In February, 1875, the parish began its search for a new rector, a task made difficult by the short supply of priests of strong Catholic conviction in the Episcopal Church during the 1870s. The vacant position was not filled until August.
Several priests were considered. The Rev. Theodore Riley, rector of St. Clement's, Philadelphia, was invited but declined the invitation. An offer was extended to the Rev. Edward W. Osborne of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, but he too was unwilling to serve. As months passed the pressure to select a rector grew, and it was decided to ask the Rev. James DeKoven, who prior to the invitation had been elected bishop of Illinois (but not yet confirmed by the standing committees), to come as rector. This call was not made with the expectation that he would accept, but as a means of gaining yet more time to continue the search for a suitable rector. Dr. DeKoven indicated that he would delay his reply long enough to give the parish the time it needed.
On June 6 the Rev. Arthur Ritchie visited the Ascension from the Church of the Advent in Boston; he was assistant to the Rev. Charles C. Grafton, rector, who later served as bishop of Fond du Lac. Fr. Ritchie was born in Philadelphia in 1849, educated at the University of Pennsylvania and the General Theological Seminary in New York, and had also assisted at St. Clement's, Philadelphia and Mount Calvary, Baltimore. In June Fr. Ritchie officiated at the Sunday services and met with the vestry. Later he wrote the vestry accepting the parish's call and saying that he would assume the duties of rector in August.
On August 1, 1875, the ninth rector of the Church of the Ascension took charge. The election of the Rev. James DeKoven as bishop of Illinois had failed to win the consent of the standing committees of the Episcopal Church, another election was held, and the Rev. William McLaren was named third bishop of Illinois. On September 26 Fr. Ritchie resumed the use of altar candles, a practice which had been forbidden by the previous bishop.
A midnight Mass celebrated on Christmas, 1875, was described by a local newspaper as "quite an unusual service in the Episcopal Church." During Lent of 1876 a daily Mass was celebrated and daily Morning and Evening Prayer were said. Silk vestments replaced the plain linen ones which had previously been worn. After Easter a regular weekly morning Mass on Thursday was celebrated, and later in that year the Athanasian Creed was printed out on cards for use by the congregation during Mass. Again during Lent of 1877 a daily Mass was celebrated. Fr. Ritchie introduced violet vestments and thereafter continued to use vestments of proper liturgical color. On Maundy Thursday the rector attracted the attention of the local press by preaching on the subject of "the Real Objective Presence." The Times reported his sermon in full. The next week the newspaper noted with surprise the large number of parishioners who had attended the 7 A.M. Easter Day Mass to receive a fasting communion. Note was also made of the first Paschal candle at the 10:45 full choral service which followed: "The altar was brilliantly illuminated. A candle about six feet tall, on a holder nearly the same height, stood on the lowest step in front of the altar."
In May of 1877 priests of the Society of St. John the Evangelist conducted a second mission at the Church of the Ascension. Fathers Maturin and Hall were successful in attracting large numbers of persons, including Bishop McLaren. The press reported that the mission was to Chicago High Churchmen what the tabernacle tent revivals were to their Protestant brothers. The mission attracted people from all parts of the city, providing many an introduction to Catholic belief and practice. Auricular confession was introduced to the Ascension during the mission, and about 40 people made their first confessions. Respect for the other sacraments was emphasized, particularly the Eucharist. Fasting before communion was recommended.
Inspired by the mission, parishioners fitted out two brick stores on Clybourn Avenue as the Mission of St. John the Evangelist. One store was a chapel and the other was a schoolroom. Night school was conducted for men and boys three times a week and for women twice a week. Sunday school was also conducted. The Church of the Ascension supported the mission and supplied the teachers as an outreach to the poor of that area of the city.
The chapel had been altered earlier in the year, adding a choir room and organ chamber. For Whitsunday of 1877 the original wooden reredos of the chapel altar was removed and a new marble one was installed. It included a marble tabernacle and retable which provided, as Fr. Ritchie noted in the parish record, "opportunity for reverent reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, when there might be occasion for doing so." In Advent of 1877 Fr. Ritchie began the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in the new tabernacle. When Bishop McLaren heard of this he objected to the practice, which was temporarily discontinued. [In 1857 the English convent of the Society of St. Margaret was the site of the first permanent reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in the Anglican Communion. The religious community had been founded by the Rev. John Mason Neale in 1855.]
A new marble altar was placed in the chapel just before the Christmas midnight Mass. It was on this occasion that incense was used for the first time at the Church of the Ascension. Taking note of the liturgy, the local press wondered what "the Solemn Midnight Mass" meant, and what had happened to "the traditional Morning Prayer."
