Project Canterbury

History of the Church of the Ascension, Chicago, Illinois 1857-1982

By George C. Giles, Jr.

Aberdeen, South Dakota: North Plains Press, 1984.

Chapter VI. The Church in Time of War

As noted, Fr. Stoskopf wrote in 1909 that the Church of the Ascension "must stand in the future as it has so valiantly stood in the past as a great leader in the restoration to all the children of the Church of the fullness of their Catholic heritage, ever preserved and taught by the Church Herself, but so sadly forgotten by many of her children." For the rector, militant combat provided an analogue for the "external work" of the parish in disseminating and strengthening Catholic faith and practice within the Episcopal Church. For the parish, ironically and sadly, the terms of the analogue became increasingly familiar as parishioners were caught up in events associated with World War I.

From Fr. Stoskopf's perspective during the early years of his rectorate, certain expressions of ecumenism posed a lethal threat to the Church's burgeoning recognition of its Catholic heritage. In 1910, for example, some laity of the Episcopal Church participated in the Laymen's Missionary Movement, an effort to arouse missionary enthusiasm and raise funds to support the missionary efforts of several Protestant denominations abroad. In Fr. Stoskopf's view such participation was nothing less than compromising the Church with the sin of schism.

How a member of the Catholic Church can have any part in arousing enthusiasm the greatest result of which will be increased gifts to Protestant missions--that is, to the missions of those bodies in schism with the Catholic Church and in open rebellion against her authority--we leave with the sympathizers with this movement to answer.

Any priest who supported the movement would in effect be urging his people to attend meetings where "notorious rebels against the Church" were accorded positions as honored instructors of the faithful.

In 1916 the rector was similarly appalled by participation of representatives of the Board of Missions of the Episcopal Church in a Panama Congress which dealt with "missionary methods" employed by various Protestant denominations. He cited approvingly an article by Bishop Anderson which denounced the Church's participation in the congress, arguing that such involvement touched the very structure of the Episcopal Church, and raised questions as to where it belongs. Broadly speaking, the bishop noted, there are two groups of Christian churches, Catholic and Protestant. The Episcopal Church, historically, structurally, and theologically, belongs to the Catholic group.

Speaking from the floor of the 1916 Diocesan Convention, Fr. Stoskopf reported in the strongest possible terms that the Church of the Ascension would not pledge "one red cent" to the General Missions until after the next General Convention of the Episcopal Church at which time it would be known whether the Board of Missions was to be allowed to continue its "indefensible, lawless and compromising policy." Following the General Convention, the rector was assured that the Board of Missions had been "properly spanked" by the convention; in the belief that the board had reformed, he noted that parish policy would therefore be loyally to support the board as the servant of the Church.

Even missionary efforts conducted exclusively by the Anglican Communion were in the rector's opinion suspect. In three successive issues of the parish magazine, Fr. Stoskopf reprinted installments of a lengthy letter from the Bishop of Zanzibar, who argued that missionary ventures of the Church abroad were compromised because the Church of England did not "know her own mind."

The Church at home, to use a homely and untheological name, is in a state of mental chaos; it is more than ever talkative, but what it expresses is anything rather than its true self.

The bishop referred to modernism, pan-Protestantism, and the denial of Catholic practices, which he viewed as rampant among the clergy and hierarchy of the Church.

For Fr. Stoskopf even the official name of the American branch of the Anglican Communion was a matter of grave concern. He characterized the title Protestant Episcopal Church as a "wretched nickname" and urged in its place the adoption of American Catholic Church. "There can be no compromise between the Catholic Religion and Protestantism in the Church," he wrote. "Be satisfied with no compromise but fight at every General Convention for the American Catholic title until victory is attained."

By no means, however, did the rector frown on all varieties of ecumenical relations. In 1912, for example, he and several parishioners attended a meeting of the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches Union at Christ Church, Woodlawn. Archdeacon Rogers of Fond du Lac read a letter he had recently received from Fr. Fuller, a Cowley priest intensely interested in the promotion of Anglican-Orthodox relations. "We are all united together in our Lord and in His Church," wrote Fr. Fuller, "and we are further knit together in desire to do something which shall hasten the happy day when inter-communion shall be re-established between our own Anglican Communion and the Eastern Orthodox Communion." Archdeacon Rogers reported that a Russian society had been founded with the consent of the Holy Synod to promote closer relations between the Anglican Communion and the Eastern Orthodox Communion.

