The Shrine on Bowdoin Street from 1883 – 1958, Chapter II

Arthur Crawshay Alliston Hall S.S.J.E.Arthur Crayshay Alliston Hall
1883-1891

WE ENTITLED the first chapter of this account of the Church of Saint John the Evangelist, “The Fair Ground and Goodly Heritage”. Members of Saint John’s, looking back to the Church’s origins can indeed feel that the lot fell to them in a “fair ground”, that they were indeed recipients of a “goodly heritage”. Looking at the tangibles they see, on the exterior, a sturdy, stone building, and on the interior a “plain and neat construction”. Reflecting upon the intangibles they recall that the building in which they worship was dedicated at the start to the promulgation of the Doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity and finally to the Catholic Faith in its fulness. Upon this firm foundation a succession of eight priests, Superiors in the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, built well, and God gave the increase. We now turn to consider each in turn beginning with Father Hall.

Arthur Crawshay Alliston Hall was born in Binfield, Berkshire, England, in 1847. He enrolled at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1865. Two years later he made his first retreat, sitting at the feet of Father Benson, and at the close of that retreat was admitted as an Associate of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. At the termination of his university studies young Arthur Hall went to Cowley to prepare for holy orders and was finally ordained to the priesthood on December 21st, 1871, by which date he was a novice in the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. The Society, recognizing the young priest’s superior mind, leadership capacity, and preaching ability, made full use of those talents without delay.

In our last chapter we referred to the fact that Father Hall accompanied Father Grafton to Boston from England in 1873. At All Saints of that year the Society of Saint John the Evangelist took possession of the House of our Saviour and the Church of the Nativity in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Father Hall, though still a novice himself, was placed in charge of the House and appointed Novice Master. When this project was abandoned due to preposterous liturgical stipulations laid down by the donor of the property, the Reverend E. Ferris Bishop, Father Hall returned to Boston to serve on the staff of the Church of the Advent.

When, in the early summer of 1882, the magnitude of “the Boston duststorm” became daily more alarming Father Benson directed Father Hall to remove his presence from the Church of the Advent and to go temporarily to the assistance of the Bishop of New Westminster in British Columbia. Here, in the company of Father George Edmund Sheppard, he labored heroically among the men constructing the Canadian Pacific Railway. In messhalls, sawmills, boarding-house rooms, saloons, or before outdoor log-fires, the Fathers endeavored to touch the hearts of men by bringing the good news of Christ. Despite great hardships and disappointments they persevered in their labors and won the respect, if not the sympathy, of nearly all by the time of their departure in October.

Around the middle of November Father Hall joined the Fathers at Saint Clement’s Church, Philadelphia, in which the Society had been ministering for the past six years. Finally word came that the “dust” had settled in Boston and Father Hall, accompanied by Brother Gilbert, journeyed to Boston where he was joined by Father Edward William Osborne. The brethren no longer resided in the house at #22 Staniford Street (now razed) but at #44 Temple Street which for two years had served as the manse of the Reverend Lyman Beecher and his family and which, before it was demolished in 1953, was the oldest house on Beacon Hill. It was conveniently situated at the rear of the Church and provided easy access to it. On the Feast of Saint Patrick, Bishop and Confessor, Saturday, March 17th, 1883, this house was blessed and the first services were conducted in the Church, henceforth to be known as “The Church of Saint John the Evangelist”.

