Late in 1957 the vestry called the Rev. F. William Orrick to serve as thirteenth rector of the Church of the Ascension. Fr. Orrick was born in Cairo, Illinois, on November 10, 1914, and was a native of Sycamore, Illinois, where he attended St. Alban's School. As a boy the new rector had resided for a time in Chicago, where he attended the Ascension. (At the time of his return to the parish he was welcomed by several of his boyhood friends.) Fr. Orrick was graduated from Carlton College in 1936 and from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in 1939.
After a year as vicar of St. Thomas' Church, Morris, Illinois, Fr. Orrick was appointed curate at St. Luke's Church, Evanston, where he remained from 1940 to 1944. From there he was called to serve as rector and, later, dean of St. Paul's Pro-Cathedral in Springfield, Illinois. In 1949 he assumed the rectorate of the Church of St. Alban the Martyr, Queens, Long Island, New York.
Until his untimely death just before Thanksgiving, 1969, Fr. Orrick's rectorate was characterized by the same traditions of Catholic doctrine, discipline and worship fostered by previous rectors. As in the past, the parish celebrated the major feasts of the Church year. For the first time, however, Solemn High Masses were scheduled on weekdays during evening hours; in accord with instructions from the diocesan bishop, parishioners fasted for at least four hours before receiving communion. Although rosary devotions had been common at the Ascension at least since the early days of Fr. Stoskopf's rectorate, a Rosarian Sodality was founded in the late 1950s. During summer months, when formal meetings were not held at the Ascension, parishioners met together in "home cells" to recite the rosary.
Fr. Orrick provided leadership in a number of areas which were concerns of his immediate predecessor. The rector and vestry continued to view as important matters the church's outreach to the neighborhood as well as the inclusion within the parish family of persons of diverse racial and cultural origin. St. Anne's kindergarten and the summer camp programs continued to serve primarily black and Hispanic youth of neighborhood families. In the late 1950s occasional parish Masses (as well as segments of the Ascension monthly magazine) were presented in Spanish. The Rt. Rev. Albert Ervine Swift, bishop of the missionary district of Puerto Rico, preached at the Solemn Mass on June 7, 1959; the concluding portion of his sermon was delivered in Spanish. Classes in English were offered at the church for those attempting to learn the language. For the first time, minority parishioners were elected to the vestry and served in other positions of leadership.
During the last half of the decade of the 1960s the Episcopal Church, like other institutions of American society, was profoundly influenced by the civil rights revolution. At national, diocesan and parish levels Episcopalians actively engaged in efforts to expose and eradicate segregation and racism in both the secular world and the Church. The summer of 1966, marked by demonstrations, riots and outbursts of mass hatred in Chicago, culminated in an August "Summit Agreement." Representatives of the civic, religious, and business community met with leaders of the Freedom Movement to provide assurances that equal housing would become a reality. A letter from the bishop suffragan, urging implementation of principles of "open occupancy" outlined in the agreement, was published in the Ascension monthly magazine.
The parish was most directly affected by the turmoil of the late 1960s following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King on Thursday, April 4, 1968. Rioting, widespread on Chicago's West Side throughout the weekend following Dr. King's death, extended to the immediate neighborhood of the Ascension. By Saturday afternoon LaSalle Street between Elm and Maple Streets was closed as nearly 100 National Guardsmen exchanged rifle fire with snipers on the roof of the A&P grocery store (whose windows had been broken and shelves looted) located next to the rectory.
During this period of social crisis, several churches on the Near North Side (the LaSalle Street Church, across the street from the Ascension, and nearby Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic congregations), attempting to provide solutions to neighborhood problems, conducted individual and cooperative programs of education, health care, employment, food and clothing distribution, and housing. The Church of the Ascension was not among them. Parish parochial school and neighborhood programs had responded to immediate social needs earlier in Fr. Orrick's rectorate; by 1968, however, activities in this sphere and others were limited by the rector's chronic illness and consequent inability to provide leadership.
Before the onset of his illness, Fr. Orrick's leadership was decisive and fruitful. On October 25, 1964 (the Feast of Christ the King), as the parish celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, all of the major projects of Fr. Orrick's rectorate were in the process of completion. A program to reconstruct, furbish and beautify the church interior was in progress. The Church of the Ascension parochial school had begun classes the year before. An impressive new Schlicker organ was in place and complemented the excellent program of liturgical music directed by a very able organist and choir director appointed by Fr. Orrick in 1959.