Liturgical practices at the Church of the Ascension were far from the norm of the diocese. Most parishes still had one monthly communion with weekly Morning Prayer. Churches were locked during the week. At a time when issues associated with ritualism were of great concern to Episcopalians, it is not surprising that during the early years of Fr. Ritchie's rectorate there were undercurrents of opposition to Catholic practices at the Ascension. In July, 1878, the opposition surfaced in a lengthy article in the Sunday Times concerning the parish:
Many Episcopalians living in the North Division . . . have complained that there exists no church in that large district where they can attend services according to the usual forms of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Recent inquiries have demonstrated this complaint to be well grounded. ... Of course, people have naturally to ask why the alleged Protestant Episcopal Church of the Ascension on Elm Street . . . does not afford sufficient accommodation for Episcopalians. A single visit to the Church of the Ascension will amply demonstrate why Episcopalians might object to attending a place where the grand old service of the Protestant Episcopal Church, that noble liturgy which was the early love of their fathers and mothers and forefathers for generations before them, is so distorted, patched, and bedizened with old follies and new assumptions as to be repugnant to the average Episcopalian. . . .
To the unsophisticated mind the parson and congregation of the Ascension would seem to be Romanists in all but name. ... A number of his congregation call him "Father Ritchie," though for what reason the most diligent inquiry has failed to discern. . . .
Several prominent clergymen of the city . . . ask "Has the time indeed come when the children of this gloriously descended church can be led away from the old and safe paths and from the pure faith, by snares and gaudy tricks, and the church herself in her high places finds no voice to warn or to protect them?"
The article, which concluded by calling for action by the bishop of Illinois, elicited dignified silence from both the bishop and the parish; it was, however, only the first shot fired in a public battle which was to continue throughout the remainder of Fr. Ritchie's rectorate. Continuing in the same vein, the Sunday Times of August 19, 1878, commented:
All the services at this place of ecclesiastical peculiarity are becoming about alike for their foreign character to the prayer book and their deliberate imitation of Romish Ritual. The latter is at least honest and has a soul and meaning attached to everything in it, but the mere millinery "Flummery" of the ritualistic party of the Episcopalian church is not only meaningless, but it is calculated to mislead and deceive all the members of the Protestant form of worship who are forced to put up with it.
An article in the Tribune of September 1, 1878, probably written by the rector, came to the defense of the new "American Catholics."
With the death of Dr. James DeKoven on March 19, 1879, the Catholic movement in the Episcopal Church lost a great leader. It had been announced that Bishop McLaren would administer confirmation on March 20. On the day of the confirmation the bishop's visitation was cancelled. A flurry of articles appeared in the city newspapers concerning why the bishop would not go to the Ascension. The Tribune at first supposed that it was due to Dr. DeKoven's death and the bishop's sudden departure for Racine. Other papers, particularly the Times, adduced a wider variety of rumor and innuendo to suggest that more was involved. Perhaps, it was hinted, the bishop refused to visit the parish because of Fr. Ritchie's many "High Church notions." Fr. Ritchie himself said that he did not know why the bishop was unable to make the visitation. The bishop would not speak, except to say that the confirmation was only postponed. The reason for the postponement, he was not at liberty to state.
At issue apparently was the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. The practice, begun in 1877 and discontinued because of the bishop's displeasure, was resumed by Fr. Ritchie in Advent of 1878 and again discontinued in early April, 1879, just prior to Bishop McLaren's visitation on April 18 to preach and confirm 29 persons.
In end-of-the-year notes contained in his diary, Fr. Ritchie cited the accomplishments of 1879: continued support of the Mission of St. John the Evangelist on Clybourn Avenue; the erection of a carved wood rood screen in the chapel; the first use of the Sanctus gong; the introduction of red vestments on St. Luke's Day (every liturgical color but black was now in use); the completion of the chapel altar; and the blessed privilege of the reserved Sacrament from Advent to Passiontide.
Fr. Ritchie also wrote of the manner by which he had introduced Catholic practices into the parish. At first, he noted, he had moved slowly as he had been advised by others to do, introducing only one small change at a time. Since he encountered a certain amount of opposition each time, he decided to strike out by making all the major changes in a shorter period of time, thereby getting all the trouble out of the way quickly. At the time of his writing, the rector believed that he had accomplished nearly all of his major goals and foresaw no further changes necessary in practices at the Ascension, except with respect to reservation. Fr. Ritchie concluded his notes with a lengthy discourse concerning Bishop McLaren's alleged misinterpretation of the Church's canons regarding the practice.
During the first four years of Fr. Ritchie's rectorate, parish membership grew considerably. Three hundred fifty members were reported to the Diocesan Convention of 1880. In January of that year The Living Church had published a favorable article concerning the parish, taking note of its remarkable growth since the arrival of Fr. Ritchie, and mentioning that the mortgage on the chapel had been paid and the parish was now planning to build a church on the remainder of the LaSalle Avenue and Elm Street lot.
