Chapter 5. Nashotah
EVERY GREAT religious movement both within and without the Catholic Church has developed from fellowship and discipleship. With all humility the Companions of the Holy Saviour reminded themselves of this in the opening sentences of the manual that contained their simple rule of life; and they chose their name for this reason. Their intention was to extend the practice of celibacy amongst the clergy of the Episcopal Church, and to create a spirit of piety in which this ideal might have an opportunity to survive. They recalled the history of the great religious orders, such as the Franciscan and Jesuit, which had sprung from very small beginnings. Nearer home, in their own church, they had the example of the Holy Club at Oxford which became the Wesleyan Revival, and the Oriel Circle in the same place which became the Oxford Movement.
When William Walter Webb was appointed professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Seminary of Nashotah House, Wisconsin, in the fall of 1892, he brought the Percival influence to an institution with a long history. It owed its existence to another spiritual friendship; one which had been formed over fifty years before, amongst a small number of students who were preparing for ordination in New York. The story of Nashotah tempts a digression which I cannot resist. Since the Open Pulpit movement became a subject of keen interest at Nashotah, a chapter may be devoted to the first attempt in the Episcopal Church to found a monastic institution.
In a sermon preached on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of Nashotah, Dr. James Lloyd Breck drew a picture of the early days of Wisconsin in 1842. [Vide the Living Church, 11 March, 1922, for a reprint of this sermon.] He relates how three young deacons found themselves in the virgin forests on the banks of a series of small lakes, through which the great Indian Trail from the North-West passed on to the shores of Lake Michigan. Their first habitation was a log cabin, soon to be replaced by a frame building seventeen feet by twelve. Here they ate, slept, prayed and studied. They were quite alone, one thousand miles away from home, and almost as far from any contact with the bishop who had brought them there. Those who now know the fertile country of southern Wisconsin would find it difficult to imagine the wilderness of that day. For miles the heavy timber and dense undergrowth stretched on all sides, broken here and there with beaver meadows and prairies. Where flourishing cities are now established there were then only isolated clearings where a few sturdy settlers were making homes for themselves and sowing between the stumps of the departing forests the wheat that was to be the first-fruits of the great North-West. How came these three deacons here?
It was the outcome of a vision that enthralled them. In 1840 the first bishop of the North-West Territory, Jackson Kemper, appointed in 1835, had gone East, overwhelmed by a sense of impotence. If he was to establish the Episcopal Church in so vast an expanse of rapidly developing country he must have help. Dr. Breck tells us that many were cold toward his enterprise. Their feelings were expressed by a distinguished member of the Philadelphia bar, who declined monetary aid on the plea that the Episcopal Church was not fitted for rough backwoodsmen and log cabins. At the General Seminary in New York, where the influence of the Oxford Movement was making itself felt, he met with more favorable response. Here he was allowed to urge his needs. It is interesting to note that his appeal was intensified by the warning that the Catholic Church was increasing its influence beyond any power of his own to compete with it. After his earnest address to the students, two of them talked of it late into the night. They sketched a plan which afterward grew into Nashotah. Eight of their fellow students became interested in what they proposed to do. They would emulate the Jesuit Fathers in their missionary enterprise. They would found an Anglican monastery in the heart of the forest, and from this centre of prayer and study spread a religious influence throughout the North-West. Though they had little conception of the vastness of the undertaking, their determination was undaunted and the bishop encouraged their enthusiasm.
There were many trials and disappointments before the first three men were able to begin their work. Their names were James Lloyd Breck, William Adams, and John Henry Hobart. They set out in 1841 after their ordination to the Anglican diaconate, travelling by canal, stage and steamboat until they reached one of the first settlements in southern Wisconsin, then known as Prairie Village; a place which has since become famous, under the name of Waukesha, for its mineral water. From here they reconnoitred the surrounding country, travelling during the next three months nearly two thousand miles on horseback, and almost one thousand on foot. At last they chose a beautiful spot in the midst of a group of lakes for their new home. The Indians passed through it by the great Trail; there were numerous clearings within forty miles; there was one important settlement that called for their immediate service, a colony of exiled Swedes who were friendly to the Episcopal Church. They had brought a little money with them and were able to purchase 460 acres on the high banks of two lakes named Nashotah or "The Twins." They had made a good choice. The ground was of dry gravel, heavily timbered, the water was pure, and kept fresh by the swift current of the tiny Bark River. As they sat in the evening before their log cabin they could watch the sun sinking beyond the placid expanse of crystal which suggested a great baptismal font.
