Project Canterbury

















OF THE S. S. J. E.


To my dear Brethren, Fathers Page, Rivington, Wyon, and others,
Members of the Society of St. John the Evangelist.

DEAR BRETHREN IN CHRIST,--It is with much pain that I find myself separated from you. Those of you to whom the early history of the Society and my relation to it are known can in some measure understand the grief I felt at leaving it and parting from my brethren. You will readily believe that I did all in my power to prevent the breaking up of the Society in America. I think you have recognized the fact that the causes that led to the disruption were not personal to myself, for they affected all the American professed members of the Society. They have been forced out of the Society against their wish, for this reason only: that they have sought in vain within the Society a fulfillment of the compact entered into in the beginning by the original American and English members.

You will better understand this, and, so far as I am concerned, the present position in America, if I state the course of past events under three heads.


In 1863, I was drawn seriously to consider the practicability of forming a religious Society of mission priests adapted to the needs of our own Church. In the matter I sought frequently the counsel of my own Bishop, the late Bishop Whittingham, of Maryland, and had his encouragement and general approval. In the winter of 1864, Father Prescott, who had known of the matter from the first, and myself went apart for a long retreat with this end in view. [Bishop Whittingham had offered St. Matthew's Church, Baltimore, for the beginning of the fraternity work.]

In the spring of 1865, with the approval of my Bishop, I went to England in order to obtain information before commencing the work here. There I was kindly received by Dr. Pusey, the late Bishop of Brechin, and others, who warmly encouraged the scheme, and gave it the benefit of their counsel. I met O'Neill, who had been considering the matter for some little time, and it was thought by us possible that clergy belonging to the two Churches might combine in the formation of a Society. Some one suggested to me the name of Mr. Benson as a good man to join us, and O'Neill and I asked him to do so. He consented, and this led to my remaining in England much longer than I had originally proposed. I made some stipulations respecting the proposed society, viz: That it should not be an attempt to revive or copy any medieval society; for I believed that if the work were of God, it would be adapted to our own day and our own Church's need; also, that as America was a distinct nation, and had a distinct Church organization, the American clergy belonging to the Society should be formed into a province. After a time Father Benson suggested in Chapter that a constitution would be formed when there were twelve professed fathers, and meanwhile the original members were to obtain counsel and advice of bishops and others interested in it.

I remained in England about six years. It was without expense to any, as I carried with me about £1500, which I used in forwarding the work. The delay was somewhat injurious to the work in America, which I visited once during this period. During this visit some American clergy were led to come to Cowley for training for the American work. On my return to America in 1871 others were ready to join. But as it became known that postulants would not be received in this country, and that we were without a constitution, applications gradually ceased. I found, also, that there was a strong distrust in the American Church, on the part of Bishops and Clergy, of a Society whose members were under obedience to a superior not recognized by any Church authority and under no constitutional restraints, and who claimed absolute obedience to his own will, and with whom officially our Bishop could hold no communication. Hence suspicion and opposition to the Society sprung up, which, on canonical grounds, I felt to be legitimate. Soon after I felt this I urged Father Benson to carry out his agreement and let America become a province, and that the training of novices should at least be partly done in this country. He acknowledged that our first coming together was a "coalition," and said that the delay in carrying out his agreement would be but for a short time. Eight years later this had not been done, and the results were very unfortunate. The history of some of those who had gone to Cowley, and afterwards left, was felt by the professed American Fathers to be a sad one.

In 1882, seventeen years after we came together at Cowley for the formation of a Society, there were left in connection with Father Benson only three professed Americans, and of these Father Prescott and myself were two of the original members.

Without censuring any individual, I felt that this fact indicated, so far as Americans were concerned, a fault somewhere in the system, which the Society ought to look into in Chapter.

In connection with this general matter, some few years ago troubles in the Society developed in Philadelphia. One of the first things which I observed concerning it was the criticism and blame put on Father Prescott for yielding to the demands of his Bishop in relinquishing the use of colored vestments. I afterwards learned that Father Prescott had been interfered with in his office as Rector in a way which put him in a very embarrassing position toward the Bishop of Maryland. One of his assistant clergy had been ordered by Father Benson to go at regular intervals into Maryland and hear confessions and do other priestly work there, although Father Prescott had previously written to Bishop Whittingham, and said that so far as the clergy under him was concerned this should not be done.