In his biography, ARTHUR C. A. HALL, THIRD BISHOP OF VERMONT, Dean George Lynde Richardson comments:

“With this began what was perhaps the happiest and most productive period of Father Hall’s life. The little church in Bowdoin Street, shabby and unattractive, became the centre of vigorous activity. Friends rallied to its support, and in ten years it grew from a mere handful to report over eight hundred communicants, with four priests and the Sisters of Saint Margaret carrying on a wide and constant ministry which reached out not only throughout the city of Boston, but into many of its suburbs. ‘Father Osborne and he were at St. John’s together,’ writes one who was closely related to the work at the time, ‘both so magnificent and so different, and we needed both to help us. Often they would give courses of sermons; one in the morning, and the other in the evening, and we used to say that Father Osborne showed us our sins and knocked us down in the ground in the dust in the morning; in the evening Father Hall would pick us all up, show us the road to Heaven, and send us on our way rejoicing.’ Saint John’s became a centre to which many penitents resorted regularly for confession, and many in perplexity and doubt turned thither for spiritual guidance and help.”

Official recognition of the new Church was given by the Diocese of Massachusetts in the course of the Convention of 1883. In his address to that Convention Bishop Benjamin Henry Paddock, who had become Diocesan in 1873, stated:

“The continuation of full ministration at the former Church of the Advent, Boston, now called The Mission of St. John the Evangelist practically results in the inauguration of a new Church for the City.”

The report of Saint John’s to this Convention states:

“This report covers only the period from Palm Sunday when the Church building on Bowdoin Street was occupied as a mission church . . . We are not able to return any statistics of communicants as no list has yet been made. 362 persons however received their Communion on Easter Day and there have been about 80 on each following Sunday.”

One sign of the developing life of the new Church was the inauguration of various types of organizations. One of these was a parochial branch of the Church Temperance Society formed with a membership of 149. Along with this a juvenile Temperance Society with 95 members was also formed.

Under the direction of Father Osborne, who served as its chaplain, Saint Mary’s Ward of the Girls’ Friendly Society was founded on October 30th, 1883. It was to

“Consist of the Members and Associates, both Honorary and Working, of the Girls’ Friendly Society, who usually worship in the Mission Church of S. John the Evangelist, together with any other girls or young women above the age of fourteen years, and of good character, who, as Members of the Girls’ Friendly Society, will also accept the Rule of Life called the Green Rule.”

The Green Rule was a brief devotional rule. For those who desired to taken on additional obligations a “Red Rule” and a “White Rule” were provided. It was St. Mary’s Ward which compiled THE GIRLS’ KALENDAR, a yearly publication of the Girls’ Friendly Society. Starting with 48 members at its inception Saint Mary’s Ward numbered I I I members seven years later.

Another group shepherded by Father Osborne was called “The Guild of the Holy Cross of the Brotherhood of S. John the Evangelist of Boston and Vicinity”. It had been organized in December, 1881. (Father Osborne had joined the brethren serving the Church of the Advent in 1878.) The Guild was composed of Priests, Deacons, and Lay Communicants, both men and woman. Its objects were (1) To strengthen the spiritual life of the Church of God, (2) To maintain the Catholic Faith, and (3) To revive and maintain a religious observance of all the offices of the Church. The record book containing the monthly reports of the members of the Guild possesses no entries beyond June 4th, 1888, so it is possible that this Guild may not have continued after that date.

In 1886 two additional organizations were begun at St. John’s the Missionary Association, and the Guild of St. Barnabas for Nurses. The Missionary Association was

“designed to spread an intelligent interest in the general missionary work of the Church among all connected with our Congregation.”

The obligations for membership in the Association were to say daily the prayer of the Association, to subscribe twenty-five cents yearly to its funds, and to attend its quarterly meetings. One of the chief developments of its work was the establishment of classes in cooking and modeling (for girls) and in carpentry, woodcarving, and gymnastics (for boys), and an evening reading room (for boys and girls).

The Guild of S. Barnabas for Nurses was founded on Saint Barnabas Day, June 11th, 1886, by Father Osborne, who had become interested in an English guild for nurses. On that day three nurses, agreeing to accept a provisional rule were admitted as probationers. The object of the Guild was to assist its members in realizing the greatness of their calling, and in maintaining a high standard of Christian life and work. The. Guild, by bringing nurses together, aimed to provide them with some of the comfort and power gained by such association. In the year of its Fiftieth Anniversary the Guild returned to its starting place, the Church of Saint John the Evangelist, where Father Spence Burton welcomed its members in the course of the Anniversary Service held on November 1st, 1936.

