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William McGarvey and the Open Pulpit
An Intimate History of a Celibate Movement in the Episcopal Church,
and of Its Collapse, 1870-1908.

By Edward Hawks
Priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Philadelphia: The Dolphin Press, 1935.

Chapter 3. The Companions of the Holy Saviour

ON 15 JUNE, 1891, seven young men met in the Clergy House of the Church of the Evangelists to organize a religious society. It was their desire to bind themselves to a simple rule of life. Dr. Percival was not present. It was not in accordance with his methods to do directly what could be done better by others. Moreover, his failing health made it impossible for him to engage himself to any active tasks. He was none the less the guiding influence which brought these enthusiastic disciples together. The meeting had been preceded by celebration of the Holy Communion at which the Rev, James G. Cameron (then an assistant at the Evangelists') officiated. The other six were: the Rev. William W. Webb, rector of the new parish of St. Elizabeth; the Rev. Walter C. Clapp, assistant-in-charge of St. Mary's Church, Baltimore; the Rev. Frederick D. Lobdell, assistant at St. Mark's Church, Philadelphia; the Rev. Mr. Bathyde, assistant at the Annunciation Church, Philadelphia; the Rev. Maurice L. Cowl, assistant at St. Elizabeth's Church, Philadelphia; and the Rev. William McGarvey, assistant to Dr. Percival.

The meeting was informal. A simple rule of life had already been drawn up, and to it was attached a proposed constitution. It was decided that all present should give the matter their careful consideration during the summer, and that they should meet again in September to make a final decision.

On 15 September of the same year the First Chapter of the Society was held at the same place of meeting. A retreat was conducted by the Rev. Alfred Mortimer, the new rector of St. Mark's Church. During the retreat certain hours were devoted to the business of organization. Four more aspirants were present: the Rev. Alex. I. du Pont Coleman and the Rev. George B. Stone, "priests," and the Rev. Lawson C. Rich and the Rev. William W. Mills, deacons.

The first question to be decided was the title of the Society. It was the general wish that it should include the name of the Great High Priest. For this reason the suggestion of St. Charles or St. Francis, as patrons, were set aside. Choice finally lay between "Companions of Jesus," "Society of the Holy Companionship," and "The Companions of the Holy Saviour." The last, which was the first name of the Jesuit Order, was the preference. The rule was then voted on clause by clause. It was very simple. A religious order was not as yet contemplated; this was to come several years later. For the present it was thought sufficient that the members should pledge themselves only to those things that might be expected of devout ministers of God. The Companions promised to rise each day not later than seven o'clock; to say private prayers thrice daily; to recite the Divine Office as contained in the Prayer-Book-an obligation by which few American clergymen considered themselves to be bound; to celebrate the Holy Communion at least twice each week; to make a eucharistic preparation and thanksgiving; to observe complete fast before the Communion; to say table prayers; to make a daily meditation of fifteen minutes; to read each day a passage from a spiritual book; to devote one half-hour each day to sacred study; to make a daily self-examination of conscience; to approach sacramental confession at least once each month; to observe the days of fasting and abstinence prescribed by the Prayer-Book; to cultivate a spirit of poverty; to attend a yearly retreat provided by the Congregation; to recite a daily Collect for the congregation; and finally to confess all breaches of the rule publicly at the monthly conferences. It will be seen that the rule entailed no hardships. Its purpose was to cultivate a spiritual life in those who were engaged in active work.

The Constitutions of the Congregation were then considered and accepted. Two days later an adjourned meeting of the Chapter agreed upon the wording of the daily collect:

Antiphon: He ordained twelve that they should be with Him.

V.: Lo, I am with you alway.
R.: Even to the end of the world.

Let us pray:

O Lord Jesus Christ, the great High Priest, who didst give Thyself for us an offering and sacrifice to God, and hast called us to be partakers of that same priesthood; accept, we beseech Thee, our entire liberty, our memory, our understanding, and our will, and all that we are and have; and grant that we, being made conformable to Thy death, may also be partakers in the glory of Thy Resurrection, who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

The same night, 17 September, 1891, all that were present at the chapter made their first promise to the Congregation. It was administered by Dr. Mortimer after the evening meditation and before the recitation of Compline. There is reason to believe that it was made in the same words which afterward became traditional:

I, A. B., do solemnly and sincerely promise, so long as I am a member of the Congregation of the Companions of the Holy Saviour, to keep the Rule of the Congregation, as God shall give me grace; and I will confess all breaches thereof to my God in the tribunal of Penance, and to the Congregation as prescribed by the Rule. I also promise to observe the Constitutions of the Congregation.