What he viewed as totally reprehensible violations of Catholic doctrine and worship were noted by Fr. Stoskopf not only in the Church at large but also in his own diocese. At the end of High Mass at the Ascension on Sunday, October 27, 1912, the Litany was said before the Blessed Sacrament upon the high altar as a public act of reparation to Almighty God for an act of irreverence publicly performed by the Right Reverend Daniel Sylvester Tuttle at the consecration of Bishop Longley at St. Mark's Church, Evanston, on the preceding Wednesday. During the celebration of the Eucharist, displeased that so few had presented themselves at the altar rail to receive Holy Communion and apparently in anger, the bishop with the Blessed Sacrament in his hands "rushed down from the Altar to the Choir Screen before the people and admonished more of them to receive Holy Communion."

"We pass by the flagrant intrusion into the jurisdiction of the Bishop of this Diocese committed by this unhappy act," commented Fr. Stoskopf. "An intrusion for the finding of a parallel to which one would be compelled to search long in the annals of the Papal See."

We overlook for the moment its anarchistic attitude to the Apostolic Law of fasting Communion by which the whole Catholic Church is bound. We even forget for the moment how such an act, except that the irreverent tone of it happily nullified its influence, could not fail to promote, the question of fasting apart, unprepared and sacriligious Communions. We center our attention solely upon the irreverent nature of the act which we believe was one to shock any devout and reverent minded person be he Catholic or Protestant . . . We both mourn for and denounce this action of the Bishop of Missouri.

Reflecting the rector's commitment to the necessity of protecting and enhancing Catholic doctrine and worship, a resolution was adopted by the vestry on April 6, 1915, that "... no person should be a candidate for or accept the office of a warden or vestryman in the Parish who does not practice the Catholic Religion, the minimum obligation of which, in the receiving of the sacraments, is the performance of the Easter duty of approaching the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist."

To one who had not carefully considered conditions, Fr. Stoskopf observed, it might appear that the adoption of such a resolution in a Catholic parish was unnecessary and that insistence upon such elementary principles of Catholic Faith and life should be taken for granted. "Unfortunately," he explained, "in the present lamentable state of the lack of Catholic discipline in the Church at large, such is not the case. A Catholic Parish must stand like a fortress, solidly for the Faith and Practice of the entire Catholic Religion, unless she is to risk the danger of eventually being dragged down to the miasmic swamps of Protestant lack of discipline by which she is surrounded."

Despite his angry denunciation of those forces and events which detracted the Church from realizing in practice its Catholic heritage, Fr. Stoskopf early in his rectorate was well aware of significant gains the Catholic movement had made in the American Church. These very gains, however, posed a new problem. Now that the Catholic party was strong and widely accepted, there was a danger that it would enter into "deals" and "bargains" with other parties. In order to understand the rector's implacable opposition to such political arrangements, it is important to note that he believed with absolute certitude that the Catholic Church, exactly as he conceived it, was identical with the Church of Jesus Christ. With respect to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of this divinely ordained institution, compromise was impossible. Those who agreed with Fr. Stoskopf shared with him and one another a common vision and sense of mission. "Let all Catholics be loyal," the rector wrote, "that all may have their part in the triumph, when every Christian within the borders of the American Catholic Church shall be at heart what he is in fact, a Catholic."

The rector's call for dedication to the triumph of Catholic principles within the American Church was soon mirrored by the nation's call for dedication in all possible ways to victory in the great war which threatened the most sacred and revered principles of American democracy. For the Church, military victory in World War I, the vindication of these principles, became closely identified with the triumph of the cross. In their pastoral letter of October, 1918, just weeks before the Armistice was signed, Bishop Anderson, diocesan, and Bishop Sheldon Griswold, his suffragan, wrote that both in war and peace citizens and Churchmen must adopt "For God and Country" as a guiding motto.