Although these contributions to the parish were considerable, the rector had hoped to accomplish much more. In 1957 Fr. Orrick and the vestry were aware that the Stoskopf estates would in the future provide income on a regular basis which far surpassed what the parish had ever received in the past. Believing that a corresponding expansion of the work of the parish was both possible and necessary, on June 15, 1959, the vestry adopted a resolution to begin planning a program to improve parish properties and construct new buildings. These plans initially included razing the rectory, convent, and parish house; erecting a building for the new parochial school (kindergarten and grades one through nine) and convent; and constructing in place of the parish house a building to provide sacristies, acolyte room, choir room, parish office and offices for the clergy, a reception and meeting room, and quarters for the clergy. In addition, plans called for renovating the chapel hall (now St. Michael Hall) to provide a combined gymnasium, auditorium and dining room for use in school and parish activities.
Related to the development of this extensive building program, in November of 1960 the vestry purchased a parcel of property fronting LaSalle Street from the rectory to Maple Street. With permission of the bishop and standing committee of the diocese, a mortgage loan was secured to pay the purchase price of $275,000. In 1966 the parish also bought two properties on Elm Street: a town house to provide housing for clergy before the planned demolition of the rectory and construction of the school, and a nearby vacant lot.
Preliminary architectural drawings associated with the proposed master building plan were developed and submitted to the vestry. However, as planning proceeded it became increasingly evident that financial resources of the parish were not sufficient for the ambitious program of building and renovation. By mustering all available resources and securing necessary loans, the vestry was able during the course of Fr. Orrick's rectorate to have two prefabricated structures placed adjacent to the church for classroom use (permitting a parochial school to open in 1963); acquire the LaSalle Street and Elm Street properties; arrange for the construction and installation of the new organ; and complete extensive construction, refurnishing and furbishing within the church.
Renovation of the church interior, which commenced in 1963, was supervised by Mr. James R. Morison, a Chicago architect in private practice noted for his interior Gothic design of numerous churches and chapels, including the Episcopal cathedral at Fond du Lac, the chapel at Nashotah House, and both Rockefeller and Bond Memorial Chapels on the campus of the University of Chicago. A choir gallery extending over the narthex, the new Schlicker organ, confessionals which opened directly into the nave, and baptistry were in place by 1966.
The organ was contained within a carved case executed by Cathedral Craftsmen of Waukesha, Wisconsin. The baptismal font, dismantled, sandblasted, and reassembled on a dark green marble platform in the narthex of the church, was placed beneath a carved wooden cover designed by Mr. Morison. Three wooden statues were commissioned from Oberammergau. An image of St. Cecilia, Patron Saint of Music, completed the organ case. The west wall of the nave bore images of St. Anne and of the Rev. John Mason Neale, founder of the Society of St. Margaret and translator of several medieval hymns contained in the hymnal.
A newly erected wall provided a blue and gold-figured background for the altar. Three designs in gold leaf included the cross; fleur-de-lis, symbol of Our Lady; and crown, symbol of the resurrected and ascended Lord. A sedilia (three-seated bench for the celebrant, deacon, and sub-deacon at Solemn High Mass) was commissioned as a memorial to Fr. Stoskopf, and twelve acolyte stools replaced high-backed chairs. New marble steps were installed at the high altar. In addition, pews were replaced in the nave, interior church lighting was improved, and stone casements were placed on windows. Commissioned memorial stained glass windows were installed and blessed in 1970.
From December of 1941 until 1959 Mr. Willard Groom, who served as organist and choir director, continued the parish's long tradition of musical excellence. (His brother, Lester, had held the same position before him for 30 years.) Between September, 1959, and his resignation in 1971, Mr. Benjamin Hadley, Groom's successor, was responsible for instituting the form of musical accompaniment of the Solemn High Mass which is in use in the parish today. Formerly the organist and choir director at St. Clement's Roman Catholic Church in Chicago, Mr. Hadley arranged for a paid professional choir of men and women to sing at the Ascension a variety of Mass settings (ranging from those of the Renaissance to settings by such modern composers as Kodaly and Walton) in English and Latin; in addition, propers of the Mass, which he transcribed using modern notation, were sung in appropriate Gregorian modes. Mr. Hadley was responsible for the design and installation of the new Schlicker organ. He also made numerous contributions to other plans for the alteration of the church interior.
