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«Blessed Charles Chapman Grafton ~ 1830-1912 by Fr. John-Julian, OJN A Paper Presented during the Feast of Blessed Charles Chapman Grafton (tr.), ...»

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Blessed Charles Chapman Grafton ~ 1830-1912

by Fr. John-Julian, OJN

A Paper Presented during the Feast of Blessed Charles Chapman Grafton (tr.), August 29,

2009 at the Cathedral of St. Paul the Apostle, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

Joseph Grafton was a 40-year-old mariner when he gathered his 39-year-old wife

Mary and his 14-year-old daughter Elizabeth and set out from their home in

Southwell, Suffolk on the two-month voyage. It was 1636, and the Graftons’ goal

was the colony of Massachusetts, only 16 years after the original English settlers had landed there. Within a year, the daughter Elizabeth had married John Saunders, and Joseph had become the captain of his own 40-ton ketch and soon became a flourishing merchant and respected “freeman” of Salem, Massachusetts.

Little would they have guessed that they were the progenitors of a distinguished New England family, one of whom 250 years later would become the second bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac in the unheard of frontier territory later called “Wisconsin”.

Charles Chapman Grafton was born on 12 April 1830 to Boston wealth and status.

His father was Major Joseph Grafton, carrying the same name that had been handed down for 200 years in each generation of the family, and with the military title gained during his distinguished service in the War of 1812. In 1830, he was Surveyor of the Port of Boston. His wife was Anne Maria Gurley, a graceful beauty from Louisiana.

Charles was one of five children. His eldest brother Henry would be killed in service in the Mexican War, and his youngest brother James would leave Harvard for the Army and die a Captain in the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteers near the end of the Civil War. His older brother Joseph, a Captain in the Army, later proved very supportive of his younger brother’s life and work as a bishop.

From the beginning, Charles was intended for the Law, and undertook his education at the prestigious Boston Latin School, and then at the equally-esteemed Phillips-Andover Academy. However, he developed serious eye problems and completed his secondary education at home with a tutor.

Because of the eye problem Charles could not do ordinary work, and this left him with considerable time on his hands. At the age of 17 he began out of curiosity to attend the newly-formed Church of the Advent, which had begun in a second-story room, and had recently taken a building on Green Street. Charles had known the rector, the Rev. Dr. William Croswell, from the family’s days at Christ Church (Old North Church), and later Charles remembered a childhood incident when Dr.

Blessed Charles Chapman Grafton Page 1 of 8 Croswell had taken him in his arms and blessed him, and he also recalled that when as a teenager he saw his friend and rector pass up the aisle and into the chancel at the Advent, “I heard, as it were, a Voice saying unto me…’And why shouldn’t you be a priest?’”.

But, following his family’s intentions, Charles enrolled in Harvard Law School in

1851. He had just been confirmed at the Advent, and his mind was filled more with concern with religion than with the law. The Church of the Advent at the time was an “advanced” parish and took the lead in New England in implementing the principles of the Oxford Movement which meant the restoration of Catholic teachings and practice. While at college, Charles used to walk from Cambridge to Boston to make his fasting Communion at the Advent.

The Rev. Oliver S. Prescott – little older than Charles himself – had arrived as a curate at the Advent and it was to him that Charles turned with his disquieting sense of religious vocation. He recalled later that Father Prescott told him, “If God intended you to be a third-rate clergyman, rather than a first class lawyer, your duty was to enter the ministry rather than to seek to other profession.” So, much to his father’s discontent, as soon as he had received his LL.B. degree in 1853, and with the germ of monasticism growing in his mind, Charles made the great decision for the ministry.

By this time Fr. Prescott had moved to the Diocese of Maryland, and since that diocese was much more open to Grafton’s growing Catholic thought and practice Prescott recommended that he apply for ordination there, rather than in Massachusetts. So Grafton left Boston for the kindly encouragement of Bishop William R. Whitting-ham of Maryland (the same man who as a seminary professor at General Seminary had encouraged James Lloyd Breck in his founding of the monastic community at Nashotah and had compiled an Office Book for Breck’s group).