From Nashotah they made long journeys in all directions, visiting places which have now become populous centres. The services they were able to conduct were of the simplest description. Dr. Breck records that at one of the first the only member of the congregation who was able to follow the Episcopal Prayer-Book was a hunter with his gun beside him. Not long after their settlement the bishop arranged for their ordination to the "priesthood." He decided that the ceremony must take place in a consecrated building. There was only one such in the whole territory that is now the State of Wisconsin. It had been built some years before in the Reservation of the exiled Oneida Indians which was near Green Bay. It was 120 miles from Nashotah. Thither the bishop and the three candidates journeyed. The Indians were delighted to witness the unusual ceremony and gave the young ministers a bell which they carried back with them to become a treasured relic of Nashotah.
Several accounts of the early days at Nashotah exist. One of them, from which I have already quoted, was written by Dr. Webb in 1903. Amongst many interesting anecdotes it tells of a visit made by friends from the East in the year 1845 when the Community was already well-established. It describes "the Mission"--the name by which Nashotah House is still locally know--as having been reached after a long journey from Milwaukee of seven hours. The two places are only a little over twenty miles apart. Dr. Breck met the carriage and took his guests down to the lake by a beautiful walk which had been cut in the bank, with crosses and rustic seats placed at intervals. At the foot was an open-air baptistery formed like the keel of a ship built over the waters of the lake. Here the son of an Oneida chief was baptized the following Sunday. On the shore at the head of the lake, the visitors spent the night at the house of Mr. Breck's brother. They were awakened next morning at four-thirty by the ringing of the Nashotah bell, and crossed the water by boat in time for morning prayers at five o'clock. Mr. Unonius, one of the Swedish settlers, who was to be the first graduate of the Seminary, read the prayers. The wooden chapel, still standing, was provided with a "high altar, surmounted by a cross, before which stood a chalice and on either side two vases of white flowers, the only kind admitted on Thursday." The service was chanted. After a short intermission the Holy Communion was celebrated, a very unusual thing on a weekday in those times. Breakfast took place at seven at which there was reading. At noon there was the Litany.
Another account of the early days is furnished by one of the first students, the Rev. William Markoe, a member of a distinguished Philadelphia family. He had come to Nashotah after the collapse of Kemper College, near St. Louis, an institution that Bishop Kemper had been compelled to abandon, and whose place was taken by the newer establishment. In a tract published by the Catholic Truth Society of America, describing his conversion to the Catholic Church in 1855, Mr. Markoe tells of Nashotah in 1843:
I, with two of my fellow students not wishing to leave the West, went to Wisconsin and joined a missionary educational establishment, the Nashotah Mission, founded by zealous clergymen with a view to test the practicability of monastic enterprises under the Episcopalian regime. There we studied, did our own work, even washing our own clothes, cooking our own meals, and working the farm at the same time. My somewhat incongruous lot was to bake bread twice a week for thirty men. Notwithstanding all this work, we were kept assiduously at our devotions. Most of us were thoroughly in earnest. For myself I rejoiced in the somewhat romantic idea of leading a monastic life. I loved the labor, the study and the devotions. I sometimes, indeed, wished we could have had more to eat and of better quality. The fare was generally scant and wretched, partly frjm poverty and partly on principle. Obedience to rule and unfailing attention to devotions were, with me, points of honor as well as matters of religion. It can readily be understood that this mode of living kept our thoughts almost constantly on religious subjects. My great ambition was to conform as nearly as possible to the lives of the early Christians. I fasted severely and beyond my strength; even on ordinary Fridays, eating and drinking absolutely nothing till three o'clock in the afternoon and continuing my work just the same. Some of us had permission to go to communion every day. Mr. Markoe after his ordination to the Anglican "priesthood" was one of the instructors at Nashotah House, remaining there until he and his wife became Catholics in 1855. During the five previous years the character of the House had changed, and he himself had finished his studies in New York. The fine house which he built on His return as a teacher is stilt standing. Two of his grandsons are now Jesuit priests.]