Easter fell on March 28 that year and the local newspapers published their usual accounts of the Church of the Ascension. It was noted, with some surprise, that not only was the church full for 8 and 9 o'clock Masses but that crowds flowed over onto Elm Street at the 6:30 A.M. Solemn and the 11:00 A.M. Solemn High Masses. The highlight of the Tribune's description reads more like an Easter fashion note than an account of a religious service: "The young pastor wore his new white silk chasuble, heavily embroidered, and set off with its garnet and velvet cross, and beneath this his delicate lace alb with maniple of white silk."
A parish report presented at the annual meeting on Easter Monday noted that $30.00 had been spent the previous year on the construction of a confessional. Although the confessional is often mentioned later in parish records, this is the first notice of its being built.
On May 30, Trinity Sunday, a meeting was held in the chapel at which it was decided to begin the work of building the main church. It was thought that about $30,000 would be needed to complete the construction, and a call was sent out to friends of the parish asking for help. On June 20 Bishop McLaren issued a statement commending the parish on its work and recommending support of the building program to the rest of the diocese.
On August 1, 1880, the ground breaking ceremony took place. The Tribune described the impressive ceremony in some detail. A procession led by the choir, followed by Fr. Ritchie, the wardens and vestrymen, and the congregation came out the Elm Street door of the chapel singing, "We love the place, O God, wherein thine honor dwells." The procession continued up Elm Street, turned down LaSalle a short distance, and concluded in the center of the vacant lot. After appropriate prayers, Fr. Ritchie took a spade and turned over the shovel of sod, "In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost . . . and under the invocation of St. Michael and all the Angels."
The Tribune published a lengthy description of what the exterior and interior of the finished church were to resemble. What actually resulted was quite different from the original plan. Apparently only the exterior stone and roof of the original plan were adopted. The center of the chapel was to have become the chancel with the nave running the entire length of what is now the main church. The remainder of the chapel was to have become an entrance and sacristies. Marble and sandstone were planned for the interior of the church, with 16 steps leading up to the altar. A confessional and baptistry were to be situated on either side of the LaSalle Avenue entrance, separated from the nave by brass screens. The plan also called for the construction of a bell turret. There were hopes that the church could be sufficiently completed for use the following autumn. Sadly, it was more than six years before it was occupied.
August 1, 1880, was also the fifth anniversary of Fr. Ritchie's term as rector, and there is extant the entire text of a lengthy sermon which he delivered on that day. The sermon was a defense of ritualism. Father Ritchie admitted that many persons objected to practices at the Ascension; despite the fact, the more advances the rector had introduced, the larger the parish had grown.
At the annual meeting in April, 1881, it was decided to undertake some immediate changes in the chapel to accommodate the growing parish. An addition to the chapel was to be built where the present main chancel stands. A priest's study, sacristy, choir room and room for a parish school were to be provided in a one story brick parish house to be built south of the main church site. This was the earliest recorded mention of a day school at the church, which began in 1881 with one teacher and two pupils.
In his annual Ascension Day report to the parish, Fr. Ritchie wrote in glowing terms of the parish's progress. There were now 558 parishioners. With daily Mass there had been over 1,200 services conducted at the church during the preceding year. Besides the regular Sunday school, which had 174 pupils, the parish continued to conduct a mission school on Clybourn Avenue with 196 students. A night school for the poor was also maintained at the mission. The parish's own day school, newly opened, now had 15 pupils and was charging tuition of 20 dollars a year.
On August 28, 1881, the Times mentioned the work being done on enlarging the chapel and building the parish house. The article noted that although the foundations of the church were nearly complete, some changes had been made in plans for the building. These changes, it reported, were to include "a handsome minaret to cap the Byzantine facade." Whether this was actually planned or an example of the fertile imagination of the Times' religion editor is not known, but no such work was ever executed.
By the end of September, 1881, the chapel alterations and the parish house were completed. The addition to the chapel now allowed the seating of 460 people for services. The organ had been moved and improved, now powered by a water motor. The parish house had been planned and completed by Mr. William Willcox, Chicago architect. As originally planned, it was one story, built of brick and contained four rooms: a sacristy, choir room, guild room, and school room. The guild room in the rear could be opened by sliding doors into the chapel, providing an extra 40 seats.
During the last few months of 1881, Fr. Ritchie became embroiled in a controversy with The Living Church, considered a leading Anglo-Catholic journal in the Episcopal Church. It published an article claiming that certain unnamed parishes were damaging the Anglo-Catholic movement by their extremes in liturgical practices. Fr. Ritchie responded to the article in a letter which The Living Church declined to publish. Fr. Ritchie sent the letter to the Times, which published it along with the original article. There followed a series of letters and articles which did credit neither to the Anglo-Catholic movement, The Living Church, nor to Fr. Ritchie. The dispute, which ended in stubborn silence on both sides, settled nothing, and only served to make the Ascension the target of more abuse from conservative forces in the diocese.
The twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Ascension parish occurred in 1882. It was also in that year that the cornerstone of the parish church was laid and difficulties between the parish and bishop came to a head in open dispute. The parish was continuing to grow at a rapid rate. It was ministering to nearly 600 souls and had 315 active communicants. Four hundred twenty-five students were enrolled in the regular Sunday school and mission Sunday school. Ascension's parochial day school served more than 20 students. The Mission of St. John the Evangelist on Clybourn Avenue still maintained a night school for the poor of the area.
As the Tribune and particularly the Times continued to publish articles describing the "strange" services at the "ritualistic" Ascension, collections from the growing congregation increased. At the Solemn Mass on Easter Day 550 crowded into the chapel and contributed $1,600, which was applied to removing the parish debt. By Ascensiontide Fr. Ritchie was able to report that the parish was completely free of debt.
Bishop McLaren paid a special visit to the Ascension in June, 1882, to confirm six persons whom the rector had prepared for the sacrament. This was the last visit of the bishop to the Ascension until the spring of 1884.
On August 1, the seventh anniversary of the beginning of his rectorate, Father Ritchie preached a sermon in defense of ritualism. He argued that the Anglican Communion allowed for great freedom in regard to ritual, permitting any practices that were in use at the time of the first prayer book of Edward VI. The Ascension, Fr. Ritchie asserted, did no more than use the Anglican ritual to its fullest extent. The complete sermon and two long newspaper articles that accompanied its publication are still extant. During August and September several articles and letters to the editor appeared in The Living Church, Tribune, and Times refuting the rector's anniversary sermon.
Also on August 1, a special call was put out to parishioners and friends of Ascension in an attempt to raise $3,300 to continue work on the church. Ten thousand dollars would be needed to complete the nave. The foundations were complete and preparations were being made to lay the cornerstone. Two days following this appeal for funds, Fr. Benedict arrived to serve as the Ascension's new curate.
On September 24, 1882, a notice transmitted to the press by Fr. Ritchie was published in the local papers. The simple announcement, which was to begin a long dispute between the parish and its bishop, read as follows: "The principal event among high church people will be the laying of the cornerstone of the Church of the Ascension on Friday next at 11 A.M. when High Mass will be said. Bishop McLaren will officiate. Masses will be celebrated at 6, 6:30, 7 and 7:30 A.M."
The notice was repeated in the Times of September 28, which indicated that at the Solemn High Mass at 11 o'clock, Fr. Ritchie would celebrate with Fr. Benedict and Canon Dorset acting as deacon and subdeacon. The bishop would officiate at the cornerstone laying afterward.
On September 25 Bishop McLaren sent the following letter to the papers: "To the Editor: As might be inferred from an item in your editions of the 24th, that I am to officiate at an office called 'High Mass' at the Church of the Ascension in the city on Friday, I desire to say that such an inference would be entirely incorrect. The Book of Common Prayer contains no such office. Furthermore, I have given no direction for any other service on Friday next at the Church of the Ascension than the form of prayer which I have set forth for use in this diocese on such an occasion. W. E. McLaren, Bishop of Illinois."
On Friday morning, September 29, city papers published a flurry of articles announcing that Bishop McLaren had decided not to attend the cornerstone laying at all. There was speculation that Fr. Ritchie would finally be stopped, or even brought to trial for his extremist positions. Interviews with leading Churchmen from all over the city were published. Most seemed to oppose the Ascension's peculiar practices. Many abhorred them. A few would not comment. However, the announcement from Fr. Ritchie was that the services for the day would continue as planned, without the presence of the bishop.
At 11 A.M. the Solemn High Mass, celebrated by Father Ritchie and assisted by Father Benedict and Canon Dorset, began as scheduled. The altar of the chapel was decorated with goldenrod and Michaelmas daisies. The chapel was filled to overflowing. Several members of the city clergy, vested in cassocks and cottas, were seated in the choir. Gounod's "Mass of the Sacred Heart" was sung by 30 men and boys of the choir, augmented by five female voices. At the end of the Mass the procession reformed in the vestry. The choir led singing "Oft in Danger, Oft in Woe." The clergy followed, many in birettas. Fr. Ritchie and Fr. Benedict in girded albs followed next preceding Canon Dorset in cotta, cassock and white stole. The vestry, followed by the congregation, completed the procession, which moved from the chapel to the street.
A block of blue Berlin sandstone, inscribed on two sides, was suspended by a derrick at the corner of LaSalle Avenue and Elm Street. Canon Dorset recited some appropriate collects and the Lord's Prayer and then advanced to the stone and struck it three times with a mallet while it was lowered into place. He said:
In the faith of Jesus Christ, in honor of the ever blessed Trinity, and under the invocation of St. Michael the Archangel, I lay this stone in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen. Here, let true faith, the love of God and brother by love ever remain. This place is consecrated to prayer and to the praise of the Most Holy Name of the same, our Lord Jesus Christ, who ever liveth and reigneth one God world without end. Amen.