Next day the elections took place. The Rev. William McGarvey was elected Master, an office he held for the next seventeen years and until he was received into the Catholic Church. The Rev. Walter Clapp was elected Vice-Master. The Rev. William Walter Webb was elected Secretary, and the Rev. A. I. du Pont Coleman, Treasurer.

The Congregation was strictly clerical; deacons and canonical candidates for Holy Orders were only admitted to associate membership, without votes in the chapter. They kept a rule which was modified to their condition. In the following years the numbers grew until at one time they reached a membership of over fifty. For the convenience of those who did not reside in or near Philadelphia, a conference was established at New York and a little later another one in the Middle West. The New York Conference did not continue in existence for long. The spirit of Anglo-Catholicism in that city was never the same as in Philadelphia. On the other hand, owing to the inclusion in it of Nashotah Seminary, where a number of the Companions were afterward professors and students, the Western conference became larger than the one in Philadelphia.

To understand the spirit of the Congregation, one will not learn much from the Rule. Nothing is said in it about the celibacy of the clergy. To have advertised the real object of the congregation was contrary to the wishes of Dr. Percival. It was not his method to attract attention. It was understood that none but unmarried clergymen could possibly be elected to membership. The Manual which was afterward printed for private use of the members, and which I shall treat as such, clearly set forth the obligation to celibacy and the reasons for it. Clerical marriage was therein accounted as ipso facto a severance from the Congregation. The meetings were held regularly until the autumn of 1896 when a long-expected development took place. Certain of the members were then able to establish a religious community.

I have been given permission to include a private letter written by William McGarvey, 1 July, 1893, to a newly elected member. It will show the spirit which animated the society until 1908, better than any words that I could set down:

My dear
. . . You no doubt have already heard from . . . and ... all about the general aim and spirit of our Congregation. I may add a few words more. The Christian priest, as you know, is called to be the living representation of the Son of God; not only by discharging certain functions, but by an interior life conformed to Christ's life; this interior life manifesting itself in his words and actions, so that the world is able to see in the devout priest the character of Christ. There is therefore no limit to the height of sanctity to which the priest is called. He is called to be perfect; he is called to be conformed to the likeness of Christ. The truth of the Gospel which we preach is not to be demonstrated to the world by argument, but by the sanctity of our lives.

The Apostles were unlearned and ignorant men. Yet the world perceived that they had been with Jesus. In the measure that Christ's life is manifested in the chastened life and conversation of a Priest in that measure he attracts souls. "If I be lifted up, I shall draw all men unto me." But the life of God can only be made manifest in our mortal flesh by the power of divine grace. It is only as we are faithful in prayer, and meditation, in penitence, in the reception of the Sacraments, and in the patient enduring of the humiliations and sufferings which God sends us, that our old man is put to death and Christ lives within us. St. Paul could say; "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me "-but how many temptations he had to struggle with, how many battles had he to fight before he could say that! And none of us can attain the height of Mount Sion without a struggle. "The Kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force."

Now the aim of the Congregation is conformity to the life of Christ; it is for this end we keep our Rule; and perform all our spiritual exercises. But the Rule is kept by none without a struggle. There will come to you, I dare say, the temptations to neglect it; and as you go on, Satan will do his best to lower your ideals. But when such temptations come, let us remember for whom we keep our Rule; and let us hear then our Divine Master's question "Will ye go away also?" The strength by which we are to attain the stature of Christ is not our own. We may feel our weakness, as indeed we ought, but He who has called us to be conformed to the likeness of His Son will supply the power.

This letter is a perfect example of McGarvey's epistolary style, and it is filled with his spirit. It was his custom as Master to write constantly to the different Companions, treating each one of them with the greatest consideration and tact, and communicating to them his own enthusiasms and ideals.