From all this it is clear that Saint John’s, from the very beginning, not only nourished the faithful with spiritual food but met all their needs. In the days before radio and television the Church had an important role as a meeting-place for its members. St. John’s fulfilled that genuine need, not only for its own parishioners, but for all in the neighborhood who wished to take advantage of the opportunities it proffered.

An indication of the extent to which the work of Saint John’s was observed and appreciated generally can be derived from the following comment in King’s HANDBOOK OF BOSTON written around 1889:

“The Mission Church of St. John the Evangelist is a free church, the services in which are conducted by the Mission priests of St. John the Evangelist. Arthur C. A. Hall is the Superior . . . having with him as assistants Father Osborne and Father Torbert. The teaching is of the advanced high church school in the Episcopal Church great stress being laid on the Sacramental life of the Church. The Holy Eucharist is celebrated daily . . . The Sunday School is large and well worked … The charitable work is efficiently done in cooperation with the Associated Charities of Boston.”

So under the leadership of Father Hall Saint John’s prospered. Then one day en route to Nova Scotia Father Hall met Dr. Phillips Brooks, the Rector of Trinity Church, Boston. It was the beginning of a warm friendship – and also of difficulties. Just as the Father won the heart of Dr. Brooks so he was widely respected by all who knew him. In 1889 he was elected as a delegate from the Diocese of Massachusetts to that year’s General Convention. The following year he was elected as a member of the Standing Committee. Dean Richardson writes:

“To those who know the temper of Massachusetts in those days this represents a triumph of personal character and influence which is very unusual.”

It is important that this knowledge be kept in mind for it aids in interpreting the loud hue and cry now raised.

When, on April 29th, 1891, a Convention of the Diocese of Massachusetts assembled at Trinity Church, Copley Square, to elect a successor to Bishop Paddock most of the delegates had already decided upon their candidate – Phillips Brooks, and he was elected on the first ballot on the following day. Father Hall was present at this Convention and although he did not vote for Dr. Brooks he did affix his signature to the endorsement required by canon law. Furthermore from this date on Father Hall publicly and vigorously supported the cause of Phillips Brooks. Catholic Churchmen, deeply distressed by Dr. Brooks marked theological liberalism, were scandalized! Soon letters began plying the Atlantic Ocean. Finally Father Robert Lay Page, who had succeeded Father Benson as Superior in 1890, summoned Father Hall to Cowley. Father Hall obeyed and, on September 21st, 1891, at Cowley Father Page handed him a letter in which it was requested that Father Hall make arrangements for his permanent return to England.

Father Hall’s comportment in this grave crisis in his life was magnificent. Acting as a good religious he bowed to the will of his Superior and returned to Boston to relinquish his work at Saint John’s. Once again, as in Father Grafton’s case, great controversy broke out. Once again there was widespread misunderstanding as to the relationship between ecclesiastical obedience and religious obedience. Once again the secular and religious press played up what was presented as a conflict of allegiance between an English Superior and the authority of the American Church.

Within the Parish there was also great heartache and bitterness. Two priests serving on the staff, the Reverend Charles Henry Brent (later Bishop of the Philippines) and the Reverend Henry Martyn Torbert departed in indignation, the former also withdrawing as a novice in the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. Despite Father Hall’s letter addressed to the Congregation of Saint John’s in which he pleaded for charitableness, 364 parishioners signed a protest addressed to Father William Hawks Longridge (also serving on the staff of Saint John’s) expressing their indignation concerning Father Hall’s recall and their decision to leave the Mission Church. In his final sermon preached at Saint John’s on the evening of November 8th, 1891, Father Hall made no reference to his departure. His text was:

“Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” (III John 2).

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