An old drawing of Nashotah in 1849 gives an idea of its early appearance. A description of this drawing is given by the Rev. Theodore I. Halcombe, one of the early students. At the water's edge was the laundry and the icehouse. Higher up the bank was the Blue House, which was the most palatial building on the grounds. Its lower part divided into bedroom and reception-room, while upstairs there was one large room and two small ones. The larger room accommodated five bed-frames, hinged against the wall and let down at night. It was used for study as well as sleeping, and one of the corners of it was occupied by the President, Mr. Breck. The Blue House was, in fact, the faculty house. In front of it each day, morning and evening, the students lined up and marched to chapel. Next to the Blue House was the kitchen and dining-room, then came the store-house, and beyond it the famous one-story building known-as Lazarus Row, where the older students were housed. In face of these buildings, which were in line, and between them and the chapel was the small building known as the Library. Here, under a tree in which hung the bell (brought from Green Bay), at five o'clock each morning, by the light of a lantern in winter, Mr. Breck called the roll of the student body. The bell was rung by the president himself. After roll-call, fires were lit, beds made and study was pursued until the second bell at six o'clock for morning prayers. Breakfast began at 6.30. From seven to nine there was more study. After this came the recitations of the day. Dinner was at 12.30. The afternoon until five o'clock was devoted to manual labor. The students were divided into committees charged with various duties. Some, axe in hand, attacked the great oaks of the virgin forest, cutting them down, splitting them for rails or sawing them into cord wood. Others were occupied with gardening, laundry, cooking and also in erecting the future permanent buildings. There were no sports of any kind, nor with such strenuous labors were any needed. There were other small buildings in which lived the students who did not share the comforts of Lazarus Row. There were the carpenter's shop and the henhouse, so called, and four men made their beds under the chapel itself. Each man, however, had his own room no matter how small. In the evening at six o'clock the roll was once more called, evening prayers were said in the chapel, supper followed, and then study continued until lights were put out at ten o'clock.
The monastic character of the Mission did not last for many years. In 1850 Mr. Breck left Nashotah for new and similar enterprises in Minnesota and places further West. Civilization crept on. Jackson Kemper became Bishop of Milwaukee in 1854, relinquishing the whole of his vast diocesan territory except Wisconsin. He took up his residence near Nashotah and made the stone chapel, built in 1859, his cathedral. Hobart left early and entered the married state, and Dr. Adams, who remained at Nashotah until his death, as professor of theology, succumbed to the charms of the bishop's daughter. Even Breck, the rigorous "Apostle of the Wilderness," renounced his celibate ideals, and before his body was brought back to the cemetery at Nashotah, which contains the graves of the pioneer missionaries, he had married no less than three times.
The Mission in the fifties became a conservative, somewhat High Church, seminary. The memories of the early sacrifices were never forgotten, for the living link with them, the aged Dr. Adams, often related to the later students inspiring stories of the past. Nashotah continued to draw its student body from the East, especially from Philadelphia. Upon the piety of the Evangelical party there and elsewhere, it depended for its daily bread, since it possessed no endowments of any kind. When its permanent buildings were erected, with the help, it is said, of the students themselves, it became a place of great beauty. Gone were Lazarus Row, the Library, the carpenter's shop and other smaller buildings. There remained in my time only a few relics of earlier days. The old wooden chapel with its first altar; the Blue House; the turkey roost; and a few rotting piers of the Baptistery. One could still trace a small part of the old Indian Trail; and the cemetery with its ancient graves bore witness to its relative antiquity.