The story of the C. S. S. S. is embodied in the pages that will follow. There is no necessity to anticipate it here. The Society continued in existence until 1908, and, I understand, still survives under new conditions and entirely separated from the neighborhood in which it was first organized. Parallel with it, closely connected with it, and indeed bearing its name, there came into existence in 1896 the religious community above mentioned whose first members all belonged to it. This community had always been a hoped-for ideal. It was possible of realization when the parish of St. Elizabeth had grown to important proportions. The Rev. Maurice Cowl, who was in charge, had won the hearts of the people, and they were willing to agree to anything that he wished of them. In the summer of this year their representatives consented to give a home to the proposed community. The Rev. William McGarvey, the chosen Superior, therefore left for Oxford to undergo a novitiate with the Cowley Fathers. He returned in the fall. Meanwhile Cowl agreed to resign the rectorship of the parish in McGarvey's favor, since it was felt that the rector and the superior should be the same person. The congregation as a whole was only notified of the change at the beginning of November in order to avoid misunderstandings. They must have received the notification of the appointment of a new rector with considerable surprise, for only a few days before they had given a welcome home to "Father" Cowl, who had himself been on an extended vacation in Europe. The matter was arranged with the vestry of the church without any hitch; and in place of the two ministers who had been with them for several years, they were now called upon to accept no less than eight. Assurance was given that no greater burden should be laid upon the finances of the church. The additional clergymen would sustain themselves with extra-parochial work; the amount to be paid by the parish for the support of the community would not be increased beyond the $1500 a year that was already being received.

To house the community, two residences at 1517 Mifflin Street were rented and provided with intercommunication. This was only a temporary arrangement, as the building of the new church and an adequate clergy house was to be undertaken at once. The community consisted of Messrs. Thomas Bingham, Harry Blackman, Maurice Cowl, Alonzo Curtiss, William Hayward, Frederick Lobdell, William McGarvey and James M. Raker. Of these eight men, three were founders of the Congregation. I shall have occasion to speak more fully of those who play a part in my story.

In addition to his pastorship of St. Elizabeth's Church, William McGarvey had been elected Rector of St. Paul's, a decayed parish on Third Street. It was hoped that with his increased staff it would be possible to resuscitate the life of this abandoned church. Its fate was similar to that of every Episcopalian organization below or east of the fashionable neighborhood near Rittenhouse Square. Not a single parish was self-supporting except those under the Percival influence. It was this fact that secured for the Congregation of the Companions a great deal of freedom from episcopal interference. It was saving the diocese money.

The work at St. Paul's did not last long. It was in too dead a neighborhood. The structure was later converted into diocesan offices. Meanwhile the influence of the Holy Evangelists' Church was waning. St. Elizabeth's took its place. Dr. Percival was growing more infirm, and after the departure of William McGarvey, the clergy who were left in charge were never able to do more than keep the church open. Within a few years after Dr. Percival's death it was again abandoned.

The rule of the Community was severe. Although the brethren avoided all outward display and never adopted any distinctive habit, they observed the usual practices of a religious house with the utmost obedience. They drew their inspiration from the writings of St. Ignatius Loyola, and from the Sulpicians. Until later years they never gave the title of "Father" to one another, but-and this was a Percival peculiarity-always referred to "Mr." McGarvey or "Mr." Cowl with an emphasis on the "Mr.", a custom which was put down to their "Jesuitry." The spiritual book which became, above all else, the expression of their sacerdotal ideals was the Memoriale of Arvisenet. From this everyone, both of the Congregation and the Community, was under obedience to read a passage each day. It is a book which is rigoristic. The Community was certainly such, as is often the case with Anglican attempts to copy the ways of the Catholic Church.

One of the most useful works' of the Community was the preparation of a catechism, graded, like that of Baltimore, according to the capability of children of various ages. This catechism had very wide circulation amongst High Church parishes and its sale was a source of revenue to the Congregation. Retreats and missions were undertaken, but it must be admitted that the Companions were held somewhat at arm's length by the Anglican clergy because of their inflexible opposition to clerical marriage. This opposition increased as the years passed; it was hardened by the losses that the Congregation sustained from the attraction of matrimony.

William McGarvey continued to spend a great part of his time in study and in writing. He had become well-known as the author of Liturgiae Anglicanae, a critical text of the Prayer-Book in use in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. This book remains the standard work on the American liturgy. It compares, in parallel columns, with learned annotations, the various editions. He then compiled a book of ceremonial, which, although strictly in accordance with the sparse rubrics of the Prayer-Book, gave clear instructions to those who wish to conduct their worship as far as possible in harmony with that of the Catholic Church. His Low Celebration became so popular amongst the Anglo-Catholics that it continues to be the basis of more elaborate works on the subject. Its first enlargement was made when McGarvey was still an Anglican, in cooperation with the Rev. Charles Burnett.

With varying success and disappointments the Community survived until the spring of 1907, when its legal corporation was dissolved. It never grew in numbers, and its personnel underwent some changes. New members always arrived to replace losses. At the beginning of 1907 it consisted of six "priests" and several candidates for Holy Orders. As an evidence of its ambitions, it may be noted that almost the last thing that was accomplished was the obtaining of a charter by which it had the right to educate candidates for the ministry.

