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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 4. St. Elizabeth's Church, Philadelphia

ALTHOUGH DR. PERCIVAL began his active work at the Church of the Evangelists it is rather in the daughter Church of St. Elizabeth's, where he rarely exercised his ministry, that we must look for the fulfilment of his ideals. He remained faithful to his first love; occupying its pulpit and celebrating at its altar with such regularity as his growing disabilities would allow. It must not be thought, however, that he established St. Elizabeth's Church and then cut it adrift. He acted, indeed, as he had always done. He found others to do the work which he planned, filling them with his own enthusiasm and guiding them with the lightest touch in the way that he wished. In the new parish there were no incumbrances of any kind. There was no lay interference with his plans, such as had existed at the Evangelists' for a short time. There was no conservatism to be encountered, for the work was started in a newly opened section of the city. It began in a small way and grew with the neighborhood. Everything could therefore be initiated in accordance with Dr. Percival's wishes.

It was in 1888 that the bishop drew the attention of his clergy to the expansion of the city toward the south, at a distance of about ten blocks from the Evangelists' Church. It was important that two or more parishes should be erected in this new neighborhood. How was this to be done? The district was unattractive. The land was swampy. Beyond it still further south there were truck farms and pig pens. It was evident to everyone that it was not a field that the Episcopal Church could occupy without missionary support. Experience has verified this estimate. The diocese was unable to finance such an undertaking. This difficulty was Dr. Percival's opportunity. He offered his services to Bishop Whitaker, who had in 1886 been translated from Nevada as assistant to the enfeebled Bishop Stevens. His offer was accepted. Dr. Percival had two men to spare. He was generous in his proposal and took the entire responsibility of providing for the religious needs of the new mission without making any claim upon the diocesan funds. It was a most satisfactory arrangement even to a bishop, who, as a pronounced Evangelical, must have been suspicious of the doctrinal standards of Dr. Percival and his associates. It is interesting to note that the Anglo-Catholic movement had seized the same opportunities in England. It had established itself in centres where the average Anglican clergy did not feel at home.

Dr. Percival was careful to appear to take no direct part in the founding of the new institution. He placed the work entirely in the hands of William Webb and Maurice Cowl. St. Elizabeth's was not in any sense to be a chapel-of-ease. Neither was it what is technically called a "Mission." From the very first it was established as a parish with Dr. Percival as its rector. As soon as it could be legally incorporated, Mr. Webb succeeded to this office. The two friends continued to live at the Evangelists' in order to enjoy the privileges of the common life there. They spent the rest of their time in their new district. A house was rented on Hicks Street, No. 1925. It was at the limit of the building operations. Here evening services were held on Sunday; and a number of activities were begun. The children were gathered for Sunday School; there were classes in sewing, painting and cooking. The people were visited with great regularity and everything was done to create in them the desire to build a hall which would serve for a temporary church. There were no morning services, for the good reason that there were as yet no conveniences for the celebration of the Holy Communion, which was eventually to be made the chief feature of public worship.

Meanwhile the plans for the church hall were being made. The money for its erection and for the land on which it was to be built was for the most part collected from the friends of Dr. Percival; he himself being a generous contributor, especially as the new parish was to be a memorial to his mother. With this, his pecuniary responsibility came to an end. It was thought possible to realize his conviction that the running expenses of the church should be paid by the people. For the next twenty years this was done, and it is unique in the history of all the Episcopalian institutions in this part of the city, and elsewhere under similiar circumstances. So rapidly did the work progress that the cornerstone of the church hall was laid on 5 November, 1889, one year after the parish had been established. On this occasion Bishop Whitaker officiated. There was no display of any Ritualism. It is characteristic of Dr. Percival that he himself did not attend the function. He wished to remain entirely in the background. [When the Evangelists' Church was erected, Dr. Percival sent to Bishop Stevens for approval a definite rite for "blessing" the corner-stone. The Bishop in the gentlest manner substituted a prayer which was quite indefinite. I have the original correspondence on the subject.--E. H.]

The new hall was "blessed" by the bishop on Monday evening, 17 February, 1890. Again Dr. Percival absented himself. The utmost simplicity marked the ceremony. For those who were afraid of the ritual now observed at the Evangelists' Church there was no need for alarm. Everyone found Mr. Webb and Mr. Cowl to be much like other ministers except in their insistence upon definite training in the beliefs of their Church. It was several years before any attempt was made to introduce the elaborate ceremonies such as were in vogue then in several Anglo-Catholic churches. At this very time a mission was being conducted by "Father" Chase of Plymouth, England, at the Evangelists' Church, and confession was openly preached. [He afterward became a Catholic, in 1900.] None of these things was suspected at St. Elizabeth's Church. It was not intended that they should be. It was Dr. Percival's opinion that teaching should come before practice. Moreover the population in the new district was of the working class and many of those who were attracted to the services by the influence of their children in the Sunday School, were not Episcopalians. By insensible degrees Catholic principles were implanted in their minds.

