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Dedication of the Convent of St. Mary

Inaugurating the Western Province of the Community of Saint Mary.

From The Living Church, February 11, 1905, pp. 509-510.

ON the feast of the Purification, 1865, the Sisterhood of St. Mary was established at Peekskill, N. Y, by Sister Harriet of blessed memory, who was the first Mother Superior of the Order. This Order, formed for the purpose of conducting educational, charitable, and mission work in general, has grown and prospered. Its institutions are located in various parts of the country, East and West, and the number of professed sisters has grown to something over one hundred.

The work has been conducted under the general and efficient supervision of the Reverend Mother Superior at Peekskill, Sister Edith; but the increasing duties and cares have demanded a more advanced organization, and on the feast of the Purification, just passed, and the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of the Order, there occurred at Kemper Hall, Kenosha, Wis., the inauguration of a provincial system for the Community, by the dedication of the Convent of St. Mary for the training of novices, and the installation of Sister Margaret Clare as Mother Superior of the Western Province.

The ceremonies attending this function were most solemn and impressive, and were witnessed by a large congregation, many of whom came from Chicago and more distant cities, notwithstanding the bitter cold weather. The beautiful chapel was filled to overflowing at 11 o'clock, when the procession of sisters, clergy and Bishops entered the choir.

Before entering the chapel, the Bishops, clergy, and sisters proceeded to the door of the convent, where, with appropriate prayers, the Rt. Rev. I. L. Nicholson, D.D., Bishop of Milwaukee, sprinkled the lintel and door-posts with holy water, and then entering the chief room, continued the office of dedication. Here the Bishop sprinkled and censed the room, and, placing a cross upon the wall in token of the dedication of the convent, closed this part of the service with the words:

"Set upon this house, O Lord Jesus Christ, the sign of salvation, and suffer not the destroying angel to enter herein, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost Amen."

As the hymn, “O Mother dear Jerusalem" was rung upon the chimes, the procession returned and entered the chapel in the following order: the sisters preceded by crucifer, then the clergy, including the Rev. F. L. Maryon, chaplain at Kemper Hall, acting as master of ceremonies, the Rev. William McGarvey, D.D., and the Rev. W. W. Webb, DD., chaplains respectively of the Eastern and Western Provinces of the Community, all vested in copes, and, following the Rev. Frs. J. W. Gilman and C. E. Taylor as crucifer and thurifer, came the Bishops, vested in copes and mitres, the Rt. Rev. Fathers Osborne, Fawcett, Weller, Anderson, Morrison, Grafton, and at the end the diocesan, Bishop Nicholson, attended by his chaplain, the Rev. C. L. Mallory, carrying the pastoral staff, and preceded by torch-bearers.

The scene, as the seven Bishops and many priests grouped about the beautiful altar with its many lights and artistic decorations of lilies, for the completion of the service of dedication, was one of great magnificence and solemnity and one long to be remembered.

Next in order was the installation of Sister Margaret Clare as Mother Superior of the Western Province. The Mother Superior General presented the Mother-elect to the Bishop of Milwaukee, who was seated before the altar, having on his mitre with the pastoral staff in his left hand, and to the other episcopal visitors, who were standing. The office which was conducted with great dignity was most impressive, and at the end the Bishop led the Mother Superior to her stall and there conferred upon her full authority to rule this Province and to direct all things in accordance with the laws and customs of the Community.

Following this office, came the blessing of Sister Ella as assistant Superior, and of Sister Florence as Mistress of Novices for the new convent, likewise conducted by Bishop Nicholson, the sisters being presented by the new Mother Superior.

Then Sisters Frances and Esther, who had been appointed Sisters Superior of the Houses in the Dioceses of Chicago and Iowa, respectively, were presented by the Mother Superior, the former to Bishop Anderson and the latter to Bishop Morrison, who, seated before the altar and having on their mitres, pronounced their blessing upon them.

