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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 16. The Conversions in Philadelphia

MEANWHILE important events were taking place in Philadelphia, in recording which I am indebted for aid to the Rev. William H. McClellan, SJ.

It was at the beginning of Lent of 1908 that McGarvey broke his silence. He published a tract, The Open Pulpit in the Episcopal Church, which set forth his own opinions concerning the new legislation. He asked for a hearing not so much from the Episcopal Church as a whole, as from the members of the Anglo-Catholic party with which he had always been affiliated. In the Appendix will be found the full text of this tract; this will make it unnecessary for me to follow his arguments. It should be read in this place so that the situation which faced the Companions may be correctly understood.

In writing this tract McGarvey gave no indication that he was contemplating any resignation of his ministry; but many who read it, did so under the influence of their own apprehensions and suspicions. They decided to repudiate McGarvey and to stigmatize his tract as disloyal. The Living Church, in a long editorial, 14 March (page 660), described it as: "a wildly partisan attack upon the Church," and a "thoroughly unbalanced, distorted presentation of alleged conditions." Amongst others who took the same stand was the Rev. Alfred Mortimer, rector of St. Mark's Church, who found a way in which to disassociate himself from his old friend without direct reference to him. In a series of conferences which he had already arranged to give in the drawing-room of a distinguished Philadelphia lady, he attacked the Catholic Church in regard to its position on Modernism with great acerbity. He described Pius X as an uneducated peasant. He found his match, however, in James P. Lafferty, a member of the Philadelphia bar who attended the meetings, and reported them, with able refutations, in the Catholic Standard and Times, Dr. Mortimer achieved one result which may not have been unforeseen. He effected a reconciliation, for the time being, between himself and his recalcitrant vestry.

At Easter 1908 William McClellan was recalled to Philadelphia from Peekskill where he had been acting as resident chaplain to the Sisters of St. Mary. Since the beginning of Lent he had been under the direction of the Rev. James O. S. Huntington, Superior of the Anglican Order of the Holy Cross at West Park, N. Y., to whom McGarvey had surrendered the office of chaplain-general. On his arrival at St. Saviour's house, McClellan found that the situation of his associates had been seriously changed. Their position had become intolerable, and they now felt that they could no longer administer the parish with a settled conscience. They were faced with a practical difficulty. It was utterly impossible to leave St. Elizabeth's at a moment's notice.

To those who are in doubt as to their duty in regard to their religious allegiance the advice is often given that they should retire from active work, as Newman did, and lead a life of prayer. Newman was a man of means; the clergy at St. Elizabeth's possessed nothing but their books and their clothes. They could not retreat to a Littlemore. To leave their parish duties was to burn their bridges. Until the moment when complete conviction comes there is always the dread of making a mistake. It is unreasonable to criticize the actions of those who have been subjected to a prolonged strain. There must be an admixture of prudence with sincerity. One has often to act with the sense of an inevitable destiny without admitting its immediate probability. In this way we prepare for death and make our wills, though hoping for many years of life. Those who are in honest doubt must be ready for emergencies as though there were no doubt. It was for this reason that McGarvey resigned his chaplain-generalship of the Sisters of St. Mary at Peekskill. It was not fair to take any risks in regard to them. They must know that he was no longer a safe man, even if he were not yet convinced as to his ultimate duty. His resignation was accepted by the Sisters, who then elected the Rev. James O. S. Huntington to replace him. The transference of office was made at the beginning of Lent. McGarvey went to Peek-skill and at the request of the Sisters performed the ceremony of installing his successor.

A similar decision was made a few days later in regard to the community at St. Elizabeth's. It was decided to dissolve its legal association. This could be done without arousing comment because the common life of its members was a private concern quite unconnected with parish duties. It was no longer right that there should be any possibility of embarrassment for any Companion who was not in agreement with the others. A meeting was therefore held on 12 March in the upper library of St. Saviour's House at which this step was taken. Each member was permitted to claim such things as he had brought to the common stock. There were some small life-insurance policies, a few pennies in the bank and some saleable books. The Rev. Frederick Lobdell, who had been absent on sick leave, now withdrew from his association with the others and his belongings were forwarded to him. His decision could stir no suspicions, since he had not been active in the parish for sometime. He freely cooperated with the others in the dissolution and accepted his share of the common possessions without any objection.