The establishment of a parochial school was another important accomplishment of Fr. Orrick's rectorate. Sr. Mary Margaret, currently superior of the Chicago community of the sisters of the Order of St. Anne, served as principal of the Ascension Parochial School (originally named St. Anne's School) from the opening of the school in September, 1963, until shortly after Fr. Orrick's death in 1969. Originally from Newfoundland, Canada, Sr. Mary Margaret entered the community in Arlington Heights, Massachusetts, and in 1959 was assigned to its Chicago house. Sr. Mary Margaret's work at the baccalaureate level was in the field of fine arts, with a graduate specialization in medieval art. In Chicago she completed a course of study at the Pestalozzi Froebel Teachers College and was awarded the bachelor of education degree and Illinois certification to teach in the elementary grades.
When it opened, the school served 60 children enrolled in a kindergarten class and grades one through four. Before the end of the academic year nearly 40 additional students transferred to the school from St. Barnabas' Parochial School on Chicago's West Side, which had closed late in 1963. During 1964-1965 grades five and six were added, and until 1970 total enrollment was between 120 and 130 students. Throughout this period the full-time faculty consisted of three sisters and one lay teacher, augmented by part-time lay teachers in the areas of foreign languages and physical education.
Fr. Orrick, headmaster of the school, worked closely with Sr. Mary Margaret in administering the academic program. Until the late 1960s students were drawn largely from families in which parents were identified with business and professional occupations. Consistent with an admission policy to which the rector was committed, at least 50 percent of the students represented a wide variety of minority racial, ethnic, and national groups. Students resided in many parts of the city, the great majority (90-95%) from families not associated with the Ascension parish. Religious backgrounds of students included Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and several Protestant denominational affiliations.
Also consistent with administrative policy, parents played an important role in the school. In well attended monthly meetings of a parent-teacher association, parents participated in discussions of nearly all aspects of the academic program, as well as student conduct and discipline. The former principal noted that this extensive participation was one of the most educationally significant components of the Ascension Parochial School.
Standard kindergarten, primary, and elementary academic curricula were adopted for use in the school. Sr. Augusta, who had a wide range of teaching experience in the United States, Europe, and the Far East before joining the Chicago community of her order in 1962, taught grades one and two; her remarkably effective approach to the teaching of reading was based on the use of phonics. Children attended physical education classes and were introduced to music (choral and instrumental), art, and foreign languages. Students at all levels (kindergarten through grade six) received regular instruction in both French and Spanish.
Daily religion classes were based on the curriculum employed by Roman Catholic schools of the archdiocese of Chicago. The entire student body and faculty attended a celebration of Mass at the beginning of each school day. Classes of school children prepared for confirmation each year numbered between ten and twenty.
As headmaster, Fr. Orrick played an active and visible role in the life of the school. In addition to celebrating the school Mass, he participated with children in playground games, often visited classes (sometimes asking questions or providing points of information), and joined children and teachers each day at lunch in the parish hall, saying grace before the meal and a thanksgiving at its conclusion. He and Sr. Mary Margaret shared responsibility for administering discipline, respectively, to boys and girls who misbehaved.
The Ascension Parochial School during Fr. Orrick's rectorate, like other educational programs conducted by the sisters of the Order of St. Anne throughout the United States and abroad, succeeded in providing instruction of high quality within a Christian and Catholic context. As noted, the curricular focus on the development of basic academic skills was complemented by an emphasis on the arts, physical development, and the early acquisition of foreign languages. Standardized achievement testing at the beginning and end of each school year provided a basis for the diagnosis of academic deficiencies, organization of instruction, and monitoring of progress. (Ascension Parochial School children scored significantly higher than students of comparable age and grade level on standardized achievement tests administered in schools of the archdiocese of Chicago.) Student attrition was low; the great majority of children who entered the parochial school remained until graduation from the sixth grade. Graduates continued their education in other Chicago religious schools, public schools, as well as in privately sponsored programs, including those conducted by the Latin School and the Francis Parker School.
Following an illness of many months, Fr. Orrick died of respiratory complications at St. Joseph's Hospital on November 26, 1969. At the Ascension a Requiem Mass was celebrated by the Rt. Rev. James W. Montgomery, bishop coadjutor, at 11:00 A.M. on November 29, and the former rector's remains were interred within the high altar of the parish church.