The stone (which was moved further south in the wall when the church was rebuilt in 1930) is inscribed: "In honor of the ever blessed Trinity and under the invocation of St. Michael the Archangel, this stone was laid September 29, 1882." On the Elm Street side (now hidden) is inscribed: "He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, to keep thee in all thy ways."
Another collect and Psalm 81 were read. Then Fr. Ritchie stepped forward and spoke. In introducing Canon Dorset he made a statement to persons present, including members of the press, which was later widely quoted and contributed to the controversy. He remarked that he was glad Canon Dorset was there to lay the stone because Canon Dorset had been laboring for the Catholic Church at the Ascension while Fr. Ritchie was still only a student and "before the bishop had emerged from the darkness of Calvinism." (The rector's reference was to the fact that Bishop McLaren had been raised a Presbyterian and was a convert to the Episcopal Church.)
Canon Dorset spoke saying that on this occasion he was overcome with emotion. He was thrilled at the great strides made by the little parish, which when he had been rector had barely survived the Chicago Fire. Several other attending clergy spoke, and a luncheon was served in the choir room.
The events of Michaelmas, 1882, precipitated a storm of controversy. At the beginning of this century the parish historian, Mr. Henry Collins Ranney, meticulously hand copied all newspaper references to the Ascension during the parish's first 50 years. Over 80 ledger-size pages contain material copied from articles, editorials and letters to the editor that were published in just three weeks following Michaelmas. The items range from serious attempts to report and explain the dispute, to attacks on personalities, and even contain unsigned poison-pen letters.
Although the spate of newspaper coverage reflects extensive public interest in the controversy, what was published tended to obfuscate rather than clarify the issues which divided Fr. Ritchie and the bishop. As noted, at the time the diocese of Illinois, as well as the rest of the Church, was still feeling the pressure of the Evangelical Movement that in the 1860s and 1870s had attempted to move the Episcopal Church into closer associations with Protestant denominations. There was a strong feeling among many Churchmen that anything "High Church" in the domain of ritual was a sign of the evils of the encroachment of Romanism as well as a violation of the Protestant heritage of the Episcopal Church.
Bishop McLaren, a cleric of recognized and strong Catholic principles, had to walk a thin line, carefully fostering Catholic practices in the diocese while not openly supporting the most extreme expressions of Catholic piety and worship. For several years the Ascension, more than any other church in the diocese, had openly and enthusiastically manifested these extremes. There had been several attempts to convince the bishop to stop Fr. Ritchie, to have him tried, and to terminate the "scandalous Popery" at the Ascension. Bishop McLaren had retained a calculated silence through all this. As long as he was sure that the Ascension had violated no Church canons, the bishop said nothing.
Ironically, the major difficulty associated with the incidents of Michaelmas had nothing to do with the liturgical embellishments which consumed the interest of the press and public. Prior to 1882 Fr. Ritchie had begun the custom of having no one but the celebrant receive Holy Communion at the 11 o'clock Solemn High Mass. The purpose was to reinforce the practice of fasting before communion. Many parishioners came to early Masses at 7, 8, or 9 o'clock to make their communion, went home to have breakfast, and returned for the 11 o'clock Solemn Mass to worship together as a parish. Noncommunicating Masses continued at the Ascension until 1951.
Fr. Ritchie had a small pamphlet printed that was placed in the pews at the Ascension to help people follow the 11 o'clock service. It was titled "The Order for Solemn High Mass without Communicants." It presented the Mass prayers in traditional Catholic order but omitted the Comfortable Words, Confession, Absolution, and Prayer of Humble Access.
Shortly before the day for the laying of the cornerstone, someone informed the bishop that Fr. Ritchie was disregarding the prayer book and using his own form of worship. When the announcement of Solemn High Mass to be followed by the laying of the cornerstone by the bishop was published, the bishop was put under pressure not to attend. As noted above, his only official statement was that he would not attend a service not contained in the Book of Common Prayer. The day after the ceremony a spokesman for the bishop let it be known, unofficially, that the bishop's difficulties were not with Fr. Ritchie's ritualistic innovations but only with the use of a booklet containing a rite not contained in the prayer book.
On October 1, 1882, Fr. Ritchie preached a sermon on the laying of the cornerstone. He chose as his text, "The same stone which the builders refused has become the headstone in the corner." He spoke of the early work of the Oxford Movement in England, noting how Pusey and his followers had been despised and abused. Now that their work had been established and accepted, they were revered and spoken highly of. The same would occur with the ritualist movement in the Episcopal Church, the rector predicted. Already that week a spokesman for the bishop had let it become "unofficially" known that all things the ritualists had fought for (vestments, candles, incense, etc.) were now acceptable to the bishop, with the exception of one small booklet on "The Order for Solemn Mass without Communicants." This, concluded Fr. Ritchie, was a great victory.
On Tuesday the Times published a letter again speaking unofficially for the diocese. The writer, who signed himself "a looker on," noted that Fr. Ritchie in his sermon had not addressed himself to the real problem. The bishop's concern was not with the parish's ritual customs but with the use of an unauthorized booklet in place of the Book of Common Prayer.