With the opening of the new hall there came the celebration of the Holy Communion. The upper part of the building was arranged as a chapel, leaving the lower story for Sunday School classes and entertainments. Everything was of the simplest description. The first celebration seems to have taken place on Ash Wednesday, 19 February. It was announced for 7.30 a. m. The same hour was chosen for the Sunday Holy Communion services. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer were at the usual times. There was also, in accordance with the moderate Episcopalian practice, a late Communion on the first Sunday of the month. It was not until Easter of 1896, six years later, that the eucharistic service was regularly given the chief hour of worship, 10.30 a. m. It is interesting to notice how gradual was the change. Little by little Morning Prayer was superseded. The children never attended it. From the year 1891 they had a celebration of their own at 9.00 a. m. It is also interesting to notice in the monthly church paper, the delayed introduction of the term "High Mass." In 1891 the service is described as Holy Communion (with music); in 1893, after the departure of Dr. Webb, it becomes Celebration (choral); in 1895 it becomes Holy Eucharist (choral); whilst Morning Prayer becomes (plain); in 1896, as noted above, whilst still called Holy Eucharist (choral), it becomes the chief service of the day at 10.30. By this time the people have been weaned from Morning Prayer with its sung Te Deum. It was not until Easter of 1906 that the word "Mass" is used in print. A similar method was used in regard to the vesture of the clergy. At first only surplices were worn; later a plain white silk chasuble was substituted, but it would be so inconspicuous as to give little offence to those who did not realize why it was introduced; by those who were instructed it would, of course, be welcomed. It was long before colored vestments were in use. By this slow and patient process the church was relieved from the attendance of ritualists who were accustomed to wander from church to church comparing and criticizing the methods of worship, and finding an interesting pastime in the enjoyment of ceremonial functions.

William Webb remained rector of St. Elizabeth's Church until 5 November, St. Elizabeth's Day, 1892. His appointment to the chair of Dogmatic Theology at Nashotah Seminary was an event in the growing importance of the Percival school of Anglicanism. As we shall see later, this appointment was due to the influence of two bishops on the Faculty; Bishop Grafton of Fond-du-lac, an ex-Cowley Father, who of I course was familiar with Philadelphian Anglo-Catholic ideals; and Bishop Nicholson of Milwaukee, who, as we have seen, was once rector of St. Mark's Church, Philadelphia.

Maurice Cowl now became Rector of St. Elizabeth's Church and remained so for the next few years. For over twelve months he carried on his work alone, depending upon temporary help. In the spring of 1894 he secured the assistance of the Rev. William L. Hayward, a graduate of Nashotah House, and one of the first fruits of the new administration there. Mr. Hayward had been graduated a year before, but his ordination to the "priesthood" had been delayed by lack of age. He had spent the intervening time as a tutor at Racine College, a higher school connected with the Milwaukee diocese, made famous by its relation with Dr. de Koven. His family had a long connexion with Nashotah; an uncle of his being an associate of its principal founder. His father was rector of a parish near the Seminary. He himself had come under the influence of Dr. Webb during his last year of studies, and also of Walter Clapp, who, it will be remembered, was one of the first members of the C.S.S.S. Mr. Clapp was an instructor in the preparatory department. Through the interest of these two, Mr. Hayward had joined the Companions the year before as a deacon. It therefore was not surprising that he should come to St. Elizabeth's Church.

William Leete Hayward became one of the best known of the clergy who served St. Elizabeth's Church. After leaving Racine College he never held any other cure. He belonged to an ancient New England family who were settled on Massachusetts Bay since its first colonization. He had never been in Philadelphia before he came to St. Elizabeth's Church, and his life there was completely absorbed by hard work. To him, more than anyone else, is due, the credit of meeting the financial situation. He was indefatigible in his labors. The records of the parish are filled with evidences of his untiring zeal. He was always to be found "at home;" unlike others of the staff he rarely preached outside the church. It was he who knew the names and addresses of all the parishioners and their particular difficulties and peculiarities. He remains to the end of my story, the most beloved and respected of all the St. Elizabeth community. Mr. Hayward was a constant visitor at Dr. Percival's house, and it is from his lips that I am able to tell the greater part of those things which concern his beloved leaders. Mr. Hayward had little enthusiasm for Episcopalianism. His only thought was to teach the Catholic religion. His close friendship never closed his eyes to the difficulties which Dr. Percival suggested, but never tried to solve. He did not succumb to the lure of Philadelphia traditions, to which he was never attracted. He always suspected the brilliancy of his teacher--for everyone regarded Dr. Percival as a teacher. He was much more concerned with the practical difficulties of making people "Catholics" than of settling the questions about Church Unity. In his parish ministrations he was frankly "Roman," because he saw in South Philadelphia the proof of the efficacy of Catholic practice.

I have already described the development that took place at St. Elizabeth's Church in November of 1896 when Mr. Cowl resigned in favor of Mr. McGarvey, who henceforth became both the rector and the superior of the community which resided in the parish. At this time there was only $2400 in the parish treasury toward the building of the church. No diocesan help had been solicited. The parish paid its way, but there was not much left over for building purposes. A church and a monastery were needed at once. An appeal was made for subscriptions. It was so successful that by the early summer of 1897 enough money had been collected to warrant an immediate starting of building operations.

