Project Canterbury

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.


Twelve years, long or short as one views them, have passed since the great sorrow of Bishop Gilbert's death. As those who loved him look back, there are a few things to record, and some hopes not yet realized.

Mrs. Gilbert never rallied from the shock of her great bereavement, and only a hundred days after her husband's death she quietly passed away. Kind friends and near relatives from the East were with her during her illness, and assured her that the two daughters should never lack home or friends. With this assurance, she waited for the end without complaint, in peace. She died on Trinity Sunday, June 10, 1900, and was buried beside her husband in Oakland Cemetery. A year later on their grave there was erected a stately Celtic Cross, the gift of the Sunday school children of the Diocese of Minnesota. It was unveiled on Monday, July 14, 1901, by Frances and Lucy Gilbert, daughters of the late Bishop, the service being conducted by the Rev. Dr. Andrews and the Rev. Ernest Dray. The cross is of gray granite and bears a pastoral staff raised upon the face of the stone. This text of scripture is graven on it: "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it."

Other memorials to Bishop Gilbert have been dedicated in many churches. Probably the first was a handsome brass tablet which was placed on the chancel wall of Ascension Church, Stillwater, on Thursday, April 26, 1900. It bears this inscription: "In blessed memory of Rt. Rev. Mahlon Norris Gilbert, D.D., LL.D., Bishop Coadjutor of Minnesota. Given by Ascension Church Parish as a token of love for the life and service of this man of God."

In St. Clement's Church, St. Paul, a brass eagle lectern was dedicated on September 3d, 1901. An address of great beauty was made by the Rev. Dr. George H. Davis, rector of St. John's Church, Mankato. He said in part:

Bishop Gilbert exemplified the teachings of the Master, and followed in His footsteps by living from first to last a life of consecration and service. . . . The spirit shown in our Lord's life, when He emptied Himself of all His glory and became man for the bestowal of life upon fallen man, he endeavored to make the spirit of his own life, and he succeeded in a degree which it is given to but few to attain. He had learned the secret of every life that shall endure-that higher life comes through the surrender of the lower and selfish life-that the twofold life of sacrifice and labor is the only reality, the life eternal. Untiringly, unreservedly, and unselfishly, he gave himself to the work to which God had called him; he offered unto God the most excellent sacrifice which it is in the power of any man to offer, even the sacrifice of himself, and by it, he though dead, shall yet speak to generations which are yet to come.

In Christ Church, St. Paul, a brass rood screen was erected in 1903, as a fitting memorial, and was dedicated on Friday, March 6, by Bishop Edsall. The sermon was preached by the rector of the parish, the Rev. Dr. Andrews.

Largest and most costly of all material memorials is Gilbert Hall in Faribault, forming an addition to the Cathedral Guild House. On the walls are the famous Della Robbia "Singing and Dancing Children," and above them, forming an almost continuous frieze, a series of fine photographs of Abbey's "Holy Grail." The latter is the gift of Frances and Lucy Gilbert, the Bishop's daughters, and others, "members of the school, of the faculty, and of the Board of Trustees of St. Mary's Hall." In the windows are set the coats of arms of various colleges, with which Cathedral officers have been connected. The entire room is remarkable for its taste and beauty, and is a noble memorial to Bishop Gilbert. It was constructed during Dean Slattery's term of office, largely through his efforts, and under his oversight. It was opened on Founders' Day, September 16, 1905.

On All Saints' Day of the same year, in the Church of St. John the Evangelist in St. Paul, Bishop Edsall preached a sermon in memory of Bishop Gilbert, and blessed a fine carved Bishop's chair, with screen, sedilia, and rector's stall.

Among memorials elsewhere in the diocese are: a handsome, carved lectern at Luverne; a large pulpit, of wood and brass, in Holy Trinity, Minneapolis; a marble font at Windom; a handsome pulpit at Winona; and, in several churches, stained windows, chancel furnishings, and other gifts of high value and beauty. In several parishes there are guilds or other organizations bearing the Bishop's name.

