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The Story of St. Mary's

The Society of the Free Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York City 1868-1931

Edited by Newbury Frost Read

New York: Published for the Board of Trustees, 1931.


The record is resumed with the account of the Annual Meeting of 1882, held the 11th December of that year. At this Meeting Col. Burt was reelected Treasurer for another year, and Willett Bronson, having discharged the duties of Secretary since May, 1870, resigned them, and Beverly Chew was chosen to succeed him.

At this Meeting George W. Sutton was elected a Trustee "in place of Mr. Edw. C. Robinson deceased". As Sutton took the place occupied by Dr. Meredith Clymer before the break in the record, we must conclude that upon the retirement of Clymer, Robinson, who had resigned from the Board in May, 1875, was reelected to it, and served until his death, which probably occurred in the latter half of 1882.

There is no way of knowing whether any modifications had been made in the system of allotting seats during the interval of the lost records, but [45/46] at this Meeting the system at that time in force was extended for another year.

Evidently the financial condition of the Parish had improved, for the appropriation for music was increased by $150 to the total sum of $1,750; Mr. Prentice was paid $60 in addition to his salary of $850, and Fr. Brown's salary was increased from $3,700 to $4,000. In addition to this the Treasurer was "authorized to pay over to him any excess of money remaining on hand after payment of this year's expenses." This sounded prosperous--and, incidentally, evidenced great faith in next year's ability to pay its own way--and created the hope that Fr. Brown might receive a substantial off-set for his early years of financial leanness, but the Treasurer's report for 1882 showed a balance of $30.23.


During the recordless interval, the Rectory had been built, at 226 West 45th Street, and there the first meeting of 1883 was held, on the evening of the 8th January. The secretary reported that George W. Sutton had declined election to the Board; and Col. Burt rendered his annual report. Since the last we had an opportunity to inspect, that of 1876, six years before, the receipts had risen from $6,901.50 to $12,268.05. From this report we learn that the Reverend C. J. Wood was the Assistant Minister at a Salary of $1,000 a year, but unfortunately we do not know when he began his ministrations.

The most regrettable lack of information, however, is that concerning the Sisters. In this report for the year 1882 we find that $1,099 was given "for Mission Fund (Sisters)" and that $760.07 was spent "for Mission Work (Sisters)" from which it seems safe to conclude that Sisters were then working in the Parish and were being supported in whole or in part by it, but it seems impossible now to tell when they first came to St. Mary's. There is reason to believe that they were the Sisters of the Order of Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of which Fr. Brown was Warden and presumably founder.

The report indicates that already the Church was well-known and was attracting many who were not regular supporters. The envelopes, through which means the Parishioners contributed, produced, during 1882, $5,408.13, while the open offerings amounted to $5,431.60. This is further borne out by the report of the Treasurer, made at the Meeting [46/47] of the 12th February, 1883, "that in consequence of the bad weather the offertory had fallen off abt. $300."

The services of George B. Prentice were being more and more keenly appreciated, for we find the Trustees making him a present of $100 and extending his summer vacation to two months, in order that he might take a trip to Europe, and at the Annual Meeting of 1883, his salary for the next year was fixed at $900 and for the following year at $1,000. At this Meeting, held 10th December, The Reverend Henry Darby was elected Assistant Minister. It is to be assumed that he was not wholly dependent upon this position for support, for his compensation was $200 per annum, which was handed to Fr. Brown for his benefit. William Viall Chapin was elected a Trustee at this Meeting.


The opening of the year 1884 seems, for St. Mary's, to mark the beginning of that process which, in the case of a ship, is called finding itself. The contrast in the tone of the Minutes with those of seven or eight years before is pronounced. The advance of the Church in material things had been remarkable. At the first Meeting of the year, held at half past eight in the evening at the residence of Wm. Scott, 110 East 23rd Street, it was resolved "that the Minister in charge be authorized to offer as high as fifteen hundred dollars per annum as the salary of an assistant minister and that the Treasurer is authorized to pay the expenses of Fr. Brown to Baltimore for the purpose of looking up a proper person for that position." (In this Minute, by the way, the Founder is referred to by the contraction of title that is now so familiar).

For the first time, at this Meeting, the Treasurer was able to report a balance of four figures carried over to the new year. True, it was very little over the amount requisite to put it in the four figure class, but it was in remarkable contrast to the small two figure balances carried forward in most of the previous years. A Committee, composed of Fr. Brown, Chapin and Chew, was "appointed to look into the matter of finding a suitable building or property for the mission work under the charge of the Sisters." There was no resting on the oars under the dynamic Rector. Once the burden was adjusted so that it could be carried with some approach to convenience, additions were made to it. Fr. Brown seems to have fully grasped the significance of the axiom that there [47/48] is no such thing in life as standing still; if an organization, like a man, does not go forward it, like him, will inevitably go backward. He was determined that his beloved St. Mary's should not go backward, and, therefore, he constantly pushed it forward.