The publication of letters, editorials, articles, and sermon texts continued unabated through the end of the year. The bishop remained publicly silent, although he did communicate with Fr. Ritchie privately, and "unofficial sources" of several articles can be attributed to him.
For his part, Fr. Ritchie's major defense against the charge of using an unauthorized booklet at services was that the booklet was just a help to people in using the prayer book. It added some prayers that were permitted and left out some that were not necessary. The rector argued that all priests, including the bishop himself, left out parts of the communion service. Since no one in his parish wished to receive Holy Communion at the Solemn High Mass, the prayers associated with the reception of communion were omitted. If the bishop would not come to the Ascension because its services were unauthorized, why, asked Fr. Ritchie, had he planned to use a service at the laying of the cornerstone that was not to be found in the prayer book?
The numerous newspaper accounts of the dispute which were published in September and October contain some anomalous and amusing references. In early September, for example, the Times commented: "Rev. Arthur Ritchie has repeatedly made raids, so to speak, into the domains of the pope, each time carrying off as plunder some pet Roman ceremony. But on the last predatory excursion he went so far on the road to Rome that the bishop has been forced to check him, lest he should enter the Vatican itself."
Referring later in the month to Fr. Ritchie's comment concerning the bishop's Calvinist background, the Times wrote: "The great body of the faithful who look upon Windsor Castle as the earthly residence of the Holy Ghost will not readily believe that one of their spiritual leaders is tarrying at Geneva while another is hastening toward Rome." The next day the Times reported an interview with a Roman Catholic bishop: "Appropriation of Roman ceremony by a professed protestant is hypocritical in the extreme ... an attempt at sitting on the fence. ... A Catholic admires an open rival willing to fight with protestant weapons, but is not interested in the ridiculous spectacle of protestants appropriating Catholic ceremony." A few days later the newspaper published an unsigned letter which included the following: "When the Episcopal Catholic Church got rid of Rome they swung clear of the many pagan practices and nonsensical performances that had gone far toward corrupting the worship of Almighty God, and she will not again return to the theatrical show and superstition."
Providing an historical note on the origin of liturgical practices at the Ascension, an article from a Presbyterian paper reprinted in the Times commented: "Mr. Ritchie insists that Almighty God is as much interested in the millinery and pantomime of his little church as are the curious people who throng its courts to wonder and not adore. . . . The ceremon(ies) which he employs . . . are the old Edwardian forms of 1640 . . . carried bodily from the Roman . . . The Roman Church adopted them from the ancient Roman paganism which had received them from the Greeks and they from the Egyptian priests; the origin of these rites is lost in the hoary labyrinths of antiquity."
By the end of the year it was evident that Fr. Ritchie's disagreement with the bishop, the object of so much attention in the press, was a serious problem. In November, 1882, a confirmation class from the Ascension was taken to the cathedral to be confirmed because the bishop would not come to the parish. In December the press noted that the Church of the Ascension was closing down the mission, Sunday school and trade school on Clybourn Avenue which the parish had conducted during the past six years. The bishop had refused to license Fr. Benedict, who was working as the parish curate, to function in the diocese. Fr. Ritchie could not continue the work of the mission and the parish alone.
In 1883 the rector again prepared a class for confirmation, but Bishop McLaren declined to make a visit that year and the class was confirmed at the cathedral. The Tribune questioned Fr. Ritchie concerning the matter and his reply was printed on April 20, 1883. The rector presented a lengthy justification of the practices to which the bishop objected, noting that "... according to rubrics and common sense the reciting of the prayer for the communion service when no communion is given, is downright nonsense."
The Bishop insisted that I should use the service, but I demurred on the ground of commonsense. I did not wish to appear obstinate or disobedient with my Bishop and with that end in view, I asked him to submit the matter to a jury of my fellow priests promising to abide by their decision, but the Bishop would not listen to the proposition, and knowing as I do, or at least believing that I am in the right, I continue to follow out my regular services.
In the same article the Tribune summarized a sermon Fr. Ritchie preached the previous Sunday. Without mentioning the current difficulties, he noted that throughout the Church's history it had been the ordinary parish priests who had kept the Faith while the bishops often strayed.
In the report of the parish's annual meeting in May there is a short note of a problem that was to grow much larger. The walls of the new church had reached the height of 18 feet. A loan of $20,000 would be needed to continue the work. Given the size of the Ascension congregation and prosperity of the parish, a loan of $20,000 guaranteed by the diocese would ordinarily have presented no difficulty. The vestry knew, however, that the bishop would not allow the diocese to guarantee a loan so long as Fr. Ritchie remained obstinate in his position. The vestry and wardens could have secured the loan using their personal property as collateral, but quietly decided to take no action and let the building stop.