This office concluded, the Holy Eucharist was celebrated, with Bishop Nicholson as celebrant and Bishops Anderson and Weller as deacon and sub-deacon, respectively. Fathers Larrabee and Bowles acting as servers, and Father Taylor as thurifer. The full, dignified Anglican ritual was carried out, and one cannot witness a function of this kind without a sense of satisfaction over the beautiful Catholic heritage of ceremonial which is ours through the mother Church, and which can be conducted strictly in accordance with the Prayer Book and with the sanction of our Rt. Rev. Fathers in God.

The principal feature of the introductory part of the Eucharistic service, the reading of the Gospel, was most solemnly performed at this time. The deacon, the Bishop Coadjutor of Chicago, vested in cope going from the altar, preceded by the thurifer with smoking censer and the taper-bearers, to the rood screen where, after censing the book, he read the gospel for the day, facing toward the north. This triumphal procession of the deacon, signifying the progress of the Gospel of Christ by the ministry of preaching, together with the beautiful symbolic meaning of the accompanying lights and incense, renders this part of the service most impressive and exceeded only by the act of consecration.

The preacher of the day was the Rt. Rev. Bishop of Iowa, Dr. Morrison, who preached n very appropriate and beautiful sermon on the text, "This shall be my rest forever; here will I dwell, for I have a delight therein" (Ps. cxxxii. 15).

The Bishop most graphically and pictorially depicted the scene in the Temple wherein were assembled the Blessed Virgin and her divine Son, St. Joseph, the aged Simeon, and the prophetess Anna. He then said:

"So this scene is not unfitting for our meditation to-day.

"The world says, dear Sisters, that you have made a great sacrifice. A Sister's life is put in contrast with the apparent freedom, the many amusements and distractions, gay colors and the rich clothing, the activities, the social and intellectual interests or the woman of the world; or a Sister's life is thought of as unnatural and barren, with unsatisfied affections, as it is put in contrast with domestic life, the love of husband and children, with the self-sacrifice of service within the home. How do you regard the life of a Sister? Surely you cannot escape that which is God's loving provision for the earthly training of His children, nor do you expect to. Human nature is human nature within the convent as without; the mysteries of God's providence are as great a trial to a Sister's faith as to people engaged in the world's affairs; the cross cannot be anything but the cross. If the child Jesus was a sign spoken against, you could not for a moment think that the sign to this age of your life of dedication to God would escape the condemnation of the world. If the Holy Virgin, because of her close relation to her Son, has her heart pierced with a sword, you who attend her with the holy women, in ministry to her Son, cannot expect that because of your very devotion and nearness to the Lord Jesus, you should not feel the heart ache and the anguish, and mingle your tears with hers. Yet I press the question: What is the dominant note of a Sister's life? What the experience of a day like this? Surely you do not think of the obedience as hard; the sacrifice is not by constraint of vows taken, possibly, long ago. At moments yes; a consciousness that there is duty to be done because it is duty, sacrifices to be made because you have bound yourself to the cross, but would I not do you wrong if I thought of you as finding obedience mere sense of obligation and sacrifice a cup of bitter myrrh, which fear and constraint ever pressed to your lips? Am I not right in thinking your life is pictured rather by the holy gladness of that scene in the temple! The Blessed Virgin and the Holy Child, Joseph, Simeon, and aged Anna; for whatever the world can give those who live in It, you in common with all earnest and devout Christians, know something of the peace which passeth understanding. The Church is indeed your Father's house; the worship a joy, the holy days a delight There are indeed many compensations in a Sister's life, but one would not speak of the gladness of service before the altar, and the adoration of our Lord and the keeping of the holy seasons as among these compensations, for these be foretastes of the glory yet to be revealed in us, bread to eat which the world knows not of and the soul sometimes cries out of its very fulness of satisfaction:

"'Here would I dwell for I have a delight therein.'

The delight in God's House, the gladness with which you [509/510] observe the holy seasons of the Church, the joy with which you hear the language of the services, the alacrity with which you observe the Lord's commandments of sacramental commemoration, the pleasantness you find in the Church's customs are not your exclusive possession. They are shared by the devout everywhere and under all conditions. Your life may give you unusual opportunities for such happiness, but those who have eyes to see and cars to hear and hearts to understand the mysteries of the faith always come to love the House of God and all that appertains to life within its walls.