So promptly, as usual, did Fr. Brown act upon the authority given him, that at the next Meeting, 11th February, 1884, he was able to report to the Board that he had tendered the position of Assistant Minister to the Reverend James Oswald Davis, of Baltimore, Maryland, at a salary of $1,400 a year and that he had accepted it. This appointment (which was actually an election, for Fr. Davis was voted upon by the Board) is interesting, as Fr. Davis was the first Assistant Minister of St. Mary's who was formally engaged and who was expected to give his whole time to the Parish. The Secretary was directed to prepare a certificate of his election and to forward the same to the Assistant Bishop of the Diocese. This procedure had evidently not been previously followed in the case of the Priests who had served St. Mary's gratuitously, or almost gratuitously.

During the summer a new floor was laid in the Church.

At the Annual Meeting this year, which was held on the evening of the Patronal Festival, 8th December, 1884, after the Election of the Treasurer and Secretary for the ensuing year, we read of the appointment, for the first time, of a Committee which has continued to function to the present day. Burt, Chew, and Chapin were appointed "to take in charge the assignment and allotment of seats." For valid reasons then as now the assignment of seats had to be made annually, but before this time it had not been entrusted to a committee especially created for the purpose.


The first Meeting of the year 1885 saw the small beginnings of the system of separate financial reports which have now reached such a point of intricacy that they seem beyond the comprehension of any mortal not gifted with a strong grasp of figures. In this year--and in an evil hour--Col. Burt separated the Mission Fund Receipts and Disbursements from those of the Church, and submitted two statements. Neither of them was very complicated--that of the Mission Fund showed two entries on the left, Balance on hand of $644.41 and Subscriptions & Gifts of $684; and on the right to Wm. Astor for Rent, $420, Thedford [48/49] for Coal $46.96, Gas $37.68, and Living Expenses $190 (from which it would seem reasonable to infer that the Sisters did not keep very warm or spread a very abundant table)--but they led Fr. Brown to report that he had received for the Poor Fund of the Parish about $450; which spurred Col. Burt on to offer a sort of summary of the total amount raised by the Parish, $13,475.49, and thus four reports were rendered. From this small acorn, true to the proverb, has grown the financial oak which now overspreads so much of the Treasurer's time, and which makes new Trustees--when there are any such--feel that they want to return to school for a course in advanced algebra.

This year the appropriation for music was raised to $2,000 and, for the first time, $100 was voted for advertising.

On the 11th May, 1885, the Board received the offer of Dr. Edward H. Clarke to donate $5,000 wherewith to rebuild the clergy and choir rooms. The offer was gratefully accepted and Fr. Brown was made chairman of the Building Committee. At the next meeting, in June, he reported that his attempts to erect a three story fireproof building for $5,000 had not been successful, and therefore Mr. Hatch, the architect, had been directed to proceed with the erection of the best two-story building, that could be built for that sum. Putting up this new building, which contained a Memorial Chapel on the ground floor with clergy and choir rooms above, evidently necessitated some changes in the organ, and George B. Prentice, the Musical Director, reported that taking down and setting up the organ would cost $360.

When the Trustees reassembled in the autumn Fr. Brown, as Chairman of the Building Committee, was able to report not only that the building as originally projected by Dr. Clarke was almost completed, but that thanks to the generosity of "another individual not named" a third story had been added "thus providing a long needed Guild room for Sunday school and other Parish work."

The report on the organ was not so satisfactory. Stewart, who had the contract to move and set it up, had found it in such bad condition that he had thrown up his contract. The Committee had then consulted Geo. Jardine & Sons, "who had offered to put the present organ in as good repair as possible for $1,000 or to furnish a new one for $3,000 to be ready by Sept. 1st, 1886." Very wisely, the Trustees decided to get the new organ, provided Jardine would put the old one in shape to be used [49/50] until the summer. By the terms of the contract, $500 was to be allowed for the old organ, and of the $2,500 cash payment, half was made payable on the 1st September, 1886, and half "on the 1st March, 1887". A considerable degree of interest for us attaches to this transaction, for that organ, built and installed by Geo. Jardine & Sons during the summer of 1886 is still in use at the present time.