During the summer and fall of 1969 the Rev. Edwin A. Norris, Jr., a Benedictine monk and priest on leave of absence from St. Gregory's Abbey (Three Rivers, Michigan), had occasionally supplied at the Ascension when Fr. Orrick was indisposed because of illness. At the time of the rector's death, the Rev. James Parker was appointed priest-in-charge. An oblate of the Order of St. Benedict, Parker was acquainted with Fr. Norris and in January, 1970, requested that he assist each Sunday at the Ascension. Immediately after Fr. Parker's resignation in July, Fr. Norris was named priest-in-charge to replace him. Concluding its review of candidates for the rectorate in December, the vestry called Edwin Norris to serve as fourteenth rector of the Church of the Ascension; he accepted and assumed his new responsibilities on January 1, 1971.
Fr. Norris was born on September 4, 1929, in Akron, Ohio, where his family resided for ten years. During World War II his stepfather, serving then in the Army, was stationed at a succession of military posts, and Edwin Norris attended several elementary schools in Oklahoma, Tennessee, North Carolina, and California. In 1947 he completed his secondary education at the Colorado Military School in Denver and matriculated at the University of Denver to pursue a degree program in music. The program was interrupted in 1950 by the Korean War. While serving three years in an Army intelligence unit, Norris became interested in the Church, received instruction from a chaplain, and was confirmed. Perceiving during this period a developing sense of vocation to the priesthood, he was admitted to postulancy in the diocese of Colorado, and returned to the University of Denver in 1953 to complete two additional years of course work (and the baccalaureate degree) in history, philosophy, and French, before attending Nashotah House to prepare for Holy Orders.
In late July of 1954, interrupting his summer studies, Norris drove to Chicago to attend the International Catholic Congress. While participating in major events at the Chicago Stadium and at several Chicago parishes, the future rector paid his first visit to the Church of the Ascension on Monday morning, August 2, the day on which the Japanese Mass was celebrated. Before returning to Denver he also visited for the first time St. Gregory's Abbey and Nashotah House.
During the summer of 1955, just before he commenced his studies at Nashotah, Edwin Norris spent two months in residence at St. Gregory's with several other men participating in what is now called a "vocation program." Living close to the community, he and the other summer visitors attended all of the monastic offices and worked with community members in the abbey's kitchen and gardens. In the months that followed at the seminary, reflecting on the summer's experience, Norris was drawn to explore a possible commitment to the religious life. Completing the year at Nashotah, he resigned his postulancy in the diocese of Colorado and on July 4, 1956, arrived at St. Gregory's Abbey to test his vocation as a postulant and novice and, in 1961, to make his life profession as a member of the community.
During his years at St. Gregory's, Br. Gregory (the name he adopted, after St. Gregory Nazianzus, when admitted to the novitiate) witnessed in the liturgical life of the community marked changes which followed the Second Vatican Council. English replaced Latin in the Mass and monastic offices. Daily private Masses and the Solemn High Mass were discontinued; the main high altar was removed and replaced by a smaller free-standing altar in the choir; and all participants received Holy Communion in both kinds at the community Eucharist. Br. Gregory became involved in many facets of the community's life at Three Rivers. He worked for a time as the abbot's secretary, assisted with the publication of Benedicite (the abbey's quarterly newsletter and journal), aided the guest master, and labored regularly in the community's kitchen and fields.
Br. Gregory's participation in the monastic life superseded any consideration he might have given to a continuation of study for Holy Orders; he did, however, receive the community's encouragement to pursue at the abbey a program of supervised reading and independent study directed to that objective. Successfully completing canonical examinations in the diocese of Northern Indiana (whose bishop was the community's visitor), Br. Gregory was ordained to the diaconate and later, on the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude (October 28, 1963), to the priesthood.
From the very beginning of his life as a Benedictine monk, and throughout his entire association with the order, Br. Gregory felt a close affinity to fellow brothers and the life of the community. However, a longstanding sense that his vocation had not settled resulted in a leave of absence from the community from April, 1964, to June, 1965, to serve as curate of St. Paul's Church, Hammond, Indiana. In 1966, having returned to St. Gregory's, he traveled to the mother house at Nashdom Abbey in England, during which time he attended an ecumenical conference of Anglican and Roman Catholic monks at Assisi, Italy. There he delivered a paper on contemplative orders in the Church, and then went to Rome for several days to visit San Anselmo (the Benedictine international center of study). Later in the summer he visited several Benedictine communities in Belgium and Luxemburg; he was welcomed as an equal, ordained and fully professed monk, sat in choir with other monks, and celebrated the Mass in Latin.