“This, undevout people find it hard to understand. They can understand why people consider it a duty to go to church. Their own consciences sometimes disturb them because they do not go. They think it is quite worth while to go to hear beautiful music or a sermon, especially if the preacher is a bright and well-equipped man who can tell them something new, or appeal to them in an unusual way, but that any one should get a positive pleasure out of simply being in God's House, and in the services of the Church puzzles them. At most it is a matter of obedience to a requirement, and as they find nothing in prayer and praise apart from the way they are rendered, as the Holy Communion is only a thing expected of members of the Church, so the seasons of the Church's year, fast and festival, make no appeal, and are only a demand of the authorities of the Church. But the loving soul seeking a living Lord comes to love all things through which it expresses its desire for union with God. To blot out of the year Christmas and Easter, the season of Lent, Passion Week and Good Friday, would leave a sad blank in the life. The devout man or woman anticipates these seasons, finds joy in observing them, and carries through the year their inspiration and comfort. The Prayer Book becomes very precious as the years go by to devout souls living their Christian life in the Church. There is music in the very words; there is sense of fellowship with all God's people, in all lands and all ages; there is a sense of continuity of life through youth and age and the changing scenes of the world; there is sense of present communion with God and a spiritual instinct of eternal life and communion without end with the saints. And what shall we say of the service of the Altar—the vision of Christ present in His own service that He may give to each one a sense of communion and fellowship with Himself—absolve each one, wash each one, comfort each one, strengthen each one, give Himself as the living bread to feed each soul hungry for His love, His purity, His life; His thought moulding our thought, His life quickening our life, His personality touching, embracing, quickening our personality. What shall we say of that august act by which generation after generation the Church pleads the sacrifice of the death of Christ, and having made the oblation to the Almighty Father which Christ Jesus hath commended us to make, worships with angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven about the Lamb as it had been slain. What, indeed, shall we say of what this great central act of Christian devotion is to the souls of those who, loving the Lord Jesus, have received the faith of the Catholic Church. What indeed, save that to such souls mere obedience has passed into free and loving and joyous service, and the soul dwelling in the midst of these spiritual realities finds what it finds nowhere else in the world, and again and again, as it departs, the thought rises unbidden: Here would I dwell, for I have delight therein.

"The worship of the Church is not intended to impress the senses of those who may come to church to hear and see. It may indeed do so, though when the novelty of a new sensation has passed, the worship may be without special attraction. No. The Church did not reason out her worship. Her life breathed it out into actuality. Her love embodied itself in it. Her consciousness of a presence after the order of the Incarnate earthly life of her Lord shaped a fitting expression, and while there is ever an Impression, a subtle sense of the supernatural, in her worship—which touches people naturally devout though strangers to her teaching—it was not with farsighted wisdom and with a profound knowledge of human nature that the Church used sensible things to impress susceptible people through the tenses, it was because her life and faith, her gladness and joy, had to find expression, and so through the ages the Church has become possessed of her worship, and can give but a vague account of how it was developed or by whom elaborated.

"Need I say that in this view of the matter we need not wonder if in the ages to come some changes should pass upon this expression of faith and joy as the Church gathers men under varying national and social conditions. Need I say, too, that while we all agree that all that expresses faith and lore is but the clothing of the life, and the life, i.e., the presence of Christ in the sacrament, is the reality, and all else secondary and subject to change, yet that as long as faith and love endure in the Church there will be little disposition to change in many particulars that in which the faith and love of the ages has expressed itself; that we will continue to find a joy in it, and that in the future as in the past, all changes will come from within and not from without, all but unconsciously as in the past, and that it will ever be faith in Christ's presence in the Holy Sacrament and love for His own service and not doubt or denial that He is present which will mould the worship of the Catholic Church; for it must be as it has been the incarnation of a devout and loving and glad adoration of Christ by the living thought of living souls.