During the autumn of 1885 a Mission was conducted at St. Mary's by the Reverend Fathers George C. Betts and Edward A. Larrabee, which seems to have made a deep impression. In a long minute of thanks and appreciation, the following expressions occur, amongst others: "To their powerful and soul stirring sermons and addresses, to their pleadings and warnings, to their great sympathy in their personal dealings with individuals, is due, under God, the great success of their Mission. The board wishes to express the grateful thanks of the Parish to these Fathers, and to assure them they will ever be lovingly remembered in our prayers." This would seem to have been the first Mission preached at St. Mary's.

The Reverend McWalter Bernard Noyes died in Rome, Italy, on Sunday the 6th December, and the Trustees attended in a body the High Celebration offered for the repose of his soul, at which, by their special request, Fr. Brown delivered an address on the life of Fr. Noyes. In the Minute on his death occur the words: "His many labors and sacrifices for the sake of Catholic truth." It is the first appearance in the records of the word, whose connotations were even more controversial than they are now. Fr. Noyes had served St. Mary's as assistant minister for many years, but it seems now impossible to discover when he finally severed his connection with the Parish.

At the Annual Meeting (of 1885) in addition to other business, Willett Bronson was formally excused for not having attended meetings. This little incident, in connection with a man who had rendered such signal service to the Corporation, indicates how seriously the Trustees regarded the By-Laws, and how earnestly they tried to live up to them. Perhaps in order to discharge, as far as they could, all debts before the close of the year, the Trustees entered, as the last record of 1885, Minutes of thanks to Dr. Edward H. Clarke and to Miss Sara L. Cooke for their respective shares in providing funds for the new Parish building. From this entry we first learn the identity of the donor of the third story, who [50/51] had previously been referred to as an "individual not named." We shall have other occasions to note the generosity of Miss Sara L. Cooke, but it is well to remember that she began her benefactions to the Parish with a substantial gift, amounting to $1,000, in the year 1885.

During this year instrumental music was introduced at St. Mary's. It cannot have been on an elaborate scale, as the cost of it for the year was only $188, but it was approved, and since that time has been a feature of the High Celebrations. The cost of the Choir during 1885 was $2,089.16, in addition to the salary of $1,200 paid to G. B. Prentice, who is always described in the Treasurer's annual report as the organist.

Although the receipts of the Church were steadily increasing, these annual statements present a strong contrast to those of more recent years. That for 1885 consists of four entries under Receipts and sixteen under Disbursements. From the latter we learn that H. J. Teitjens was sexton, at a salary of $600, and that the cost of blowing the organ was $120 a year. To whom, or for what, was this sum paid, one wonders? Electricity was not used for that, or any other purpose, about the Church at that time. Did some small boy consider himself compensated for long and hard blowing by $10 a month?


Undoubtedly the Minutes were considered to be an adequate and explanatory record, and no doubt they were to those who heard them, but they seem to us now to be sadly lacking in many things we should like to know. Although, as we have seen, there were Sisters working in the Parish in 1882, and probably before, it is not until February 1886 that we discover that the Mission House, hired from William Waldorf Astor, was at 705 Eighth Avenue.

The Reverend James O. Davis resigned as Assistant Minister on the 1st of June, 1886.

During this winter work was progressing on the new organ, and we read that Beverly Chew and William V. Chapin were appointed a Special Committee on the organ. They were directed, amongst other matters, to consider the offer of the makers to put in a "Vox Humana" stop for $200. The Committee wisely associated Mr. Prentice with them and they jointly reported "that in consideration of the fact that the builders were willing to defer the payment of the extra $200 until March, 1888 [51/52] they had been ordered to add this stop to the new organ." Evidently George B. Prentice approved the "Vox Humana," which shows how tastes differ.

At this time we come upon the first record of insurance. It is all but certain that the Church property had been insured, but no note of the fact has been preserved, and it is not until April 1886 that we get a knowledge of its value. In that month the Trustees took out an insurance policy of $55,000 on the Church and contents and one of $3,000 on the organ.

This spring a circular was received from the Bishop "in which this Parish was put down for the sum of $100" for Domestic Missions. "On motion the Rector was requested to write to the Bishop that this Parish cannot pledge more than fifty dollars per annum." In view of the fact that the income of the Parish for that year was in excess of $13,000 it does not seem to be an impressively generous pledge. Apparently the fear of oversubscribing to Missions, which has occasionally been noticed, not entirely to St. Mary's credit, even to this day, is not a tradition of recent origin.

In reference to the phraseology of the Minute mentioned above, it may be pointed out that it is the first time Fr. Brown has been called the Rector. Whenever it has been necessary to refer to him with any degree of formality, he has been called "the Minister in Charge of the Church." Why this cumbersome designation was invariably used, when he is described in the By-Laws as the "Rector," is not plain.

