THERE WERE six people in Church at the first service following Father Hall’s departure! The congregation of Saint John’s was truly a shattered one. Many parishioners left, a goodly number following Father Brent and Father Torbert to Saint Stephen’s Church on Florence Street in the South End. Father Walter J. Wyon, who, arrived in December of 1891, wrote back to England,
“Father Longridge is much overcome with the responsibilities and immense difficulties of his position here. There are no Sunday School Teachers, so that he has to teach himself, as well as to carry on the Celebrations of the Holy Communion and other services. There is worse than no choir.”
Who was this man “Father Longridge” who was appointed to succeed Father Hall as Superior and Rector of Saint John’s and who, as such, stepped into such a trying situation? William Hawks Longridge, born in England in 1847, entered the Society of Saint John the Evangelist at the age of thirty and was sent, as a priest postulant, to Saint Clement’s in Philadelphia. Following his Profession at Cowley in 1883 he returned to serve at Saint Clement’s until his removal to Boston. He brought with him to Saint John’s an individual love of souls and the desire faithfully to Serve them by spiritual instruction, and these qualities enabled him to rebuild the congregation and to minister to its members for seven fruitful years.
Writing in THE RECORD, a monthly leaflet published in Saint John’s from 1890 to 1896 Father Longridge stated in May of 1892:
“The past winter has been, perhaps, the most trying and critical period that the Mission Church has yet passed through. I need not speak more of this than to express the hope that good may come in unlocked for ways, from what seemed to us all so sad a catastrophe.
“Meanwhile, we have no need to be discouraged. The work of the Mission, though sorely crippled, has shown evidence of its inherent vitality and seems to be once more putting forth fresh energies. We cannot doubt that God has still a work for the Mission Church to do, and that if we are true to Him, He will enable us to do it. If many have left us, it has resulted rather in a transference of work to another centre than in its abandonment or disintegration. As the separation of the Mission Church from the old Parish of the Advent has without doubt tended to the multiplication of spiritual efforts and results, so let us hope it may be in this case also. For ourselves, we feel that there is plenty of work for us to do in this city and country; and we ought not to doubt that God will provide us with the means for doing it. Let us then be of good courage. The experience of the past four months certainly warrants it, Every department of the work has shown a steady growth since Christmas. The numbers in the congregation and in the Sunday School have constantly increased. A new Choir has been formed and is doing very good work under the skilful training and direction of Father Wyon. Several of the guilds have been reorganized. The number of servers at the Altar has been increased, and we hope that an Acolytes’ guild will become in time one of the features of the Mission Church. Tor all these various undertakings, new workers have come forward. First and foremost we must express our deep appreciation of the help given by the Sisters of S. Margaret. It would be impossible to say too much of what that help has been, in the Sunday School, the Guilds, and the visiting of the poor …
“I do not wish, however, to deal in mere expressions of congratulation. Let us take account of what bas been actually accomplished, while at the same time we call attention to much which still needs to be done.
“First, the Guilds and other kindred organizations. An ‘Iron Cross Association’ has been formed in Boston which already numbers 76 men . . . The Girls’ Friendly Society has also been re-established, and bids fair to be a wide-spreading influence for good . . . The Guild of the Little Sisters of Mary, for children of the Sunday School, is also in working shape . . .”
We have quoted Father Longridge’s words from THE RECORD at some length because his message to the members and friends of Saint John’s portrays how in six months time, through prayer and faith and hard work ‘a prostrate parish was once again set upon its feet. Father Longridge by no means, of course, accomplished this feat singlehandedly. It was the consequence of the corporate effort, under God, of the faithful laity wholeheartedly cooperating with the clergy. We noted Father Longridge’s tribute to Father Wyon, who, as an accomplished musician and able choir trainer restored an almost defunct choir. The other priests on the staff of Saint John’s during Father Longridge’s Rectorship were Father Charles Neale Field, Father Duncan Convers, and Father Richard Meux Benson, the Founder of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist.
After he had stepped down from the Superior’s stall at Cowley Father Benson was sent from England to India whence he continued to travel eastward to China, Japan, and Canada finally reaching Boston on the 16th of February, t892. He continued to reside with the brethren in the Mission House on Temple Street and to minister in the Church of Saint John the Evangelist for seven and a half fruitful years. He was constantly in demand as a preacher, retreat conductor, instructor, and counsellor and did much to build up the spiritual life, not only of the congregation at Saint John’s, but of all who heard him in many places, both near to and distant from the City of Boston.
One of the members of Saint Augustine’s Church once said of Father Benson, “He was always looking up”. That could be said of the four priests who were serving the people of Saint John’s. They were always looking up to our Lord and endeavoring, at the same time, to show the faithful how beautiful He was. But that contemplation never blinded them to the material wants of their parishioners, and especially of the poor and needy. Saint John’s, from the start, always endeavored to assist the underprivileged and it is to be hoped that that emphasis will never disappear while need remains.
Many experienced keen want in 1893 for that year found America in serious economic straits. A financial panic occurred in consequence of many convergent forces and unemployment, with all its hardships, followed in its train. To proffer some assistance to those in distress in Boston an employment office was opened in one of the guild rooms of Saint John’s. An article which appeared in THE BOSTON HERALD on December 11th, 1893, reads:
“The fathers of the mission house of St. John on Temple Street have their plans of charitable work in the line of self-help. They have a female employment bureau and through advertisements in the papers supply domestics whom they can recommend. They try to take care of their parish poor and as many others as possible, distributing food and partly worn clothing which is put in good order.”