It was obvious to me, early in the troubles, that the strain at Philadelphia was so great that unless something were done a division of the Society would ensue. What was I to do? If I did nothing, and let Father Prescott be driven from the Society, whether he retained S. Clement's Church or not, my own position in the Society and in Boston would probably have been strengthened. It would have been to my advantage to do nothing. This was suggested to me by members of the Society. Yet I thought, however great the trouble and discomfort involved in it to myself, I ought to strive to save the Society's unity and bring it into right relations to the American Church, and so secure its permanent peace. I thought that I saw (knowing the minds of both sides) how this could be done. The troubles could have speedily been put in the way of settlement if Father Benson would only agree to call a Chapter and take steps to the forming of a constitution. Obtaining advice from several Bishops,--having in mind the obvious failure of the Society's growth,--and the fact that all the American Bishops we knew concurred in saying that in our present condition they could not give us support; and further, because practical evils were so developing in working the system that dismemberment was imminent, I wrote to Father Benson, urging him to carry out our agreement. Before I left Cowley I was formally set apart as Provincial Superior in America, but I wrote to Father Benson that if a constitution were agreed upon, any member might be appointed to that office. Father Benson, however, declined to call a Chapter, saying it was difficult for the members to assemble. He was next asked to get together the older members and arrange the difficulty, but this was also refused. Late in 1881, Father Prescott, Father Gardner, and myself addressed to him a joint letter, stating our sense of the troubles, and this letter was never so much as acknowledged.

In the spring of 1882 I urged Father Benson to come out and meet us, but this also failed. When the fact was mentioned to him that nearly all the Americans who had been with us were leaving us, his reply was, that few Americans had any vocation, and those could only get on well when mixed in with a predominating number of Englishmen. As to a provincial head, he wrote that our country was so large that an Englishman could sympathize better with persons coming from its different parts than an American could. As to the Bishops, he censured me for consulting them; said it showed a worldly spirit; that I was looking to results and not to the life; that we were to the Church what the prophets of old were to the Aaronic priesthood; that the Bishops could know no more about the religious life than a stoker on a railroad engine could know about the fine points of a race-horse; and that if we put ourselves under the Bishops we should have gone to pieces just as the society at Stoke had done. As to the agreement made at the beginning, he declared that a religious society could spring from one man only, and could have but one founder, and in the present case the founder, however unworthy, was himself. He informed us that a constitution could not be framed and come into force until a society had passed out of its founder's hands, and that in the meanwhile the constitutions were sufficiently enunciated in his teachings during the July retreats.

I have thus stated the position taken by one side and the other, not as intending to argue for, or pass judgment on either, but to show you how the difficulty arose; what the issues raised by it really were; and that it was not anything personal, such as might come from any desire to form a new Society, or from any wish of my own to be at the head of the old one, but arose from the Americans seeking to have the original compact between them and the English carried out and a constitution formed which would put us in harmony with our own Church.


As the Rector of the Church of the Advent, I found in the summer of 1881 that it would be better for the work that an assistant of mine, Father Osborne, who was then in England, should not return to Boston, and I sent word to Father Benson to that effect.

The Parish of the Advent did not belong to the Society as does Cowley S. John in England; nor was the Society of S. John, as a society, called to take charge of it. On the contrary I was elected rector upon the condition that one who was not a member of the Society, the Reverend Joseph Richey, should be elected along with me as assistant. I took the parish, making the statement that I was as independent and as free to act, in all the duties of my office, as any person, not a member of the Society, would be. Any other position, so far as my relations to the American Church, my Bishop, and the parish were concerned, would have been deceitful. I do not know what the English law or custom is, but an American rector can remove at any time one who, as Father Osborne was, is an assistant by the rector's own appointment. Acting upon this, my rightful authority, and in discharge of my duty, I requested that Father Osborne should not come back to Boston. Father Benson, however, sent him out. When he arrived he said Father Benson had sent him to work here. Would he, I asked, go and work in the British Provinces or in Philadelphia? He said he would not; that he was sent back to work in Boston, and he told me he had talked over parish affairs fully with Father Benson, and also said, if I did not accept him (Father Osborne) it would be taken as my breaking with the Society, and then Father Hall and all the other clergy might be withdrawn.

Not long after this I discovered in opening a letter, according to our rule regulating correspondence, that in case of a rupture the English Fathers were to let it be known in the parish that they were driven away; and it was added, that, being left alone, under such circumstances, I should soon fail, and that on a vacancy in the parish by reason of my failure or death, Father Hall would be eligible to return as Rector.