The record of the first Meeting in the autumn of 1886 has a familiar ring. At that time the bills for the new building the cost of which had been donated by Dr. Clarke and Miss Cooke, were presented, and were found to exceed the estimated cost by $394.31! It is probable that the cost of building the ark exceeded the estimate that Noah had approved, and it is certain that that has been the way of estimates for ecclesiastical expenditure from that day to this. The fact seems to have been well known to the Trustees of 1886, for they took the situation philosophically and made no comment. It probably meant then only what it would mean now: that they had another $394.31 to find; and they went out and got it, or gave it, and did not think it worth while to record so usual a circumstance.

At the Annual Meeting, held at 4:30 P.M. on the 13th December, [52/53] Col. James Burt tendered his resignation as Treasurer. As he had begun his tenure of office with some admirable financial measures, he closed it with the soundest financial advice, by moving the following Resolution, which Beverly Chew seconded: "That the expenditures of the Church for the year 1887 shall not exceed the income of the Church for the same time."

He further instigated the appointment of a finance committee "Which shall have control of the ways and means of raising money, for the support of the Church and of the expenditures of all moneys for the Church, and also have charge of the assigning of seats to the parishioners."

Col. Burt had served as Treasurer of the Corporation since the 10th April, 1876, and during those ten years had missed hardly any Meeting, and had fulfilled the laborious and manifold duties of his responsible office with skill, foresight, and devotion. He well deserved the tribute which the Secretary was instructed to spread upon the Minutes: "In accepting the resignation of our Treasurer, Mr. James Burt, we desire to express our regrets that he feels compelled to give up the Office. To offer him our thanks for his services to the Board these many years, and assure him of our appreciation of his continuous care of our pecuniary interests, his skilful foresight and devoted labor which have secured promptness and completeness in our financial affairs."

In the last of the very clear reports which had been rendered annually for ten years by Col. Burt, we notice the entry of $17.33 for plumbing in the Sisters' House paid to T. Hindley & Son, and it is pleasant as well as unusual in these days of change to know that St. Mary's still appears as a customer on the books of T. Hindley & Son.


At the Meeting of the 14th February, 1887, the new Treasurer, Wm. V. Chapin, rendered his first monthly report. It showed that $636.95 was available in the "Organ Fund" to meet the second payment of $1,250 which would become due on the 1st March; and it is especially interesting to us in that it marks the beginning of the Endowment Fund, which was started that month with $76.25, and which further benefitted by the sum of $25 from Fr. Brown. To swell this fund, Col. Burt donated to it a $1,000 U. S. Coupon 4 1/2 % bond. It is improbable [53/54] that either Fr. Brown or Col. Burt anticipated to what extent the Endowment Fund would grow, but to them belongs the credit for its inception. The depositary of the Church for the moneys of the current account was the Columbia Bank in those days, and for the funds of a more permanent nature the Seaman's Savings Bank. It is probable that in neither was the Church amongst the large depositors, for the report at this meeting shows a balance of $1,293.59 in the former, and of $244.25 in the latter.

At the Meeting of the 11th April, the Treasurer was able to report that the Organ Fund had been over-subscribed by $85.70. He also reported that the Collections on Good Friday had amounted to $29.95, and those of Easter Day to $1,222.92. Unfortunately it was not the custom in those days to segregate the envelopes, and this latter amount includes them as well as the open collections.

Upon the recommendation of Fr. Brown the Reverend Arthur Mason was elected honorary assistant minister. This probably means nothing more than that he received no stipend. Amongst the Rector's abilities must be counted that of inducing Priests to serve St. Mary's for little or no compensation.

Before separating for the summer the Board voted $1,000 to be paid to Fr. Brown in addition to his salary, and made arrangements to give a dinner to the men of the Choir--from which premises it seems fair to infer that the financial horizon was a little brighter. This spring there was initiated a practise that has come down to the present time: giving the Treasurer authority to borrow such funds as might be necessary to carry on the work of the Church during the summer months. For the first time the Treasurer had some security, and, with a touch of pardonable pride, he was formally authorized to put up as collateral for the loan the $1,000 bond belonging to the Endowment Fund.

When the Board reconvened in the autumn, the Reverend Charles H. De Garmo was elected an Assistant Minister of the Parish. As he was not a Presbyter of this Diocese, his election was not at once confirmed, but the matter appears to have been straightened out after a lengthy correspondence between Fr. Brown and the Bishop.