Two corner-stones were laid with ceremonies which contrasted strongly with those employed eight years before. On 12 June, 1897, Bishop Whitaker officiated with a large attendance of the clergy. Dr. Percival was unable, or unwilling, to be present. He was by this time a very sick man. He is referred to, in an account of the ceremonies, as the one who made the founding of the church possible. The bishop was seated on a throne. Unlike Bishop Stevens he was willing to "bless" the stones. A large cross marked the site of the high altar. There were acolytes and chanting.

By January of 1898 the church was ready for dedication. On the 12th of the month the bishop was again present. We now read of crucifix, torch-bearers, banners and red-robed acolytes. Bishop Whitaker may have felt embarrassed, but he did not show it. Dr. Percival was again absent. The service was followed by Evensong at which the bishop preached. In the sermon he spoke of the dangers of idolatry and thereby gave unconscious utterance to his suspicions. The presence of God in His holy temple was to assure us of His presence everywhere and especially in our hearts. There was again a large attendance of the clergy.

The church was built in the same style as the Evangelists', but its high altar was more elevated, and the choir was raised by eight steps from the nave, giving the interior an appearance strangely different from that of the traditional Episcopal church. On the altar were six massive candlesticks and a crucifix. The altar-cloth was of rich brocade with cloth-of-gold orphreys. In the middle it was adorned with an embroidered figure of Our Lady. There were several other altars dedicated to Our Lady, St. Joseph, and St. Saviour. The interior lacked color and despite its dignity was somewhat cold. This defect it was intended to overcome in later years with pictures and frescoes. No one could detect in its arrangements the least semblance of Protestant Episcopal tradition. It was in fact Italianate, and, although such an idea would have been most repugnant to its builders, it was exactly fitted for the purpose it now fulfils--the proselytizing of the Italian immigrants. In those days there was not a single non-American inhabitant in the district. Proselytizing was something that Dr. Percival and his associates regarded with little less than horror.

The clergy house was called "St. Saviour's House." It was also built in the Italian style. It was a large building that extended almost the whole length of the nave of the church, on the north side, and between the two there were interior communications. Owing to lack of space the lot was rather crowded, and the house was narrow. Its two upper stories were divided into small cells, with a larger room that served as a library. On the ground floor there was a refectory, a parlor and a recreation room. The kitchen and servants quarters were separated from the rest of the house. The campanile which appeared on the plans was built later and then at the eastern instead of the western end of the church. The southern aisle on the side opposite to the house was not built, the central arcade of pillars being blocked off by a temporary wall. One unfortunate error of judgment was made. In the apse by which the choir was terminated, and against its curved walls, a very stiff and lofty reredos was erected in Renaissance style, destined to receive a large painting. This was surely to reproduce one of the monstrosities of the worst period of architectural decadency. The purpose was to emphasize the importance of the altar, which it did by reducing it to a ledge at the base of a huge picture. St. Elizabeth's church did not have the charm of the Evangelists' church.

On the day of its opening the church and rectory were free from all debt save a mortgage of $10,000. This was a remarkable achievement for so short a period of effort. Much of the money was subscribed by fronds of the Companions, and Dr. Percival himself gave $1000 in two instalments.

From 1896 until 1908, the community performed its daily round of prayer, meditation and spiritual labor. From the first it received the cordial cooperation of the parishioners.

The communicant roll increased to 800 and was never larger than on the day on which the last service was held. To Catholics this number may not sound high. It is in fact very high for an Episcopal church. It does not include children or nominal adherents. In 1908 it was not the custom to admit children to Communion until they were almost of adult age and had been confirmed. Moreover the list was continually revised and did not contain, as is often the case in Episcopal churches, the names of many who were dead or removed. There was still another quality by which it must be judged. At St. Elizabeth's everyone went to confession. The patient training that was given by the clergy, and the example of their lives, brought penitents to them without difficulty. There were few parishes anywhere in the Anglican Church which could produce so spiritually healthy a congregation. But the very completeness of the parochial machinery was a difficulty to those who left the district. They were unable to find a place elsewhere to worship where they felt at home. The St. Elizabeth standard was unique.

Meanwhile the neighborhood was changing. The hopes that Philadelphia would extend to the extreme end of the peninsula on which the original city was built were not realized. It was flat and not as healthy as districts to the north and west. When building operations on a large scale were undertaken in these other directions there was a great temptation for people to move to them, and leave the south to the increasing immigration from Italy and elsewhere. The danger grew as the years passed. St. Elizabeth was educating children who would not remain with her. Only one thing stemmed the current and that was the ancient prejudice of those who were born below Market Street (which runs from East to West) to cross its line. This prejudice dated from Colonial days when South Philadelphia was considered to be genteel. Nevertheless those who were unwilling to go north might cross the Schuylkill river and go west. When they commenced to do this the future of St. Elizabeth's was doomed. To-day there are few native-born inhabitants within the boundaries of its parish.

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