There remained the difficulty in regard to the parish. It was with this problem that McClellan found his associates faced on his return. The validity of Anglican orders did not enter into the case. All the Companions agreed with McGarvey that the reality of sacramental acts depending upon ordination must be ultimately judged by the Church which authorized them. In administering Anglican sacraments the minister must accept the judgment of the Anglican Church. Until a final renunciation of a ministry takes place one must exercise this ministry--the responsibility for its effects lie not with individuals but with the Church under which those individuals act. How could it be otherwise? It must be remembered that although Newman gave up his parochial duties for sometime before his conversion, he did not cease, until the last moment, to celebrate the Anglican rites. In this he was perfectly logical. To deprive oneself of a possible means of grace until one is quite certain that it is not a means of grace is to court disaster; when one is certain that it is not a means of grace, one must without a moment's delay seek the means of grace elsewhere. This is exactly what Newman did. He participated in the Anglican Eucharist when he was hinting that he might not be able to do so for long. There is the story of his donning a pair of grey trousers in order to express the uncertainty of his position. Uncertainty, yes; not of a bad conscience, but of one that still can act on probability. He gave a warning to his friends. He said in effect: Beware; my Anglicanism is no longer safe! It is unfair to judge the preparations of the Companions, for what they felt to be the inevitable end of their ministry in the Episcopal Church, as signs of either disloyalty or dishonesty, rather than of prudence such as must always accompany any decision. They were compelled to administer the parish until they resigned it; and when they did resign it they were compelled to act in accordance with their reason for resigning it. They were forced to remain until they were convinced that they could no longer remain. How else could they have acted? How else could anyone act?

McClellan was happy to return to Philadelphia. The Sisters at Peekskill were much disturbed; especially so was their superior. It was difficult for him to act as their adviser when his own mind was filled with apprehension. Amongst his associates his own position became clear. Steps must be taken at once to relinquish the parochial duties.

An unexpected coincidence brought Bourne and myself again into association with those who had been our colleagues in the C.S.S.S. The days which followed our reception into the Church were spent as guests of the Paulist Fathers at Washington. We lived with the novices in the old manor house which was the first building of the Catholic University, and was known as St. Thomas Hall. Father Gillis, who has since achieved great distinction as a preacher, writer and editor, was then the novice master. Here we enjoyed relief from conflicting doubts, and the sense of membership in the Catholic Church. We had come to believe that the Open Pulpit agitation would pass away and that our old friends would adjust their consciences to the legislation. We received news from Nashotah from time to time, but nothing definite from Philadelphia.

It was on 30 March that a letter arrived which was destined to settle our life for the future. It came from a priest, the Rev. Alvah Doran, whom we had never met. He was a convert from the Episcopal Church who had been ordained in Rome a few years before. He had once been a member of the C. S. S. S., and he naturally took the greatest interest in the possible conversion of his old superior, McGarvey. As a priest of Philadelphia it occurred to him that if Bourne and myself came back to the city we might be able to get in touch with the clergy at St. Elizabeth's Church, and help him in bringing about the desired result. In this thought his zeal exceeded his prudence. He was unaware that McGarvey disliked his activities in convert-making, and that his interference might prove to be an additional difficulty rather than an assistance. He made a proposal to us, however, that was very attractive. He told us that Archbishop Ryan wished to see us with a view to our being accepted as students at Overbrook Seminary. We must therefore come to Philadelphia at once. We were delighted at this. It dispelled our somewhat gloomy doubts concerning the future course of the clergy at St. Elizabeth's Church. Not that we thought that our influence would guide their final decision, but because we felt that Father Doran must have good reasons for his hopes. At Overbrook we would at least be near our friends and if they did become Catholics we should all be together once more. We consulted Father Searle and Father Gillis on the matter and they agreed that we ought to accept the invitation. We were not even postulants, much less novices, and though under very heavy obligations to the Paulists for their kindness to us, we were quite free to depart without any criticism.

At Philadelphia we were the guests of Mr. Dooner, who was proprietor of the well-known hotel of the same name, now demolished. We took most of our meals at the table of Monsignor Fisher, rector of St. John's Church. Archbishop Ryan received us with fatherly kindness. During the next years until his death in 1911 we felt that he was our sincere and sympathetic friend. We were charmed by his courtly manners, by his complete understanding of our difficulties, and by the brilliance of his good-natured wit. He made no formalities necessary. We must go to Overbrook at once. It would be very dangerous to allow ourselves any contact with the world. On inquiring whether we had cassocks, and being satisfied that this was so, he smilingly remarked that we should put a little Holy Water on them. On being informed by Father Doran that the Rector of the Seminary, Monsignor Garvey (who met us at St. John's) had found us acceptable as students we went to Overbrook with very light hearts.

During our stay at Dooner's Hotel we saw McGarvey. He was careful in what he said to us, as was natural. We also met Fay, who had recently left Nashotah. He was very unsettled in his mind. The most significant reunion was with Bowles, who had resigned his parish at Chicago. His coming to Philadelphia was enough to assure us that all would soon be well. We had no longer any serious doubts that we were doing right in applying to Archbishop Ryan for entrance to the seminary.