These specific types of social service, though directed by the Fathers were forwarded by the assistance of the members of several of the Church’s organizations, principally the Boot and Shoe Club, the Coal Club, the Guild of the Iron Cross, the Guild of the Annunciation, the Guild of Saint Mary, and the Guild of the Little Sisters of Mary.
It will have been noted that the BOSTON HERALD article to which we just referred stated that the Fathers serving the Church of Saint John the Evangelist took “care of their parish poor and as many others as possible.” While the Fathers were serving Saint Clement’s Church in Philadelphia it became known as “the church for people in trouble”. The same epithet might quite appropriately have been affixed also to Saint John’s. The Fathers have always been willing and eager to minister to all who were “in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity”. Nor were their ministrations purely remedial. They were not afraid to espouse a just cause when a genuine need arose. One such project was brought to a happy fruition in 1894 – the acquisition of the West End Library.
Father Field was convinced that the West End needed a branch of the Boston Public Library. When the West End Church on Cambridge Street became available he crusaded valiantly to convince the City of Boston that it should purchase the building for a library. His strategy was unique! In the autumn of 1893 Father Field organized the Saint Augustine’s Trade School in a large building on the corner of Grove and Cambridge Streets. Here, in evening and Saturday classes, colored boys were taught carpentry, modeling, and printing. Under the Father’s direction the apprentice printers published a little weekly paper called THE BOSTON REFLECTOR. The printing press provided Father Field with a golden opportunity when he learned of the availability of the West End Church. His boys printed and distributed thousands of circulars clamoring for its purchase. THE REFLECTOR printed articles about the subject and Father Field took the clippings to Mayor Matthews of Boston to show him what “the press” was saying. The scheme worked 1 Such high-pressure methods could not be resisted and the City of Boston finally purchased the church for a library. One wonders bow many of the children and adults who daily enter that building know that they have Father Field to thank for the fact that today the West End has a useful, convenient library in its midst.
So, step by step, under Father Longridge’s leadership, the Church of Saint John the Evangelist and the Fathers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist regained the esteem which bad been lost in the troubled days now behind. The communicant list grew, religious services were multiplied, church organizations expanded in membership and activity, and the community itself was the beneficiary of all this love in action. It was not overlooked! In 1895 Boston newspapers, observing the power emanating from the Shrine on Bowdoin Street paid respectful tribute. THE BOSTON HERALD summarized a lengthy description of the work in these words:
“Taken all in all, while this it not the only work conducted in Boston by the Episcopal Church for the purpose of reaching the masses of the people, it is a work which commands admiration, not only on account of the self-sacrifice and consecration of the clergy who are at the head of it, but for the methods employed in directing and controlling the minds and hearts of the people for the highest ends. It has grown in favor, under peculiar difficulties, because it has stood for truth and righteousness and discipline in real things, and if these clergy and people go on as they have begun they will have as generous support from Christian people in Boston as was ever extended to the former workers in the same field.”
The world, of course, will ever evaluate the effectiveness of any organization on the basis of its work. But when all has been said, the genuine strength of any parish must be measured in terms of the spiritual life of its members. The Fathers of the Society, well aware of this fact, and desirous of deepening the spirituality of the congregation, planned a preaching mission in the Church during the week of February 13th, 1898. This was not the first mission at St. John’s for in 1888 Canon W. J. Knox-Little of Worcester, England, had been in the parish for that purpose. The missioner selected in 1898 was, again, not one of the Mission Priests of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist but another secular priest – the Reverend Robert Ratcliffe Dolling who labored so heroically in the slums of Portsmouth, England, and who was such a staunch exponent of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England.
Father Dolling preached four times daily during the mission. At 9.30 a.m. each day his subject was, “The Twenty-third Psalm”. At noon he gave meditations on prayer, and at 4 p.m. his subject was “The Sower”. At 8 p.m. nightly he delivered a course of powerful sermons on “Life as marred by sin, cleansed by repentance, fed by the Blessed Sacrament, strengthened to amendment, nourished by the other means of grace, kept unspotted from the world.” The attendances during the day were large and each evening the Church was filled. A little paper called IN THE STREETS AND LANES published by Saint Mary’s Guild of the Church, states:
“People came back to the church who had not been there for years, and many who had lapsed made a good repentance.”
On May 5th following. the mission, as a thank-offering for its blessings, a large mahogany crucifix was presented by many who had attended the mission. That crucifix now stands at the rear of the Church on the gospel side of the building.
The Dolling mission was a fitting climax to Father Longridge’s eight-year ministry at the Church of Saint John the Evangelist. He continued to serve the Parish for one more year and then prepared to sail for England on May 13th, 1899. When the news of his imminent departure became known a writer in THE BOSTON TRANSCRIPT expressed the hopes of many in saying:
“Rev. Father Longridge is shortly to leave Boston … and in view of the noble work which he has already accomplished in Boston we feel that this city of culture cannot afford to surrender him altogether . . . The Church of St. John the Evangelist has become one of the features of, Boston. Boston has learned to love and respect it and we earnestly hope that Father Longridge, who has contributed to its present success, may resume his labors in the coming winter.”
But that was not to be! Father Longridge had been called back to Cowley to become the Assistant Superior and Saint John’s never saw him again. He fell asleep in Christ on December 29th, 1930.