However, I went on trying to get Father Benson to summon a meeting of the brethren or propose some measure by which the difficulties could be solved. In the hope that they would eventually be arranged among ourselves satisfactorily, I answered the inquiries of some in the parish who were apprehensive of change in the staff of clergy. In the spring of 1882, Father Gardner went away on a visit to Wisconsin. During his absence, on my stating that Father Benson had no right to send assistants to a parish against the Rector's wish, Father Osborne said to me in the presence of one (who afterward recorded his words), "That the question had already been fought out; that Father Benson had a right to send American clergy permanently to reside at Cowley, and that my position in the Society was a dishonorable and dishonest one," and asked why I did not leave the Society. Father Maturin, who at that time was visiting Boston, also asked me the same question on the same day, adding that I could leave the Society honorably. My position then was this:--the American assistants had declined to remain and work longer in the parish with the English Fathers, and I could get no others who would do so. The language cited above and the position taken by the English clergy made further harmonious working impossible. There was no longer any hope of the calling of a Chapter left, for Father Benson had ended discussion, saying the matter was "indefinitely postponed." Father Benson had fairly driven me to the wall. He had made it impossible for me to carry on the work of the parish under obedience to him.


Forced as I was to act, I had a conference with Fathers Hall, Osborne, and Maturin, in order that we, knowing the difficulties of the situation, might agree on such a plan of separation as would be attended with the least possible injury to the Church and to individual souls. It was first agreed by all of us that it would not be for the best interests of any, that we should continue to work in the same town. What were we then to do? Father Hall proposed that I should resign and leave the parish to them. This was asking what it was impossible for me to accede to. I was leaving the Society on account of Father Benson's declining to take any steps towards carrying out our original agreement and to put the society in accord with the American Church; and I could not consistently turn the Parish of the Advent over to the Society (were it possible for me to do so), believing as I did, that the Society's attitude to the American Church was a disloyal one.

The fair, honorable course for Father Benson now to have pursued, was to have made arrangements, such as easily could have been made, and which would not have seriously injured any souls, for the eventual withdrawal of the English Fathers within their own Nation and Church. Had the general position been reversed, and the difficulty arisen in England, between American clergy who had gone over there, and the English, I should certainly have withdrawn the American clergy from England, and so have left the English brethren unhindered and unembarrassed by our presence.

At this time, Father Prescott having been forced to resign, Father Benson and the English Fathers had obtained control of the large Church of S. Clement, Philadelphia. The position at Philadelphia is, on account of its central position, far superior for the work of the Society than that of Boston. It seemed, therefore, to me, little to ask of the English Fathers that they should take one part of the country and we the other; and seeing they had the Church of S. Clement, that they should leave Boston, and the church there, to the Americans, especially since I had so largely bought the latter with my own money. If it seemed to me hard and cruel to force the Americans out of the Society which they had founded, it seemed most unchristian to drive them out of Boston, which was the only place where their continued working together as mission priests was at that time, for them, practicable.

At the conference, Father Hall made several propositions, but the one we agreed upon (Father Benson consenting) was that I should accept from Father Benson an honorable release, and that Fathers Hall and Osborne should leave me in undisputed possession of the parish, giving me, as far as they could, the good-will of the people, and that questions of property should be amicably settled between us.

Father Benson assented to this. Now, had this agreement, which, with its necessary details, was made after taking into consideration all the various interests of people as well as clergy, been faithfully carried out, little trouble would have arisen. For it was then my purpose, upon the withdrawal of Fathers Hall and Osborne, to have resigned to the corporation the Rectorship of the Parish of the Advent. The parish was at this time just completing a new and beautiful church, and would have had no difficulty in obtaining a suitable Rector. Having obtained the requisite ecclesiastical consent, I should have then taken the old building in Bowdoin Street, which was about being vacated, a number of clergy being ready, if we commenced that autumn, to join the American Society.

Here it is necessary you should understand what the corporation referred to is, and the ecclesiastical difference between the old building on Bowdoin Street and the new church. The corporation is not a body chosen by or representing the residents of the district, or any pewholders, or the communicants, or the worshippers. It is a small, close corporation, half of whose members may be, and a number of whom are, connected with other churches, but holding the property and having as its legal title the "Parish of the Advent." This title, save to those who know its limited application, is therefore apt to be a misleading one.