At Overbrook we were surprised to find that we were treated as guests rather than as students. This was the more strange as there was already a convert in the seminary, Mr. William Henkell, one-time rector of St. Barnabas' Episcopal Church, Reading, Pa. He had never been associated with the Anglo-Catholic party and his conversion had nothing directly to do with the Open Pulpit controversy. We saw him marching into the refectory with the other students, whilst we took our meals at the priest's table. The mystery was solved a few days later. We had not complied with . the formality of making an application to the rector for admission, who whimsically enjoyed our embarrassment and probably thought it would be a kindness to us to let us have a few days of freedom before we settled down to work.

This delay, and the coming of the Easter holidays, gave Bourne and myself the opportunity of going into Philadelphia as often as we wished. We made the most of it. Until we received our cassocks on 7 May we were frequent visitors at St. Saviour's House. Here we found not only Bowles, but a close friend of his, the Rev. Otho C. Gromoll, who had, until lately, been rector of St. Joseph's Episcopal Church, Pullman, near Chicago. We also learnt the latest news. The Rev. Russell Wilbur, Archdeacon of Fond-du-Lac, had been received into the Church at St. Louis at Easter; and the Rev. John Ewens, of Manistee, Michigan, at one time a member of the C. S. S. S., had also become a Catholic about the same time. It was no longer possible for McGarvey to deny that his own departure was imminent.

I remember our final visit to him before we were placed under the discipline of the seminary. It was on 6 May, only a few days before he left St. Elizabeth's Church. He was to officiate no more as an Anglican clergyman. He sat in the upper library burning the papers that he had decided not to preserve. Whilst we were there he flung into the flames his certificates and diplomas. We begged him to keep the parchment of his doctorate. He only said: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Everyone was distrait. Hayward was hard at work making a revised list of the parishioners and putting the parish books in good order. "We must be careful," McGarvey said: "we shall have to be proved knaves or fools, or both." The cellar was carefully searched several times for empty altar-wine bottles. "They will say that we were wine-bibbers," urged McGarvey. The books were being arranged according to their personal ownership. There remained those that had been given personally to McGarvey by the late Dr. Percival. Most of these were sold to provide a few pennies to tide over the requirements of the next few weeks. During all the years that the Companions had been at St. Elizabeth's Church they had received only $1500 a year as the salary of the whole Community. From such a slender wage they had been unable to save anything. The furniture of the house was their own, however, and it was sent to Rehoboth Beach where they had decided to spend the coming summer. Before we left, McGarvey read to us the proofs of his last tract which was to be issued the following Sunday as an explanation to the parishioners of his decision. He had already offered his resignation to Bishop Whitaker. It read as follows:

3 May, 1908.

My dear Bishop Whitaker,

I am writing to give you notice that at the meeting of the vestry to-day I presented my resignation of the Rectorship of St. Elizabeth's to take effect after the evening service on 10 May. After six months of prayerful consideration it is clear to me that the Episcopal Church by making possible the admission of non-Episcopal ministers to her pulpits as Ministers of the Word has demonstrated that she holds a doctrinal position to which I cannot conform and which renders inconsistent my continuing in the exercise of her ministry. I shall write to you later more at length.

I am, with sincere regard, faithfully yours,


The resignation to the vestry follows:


After prayerful consideration during the past six months it has been made clear to me that I can no longer minister amongst you. Accordingly I hereby present my resignation of the Rectorship of St. Elizabeth's Church to take effect after the evening service on 10 May.

My reason for my action is, that the Episcopal Church in her last general convention has enacted measures which demonstrate that she holds doctrines with regard to the ministry which in my judgment are contrary to God's revelation and to which I cannot conform. There is therefore nothing for me to do but to withdraw from a ministry the condition of the exercise of which is conformity to the doctrine and discipline of the P. E. Church.

It is with the deepest regret that I shall cease my ministry among you. And I shall ever look back to the days spent among you as among the happiest in my life. I pray that God may ever watch over you all, and may He at length bring us all together before the throne of His glory.

Affectionately yours in Christ,


The news was received with consternation. Amongst the papers that McGarvey left at his death are many touching expressions of affection. Receipts were taken for all moneys and for the ornaments of the church.

On 8 May Bishop Whitaker replied to McGarvey's letter of resignation:

My dear Doctor McGarvey:

I have not been indifferent to the contents of your letter, although it has remained unacknowledged for four days. My point of view is so different from yours that I do not find it easy to put myself in your place. That which you assume to be a fact, seems to me a mistaken conception, and therefore the conclusions which you draw from it do not seem to me to follow. In one respect I believe I do heartily sympathize with you, and that is, in your desire to do the will of God. In this I have confidence in you that you are sincere, and I join my prayers with yours that He may make you know what is His will concerning you. I shall look with deep interest for what you may write me more at length, and I am

Always faithfully yours,


On Monday, 4 May, McGarvey addressed a letter to Archbishop Ryan announcing his resignation and asking for the favor of an interview. This was granted on the following Monday, 11 May:

Archbishop's House, Logan Square,
8 May, 1908.

