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Mahlon Norris Gilbert: Bishop Coadjutor of Minnesota 1886-1900.

By Francis Leseure Palmer
with an Introduction by Daniel Sylvester Tuttle, Presiding Bishop of the American Church.

Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1912.
London: Mowbray, 1912.


SOME MEN become helpful leaders among their fellows because of their great learning. With a mass of knowledge laid by in store, classified, digested, and assimilated, they are well equipped to become valuable guides in the uncertainties and intricacies of human life. Bishop Gilbert was not of this class. While a youth in college, pulmonary trouble threatened and shook the citadel of his physical frame. He was obliged to withdraw and to seek in the milder climate of Florida and the invigorating air of Montana the necessary strength wherewith to face his life's work. A laborious and analytic student he could not be. It was of necessity that his service to his fellow men must be along other lines.

The foundation of such service was earnest personal religion. He was a boy of fourteen, when, as a deacon in my first parish, I went to take charge of Zion Church, in Morris, N. Y., of which his father was the senior warden. Blood and descent made him a Churchman to the manner born. Quickness of mental apprehension and religious earnestness set their mark upon his boyhood. In Sunday school and Bible class they manifested themselves. The afternoon service of the rural parish was mainly a Sunday school service. I began trying my weak wings in crude addresses, expository of portions of the Prayer Book. His intent watchfulness to catch every word always stimulated and helped me. When he was fifteen, I presented him to Bishop Horatio Potter for Confirmation. My dear wife and I helped him in a scholastic way in his preparation for college. He was only eleven years younger than I; and so, in the old Butternuts Valley, a comradeship, sweet and strong, began between us, that has never weakened, and is not lost-only, please God, suspended for a while.

I would note next for a characteristic, purity of character and conduct. There was a delicacy in him, almost feminine, that shrank from the defiling or the profane, and even from the coarse or common. His religious youth, and perhaps the significant taps of the angel of death upon the window panes of his inner being, caused his back to turn upon the things that are of earth, earthy, if they had no savor of the heavenly, and the more, if they set themselves against the heavenly.

I do not mean that he was not manly. By no means. Manliness was a striking element of his makeup and of his life. One feature of his manliness was like his Saviour's-self-controlled and uncomplaining patience under disappointment, disaster, or defeat. He must take himself out of college, where his eager and appreciative mind was feeding to his great refreshment. He had to face an insidious malady that would grip and bind him down. Yet none ever heard him complain of his fate or bewail the lot that had fallen upon him. In God was his strength. In God was his trust. In that strength he stood sturdily. In that trust he worked cheerily.

Another feature of his manliness was the soldier's-obedience, fidelity, promptness, devotion to duty, self-effacingness. Witness his night and day gallop in the summer of 1877 from Deer Lodge to the battlefield of the Big Hole, when parishioners of his were fighting the Indians, to give his services for help in whatever way they might be required. That was a soldier's ride and a soldier's proffer.

There was a fascination of chivalric devotedness in what he did. In Deer Lodge a church must be built. He was living in a log cabin, but the church must be of stone. He was not one of those who would dwell in ceiled houses while the sacred temple of the Lord lay waste. One by one the stones were lifted into their place and the beautiful structure was finished and paid for. To Christ Church, St. Paul, he gave time and toil and love for five years and more. Already movements were beginning that would leave it a downtown church, but no lack came to his devotion and no lull fell upon his heroic loyalty. When my dear wife died in the summer of 1899, he came swiftly from St. Paul, unsummoned and unsolicited, to be with me in my sore hour of need. His fidelity to duty and his devotion to friends were things framed in the strength of truth and furbished with the brightness of chivalry.

Generous unselfishness ruled his aims and life. He knew that he was not the one that Bishop Whipple would have chosen to be his Coadjutor. Nevertheless, in affectionate sympathy and with noble self-forgetful-ness, he loved and served and succored his distinguished chief for fourteen years.

He was a valuable and a cordially valued member of the House of Bishops. He was in the House for four General Conventions. In three he was a member of the Committee of Domestic Missions, and a leading member, though a junior, and was often charged with reporting and supporting the reports of the Committee on the floor of the House. In the remaining Convention he was on the Committee for Foreign Missions. His growing influence and measurable leadership in the House had already become a power to be reckoned with. His godly sincerity and unaffected simplicity, his plain straightforwardness and strong practical grasp of needs and means and methods, led the House to accord willingly heed to his influence and room and verge enough for his power.

Minnesota knows what he was as Bishop in the field. Hobart College and Seabury Divinity School know what he was as a student. Utah and Montana know what he was as teacher and priest. To me he was a dearly loved son in the Gospel, a son whose earthly life was crowned with earnestness in religion, with loyalty to the Church, with stainless purity, with generous unselfishness, with chivalric devotion of self, with affectionate sympathy for all men, and with statesmanlike leadership in the sphere of responsibility assigned to him by God's wise providence.

A grateful, loving father, left in much loneliness, deeply humble for himself, but proud of him, desires to lay this little tribute of affection upon his sacred grave.


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