The old building had been purchased by me, and largely by my own money and that given me by some of my personal friends. It was held by myself along with two other trustees. The Parish of the Advent was at this time using it without rent for purposes of worship. It has never been consecrated. It was not a parish church.

Now to resume the narrative. I had been forced to act; and, at the conference in June, terms of separation had been agreed to. I wrote to Father Benson immediately, and Father Hall did the same, making known the terms of our agreement. Father Benson sent me in reply the release from obedience to himself, and to all the Americans who wished to go out with me. He desired, however, that we should secure, in case of our failure, the reversion of the property of the old church in Bowdoin Street to his society, and that on our forming a society of mission priests it should not bear the name of S. John the Evangelist.

On receiving this release and making it known to the English Fathers, I had a right to expect that Father Osborne would, according to the agreement made, withdraw from the parish, and Father Hall would at once send in his resignation.

Father Osborne, however, instead of withdrawing, forced me to end our relations by a dismissal. In this way it is easy for an assistant to rouse the cry among the female portion of the parish and those under his care, that he is being driven away. Father Hall deferred his resignation. As he was an assistant elected by the corporation I could not, as in the case of the other assistants, terminate his relation to myself, but was dependent on his honor, by promptly resigning, to carry out the agreement made between ourselves, on the strength of which I had withdrawn from the Society. It has since been made known that Father Hall just after our conference went to two members of the corporation, and conferred with them, and agreed that he would not resign for some months. This he did not tell me of. A partisan agitation was begun in the parish, by friends of the English Clergy. Persons were appealed to, to stay away from church and to withhold their contributions. It was represented that Father Benson wrote to one of the corporation, and let the corporation know that he was willing that Fathers Hall and Osborne might remain and work for some time in the parish. He proposed to lend them to work in Boston for six months. By this and in various other ways life was given to a prolonged and harmful parish struggle.

The situation was such that I could not resign the parish until Father Hall had first sent in his resignation. If I had resigned, Father Hall would then have become the Rector de facto. The parish would have been practically in his hands, and he would have had control not only of the new parish church, but of the old church building and the mission house.

When, after a long time, it became evident to my friends that in no other way could Father Hall's resignation be got before the corporation for its action, the following plan was proposed by a member to me--that Father Hall was to offer his resignation, and as the condition of this contingent, on its acceptance and his withdrawal from the parish, he was to have the use of the old building in Bowdoin Street, which it was to be agreed should have no connection with or relation to the Church of the Advent.

Now over this old building in Bowdoin Street, it is to be remembered, the corporation had no control. They could no more "call" a clergyman to it than they could to Westminster Abbey. So it is not by their call that the present fathers occupy it. It belonged to three trustees, of which I was only one. Being but one of three I could not prevent Father Hall from occupying the building if he was determined to do so. The doing so, after his agreement with me to leave Boston, was a matter for his own conscience. The building is not a parish church, nor a mission of the Diocese; his ecclesiastical position was one he would have to settle with the Diocesan authority. All I can say is that neither he or Father Benson sought of me as Rector of the parish my consent to their return. It is in this way that it has come to pass that the English Fathers are in Boston.

There is one other matter you should know. I bought the old building for the Society which was to be formed, and gave one-third of the purchase-money myself, collecting from a few friends about another third, and Father Benson gave the remainder. According to the agreement made when Fathers Hall and Osborne were to leave Boston, I was to give back to Father Benson his one-third of the purchase-money. When Father Hall, however, obtained the old church I asked that the one-third which I had put into the enterprise be returned to me, and Father Benson refused to return it.

I have written this letter to you, my old friends and companions, that you may know of my continued love towards yourselves and of my devotion to that way of life to which so many years ago God led me. To it I have always been faithful, and the establishment of it in America has been the great object of my life.

The great wrongs done me and to the other Americans, and which are still being done, have hindered the work and brought great evils to the Church cause and to individual souls. I hear that Father Benson has now done that, the doing of which he could not be brought by all our entreaties and patience and sufferings to consider, and has proposed a constitution and summoned you to a general Chapter. It is but right that you should know of the wrong now that you may have an opportunity of rectifying it. As you well know, no cause can succeed which parts from common morality and justice; and the claim of the English Fathers that the purpose of their Society and their coming out here is to teach the American clergy how to live holier lives, is one which needs something more than zeal and devotion to support it.

Yours very faithfully in Christ,


Project Canterbury