Rev. and Dear Sir,

In reply to your letter just received on my return to the city, I beg to say that I shall be most happy to see you at my house on Monday forenoon, between 10 and 12 o'clock.

I beg to congratulate you and your confreres on your cooperation with divine grace, and ask for you God's special blessing for the future.

Most faithfully in Xt.,

+ P. J. RYAN,
Abp. of Phila.

Everything was now ready for the final scene which would end the story of Dr. Percival's guidance of the Anglo-Catholic movement. The churches which he founded were to pass into alien hands. His ideals of celibacy for the parochial clergy were to be set aside. Philadelphia was to lose its position as the centre of Anglo-Catholic activities. It is impossible to describe this closing scene without a realization of its pathos. The parishioners of St. Elizabeth's were bewildered. Their devotion to their beloved pastors had always been unquestioned. Most of them had never known any other type of Anglicanism except their own. For them the passing of their clergy was a catastrophe in their spiritual lives. How could they realize that it was the thought of such a catastrophe which had kept those pastors in mental agony for months? The date for this event was set for Sunday, 10 May, 1908.

I will give the description of the closing scene in the words of a memoir that was written for me by McClellan.

Sunday, May 10th. The services at 7:30 and 9.00 were taken by a substitute. The celebration at 10:30, which was the principal service of the day, was similarly arranged for; but we were to be present in the choir stalls taking no part but to preach the sermon. This McGarvey asked me to do. For some unaccountable reason word had spread that he would make a statement from the pulpit concerning his reasons for resigning the parish. Needless to say, he was far enough from any such intention. He repeatedly enjoined me not to make the remotest allusion to our departure or its cause; and above all to be brief. In fact, I think, that I was limited to ten minutes. We arrived at the church from the hotel [they had moved to this hotel on the Friday, after the removal of the furniture], shortly before the hour for the service. The church was packed to the doors and many of those present were strangers and as we afterward discovered Catholics. We had a full attendance of the choristers and acolytes and the interest was strained to the highest pitch. Everybody was expecting a great sensation. McGarvey and myself were exceedingly nervous. The other two members were more calm, at least externally, but we certainly all felt the tension severely. We had hardly taken our places in the choir, when McGarvey leaned over to me and whispered once more: "Make your sermon very short: this strain is intolerable."

I shall never forget the last service. I think it was then that Almighty God effaced from my mind the last trace of the delusion concerning my supposed priesthood. There was the spot where I had so often ministered and here the people to whom I had so often given what I had thought was the Body of Christ. Another man was standing at the altar now; a man whom I knew personally, and had always liked personally, as well as looked upon as a brother priest. What he was doing seemed to me absolute mockery. My sense of the travesty deepened as part after part of the service was performed until I felt as if I were enduring a horrible nightmare. I was positively relieved when the time came for me to leave my stall and go down to the pulpit. In the sermon I took a text from the Gospel for the day: "Ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy." I merely took a single moral lesson therefrom with no very pointed reference to the present distress and absolutely no allusion to it. For once I do not think that I exceeded the ten-minute limit. I preached in cassock and surplice but wore no stole; and I do not think I used the invocation of the Holy Trinity, if I remember aright. I had now ceased to regard myself as a priest.

The service dragged on painfully to its end. We could not help being struck with the opening words of the collect: "Almighty God who showest to them that are in error the light of Thy Truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness, etc." Truly the Light of that Truth had already made many things clear to us. The Epistle, too, was from the writings of St. Peter; it seemed as if he were already welcoming us home.

After the service our own people remained to say farewell. There was no excitement; the feeling was too deep and genuine for that. Many could only give a pressure of the hand and then turn away quite overcome. For my part I avoided the choir room; I simply could not endure the last good-bye to the boys. I hurriedly took from the sacristy my street-clothes, and started across the church at the upper end, near the chancel, to reach the house. I think it took me more than half an hour to reach the nearest door. It could only have been done sooner by actually brushing past the outstretched hands and ignoring their owners.

No sooner had the clergy left St. Elizabeth's than a torrent of abuse was let free. Dr. Mortimer and others hastened to stigmatize them as traitors and conspirators. They were accused of lying and stealing. They were described in the pages of The Living Church as "sporting with the sports," a reference to their residence at the most remote seaside town that was within easy reach. Bishop Grafton said that "some pus had been squeezed out of the Church." The Open Pulpit was forgotten for the moment in the desire to prove that they had done wrong.

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