At the University of Minnesota there has been for several years the "Bishop Gilbert Society" for young men. In 1907, the Rev. Stanley Kilbourne was made Chaplain for Church students, and soon after a large house was secured as headquarters for a larger work. Officially this building is known as "The University House of the Episcopal Church," but it is often called the "Bishop Gilbert House." It is the center of an excellent and growing work.

But of the two great memorials which were planned immediately after Bishop Gilbert's death, one was never undertaken, and the other has made, as yet, slow progress. The first suggestion was that a Memorial Hall, to cost sixty or seventy thousand dollars, should be erected in St. Paul, as a place of recreation for the toilers of the city, with a large gymnasium, library, reading rooms, and other conveniences and attractions. So far as known, this project for a People's Palace went no farther than suggestion. It would have been a memorial of great possible utility and merit, and some day some generous citizen may yet put the dream into reality.

The second suggestion was from the clergy of the diocese, and had as its end the raising of a large sum of money, $30,000, to be known as the Bishop Gilbert Memorial Fund, "the income to be used as a general sustentation fund for Seabury Divinity School." This also is a most worthy and appropriate object. Seabury was always very close to Bishop Gilbert's heart. In an historical paper read at the Semi-Centennial of the Diocese of Minnesota, June, 1900, the Rev. Professor Poole made the following statement:

Bishop Gilbert loved Seabury as his own Alma Mater; he believed in its work and its graduates, and he gave much of his time and his thoughts to the interests of the school, with the feeling that upon its prosperity and efficiency depended largely the possibility of maintaining the work of the Diocese which fell more directly to the Bishop to provide for. Those of us who listened to his last two addresses to this Council will doubtless recall the beseeching tone in which he appealed to the clergy and laymen of the Diocese to stay up the hands of the Bishop in maintaining, under a temporary stress, the efficiency of Seabury-and then the tone of sad disappointment with which he called attention to the fact that the appeal had been so largely ignored or refused.

There was loud lamentation at his sudden death; great display of emotion and sentiment at his funeral; high encomiums pronounced at his memorial; and all these expressive of genuine grief and sincere appreciation. But no money for the cause he had most at heart.

If I were to tell you the secret of his death, it would not be overwork to which I would assign it in the first instance; for if he had had robust health he could not have endured more than he did, and he delighted in and throve with activity. But it was the depression which comes to mind and heart. . . . from the feeling that his dearest hopes were unrealized, and his appeal awoke no sympathetic response in those to whom he looked for help and sympathy. What other feeling could have wrung from this strong, radiant spirit the cry, most pathetic in its intense earnestness: "If Seabury Divinity School is obliged through lack of means to close its doors to young men seeking the necessary education for the work of the ministry, I shall resign my Episcopate."

At the time Dr. Poole made this statement, which was in itself an earnest plea, the Memorial Fund had reached the sum of four thousand dollars, and it has since slowly grown to six thousand. The reasons for this partial failure are probably several. Many parishes spent so much in local memorials that it was difficult to interest them in the general fund; the committee having the work in charge was so large (over forty in number), that concerted action was difficult. Whatever the reason or reasons, it is not true that the men of Minnesota did not care deep in their hearts for Bishop Gilbert. It is not true that they have forgotten him. Let one visit any parish in the Diocese, and converse with anyone old enough to remember Bishop Gilbert and he will find that to thousands the memory of his face, his voice, his kindness, his inspiring presence, is one of their most treasured spiritual possessions.

And so it will surely be that in years yet to come there will be gifts worthy in larger measure of him whom they commemorate; gifts of money for the Bishop Gilbert House at the University, which still needs help; gifts to make up the $30,000 first planned for Seabury, or the $50,000 now thought necessary; gifts also of men as well as of money; gifts of thought, and devotion, and sympathy, and Christian love, such as made beautiful the life of that "man sent from God."

In Bishop Gilbert's life there was "the glory of the imperfect." He was entering with buoyant spirit on larger opportunities, when the end came. The work he was so well fitted to do was left imperfect, incomplete. Not yet from the hearts of those who loved him has passed the keen sense of loss. Yet his fitting monument is not a broken column to speak of work undone, or hopes unrealized. Rightly beside his grave there stands the Christian cross, bearing witness to a life made glorious by Faith, and Hope, and Love, and giving promise of Life Everlasting through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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