Project Canterbury

 Mother Eva Mary, C.T.
The Story of a Foundation

By Mrs. Harlan Cleveland

With Foreword by The Rt. Rev. Irving P. Johnson, D.D.
Bishop of Colorado, Visitor of the Community of the Transfiguration

Afterword by The Rt. Rev. Paul Matthews, D.D.
Bishop of New Jersey, Chaplain General of the Community of the Transfiguration

Milwaukee: Morehouse, 1929.


IN THE FALL of 1890, on finishing our seminary training, Paul Matthews, now Bishop of New Jersey, and I spent a term together in Oxford; accompanying him on this expedition was his sister, Eva Lee Matthews, then a devout member of the Presbyterian Church, but one who had dedicated her life to the service of her Master and was even then expectantly waiting the form that service would take. From that time to the day when I gave her the Last Sacrament in Denver, I enjoyed her friendship and shared her counsels in the great adventure of faith which she undertook. It was during the period of 1891-1896, when she and her brother labored with me in the Associate Mission of Omaha, that she worked out the problem of her vocation to the religious life.

It was a perplexing question she faced. Her humility called her to accept the leadership of existing orders; while her convictions and her love of adventure prompted her to pioneer in creating an order that should preserve that which was excellent in mediaeval tradition but should add certain elements more adaptable to the genius of the Anglican Church. It was from discussion along these lines that I learned much of that which she wished to accomplish.

We agreed that there was room for an order which should reflect more particularly than the older institutions the peculiar genius of the Anglican Church and its passion for personal liberty, which is both its glory and its danger.

To her mind the Anglican Church in her struggle with Rome fought the same battle which St. Paul waged against the Judaizers in the primitive Church.

If St. Peter endeavored to found anything, it was a Hebrew rather than a Roman Catholic Church.

St. Paul was a protagonist of the freedom of the sons of God and that freedom was not to be limited by a program of legalistic restraints. The Christian life called for self-sacrifice and discipline but not regimentation to a mechanical standard.

With Mother Eva Mary, religion was essentially a passionate devotion to the service of our Lord; a voluntary adherence to rigid discipline, cheerful obedience to lawful authority, but without servility in the practice of that obedience.

To her, members of a religious order had a more difficult and inspiring task than that of adopting the habits of a servant as well as the livery thereof. Her ideal of religious perfection was not that of a perfect butler who loses his own personality in the regime of service. In every cooperative enterprise there must be leadership, discipline, and obedience, but the area of force should ever be subordinate to the area of voluntary service in which the joy of sonship should be felt.

It was not servile cheerfully to accept an unreasonable command from a superior, but it would be servile to conform oneself habitually to a mechanical standard under pressure of an external force.

To Mother Eva Mary this is what separated Canterbury from Rome, and a joyous religious life from a merely efficient one. And so Mother Eva Mary founded the Community of the Transfiguration on these lines.

First and foremost the one living thing needful in vocation was devotion to our Blessed Lord. He could use any and all who loved Him devotedly. Second, submission to a necessary and reasonable discipline which should be more closely related to Anglican standards than to those of mediaeval character. She was always intensely loyal to the Prayer Book and insisted that it should have preeminence in the services of the order. Third, the widest privilege in the expression of an individual life and of personal liberty consistent with the regime of the order.

That she succeeded in her effort would be at once apparent to anyone who might be privileged to spend a few days in the atmosphere of Bethany Home, where love casts out fear; where personal privileges are widely used and seldom abused; and where joyous-ness is the air that the children breathe. For Mother Eva Mary had the rare quality of combining a capacity for deepest reverence with an appreciation of hilarious mirth, which is characteristic of really great saints. With her, obedience was better than sacrifice, but she always recognized that which is so often forgotten by efficient leaders, that any arrogance in the leader will put servility into the disciples. There was no servility in her nature and she was a great soul who dared to be joyous in her Father's House.

There are three marks of saintliness which were discernible in her. There was a touch of the miraculous in the growth of the order and the difficulties which it overcame. There was a lifetime of devotion to the service of Christ, and there was always the element of joyous good humor in all that she did or said, even to the very last; for even on her deathbed she looked up with a twinkle in her eye, as she came out of a sinking spell which we all had thought would be the end, and whispered to her lifelong friend and companion, "Fooled again!" Death to her was an interesting adventure which she was so eager to pursue that when once persuaded that it was at hand all earthly pursuits seemed trivial and all unimportant, so anxious was she to be closer to the dear Master whom she had loved so long and so well.

As I looked upon the dear friend of a lifetime in her last hours, unconsciously the words of St. Paul came to me, "O Death! where is thy sting? O Grave! where is thy victory?"

It was a privilege to have known her, to have counselled with her, and in every contact to find her always reverent but never sour, always joyous but never frivolous, always sympathetic but never soft, always intense but never unreasonable.

She was all that intelligence and love and zeal could weld together in a frail body illuminated by an heroic soul.


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