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Some American Churchmen

By Frederic Cook Morehouse

Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1892.

Chapter IV. Philander Chase, The Pioneer Missionary

AMERICANS of the early part of the nine-teenth century were imbued with a restless spirit. They inherited it from their fathers, who had come to a New World of toil and hardship. The older parts of the East were now becoming too "crowded," too quiet and conservative, for this class. Thus commenced the emigration which settled the western portions of New York and Pennsylvania, moved westward through Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan, and gave to the country the hardy pioneers of that day.

Such a man was Philander Chase. He was born in New Hampshire in 1775, spent his early days in hard farm work, graduated at Dartmouth College in 1796, and was ordained deacon by Bishop Provoost in 1798. As a deacon, he founded a number of parishes in Northern and Western New York, including those at Utica. Later, after his ordination to the priesthood, he was rector of Poughkeepsie and Fishkill.

In 1805, he went to New Orleans to take charge of a "Protestant Church," organized on a "non-sectarian" basis, but which was re-organized under his direction as a Church parish, and became Christ Church--now the pro-cathedral of Louisiana. Being far distant from any Bishop, it was placed under the episcopal jurisdiction of the Bishop of New York.

In 1817, Mr. Chase crossed the Alleghanies and settled in the wilderness of central Ohio. There were no Churchmen anywhere in his vicinity, but he began missionary work, and founded a number of parishes, including Columbus and Zanesville. He also took charge of an academy at Worthington, from which, with his farm, he derived his support.

The few clergy and parishes of Ohio elected Mr. Chase to the episcopate in 1818, and although there was some objection in Philadelphia and elsewhere to consecrating a Bishop for so far-away place as Ohio, it was overruled, and he was consecrated in 1819.

Returning to Ohio, travelling mostly on horseback, he threw himself again heartily into missionary work. He hired a man to work his farm, and himself worked hard when at home. Finally, he became unable to even hire his one man, and accepted the presidency of Cincinnati College, which was offered him, in 1821.

Now it was that he conceived the idea of founding a theological seminary for the West. The plan met with much opposition in the East. Bishop Hobart was enthusiastic about the proposed seminary in New York, and, with all his far-seeing statesmanship, could not see the necessity of another in Ohio. He was doubtful, too, whether its graduates, should it ever have any, would be sufficiently instructed. It was the same inconceivable ignorance of the East in regard to the West from which the West has always suffered, and still suffers! None of the Eastern Bishops would indorse the plan. His only letters of encouragement were from the Bishops of North and South Carolina.

Without friends, funds, influence or letters, Bishop Chase sailed for England to raise money. His American opponents did everything to thwart his purpose, publishing in the English papers, warnings against aiding him or his visionary scheme.

Through the introduction of Henry Clay, Bishop Chase presented the matter to Lord Gambler, a generous nobleman, and influential in the Church Missionary Society. He gave him warm support. Through Gambler's aid, the claims of Ohio were presented to others of the British nobility. Bishop Chase, the hardy Western pioneer, a species of Bishop unheard of in England for a thousand years, became a lion of society. Lord Kenyon, Lord Bexley, Lady Rosse and others made liberal donations. The Archbishops and the leading Bishops were not cordial, but the Bishops of S. David's, and Sodor and Man became friendly. The Bishop of Sodor and Man named his infant daughter "Mary Ohio."

So, with the assistance so obtained, Bishop Chase returned to America. The present site was selected after some delay, and the "Theological Seminary of Ohio and Kenyon College" was incorporated and established at Gambier.

But after the work was well under way, internal dissensions arose. The Bishop looked upon the whole as a theological seminary, with the college simply as a preparatory department for that, and all under the immediate control of the Bishop. His co-workers dissented. The matter was finally laid before the diocesan convention. Their action, like that of many another such body, failed to give satisfaction. Bishop Chase then, in 1831, resigned his diocese, and with it the presidency of the seminary.

Of the Gambier troubles it is not necessary to write fully. Dr. John Norton, who wrote a brief memoir of Bishop Chase, thus summarizes them:

"Insinuations began to be slyly circulated that the college funds were badly managed, although those who ventured to make such statements might have known, if they chose to inquire, that the Bishop was obliged to render a strict account to the Trustees for every dollar which passed through his hands. These reports, which at first were circulated in distant places, at length reached the Diocese of Ohio. Misunderstandings and dissensions arose there. The Professors of the Theological Seminary were arrayed against the Bishop. The main ground of difference was this: Bishop Chase contended that the college had no being but as a Theological Seminary; and that it was, in fact, merely a preparatory branch of it; and that, as a matter of course, it was under the government of the Bishop of the diocese. The Professors and their supporters complained that the patriarchal authority thus assumed by the Bishop was too undefinable and too absolute in its nature, and, therefore, they rebelled. Whatever may be thought, at this clay, of the claim set up by the Bishop, or of the position assumed by the Professors, thus much is certain: that in 1839, Bishop McIlvaine was driven by the experience of the evil consequences which resulted from the opposite principle, to adopt the views of his predecessor. Full justice was thus done to the wisdom and correctness of the opinions of Bishop Chase in this particular' (Caswell's American Church, p. 95)."