Keep God in the foreground and there will be no danger of our Country falling into the background. Remember that we are pledged soldiers of Christ first and foremost, both in war and peace. Remember that the cross is still carried in our church processions, even though it be sometimes obscured in the folds of our glorious flag.

In July, 1914, following the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand, hostilities in Europe began. The following month German forces invaded Belgium, and Great Britain, committed to the defense of Belgium, declared war against Germany. Parishioners from the Ascension, along with many other Americans vacationing in Europe that summer, hastened to return home. "We are rejoiced to welcome home our parishioners who spent the summer abroad," wrote the rector, "after their trying experiences caused by the outbreak of the European war. They were constantly remembered. Let us now pray ardently for peace."

During the sea war which commenced in 1914, German U-boats sank British ships as well as those of neutrals bringing supplies to France and Great Britain. Books and other printed materials ordered by the rector from England never reached the Ascension; ships carrying them to the United States were lost at sea.

A pastoral letter of the House of Bishops, which followed President Wilson's declaration of neutrality in August, 1914, was published in the parish magazine. The bishops noted that the war in Europe presented Christian people of this country with special responsibilities and opportunities. The first of these was to accept in loyalty and with gratitude the leadership of the President as he engaged in the cause of peace. The second, as brethren of the people of all nations, was to "sustain a spirit of fore-bearance, be careful in expressions of judgment; and, while not un-thoughtful, and still less unfeeling, that you encourage the exercise of an honest neutrality."

By the end of the year the American public was fully aware not only of mounting military casualties, but also of the extraordinary sufferings of entire civilian populations affected by the conflict. At the Ascension funds ordinarily spent on orchestral music at the Christmas High Mass were donated instead to Belgian relief.

Throughout 1915 the sea war accelerated. The Germans declared all waters around the British Isles as a war zone in which the ships of both enemy and neutral countries would be attacked. In May Americans were outraged by the sinking of a British ship sailing from New York to Liverpool, the Lusitania, with the loss of American lives. However, during 1915 and 1916 President Wilson strove to maintain United States neutrality, criticizing both the British system of blockades and the German submarine campaign. In an act which thwarted these efforts, Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare in January, 1917; the President severed diplomatic relations between Germany and the United States and asked Congress for the authority to arm merchant vessels and take other measures to protect United States commerce.

By Easter, 1917, the eve of the United States' entry into World War I, over five million lives had been lost in the European conflict. Those men and women who were prepared and died in grace, wrote Fr. Stoskopf, had assured to them at least all the joys of which Eastertide was a prophecy and pledge. Clearly, unpreparedness was the scourge of both nations and individuals. "For over two years our public attitude has been one of inglorious ease towards this unrighteousness and slothful indifference towards preparation for a war thundering at our very doors. God grant that we may not have to pay a heavy penalty for our public sins." Similarly, the rector noted, unpreparedness in the life of the individual soul was the loss of salvation. He urged each parishioner to fulfill the Easter duty: sacramental confession and sacramental communion. "God grant that in this parish the lack of spiritual preparedness may not lose Heaven for a single soul."

Following the United States' declaration of war against Germany in April, Fr. Stoskopf continued what were originally Lenten Wednesday evening services of litany and intercession followed by an instruction and conversation in the parish house. It seemed to the rector most fitting "that there should be a mid-week evening opportunity for intercession for our country, now engaged in the Crusade of the Twentieth Century. We shall pray for the victory of that glorious league in which we are entered for the establishment and maintenance of peace in the world."

In order to encourage appropriate private devotions, the rector published in the parish monthly magazine the collect and post-communion of the votive Mass in the Time of War. Also included were prayers authorized by the bishop for use in the diocese of Chicago. Beginning on Easter Sunday the American flag had been carried in procession. In May a subscription was taken up to purchase a silk flag which could "compare favorably with the beautiful vestments of the parish."