Still troubled concerning his vocation, Dom Gregory returned to Europe in the summer of 1967 and again in 1968 to take part in an ecumenical monastic venture: a group of Roman Catholic Cistercians of the Common Observance, joined by Anglicans (Dom Gregory and a group of Cowley fathers), living together in Brittany at a place called Boquen, experimented with an ecumenical and a post-Vatican II mode of religious life. The experiment proved unfruitful, and in December of 1968 Dom Gregory once again traveled back to Three Rivers.
Discerning now that he was no closer to settling his vocation, Dom Gregory sought and was granted a second leave of absence from his community, which commenced in January, 1969. Prior to the 1970 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, in consultation with the abbot of St. Gregory's, he requested a dispensation from his monastic vows. The request was favorably reviewed by the community's chapter and episcopal visitor, as well as by a committee of the House of Bishops with jurisdiction in this area. In November, 1970, just prior to his election as rector of the Ascension, Dom Gregory was notified by the Most Rev. John Hines, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, that the dispensation had been granted.
Fr. Norris began his rectorate in a period of great controversy and turmoil. During the 1970s new liturgies proposed for the revision of the Book of Common Prayer were adopted for trial use in parishes throughout the Episcopal Church. At the Ascension, the American Missal and English Missal had for decades provided the norm of worship. When interviewing Fr. Norris as a candidate for the rectorship, vestry members inquired about his attitude toward the trial rites about to be introduced. He responded that historically the parish had taken liturgical leadership, particularly in restoring elements of the liturgy for a time lost. These same elements were now restored to the trial liturgies, and it was the Ascension's responsibility to test and help evaluate the revised forms of worship.
From the beginning of his rectorate until 1976, Fr. Norris systematically alternated the use of Eucharistic Rites I and II. The rites were presented first in the "green book," approved for use in 1970, and then in the "zebra book" of 1973. In order to ease the transition from the missal Mass to Rite I contained in the "green book," he at first continued to use the texts presented in the Missal, but moved the offertory from before the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church (where it appeared in the old prayer book) to immediately before the Sursam Corda, its location in the trial liturgies. The "green book," first used at the Ascension in the spring of 1971, also restored the Gloria to its ancient position at the beginning of the Mass; however, this order had long been the practice in the parish.
From spring until Advent of 1971, all Masses on Sundays and throughout the week were celebrated in accord with Rite I. Throughout the next 12 months Rite II was the form of worship at all Masses. In 1976, after five years of alternative trial use, Rite II was adopted for all Masses (with the exception of a Rite I Mass each Sunday at 8:00 A.M.). A free-standing wooden altar, covered with an attractive frontal, was placed in the church in 1973, permitting the celebrant to face the congregation. At first the new altar was used for Sunday celebrations at 9:00 A.M. and 6:00 P.M., but only occasionally during the week. Today all Masses (with the exception of the 8:00 A.M. Sunday Mass and all Solemn High Masses) are said or sung at the new altar.
As noted, at St. Gregory's Abbey the rector had witnessed a number of liturgical changes occasioned by the Second Vatican Council, including the replacement of the Solemn High Mass with more simple forms of eucharistic celebration. At the Ascension, however, the Solemn High Mass (the principal liturgy of the parish since Fr. Ritchie's rectorate) continued. Although that liturgy has now largely disappeared from the "newer dispensation" of Catholic liturgical practice, as the principal form of celebration in the parish today (viewed by some as decidedly "old-fashioned") it has been modified to reflect, nevertheless, the influence of contemporary trends in the conduct of corporate worship.