At the same time, it must be observed that the experience of the Church seems to have amply proved that, in this country, colleges should not be under the ex-officio administration of the Bishop of any diocese, or of the diocesan convention. There are diversities of gifts, and not every one, even in high office, is fitted to have the ultimate care of a college. President Smith, of Trinity College, well says:

"From such information as I have been able to gather, and from my own experience, I do not think that there is any probability that colleges which are, directly or indirectly, under the management or control of a single diocese can grow into colleges of strength or influence in the country or the Church. None of the large institutions of our day have become such, with an overlordship such as attaches to the Bishops of our Church in relation to institutions within their geographical jurisdiction. I do not wish to dwell upon the logical defect of a system in which a body of Trustees puts the burden of responsibility on a man by appointing him President, while his orders in the Church put him canonically under the hand of a party who is irresponsible as far as college interests are concerned; who is Bishop by the action of an outside body, or convention; who has other interests to serve, and who is bound to use all the instrumentalities in his hand for the furtherance of those interests. It seems natural, if it be not indeed inevitable, in such a case, that the college interests, which are general and permanent, should be subordinated in the minds of the clerical Professors, and of the convention, to the diocesan interests, which are local and transitory. Unless, therefore, it is deemed feasible to put the clerical officers of our colleges in the same canonical position as the officers of the General Theological Seminary, and of the General Missionary Society, and thus free them from the entanglements of the diocesan connection, I do not think that we shall change the old 'use,' which has been described as that of 'graduating more Presidents than students.'" [Church University Board of Regents paper, "Opinions of Educators and Others."]

After Bishop Chase's retirement from Ohio, he moved further West and settled in Michigan. From his home, near Gilead, he acted as an itinerary missionary, as he had formerly done in New York and in Ohio.

On one Sunday, on reaching a mission about nine miles from his home, he found the sectarians had arrived ahead of him, and were holding a "protracted meeting," which had already lasted a week. The Bishop called out the Presbyterian minister. He came, accompanied by his brethren of the Congregational, the Methodist and the Baptist denominations. The Bishop announced his intention of holding service according to appointment, and asked them, with their flocks, to join. They objected that they had no Prayer Books. The Bishop thereupon opened up some dozens that he had brought with him. "But we do not know how to use them," they objected. "I will show you," replied the Bishop.

Accordingly the service began. The Bishop explained each part as it was reached. The whole assembly responded as one man. He instructed them to kneel on their knees, citing the examples of David, Solomon, Daniel, S. Stephen and S. Paul. They all knelt. The Lord's Prayer was "as the voice of many waters."

It was about this time that the diocese of Illinois was formed. A few clergymen had gone into that field, and there were several missions. Only one church had been erected--at Jacksonville. There were thirty-five communicants reported in the State.

The primary convention was held on March 9th, 1835, and Bishop Chase was elected Bishop. His election appears to have been a surprise to him, but was at once accepted. Leaving his family on the farm in Michigan, and accompanied by the Rev. Samuel Chase, who had lately been ordained by Bishop Griswold; and by Mr. Chase's wife, the Bishop started by stage for his new diocese. At Michigan City, Indiana, he read the Church's service for the first time in that city. He then proceeded to Chicago, which had lately been founded. Thence to Peoria, where he held service; to Springfield, where Mr. Chase remained, and where, on the 28th of June, 1835, Bishop Chase celebrated the Holy Communion for the first time.

Again the question of support troubled the Bishop. The General Convention, meeting in the fall of the same year (1835), had consecrated Bishop Kemper as missionary Bishop for the Northwest, and had recognized Bishop Chase's translation to Illinois, although irregular. They had provided Bishop Kemper with an ample salary, but given none to Bishop Chase, as he was a diocesan Bishop.

So the Bishop bethought him to make another attempt to found in Illinois such a seminary as he had originally planned for Ohio. Accordingly he again started for England.

Some of his old friends received him with pleasure. The Dowager Countess of Rosse, now an old lady, sent him £260, Lord Bexley helped him to some extent, as did others. Altogether, he raised about $10,000. The Bishop of Sodor and Man wrote jokingly that "Mary Ohio" would change her name to "Mary Illinois."

On his return home, the Bishop obtained suitable lands and founded Jubilee College, calling the place "Robin's Nest." He made a great effort to obtain from Congress a grant of a portion of the public lands in Illinois, but without success. The bill passed the Senate, but failed in the House of Representatives. The Bishop then made an extensive tour through the South and East, raising money for his work in Illinois.

During the lifetime of Bishop Chase, Jubilee College was fairly prosperous. It was almost the only college in the State, and the Bishop labored abundantly for it.

Nor did he neglect the other missionary work of the diocese. We have seen that only at Jacksonville had a church been erected when he came to Illinois. In 1837 the Bishop consecrated S. James', the mother church, in Chicago. He notes with pride in that year that there are "now about thirty communicants in Chicago."

In his seventy-eighth year--September 20th, 1852, Bishop Chase died. He was buried in the cemetery of Jubilee College, and upon a monument erected over his grave are the words, so dear to him, "JEHOVAH JIREH."

Bishop Chase was a man of marked personality. He was essentially a pioneer and frontiersman--restless, active, content to suffer hardship. He was one of the first of those noble missionaries, who at so great cost to themselves, planted the Cross in our Western land. Kenyon survives and is prosperous, though on somewhat different lines from those marked out by Bishop Chase. Subject to new conditions, by reason of change in the State of Ohio, it is doubtless in better condition for its present work, to-day, than it would have been had Bishop Chase's own views been strictly carried out. To him, however, is due the honor of founding the work, and Kenyon will always be the best monument to the memory of PHILANDER CHASE.

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