At the Diocesan Convention in May the bishop addressed the convention "On the Question of Liturgical Embellishment." He noted that the Episcopal Church allowed great liberty in the matter of ritual but that some people insisted on misusing this liberty. He warned such individuals that they must be obedient to their bishop's will. A resolution to have the address published and distributed to all priests in the diocese was heatedly debated and adopted by the convention. Afterward when Fr. Ritchie was asked if he thought the bishop was referring to him, the rector replied that he would not believe that the bishop could be. If he were, Fr. Ritchie explained, the bishop would be derelict in his duty for not bringing him to trial.
On Sunday, June 17, 1883, the rector announced at Mass that he was calling a parish meeting on the following Wednesday evening to tender his resignation. He asked that all parishioners attend and that no one question him about the meeting until the evening of the twentieth. For three days preceding the meeting, articles in the press contained rumors and speculation concerning Fr. Ritchie's announcement.
At the beginning of the meeting, attended by parishioners and members of the press, Fr. Ritchie said that he would read a statement and then retire to his study, adjoining the chapel, permitting parishioners to discuss the statement and take action. After appointing Mr. Samuel Gehr, a parishioner who was neither a warden nor vestryman, as chairman of the meeting, the rector proceeded to read his statement.
Fr. Ritchie began by observing that he had spent eight happy years at the Ascension and during that time had seen much success and growth. But two things now led him to the conclusion that it would be better if he left. The first was that his personal views were causing the parish to be isolated from its bishop. The second was that he felt the parish was losing confidence in him.
The rector went on to comment on the controversy between himself and the bishop concerning the parish's noncommunicating Solemn High Mass. He read part of a personal letter from the bishop advising him of "the wrong you are doing to yourself, the diocese, and the Church of God by the course you are pursuing." However, the problem of being cut off from the bishop would not bother him, Fr. Ritchie's statement continued, were it not for the fact that the parish was now losing confidence in him. The work on the main church building had stopped because the vestry would not secure a $20,000 loan needed to continue the project.
During the past three years the parish had raised $17,000 for the building program, and Fr. Ritchie could not understand why the vestry feared committing the parish to a 10-year, $20,000 loan. Surely, if everyone had faith in the parish's future, the loan could easily be repaid. A man can outlive his usefulness in a given place, the rector commented, and by resigning he would remove an impediment to the parish's rightful growth. After finishing his lengthy statement, Fr. Ritchie retired to his study to await the results of the meeting.
With Mr. Gehr attempting to serve as chairman, the meeting seems quickly to have dissolved into confusion. Motions were offered, some seconded, others disregarded. A motion to adjourn, because the meeting had no legal status, was disregarded. A suggestion was made to form a committee to look into the matter. Such a committee was appointed and the meeting adjourned, apparently leaving Fr. Ritchie waiting alone in his study.
Newspaper accounts the next day described the confusion and shouting which had characterized the extralegal parish meeting. A Times editorial on Friday alluded to Fr. Ritchie's "singular performance" and his "alleged resignation." On Sunday evening the vestry met with the committee of parishioners appointed at the Wednesday meeting. After conferring together, they refused to accept the rector's resignation. Fr. Ritchie announced that the matter was closed. The vestry had refused his resignation, and he would continue as rector. Although the vestry very likely agreed to negotiate the necessary loan, the loan was not secured and the work not carried out during the remainder of Fr. Ritchie's rectorate.
Believing that it was necessary to take some further action, the parish committee called a meeting on Friday, June 29, to report to the parish. A letter addressed to the bishop was read at the meeting, given to the press, and sent to Bishop McLaren. Addressed to the parish's "Right Reverend Father in God," the letter stated in considerable detail why the parish believed it was right in supporting the rector and following his leadership. Why, if the bishop felt there was some wrong in their conduct, did he do nothing? The letter admonished the bishop for not doing his duty to his flock and for deserting them when they had done nothing wrong.
Full press coverage continued. Articles appeared in all the local newspapers. Interviews with Churchmen throughout the diocese were published, most expressing shock that this unruly parish had gone so far, some hoping that events would finally force Bishop McLaren to take official action against Fr. Ritchie. An article in the New York Sun concerning the difficulties suggests that Churchmen in other parts of the country were following the controversy.
In the first week of July Bishop McLaren issued an official pastoral letter addressed to the members of the Church of the Ascension. The press carried it in full along with extensive commentary. At an official parish meeting on July 9 it was read to the parish by the parish clerk. The bishop, addressing himself to the congregation, said that because of their public letter to him, he felt obliged to break the silence he had maintained on the subject of the parish's problems and take the unusual action of issuing an official pastoral letter, the first he had needed to address to a particular parish during his episcopate.