Throughout the war Fr. Stoskopf reminded parishioners not to forget their civic and religious duty: ". . . to pray for the nation, for those in authority, for agriculturalists, workers, enlisted men, and especially for the members of this parish in the forces of the United States. Do not forget to pray that the Church may do her full duty in this time of war." Noting that the Mass was the great service of intercession, the rector expressed surprise that attendance at Mass during the week (and at the Wednesday evening service of litany and intercession) had not increased. It was surely true, he wrote, that more could be accomplished for the country in a half hour before the altar than in a whole day of any other activity. "How can American Catholics fail to use this Engine of Power with God? If we believe, and are not absolutely careless, we shall use the Mass as faithfully as we are able. He who does not is either a faithless Catholic or a faithless American."

Because the wheat crops of 1916 and 1917 had been far less than anticipated, a worldwide shortage of food posed an additional critical problem during the time of war. A letter from Mr. Herbert Hoover urging the conservation of food was printed in full in the parish magazine. Fr. Stoskopf responded that the saving of food was within the sphere of women of the parish, and without food conservation the war might well be lost. The parish took an active part in the food conservation movement. Mrs. Williamson, a parishioner, led the effort by distributing pledge cards to members of the congregation.

In June, 1917, the rector began compiling a list of all members of the parish engaged in military service. The list, which originally numbered seven, was kept posted in the vestibule of the church and, in compliance with their requests, copies were sent to the bishop of the diocese and to the Church Club. A service flag with 11 stars was given to the parish in December by Mrs. DeKoven and hung at the south end of the rood screen. The following month the service flag contained sixteen stars, one of them circled in gold to signify the first death of a serviceman from the parish.

Robert Clarkson Taylor died of pneumonia on December 31, 1917, at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis. His family was unaware of Mr. Taylor's illness until they received a telegram notifying them of his death. Taylor had been determined to serve in the armed forces, but because of underweight was not accepted until his third attempt to enlist. "His mother bravely said upon the day of his death," reported Fr. Stoskopf, "that she was glad he had offered his life for his country, for whose service his enthusiasm was so great that she knew he would have desired to go even if he had foreseen his sudden death." He was expected home the day of his death to await the opening of the Officers' Reserve training program at Camp Grant on January 5.

By the end of the war the Ascension service flag had 41 stars. A second star circled in gold commemorated the death of Harcourt Racine Boyd, a faithful communicant of the parish who died of pneumonia while serving in the Balloon Corps at Camp Omaha. Mr. Boyd's death occurred shortly after the signing of the Armistice. Because health authorities would not allow his body to be brought to the church, a Requiem Mass was celebrated in the absence of the body on the morning of December 7, 1918, and the Burial Office was said in its entirety at graveside early that afternoon at Graceland Cemetery.

The rector was incensed by what he viewed as the fraudulent practice of certain parishes of posting more stars on their service flags than the number to which they were entitled. He reported with satisfaction that the Ascension flag displayed the exact number of stars to represent those members of the parish in the Army and Navy.

We shall not turn our service flag into a pirate flag by robbing another parish of a name. We suspect that many service flags in Chicago are sadly padded. At any rate, we know of two of the communicants in good standing of the Church of the Ascension whose names have been lawlessly placed upon the service lists of two Chicago parishes, apparently only because some members of their families attend these other parishes. It would be a shocking thing to have a parish in Chicago rated as "The Church of Captain Kidd."

Fr. Stoskopf corresponded regularly with parishioners in the armed forces, sometimes sending them devotional works, crosses, and religious medals. Men on active duty wrote letters to the rector and to their families, some containing accounts of wartime conditions in Europe.

A parishioner stationed at a U.S. Naval Base in Brest, France, wrote Fr. Stoskopf that the war seemed as far away in Brest as it had seemed in Chicago, as he was too far from the front to have experienced active combat. He was quartered in an old chateau, the foundations of which dated back to the days of Julius Caesar. There were many interesting places in the vicinity of the chateau, but liberty was very restricted and it was necessary to obtain special permission to visit them. He hoped soon to be able to accept the invitation of a French girl, who was giving him lessons in the language, to accompany her family on a pilgrimage to the church at Plougastel where a noted Calvary and miraculous fountain were located.