During the 1970s the program of choral and instrumental music at the Ascension, for which the parish is widely known, was directed by Mr. Roy Kehl, organist and choir director, Dr. Victor Weber, Kehl's successor as choir director, and Mr. David Schrader, organist and harpsichordist. A choir of 16 professionally trained musicians continued to sing at the 11:00 A.M. Solemn High Mass; however, the congregation participated in the singing of hymns and of the Gloria and Credo each Sunday morning. The choir's repertoire of Mass settings spanned the fourteenth to the twentieth century, with a heavy reliance on those composed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
In 1952 Fr. Hillestad, for the first time in the parish history, had moved the time of the Easter Vigil from Saturday morning to 11:00 P.M. Reflecting the practice during Fr. Orrick's rectorate, the service of Easter Even in 1970 was celebrated at 7:00 P.M. Since 1971 the rector has returned to scheduling the Vigil and first Mass of Easter, based now on orders of service contained in the new prayer book, at 11:00 P.M. In his view the single most significant occurrence in the entire liturgical movement has been the restoration of the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter Even. Through its pre-eminent focus on the Paschal mystery, this primal restoration now in place in the Book of Common Prayer markedly colors every adaptation, modification, and innovation contained in the revised work.
The centrality of worship has been the most important theme of Fr. Morris' ministry at the Ascension. The rector noted that certain ceremonial practices at the Ascension, like those associated with the Solemn High Mass, are less common than they were, although others are common everywhere. But worship, with whatever ceremonial, "must provide the heart and center of any parish life," and the forms themselves are valuable just to the extent that they facilitate and incarnate worship.
We do, and must do, many other things, including a multitude of good works, our mission to others, and the like. But I hope that the one thing that is clearly visible to anyone visiting the parish is that at the heart of what we do is worship, praising God and offering the Eucharist every single day. Out of a life of praise and worship, and being fed by the Body and Blood of our Lord, flow all the other things we do as individuals and together as a parish.
Supportive of Christian education in the parish, Fr. Norris continued and enlarged the parochial school during the early years of his rectorate. Although a Sunday school had been in existence during the 1960s, there was none when Fr. Norris arrived; fewer families with children were associated with the parish and parochial school children did not generally attend. Attempts to revive a Sunday school did not succeed.
By the mid-seventies it had become increasingly clear that the Ascension Parochial School could not continue. Due to declining birth rates, the gradual withdrawal of the sisters due to age and retirement, and then the consequent increase in tuition necessitated by the hiring of lay teachers, enrollments began to decrease. During its last two years the school was ably directed by Mr. Phillip Kieffer, a parishioner and experienced educator who had been teaching and assisting in the school since 1971. Parental support and involvement continued, and although curricular offerings were reduced, the school's emphasis on academic skill development remained strong. However, in October of 1976 parents were informed that the school would close in June of the following year.
Convinced that Christian adult education was a definite need of the parish, the rector in 1976 selected the Rev. John Holleman to serve as curate. Fr. Holleman, educated at the General Theological Seminary and Oxford University, had directed a program of adult education at the Church of the Good Shepherd (Rosemont, Pennsylvania), patterned after one previously conducted in the parish of All Saints, Margaret Street, London.
Adopting at the Ascension a format similar to the Rosemont and London models, in 1977-78 Holleman directed an Institute of Christian Studies. The institute program included semester-long seminars on scripture and Church history; monthly public lectures; two weekend retreats dealing with prayer and charismatic revival; as well as a diocesan class for lay readers and study days for clergy. Distinguished lecturers contributing to the monthly series included the Most Rev. Michael Ramsay, former archbishop of Canterbury; the Rev. Dr. John McQuarrie, Anglican theologian and Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford University; and Sr. Agnes Cunningham, associate professor of patrology and Church history at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary (Mundelein, Illinois).
Participants in institute events included both Ascension parishioners and many visitors from Episcopal parishes and the churches of other denominations throughout Chicago. Although interest was moderately high the first year, attendance declined in 1978-1979, and the institute was discontinued the following year.
The completion of a building program was an important parish accomplishment during the first decade of Fr. Norris' rectorate. By 1973 recurring funds from the Stoskopf trust had made possible the repayment of a debt of $118,000 incurred during Fr. Orrick's rectorate for the purchase of property south of the rectory (including a building which had housed a grocery store) and work completed within the church. With the increasing accumulation of unencumbered building funds, the vestry reviewed and abandoned plans for renovating the grocery store building, which was subsequently razed. Consulting with parishioners and an architectural firm, the vestry then approved plans to improve church facilities by constructing new sacristies, kitchen, hall and storage space, washrooms, and meeting room. Ground was broken by the Rt. Rev. Quintin Primo, suffragan bishop of Chicago, on Ascension Day, 1979, and the nearly completed project was blessed by Bishop Montgomery (diocesan since 1971) on Ascension Day, 1980.