Nashotah in its middle period was indistinguishable from the normal life of the Episcopal Church. It contributed its modest quota of clergymen to the ministry--about eight men a year. Even the Civil war does not seem to have caused any break in its life. Its grounds were laid out like a park, beyond which were the beautiful trees which had survived the ruthless destruction wrought by the neighboring settlers. Its chapel, whimsically dedicated to St. Silvanus, was built in good Gothic style. There were several "Halls" and a number of handsome residences for the now married professors. To those who lived for miles around it was a place for Fourth of July celebrations and picnics. It was the centre of a dozen or more small parishes who regarded it with filial devotion. A few miles away was built the famous St. John's Military Academy. Families which had become associated with it resided in the vicinity. In later years summer homes lined the shores of the neighboring lakes. Their was an air of quiet dignity about the vicinity to which the seminary lent a reverential spirit.
Amongst its teachers the name which is best remembered is that of James De Koven, who was refused a bishopric in the Episcopal Church because of his definite belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. From Nashotah he went to Racine College as its first warden. In the ritual disputes of the seventies he became the centre of interest. He is remembered as a great educator in the days when the Episcopal Church had real parish schools and not merely academies for the children of the wealthy. At one time, in 1867, there were no less than ten such schools in the diocese of Milwaukee, all of which have succumbed to the encroachment of State education.
A new era began for Nashotah in 1890. By this time the North-West Territory had been replaced by many populous States. The bishopric of Jackson Kemper had been divided into twenty or more dioceses. Since his death in 1870, three bishops had followed him in rapid succession, and the northern part of the State of Wisconsin was assigned to a bishop at Fond-du-Lac. Throughout the two dioceses, due doubtless to the influence of Nashotah and the prominence of De Koven, who has been called "the Pusey of America," there was a gradual inclination toward ritualistic practices, on the part of the clergy. This tendency was increased by the election in 1889 of the Rev. Charles C. Grafton as second bishop of Fond-du-Lac. He had been a Cowley Father, and rector of the Church of the Advent in Boston, which was under the pastoral care of this religious society. Through his influence, as a member of the Seminary Board of Trustees, Dr. Walter R. Gardner, who had been a fellow member of his community, was appointed President of Nashotah House. He succeeded Dr. George G. Carter, who had only filled the office for a few years. Before him Dr. Azel D. Cole had presided for thirty-five years. It was to be expected that Dr. Gardner should wish, as one who had professed the religious life, to restore to Nashotah something of its early monastic traditions. The seminary had for many years been decreasing in membership; it suffered from the competition of several other institutions which had been founded in the Middle West. Dr. Gardner was assisted in his efforts by the coming of Dr. Isaac Lea Nicholson, late rector of St. Mark's Church, Philadelphia, to Milwaukee as its fifth bishop. To them was added in 1892, William Walter Webb, the most active of the Companions of the Holy Saviour, who was appointed to the chair of theology. A new regime was inaugurated. It was deeply resented by the Episcopalians of the neighborhood.
The old association of Nashotah with its surrounding country was almost completely destroyed. The picnickers were banished from its grounds. The students were placed under stricter discipline. The ideal of celibacy was restored, and the daily rule of life was conformed to that of a Catholic seminary. Through the generosity of friends in the East, a new set of buildings was erected which changed the appearance of everything. These buildings, beautiful in themselves, and in the Mission Style of California, blocked out the view of the lakes, and bore no relation to the historical structures that were still standing. Nashotah was almost severed from its memories. The good intention of restoring a primitive ideal resulted in a newness which it took some time to temper. "The Mission" lost the affection of its native environment. It became an institution of the East which rarely attracted to its walls any vocations from the neighboring towns and villages. It became Philadelphian in membership and spirit.
When I entered as a student in 1903 the new regime had become established. Dr. Webb had followed Dr. Gardner as president. He was a success, and the institution was at the height of its influence. His gentle manner had disarmed prejudices. The "daily bread" still continued to come from the East, and often from the charity of those who had no idea of the character of the teaching that was now being given to the students. Of these later days I shall have more to say.