Bishop McLaren stated that he had no difficulties with members of the parish. The problems were with their priest. Though he had maintained a public silence, the bishop had frequently communicated with the rector privately. Certain written comments of the bishop, cited by Fr. Ritchie in his statement of resignation and later repeated in the parish's letter, were presented out of context. The bishop explained that at the time of his disapproval of the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in 1878, Fr. Ritchie had written to him, promising that if the bishop ever objected to any practice of his at the Ascension, he would resign. In early June, 1883, Fr. Ritchie wrote to the bishop asking to be released from the pledge. The bishop replied that he had never accepted it as a binding pledge, but that he did feel that Fr. Ritchie was doing himself, the parish, the diocese and the Church a wrong by not submitting to his bishop on the matter of the Solemn Mass without communicants.
Bishop McLaren continued by stating that he did not need to be reminded by the parish of his duties. He felt that he was carrying them out properly. He did not need to make a visitation to know what was going on at the Ascension, and as long as Fr. Ritchie maintained the service, the bishop would do nothing more than what was required by the canons of the Church. (Canons required the diocesan to visit a parish at least once each three years.)
For now, the bishop wrote, Fr. Ritchie knew how the bishop felt in the matter. The bishop prayed the rector would obey the godly admonitions of his bishop, but if Fr. Ritchie preferred to resign the parish, Bishop McLaren would gladly accept that solution. Finally, the bishop noted that he had no quarrel with the parish or with any lawful ritual, no matter how ornate. He wished that members of the parish would make less display in the public-press, and admonished them to continue in their way with "the spirit of wisdom and godly quietness."
On October 29 Fr. Ritchie preached a sermon on the Real Presence which was published in full in the Times. He suggested that while bowing to a crucifix or other symbol might lead to forgetting the ideal and worshipping just wood or stone, with the Blessed Sacrament present, one could truly bow down in worship without such fear. Through its sacred presence and through the benediction of the Most High, people received greater strength. Fr. Ritchie hoped that it might in some way be possible to arrange a service, perhaps on Sunday evenings, during which persons--particularly children too young to receive communion--could receive the blessing or benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Immediately after the sermon a reporter from the Times asked Fr. Ritchie if he meant that he intended to conduct a service of Benediction like the one common in the Roman Catholic Church. Fr. Ritchie replied that at the time he did not wish to commit himself further.
On February 14, 1884, it was announced in the press that Fr. Ritchie, who had just returned from a trip to the East, had been called by New York City's St. Ignatius Church to be its rector. The Ascension parish issued a public letter expressing confidence in Fr. Ritchie and asking him to remain. The rector responded publicly that although he loved the Ascension, he still remained the stumbling block which kept the bishop from the parish and that his going to New York would provide a solution to this problem. The vestry reluctantly accepted his resignation, effective May 1.
On Maundy Thursday, April 10, 1884, three weeks before leaving the Ascension, Fr. Ritchie instituted in the parish his final innovative practice. Although it had been held privately in some convents in England, this was the first time since the Reformation that Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was conducted in a parish church of the Anglican Communion. [The service was conducted for the first time in the Anglican Communion by John Mason Neale at the convent of the Society of St. Margaret in 1859.] With the occurrence of this historic event and reinstitution of reservation of the Sacrament, Fr. Ritchie left the parish he had served for nearly eight years.
Parenthetically, not long after leaving Chicago, Fr. Ritchie was again at odds with his bishop, the Rt. Rev. Henry Codman Potter, assistant bishop of New York. Bishop Grafton of Fond du Lac wrote to Bishop Potter: "Pray do not gratify my friend, Arthur Ritchie, by bringing him to trial. . . . Our low church brethren should be very grateful to you for not suppressing him, as he is most successful in hindering the growth of high-churchmanship. . . . For many years I have felt the injury done to real spirituality by excessive ceremonial."
Summarizing Fr. Ritchie's ministry, G. E. DeMille wrote:
Personally charming, an eloquent preacher and a devoted parish priest who could always count on the support of his congregation, Ritchie was one of those uncompromising Catholics who delight in stating their position in its most extreme terms, to whom any concession is a surrender of the faith, and whose attitude toward ecclesiastical authority is basically Baptist.
[Immediately after his institution as rector of St. Ignatius, Fr. Ritchie introduced full Catholic ritual. Early in 1885 Bishop Potter objected to Benediction and reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and refused to visit St. Ignatius for confirmation. Fr. Ritchie temporarily relented, Benediction was for a time suspended, and the bishop visited the church in June for confirmation. However, following Fr. Ritchie's later resumption of reservation and Benediction, the bishop again refused to visit St. Ignatius for two years, returning in 1894 for confirmation.
[Under Fr. Ritchie's leadership, St. Ignatius became a leading Anglo-Catholic parish in the diocese of New York. In 1902 construction of the present church building at 87th Street and West End Avenue was completed. For 13 years the rector edited and contributed sermons to The Catholic Champion, which merged with The Living Church in 1901. (By some, irreverently though appropriately, the publication was nicknamed "The Catholic Scorpion.")
[Because of failing health, Fr. Ritchie resigned as rector on October 16,1913. He retired to Nyack, New York, where he died on July 9, 1921.]