Beginning in the 1960s sentiment grew within the Episcopal Church to ordain women to the priesthood and episcopate. Prior to the Louisville General Convention of 1973, Fr. Norris had joined with other priests associated with the Catholic movement in the bringing into being of the Coalition for an Apostolic Ministry (CAM). Many of the coalition members, including the rector, were former members of the American Church Union, which during the 1960s and early 1970s was beset by internal disagreements and increasingly failed to represent a consensus of opinion among Catholics. Members of CAM throughout the United States actively sought to organize those who were opposed to ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate.
In Chicago Fr. Norris convened a meeting of interested diocesan clergy at the Ascension on April 18, 1975, to form a local branch of the Catholic Clerical Union. "As all of us know," the rector wrote in his letter of invitation, "the Episcopal Church is in the throes of turmoil as she grapples with some very fundamental questions touching upon her nature as a Church. The very integrity of her apostolic life is at stake."
The ordination of women to the Priesthood is a radical departure from our Catholic and Anglican heritage, from holy Scripture and from the constant witness of the Holy Spirit in the Church. What we are concerned with is not something called "the Episcopal ministry," but with a Catholic Priesthood which we share with the greatest portion of Christendom, and which is not our own to reorder as we see fit. A prophetic witness needs to be made at this point, as it does also in affirming God's creation of human sexuality as something complementary but not interchangeable.
In September of 1976 the Minneapolis General Convention approved the ordination of women to the priesthood. Clergy and laity who held to the historic position of Catholic Christendom were in a state of political disarray and had insufficient influence on convention proceedings to impede advocates of women's ordination to the priesthood and episcopate. On December 4 and 5, 1976, 14 bishops and 253 priests and members of the laity, all of whom did not accept what they viewed as the "unilateral action" of the General Convention, met together at the Ascension. Eleven bishops and 161 others signed a Covenant which averred "that the evangelical faith and catholic order which the Anglican Communion has received are God given."
We solemnly covenant ourselves to uphold this faith and order within the Episcopal Church. We affirm the tradition of male priesthood ordained by the Father in His choice of the sexuality of His Son, the One High Priest, maintained in the appointment of Christ's Apostles, and manifest in the mind of the Holy Spirit in the unbroken practice of the Church in history. We believe that the ordination of women to the episcopate and priesthood provides no assurance of Apostolic authority for eucharistic consecration, ordination, absolution, and blessing. Therefore, until there is a consensus of the whole catholic church we will not accept the sacramental acts of this new ministry.
This meeting provided the genesis of a new organization, the Evangelical and Catholic Mission (ECM). In addition to opposing the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, ECM has adopted positions on the authority of General Convention, the limits of obedience, sexual morality, abortion, and the Book of Common Prayer. Since 1977 ECM has held many of its steering committee and council meetings in the parish church. By 1982 the organization numbered 3,500 members, including 50 bishops.
Writing parishioners nearly two years after the Minneapolis convention, Fr. John Holleman announced his decision to leave the Episcopal Church and become a Roman Catholic. In an accompanying letter Fr. Norris commented on the curate's decision. "Events in the Episcopal Church in recent years," wrote the rector, "have indeed put many loyal Churchmen into similar dilemmas of conscience, and more than a few have been compelled to follow this same path." Commending Fr. Holleman's work at the Ascension and asking God's blessing and guidance for him, Fr. Norris concluded that he and parishioners must now "continue to try to live in this divided and confused Episcopal Church in which we find ourselves placed by God."
I pray that every one of us will renew and keep firm our commitment to the heritage of Catholic life and faith which has been given to us and which we are to hand on. If we, along with others like us throughout the Church, can do so faithfully and lovingly, the Lord may yet restore peace and unity in truth to this part of His vineyard. If we fail to do so, we will surely continue to see the dissolution of Anglicanism as a viable form of Catholic life.
On Sunday, January 11, 1981, the parish celebrated the tenth anniversary of Fr. Norris' rectorate. At the Solemn High Mass that morning the Rev. George Monroe, the rector's first curate at the Ascension, was guest preacher. (In addition to Fr. Holleman, the Rev. Scott Helferty and the Rev. John Schramm had also served as curates.) Fr. Monroe, parishioners and guests honored the rector at a brunch following the Mass.