I append here to this chapter the letter which was sent to each member of the Congregation in 1896 announcing the formation of the Community. It is dated 10 February, 1896, and runs as follows:

My dear Mr. . . .

Four months have gone by since eleven members of the Congregation were moved by God's Holy Spirit to enter into a league of prayer with the hope that they might be counted worthy to enter upon a life of complete surrender to God. Should it be God's will that we begin the novitiate next autumn, and I sincerely believe that such will be His will, a great number of practical matters have to be arranged between now and then, to say nothing of the arrangements to be made by each individually. It is therefore manifestly important that I should know just who will go into the preparatory retreat. Accordingly I write to ask, Do you expect to enter this retreat (which will probably be in October) with the hope of afterward going on into the novitiate? For, of course, it would be to no purpose to make the retreat without such hope. I ask you kindly to let we have your answer by Good Friday.

In making our decision let us keep before our minds a few principles of Faith. First, let us remember that, the aspiration which we have to live for God alone, comes from God. It could not come from ourselves, much less from the spirit of evil. It is our Creator and no one else, who speaks in our hearts and says, "Follow me."

Let us remember that He will not change His will with regard to us, for "the gifts and calling of God are without a repentance." The voices therefore which bid us take a lower ideal cannot come from God. They are inspired either by the natural heart or by the enemy of God.

Let us remember that God calls us as our Sovereign, as one who has an absolute claim upon our obedience. We must therefore close our ears to every other vice when He speaks: "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me."

Let us remember that He who calls us is our Redeemer, who has loved us of old with an everlasting love. He shows us in His scarred and wounded body the marks of His love, and asks each one, "Lovest thou me?" Multitudes have heard His voice and have turned from Him. "Will ye also go away?"

Let us remember that we must follow Christ in implicit faith. We must not allow the consideration of possible contingencies in the future to deter us from obeying Him in the present. We have nothing to do with the future; it lies in the hands of God and He will take care of it.

Let us keep before us the responsibility of holding back because of any sacrifice which may be involved in obeying the heavenly calling: "If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him." God grant that we may all answer in the power of the Holy Ghost, "We are not of them that draw back."

Let us remember that He who calls us has Himself left us the example of leaving all things in obedience to the divine will, even when that obedience involved suffering to her who was so dear to Him. From the cross whereon the human will was immolated ,He speaks to us who would fain have a place in His kingdom: "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?" If in the spirit of love we answer, "We are able," then the promise given to His first Companions is ours also. "There is no man who hath left house, or brethren, or sister, or father, or mother, or wife or children, or lands for my sake and the Gospel's, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time ... with persecutions, and in the world to come eternal life."

Affectionately yours in our Lord,


P. S. As soon as I have heard from all, I will notify each one of the result so that they may make arrangements accordingly.

Here is added an extract from a letter written in 1892 to a newly elected member of the Congregation:

. . . the primary aim of our Congregation is purely spiritual. We desire to be conformed to the likeness of the Son of God. It is for the accomplishment of this end that we pray, meditate, recite our offices and fulfil all the requirements of our Rule. No doubt you will find, as we all have found, that our Rule, although it requires but few things, is yet not without difficulties in its observance. This is true of any thing spiritual; and it is the putting forth of spiritual effort to overcome these difficulties which develops the life of Christ within us. We must not be discouraged at our failures. Discouragement after failure has done more injury to souls and held them back from perfection far more that the failures themselves. The lives of the saints were not one uniform and uninterrupted advance. They had their failings and even falls, but the final success was that they were ever beginning anew. So it ought to be with us: if we fail, as we all fail, we ought straightway to rise up, and forgetting the things that are behind, press forward to the prize by a fresh beginning. We are treading the royal road of the Cross, the difficulties we find in keeping our Rule, are but the stones that lie in that road. If we are only patient, we will someday come with our Divine Master to the top of Mt. Calvary, and with Him we will pass through the grave and gate of death to be with Him forever in His Kingdom. . . .

It will be seen that the spirit of the Companions of the Holy Saviour was one of quiet and unobtrusive devotion to the Divine Master. There was a reserve and a refinement in all that they did. There was a continual sense of responsibility. Nothing was ever done to obtain notoriety or to court approval for worldly interests. Their purpose was to uphold the principles by which alone the kingdom of God can be established on earth. The holy aspirations which drew these men together never forsook their association. It was not until the spring of 1905 that I was admitted to its membership, but the primitive ideals had not been dimmed.

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