Project Canterbury

An American Cloister

The Life and Work of the Order of the Holy Cross

By Shirley Carter Hughson, O.H.C.

West Park, New York: Holy Cross Press, 1948.

Chapter XIV. Our Mountain-Top.

THE year 1902 saw a time of very definite transition in the life of the Order of the Holy Cross. Within a period of little more than six months, through professions of priest-novices, the community was doubled in size. It was still a very little flock, indeed, but six active men can do at least twice as much as three. The Order had always, apparently by a very direct leading of the Holy Spirit, had a great interest in work in the south. Ten years amongst the people of Maryland had intensified this interest. Several members of the Order had lived and worked in other parts of the south, and the glimpses that these activities had afforded disclosed a great field that lay white to the harvest.

Through no planning of the Superiors, with the beginning of the new century, new opportunities were offered for southern work, and calls came which extended far beyond our capacity to respond. In the early summer of 1904 two of the Fathers, at the invitation of the Bishop of the diocese, and of the Rev. W. S. Claiborne, of blessed memory, who was in charge of a chain of missions reaching through the mountains of East Tennessee, went to Sewanee, and built with the assistance of a young neighbour, a shack on the mountainside. They lived there for the greater part of that summer, preaching up and down through the missions, and giving such [95/96] assistance as they could to Father Claiborne who was not only in charge of the missions, but was also rector of the Otey Church at Sewanee.

The experiences of that summer demonstrated a great need, and what could be done to meet it. For many years the Sisters of St. Mary had conducted an industrial school for mountain girls near Sewanee, but nothing had been done for the boys. Father Claiborne had some time before acquired title to a farm, known as the Colmore Place, two miles east of Sewanee, and he now offered this to the Order, and in September, 1905, Father Allen with a young layman, proceeded to Tennessee, and, in a humble way, in a little farmhouse which originally boasted of three rooms, he began what has since been known widely through the Church as St. Andrew's School.

But the original intention of the Order was by no means to confine its southern activities to a school. More and more were the rectors of parishes all over the south according us the privilege of cooperating with them through the preaching of missions, giving retreats, etc., but there was a definite drawback. The distances from West Park were in many cases so great that it was a heavy burden on such parishes to pay the traveling expenses of a missioner. It was in order to relieve this situation, as well as to assist in the mountain work, that St. Andrew's foundation was made. How far this particular thought in our minds has been translated into action it is not [96/97] easy to judge. Perhaps we are not doing any greater preaching work in the southern dioceses now than we were doing thirty years ago. But man proposes and God disposes. We had one vision, and God before many years had passed gave us another.

Who would have thought twenty-nine years ago when Father Allen took up his residence in that little farmhouse on the Colmore farm, that another generation would see the noble buildings which now grace that fair mountain-top? Who could have pictured the great procession of boys and young men which has passed through those halls, entering with little equipment for the battle of life, and going out armed spiritually and intellectually for the struggle for righteousness and truth into which every man who is worthy to be called a man, must throw himself in these troublous times? One recalls the beginnings of that work. The boys came from far coves and valleys. Things have changed in the southern mountains since that day, and we hope we are not presumptuous if we think that St. Andrew's and Holy Cross had something to do with the change. These young fellows came, timid, shy, and sometimes wholly terrified at the thought of being so far from their own people. Most of them were to be described as one man in those early days described himself when he brought his boy to be entered at the School. "You see," he said pathetically, "I ain't never had no chance." St. Andrew's has in a generation given thousands of boys a chance, [97/98] and they have seized it nobly. All up and down the land, in every walk of life, these men are making their contribution to the good of human society, and to the upbuilding of the Church into which St. Andrew's gave them the opportunity to be born.

It was a long, hard, up-hill work, that erecting of an institution which was designed to build men. The start, was made with a few small lads, the curriculum hardly reaching beyond what we used to call "first reader," and a little figuring which rarely got as far as common fractions. But they plodded on, dull minds growing sharper, and wider horizons offering visions of life and service towards which they reached with eagerness and sincerity of purpose. We think of that early day, and that slender equipment, and then turn to St. Andrew's as it stands now, a fully accredited school whose graduates find a welcome in any University in the country. We think of that early day when the only religion they knew was a travesty on the revelation of God,--as it still is today in some of the most sophisticated parts of this country,--and then look at the men who are bearing their witness for the Catholic truth and life, and we realize how much we have to be thankful for in being accorded the privilege of molding these young souls and minds for God's work here and hereafter.

There have been many ups and downs, joys and disasters. Fires cleaned us out twice, and twice bank failures taught us to heed the psalmist's warning, [98/99] and not to put our trust in princes--money barons in this case--nor in any child of man. But every seeming down-turn, and every apparent disaster, was only God's way of preparing us for higher and nobler things. There was some suffering, but this is always the sign manual of God's approval of an effort, and the comforting pledge that He will overrule our foolish blunders, for the glory of His Church, and the good of souls.

St. Andrew's has the small beginning of an endowment which, it is hoped, will grow. In the [99/100] meantime, it is dependent on the contributions of benevolent people who believe that the education of the young can be conducted to the best advantage, not only under the auspices of the Church in the vague sense in which that expression is often used, but by working openly and directly to make devout and loyal Churchmen of every young man who comes under our tutelage.

Our boys are made to realize that their religion is not a mere part of the school exercise and discipline, but the most precious possession they can take with them through life.

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