As yet I have been unable to locate an Anglican priest, although I understand that the Chaplain of St. Paul's School, Concord, N.H., has just arrived and will be attached to the Red Cross. Our official chaplain is a Roman Priest, so I am deprived of the Sacraments, and have been unable to have a public thanksgiving for my preservation in transit. I wish, although it will be rather belated, that you would remember me in thanksgiving at the Mass.

For another parishioner who flew Army combat missions, the war was very close at hand. In June, 1918, Lt. Mazzuco wrote his mother:

Well, Mother, had my first experience the other day with a burning plane at 2,700 feet. Never do I want another experience like it again; the feelings that went through my body you couldn't describe in a million books. I was doing aerial shooting when suddenly it sounded like a big roll of thunder, my engine, a big 230 horse power affair, stopped, and a flash of fire and smoke came out of the left side of the engine. Nobody had to tell me twice that my machine was on fire. I felt the heat; without a moment's hesitation I shut off all switches and gasoline pipes and instead of diving home and having flames coming back on me, I went down sideways towards my right, and in that way kept fire away from me. Talk about smoke! I had all the smoke in the world coming from that plane, but God was good, so fast was I going sideways towards the earth that I put out the fire and to get more credit, I landed the machine perfectly in the aerodrome, but far over on the edge, but nevertheless on the aerodrome, which is a thing much admired, considering my predicament. We had the experience now, so I won't think, I wonder, if such a thing will happen to me.

While major hostilities continued in Europe, the attention of the parish was focused almost entirely on issues and activities related to the war effort. In his sermons at the Ascension the rector spared no language referring to the Germans, among many similar descriptive expressions, as "perfidious perpetrators of barbarous atrocities." Some parishioners and visitors of German heritage complained that Fr. Stoskopf's references were patently offensive. The rector responded in detail to these complaints.

In the first place, Fr. Stoskopf argued, it was perfectly clear that the Catholic Church upheld righteousness against unrighteousness and mercy against barbarity. During the time of war she loyally and sympathetically supported the government of the United States. The congregation of the Church of the Ascension was an American congregation and was so addressed.

If there are sometimes bona fide German citizens in the congregation whose feelings are hurt when the truth is told about the abominations of Germany, we regret that their feelings are injured and hope that they may speedily be delivered from their misinformation sedulously fostered by their corrupt government and repudiate allegiance to it. If, however, by "pro-German" is meant an American citizen who is pro-German, we should beg the entire question of his injured sensibilities by declaring that his proper station, should he practice his principles, is not in the pew of a church, but in front of a firing squad.

However, the rector refused to believe that any member of the parish was a traitor.

As their contribution on the home front to total victory of the Allied forces abroad, parishioners at the Ascension became actively involved in a number of special projects. Responding to the diocesan bishop's appeal for funds to support the work of Episcopal clergy among soldiers and sailors, parishioners made special missionary pledges. An Ascension branch of the Red Cross was established and women of the parish met regularly to make surgical dressings and hospital garments. The Ascension Young Peoples Club made refugee garments as well as socks, mufflers, sweaters, and wristlets. The War Saving Stamp Society of the parish provided thrift cards, certificates, and stamps. Girls of the Ascension parish who had joined the Girls' Patriotic Service League (under the auspices of the Women's Committee, Council of National Defense) took classes in French, military drill, telegraphy, and surgical dressings. Contributions were made to the Belgium Children's Milk Fund and $10,000 was solicited in a highly successful parish Liberty Loan Drive.

The war concluded on November 11, 1918, with the signing of an armistice agreement which signified the unconditional surrender of enemy forces. On Sunday, November 17, the High Mass at the Ascension was a votive Mass of Thanksgiving for victory. The ceremonies began with the Asperges and a solemn procession; after the Mass the Blessed Sacrament was exposed on the throne while a solemn TeDeum was sung. The service closed with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

Although the orchestral accompaniment of the High Mass at Christmas was suspended in the period 1914 to 1917, no other liturgical changes were made during the war years. In the summer of 1918, at a time when the Allied cause was by no means assured of victory, the parish organist undertook an extensive series of weekday evening recitals. He shared with Fr. Stoskopf the view that at so crucial a time all things which ministered to God's glory should be emphasized rather than lessened in any respect.

Project Canterbury