Early in 1982 the parish began planning events associated with the 125th anniversary of its founding, as well as the centennial observance of the laying of the church's cornerstone. During the jubilee commemoration, which took place September 30-October 3, 1982, the Rev. Leslie J. Lang, former rector of St. Peter's Church (Westchester, New York), retired but working on the staff of St. Thomas' Church, New York City, presented a preaching mission which concluded with the sermon at the festal Solemn High Mass on Sunday, October 3. Bishop Montgomery preached at the Sunday afternoon service of Evensong and Benediction. At a Solemn Mass at the Cathedral of St. James on the preceding Wednesday, the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, the diocese had commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the bishop's consecration. Throughout his entire episcopate Bishop Montgomery had regularly celebrated Mass at the Ascension on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
At the time of each of the previous four jubilee celebrations, clergy and people of the Ascension had been aware of important events which seemed certain to influence the future of the parish. By 1882, just eleven years after the devastating Great Chicago Fire, the parish had not only re-built its chapel and re-established the congregation, but grown significantly. Inspired by a mission conducted by Cowley fathers, the Ascension had founded the Mission of St. John the Evangelist, which ministered to poor of the city. Although ritualistic practices at the Ascension had elicited vehement opposition and controversy, the parish remained strong and confident in its commitment to the revival of Catholic belief and practice in the Church.
In the latter years of Fr. Larrabee's rectorate, which preceded the fiftieth anniversary celebration of 1907, ceremonial practices at the Ascension were by no means the norm of the diocese. However, the "ritual wars" which plagued the Church in England and America had ended. The parish's witness to the Catholic revival had been strengthened by sympathetic diocesan bishops, the development throughout the diocese of modes of Churchmanship more akin to those at the Ascension, and an established collegiality among diocesan clergy.
As the parish marked its seventy-fifth anniversary in 1932, near the mid-point of Fr. Stoskopf's long rectorate, parishioners along with other Chicagoans suffered the effects of a most serious national economic depression. The parish, which had financially overextended itself by purchasing property south of the church, struggled to accommodate a staggering debt. The rector's optimism at the time perhaps mirrored Anglo-Catholics' sense of high accomplishment concerning the influence and status of their movement throughout the Church. During the decade preceding the 1932 jubilee, the rector and parishioners had participated in the great Catholic congresses held in England and the United States; there they experienced the triumphalism which characterized the movement between the two world wars.
For parishioners who celebrated the Ascension's centennial in 1957, the years of Fr. Hillestad's rectorate had been eventful. The Chicago International Catholic Congress of 1954, in which the parish played an important role, dramatically underscored what had been a fundamental objective of the Catholic movement in the Anglican Communion: the unity of all Catholic Christendom. Although Fr. Hillestad had remained fully committed to principles of Catholic faith and practice championed by his predecessors, the rector's concurrent emphasis on evangelization resulted in a parish life transformed in many respects.
In the years preceding the 1982 celebration the parish helped test and finally adopted for regular use the revised liturgies of the Episcopal Church. The new Book of Common Prayer contained many elements which proponents of the Catholic revival had long advocated. Ironically, however, by the mid-1970s the Catholic movement had attained the nadir of its influence in the Church. Parishioners and clergy at the Ascension had been caught up in the divisive controversy concerning the ordination of women. For many of these individuals "the dissolution of Anglicanism as a viable form of Catholic life," in the rector's words, seemed more a possibility than it had for others at any previous time in the history of the parish.
At the time of the 1982 jubilee parish life was somewhat changed from the early years of Fr. Morris' rectorate. During the preceding decade increasing attendance at services and financial contributions to the parish were paralleled by the growing sense of parish family life. More and more parishioners became involved in a wide variety of activities intended to extend and deepen community life at the Ascension: planning the building program, soliciting funds for the landscaping of a courtyard adjacent to the church, sponsoring dinners and potluck suppers, attending classes, and conducting major pre-Lenten "Mardi Gras" celebrations. "Although a parish derives its being from worship at the altar," commented Fr. Norris, "such activities provide parishioners with invaluable opportunities to work together, come to know one another, and live out their corporate life."
In August, 1982, the rector reviewed highlights of the parish history in Advance, a monthly diocesan publication. "The heart of any parish is the faithful laity," wrote Fr. Norris, "and no parish in the Church has been more fortunate than the Church of the Ascension. Along with their clergy, they have worked and prayed to give glory to God, and whatever good there may be to give thanks for has been the result of the Holy Spirit's presence and grace in making the Body of Christ present, warts and all, on the corner of LaSalle and Elm Streets in Chicago."