The Treasurer's annual report for 1887 kept out of the red, as book-keepers [54/55] say, by the small margin of $25.21. This fact was apparently known in advance to the Rector, and when the report was read he turned over the sum of $815.10, which he had collected. Wherever weakness seemed about to develop, there was Fr. Brown acting as a buttress, and turning the tide by his indomitable energy. He no sooner saw any department of his beloved Parish likely to go a little wrong, and he immediately set it right.

The Rector called a Special Meeting in the spring of 1888 to seek the consent of the Board to his accepting the invitation of the Reverend Dr. Bathison of Philadelphia to accompany him on a trip to Europe. The Trustees promptly granted him a leave of absence from his duties for three months to enable him to go.

The financial outlook again became clouded in the autumn, and the Treasurer reported that the probable deficit for the year 1888 would be $1,650. In spite of serious consideration of the ways and means to meet the situation, we find two graceful minutes, one in reference to Wm. Scott, who was ill, and one thanking Wm. Ratcliff "for his long and faithful services in the music of the Parish."


Two innovations were instituted at the first meeting of 1889, which indicate that the steady growth of the Parish was making it desirable to decentralize some of the responsibility. H. Tietjens, the sexton, was made responsible for furnishing an organ blower, and was "to keep the Church open as far as practical," for which additions to his duties his salary was increased from $840 to $1,200 a year, out of which he paid the organ blower. At the same time Fr. Brown was authorized to spend $1,400 during the year for Church assistance. Up to this time these wages or salaries had been specifically approved by the Board.

On the afternoon of the 14th October, 1889, at the Office of Beverly Chew in the Metropolitan Trust Company, 37 Wall Street, the Trustees met to record their sense of loss in the passing of William Scott, who had died on Trinity Sunday. He had unquestionably done more than any other layman in seconding Fr. Brown's efforts to found St. Mary's, and his absence from the Board was the first caused by death. It is not hard to feel the sense of shock as well as of loss in the following Minute, [55/56] adopted by his associates, which it seems but just to transcribe here: "This Board desires to put on record the great loss the Parish has sustained by the death of William Scott, Esqr. the first President of the Board of Trustees. Identified with this body from the very first, he has always been the firm friend and counsellor of its members, ever ready by word of advice or personal sacrifice to aid in establishing the Parish on a firm foundation. The fact can never be forgotten, that to his untiring efforts in the early years of struggle and disappointment, we owe the very existence of this organization. His genial presence will be greatly missed at our meetings and his wise advice greatly needed, but we have the sure consolation that his long life of usefulness to the Church and to Society is now meeting its just reward. He died in the communion of the Catholic Church, and in the possession of a reasonable, religious and holy hope. Grant him Eternal Rest, O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon him. Amen."

William Scott, the last of the Incorporators and of the original lay Trustees, had served St. Mary's faithfully and well for twenty-one years. His death was a great loss to the Parish and a severe blow to his son-in-law, Fr. Brown.


Probably owing to the condition of the finances, the Annual Meeting was not held until the 21st January, 1890, at which time Beverly Chew was reelected Secretary, and Col. Burt was elected Treasurer in place of Wm. Viall Chapin. The money matters of the Parish were not in a flourishing state. The year 1889 had ended with a deficit, and the Board did not seem just then too hopeful. We read that "after considerable discussion the board finally adopted the following appropriations for the year 1890." The list which follows shows that they believed retrenchment to be necessary. The amounts for clerical assistance, the choir, and incidental expenses were cut in half, while $100 was allowed for repairs. To meet the deficit of $1,700 "the Rector was authorized to start a subscription paper for the purpose of raising the amount." Fortunately a copy of this has been preserved, and the yellow paper (evidently of poor quality) makes interesting reading. It bears date the 11th February, 1890, and begins with the word "To" and a line for the addressee's name. It sets forth that "Until this time, for many years, no fiscal year [56/57] has ended leaving the parish in debt." It goes on to say that now the parish is in debt $1,700, and that "it is absolutely necessary that this amount should be made up within the five months ending with June." A space is left blank for the amount it is suggested the person addressed should contribute, and he is given the option of paying it in five monthly instalments, or half on the 15th of April and half on the 15th of June. The document closes with the words: "if it is utterly impossible for you to contribute the sum above suggested, or if you are disposed to give more, you are requested to notify the Rector at your earliest convenience of the exact amount^you will give."

It is worth recording that this appeal produced more than $2,200 and that the year was closed with a balance on the right side. Robert V. McKim is thanked for his interest and valuable suggestions in connection with the appeal, but just what part he took in the matter is not clear.

At the March Meeting Col. Burt declined his election as Treasurer, and Chapin reassumed the duties of the Office. At this Meeting Wm. H. Lane was elected a Trustee to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Wm. Scott. He was not able to accept the election because of ill health.

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