love. How affectionately he reminds his brethren of the prison which held him, and of his anxiety that they should read his heart in his own handwriting. Tears fall from my eyes when I gaze on this last letter of my old friend, and feel that it must have cost him something to trace the straggling characters with his own hand. I am not in the habit of preserving private letters, but I could not bring myself to part with this one.
Although my friend endeavored to write cheerfully, and may perhaps have entertained the prospect of resuming his active duties for a little while, yet this was not to be. There came, indeed, from time to time short periods of returning activity, as flames are seen to flicker and gleam above the dying embers of a hearth-fire; but the end soon came. He died December 5th, 1891.
The close of his last illness is thus characterized by his niece, Harriet Wadhams, wife of Dr. Stevens of New York, a most estimable lady, a Con-gregationalist, who was in constant attendance upon him during the last two weeks of his life. Her testimony is as follows: "It was my great privilege during this time," she says in a letter to the author, "to listen to the saintly utterances which continually fell from his lips. His end was most peaceful, as he had so long prayed that it might be."
We will not dwell upon the occurrences of that final day, nor of other days leading directly up to it, except to recall one scene remarkably characteristic, in which he signalized his departure from the world in a manner that was deliberate, solemn, and impressive.
The following account is gathered from the columns of the Ogdensburg Courier of December 5th, 1891:
When the symptoms of a speedy end became apparent, the bishop decided to make a final preparation for death. He was anointed and received the Holy Viaticum. His thanksgiving being ended, the bishop declared his desire to make his solemn ante-mortem declaration of faith.
There were present in the sick-chamber the Very Rev. Thomas E. Walsh, Vicar-General, and Fathers Larose, Burns, Conroy, and Murphy, priests of the diocese; his niece, Mrs. Dr. Stevens, and two members of the community of Gray Nuns, Sisters Stanislaus and Matthew.
The profession of faith according to the formula of Pius IV. was read to him in Latin. During the reading the bishop accentuated his acceptance of the church's teachings by frequently repeating, with evident satisfaction and emphasis, the words as read by Father Walsh. Now a smile of approval lit up the pallid face, now an earnest "Credo" fell from the prelate's lips. When the last words were reached a bright smile overspread the bishop's face, and he said joyously, "Deo gratias!"
This done, the dying man bethought himself of his responsibilities as a bishop. He announced that he had a last utterance to make. "You all know of my life," he said; "educated in the Protestant Episcopal belief, I left it for the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church.
"It won't do to say that one church is as good as another--there is only one true chtirch. There must be unity; there must be a head, and that is the pope. I want to insist upon unity. There may be some difference of ideas amongst us--we are of many different births--but for God's sake let there be unity amongst us. To the devoted clergy of the diocese--oh! what shall I say to them?--they have done so much for me, holding up my hands and authority--and oh!" (turning to Father Walsh) "let them hold up your hands--respect and hold up your authority! Struggle for the old faith. Be faithful in giving the Sacraments. The priests are for the people, not the people for the priests." The anxious heart of the dying convert then reverted to that crowd of souls outside of the faith with which he had once been united. "If one thing has, during the past year, contributed more than another to break my health and my heart, it has been the thought that one thousand seven hundred more souls annually come into the world in this diocese than receive the sacrament of baptism. There are seven sacraments, not two only--and the saddest of it all is that even these two, once accepted, are being rejected by those who formerly accepted them." After a few more affectionate words and expressions of thanks to the clergy and religious of the diocese, and also to all the laity, he repeated once more those golden words which had been the great rule of his own life in the ministry: "THE PRIESTS ARE FOR THE PEOPLE, NOT THE PEOPLE FOR THE PRIESTS."
"I want all my priests and people to know," he concluded, "how the first bishop of Ogdensburg died." Then after a still more emphatic and closely defined declaration of his adherence to the entire faith of the church, and begging prayers to be said for him by all his people, he requested the priests present to approach, and giving his blessing, he embraced each one in turn. All were moved to tears, and retired with sad hearts from the painful and impressive scene.
These imperfect reminiscences of the life of Bishop Wadhams are now concluded. We trust that his wish so earnestly expressed may be fulfilled, and that the Catholic people of the Adirondacks will remember how the first Bishop of Ogdensburg died. God grant, also, that all the Catholic clergy of this whole nation will treasure up the golden rule which he has bequeathed to us: "The priests are for the people, not the people for the priests."