"So, perhaps, the world need not wonder that we Christian people, trained in the Church, say of all its institutions, its forms and ceremonies, even of material symbols and emblems: I have a delight therein; nor need the world wonder, dear Sisters, at your care for all that pertains to worship and that you love to put time and life, as you put love, into all that makes the earthly altar and the worship of the redeemed on earth beautiful and glorious.

"The scene in the Temple was for an hour. For the Holy Family there was the life at Nazareth. Christ was in His Father's House, but His life was a life of ministry. He went about doing good, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. We may indeed often feel as did the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration: It is good for us to be here in God's House. As they, we would build a tabernacle here and dwell in joy in the presence of the Lord, forgetful of the world. Ignorant of the demoniac and the broken-hearted father at the mountain's base, but God bat not so ordered our lives. We must go out of the temple and into the world, each to bit own work, but having obeyed and worshipped, we go with a song in the heart, with an Inspiration, with a spiritual energy and purpose which at once transfigures our work and gives an eternal significance to it. Then we return to God's House, and again return to work and again seek the House of God, and so we go on through the days until we shall see eye to eye and face to face in God's presence, and the earthly worship becomes life in the temple not made with hands eternal in the heavens.

"So for all the faithful, but to-day, here, we turn our thoughts again to the work and life of the Sisters of St Mary and in particular to the Sister who to-day becomes the head of the Western Province of the Community.

"We have no words of criticism for our brethren in the faith, men and women, who in days gone by fled from the world that they might be alone with God, who made it their business—like aged Anna— to dwell in God's house night and day, to pray for those who could not or would not pray for themselves. The world may witness this again. Who knows! In the frantic hurry of modern life, in the selfish luxury of our time, in the competitions of business or for recognition in society, in the weariness and disappointment of an age which hat lost the art of worship and finds no abiding place in the personal religious opinions or materialistic theories of our time, if Christ does not through His faithful ones dominate the spirit of the modern world, surely the thing that has been is the thing that may be, and in weariness and disgust, if not in aspiration, and longing for peace and simple living, men and women may again flee from it all and seek to be alone and to save their own souls. But the order of St. Mary is not such a shelter for women disgusted with the world, or broken hearted over its experiences. It does indeed afford many blessed opportunities for religious joy, but it is preeminently a working Order. The Sisters go about doing good. They assume heavy responsibilities. The care of institutions brings into their lives many of the anxieties which women of the world must face—administration, economics, care about income, personal antagonisms, and all this while the great body of the Church people do not understand them and are not generous in aiding them.

"Surely they have their reward. They go about doing good. In an age which in spite of all its apparent indifference to religion is below the surface very religious, they are doing a great work for souls, greater perhaps than they dream. Yet, the very demand for such services as they are rendering, the circumstances of the time, and the nature of their institutional work, are their greatest danger. Their danger is, as is the danger of the priesthood, secularization.

"Wonder not, then, that to-day I have for a few moments turned your thoughts to the joy of the life lived in the House of God and linked this scene with the scene in the temple, that forgetting for a moment the heavy cares which to-day we lay upon the Sister to be made Mother of the Western Province and the Sisters whom we have made Superiors of institutions, we may with joy and gladness keep a great feast of our holy mother, the Church, the bride of Christ our Lord, and that these Sisters may to-day at least, forgetful of the days of anxiety and care know the joy of an obedience to God's providence in their lives, which has brought them here into God's House to keep this blessed feast and as they rejoice, though with some fear and misgivings as to the future, they may renew their strength and learn when their power is secured, their vision enlightened, and their peace found.

"Truly as we make much of our joy in God's House shall we bear without heartbreak or loss of faith and fervor the burden of work and anxiety we must carry for His Name's sake."

A short office of commemoration of the Sisters departed, followed the Eucharist and closed the services of the morning.

At 2 o'clock the visiting Bishops, clergy, and guests were invited to the dining hall of the school where a bountiful luncheon was served, and then the guests were given an opportunity to inspect the convent, which was availed of by all present

On the Eve of the Purification, Sister Franceses was professed by Bishop Nicholson, according to the form prescribed by the order.

The Community is to be congratulated upon its prosperous condition, upon the magnificent work which it is doing, and upon the increased facilities for its future activity.

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