Grafton studied under Bp. Whittingham (and never forgot his maxim: “One ought to go to the death for the doctrine of the Real Presence”). On Dec. 23, 1855 he was ordained Deacon, and was priested on May 30, 1858 at St. Paul’s Church, Reistertown, MD. His diaconate was served at St. Paul’s where he lived in a deserted rectory with a total stipend for his first six months of $26. “We did not have overmuch in the way of food…”, he wrote. He served several short assignments before being called to be curate to Fr. William E. Wyatt at St. Paul’s, Chaptico, MD where he stayed for four years, with the sense of a monastic vocation growing constantly.

Blessed Charles Chapman Grafton Page 2 of 8 When a new rector was called, Grafton spoke with Fr. Prescott and others about their joining him in the religious life, and when they encouraged him, he spoke with Bp. Whittingham who suggested that he act on his calling — and added that he would join him if it were in his power to do so! Consequently, in 1864 Grafton decided to go to England and consult with others there “of an apparently higher and more devout type” about a religious order.





To prepare for his journey, he and Fr. Prescott decided to make a retreat together further to test their callings. They obtained permission to use a shack on Fire Island, NY, and moved there with bedding and foodstuffs. But the Civil War was then underway, and their sanctuary was disturbed when a Union Navy Cutter arrived with a contingent of Marines who came to arrest them as suspected Confederate spies! A call to Dr. Dix at Trinity Church, Wall Street, verified their respectability, and their retreat continued.

Grafton left for England in May of 1865, did some sight-seeing, and on June 14 called on the man whom he considered the greatest religious scholar in the world and a master of the spiritual life: Edward Bouverie Pusey. He spent the better part of nine days in Oxford, and on June 16 went to Mass at what came to be called the “Old Iron Church of Cowley” in an Oxford suburb where the Celebrant was Richard Meux (pronounced “Mews”) Benson. “I was more impressed with the sacrifice than ever in my life,” he wrote later. The next morning he breakfasted with Fr. Benson and Alexander Forbes, Bishop of Brechin in Scotland, and spent the day with them touring the Colleges of Oxford. After dinner, Grafton, Benson, and Pusey went for “a long walk” where it is presumed much planning for the future began.

Then, a series of five meetings were held at All Saints Church, Margaret Street in London (where, by the way, Grafton had learned much about “advanced” ritualism — including a recipe for Altar Bread!) to discuss particularities of forming an Anglican religious order for men. At the fourth meeting, the group was joined by the Bishop of Oxford and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Word also arrived that the Bishop of London would sanction the formation of such an order. By the fifth meeting, matters finally became clear. In one of his regular letters to Prescott, Grafton wrote: “The Society will be based on the three vows, of course. The general line will be rather like that, say, of the modern orders, the Redemptorist or Jesuit, than the ancient Monastic ones.” And, showing Grafton’s commitment to parish ministry, the name would be ‘The Society of Mission Priests of St. John the Evangelist.” And again he wrote: “Some of England’s saintliest men will direct by their counsel [our] work, and some of them will be in it.” Blessed Charles Chapman Grafton Page 3 of 8 In 1866, Richard M. Benson, Charles C. Grafton, and Samuel W. O’Neill took their vows as religious, and SSJE had its formal beginning. They lived a common life together at Cowley, and gave most of their time to pastoral work, to preaching parish missions and retreats, and to working in the cholera hospital. In 1868 Fr.

Prescott joined the original three, and in 1870 four more novices were received.

Also in that year, SSJE was asked to take charge of the Church of the Advent, Boston. Fr. Benson traveled to Boston to see the church, and the next year sent Fr.

Prescott to be priest-in-charge. Fr. Grafton was sent to Bridgeport, CT to take charge of a school, but found that the donor insisted on liturgical practices which Grafton felt could not be justified. However he was therefore at hand when, in 1872, the Church of Advent elected him as rector. Fr. Benson gave his permission, and Grafton settled for the next sixteen years in Boston, with an SSJE Mission House connected to the Bowdoin Street church.

In 1876 Fr. Prescott was called to be rector of St. Clement’s Church, Philadelphia.

At this point there were three Cowley Fathers in America – Grafton, Prescott, and Osborne – and serious problems began to arise between the Americans and Fr.

Benson. Grafton was pressing for a constitution and for independence of the American House. In 1882, the matter came to a head, and Grafton, much to his grief, declared that he would have to sever his connection with SSJE. An agreement was finally reached in which Grafton received an “honorable” release from the vow of obedience, and the other Cowley Fathers who had been assisting him at Advent were to be transferred. Instead, however, the old Bowdoin Street church was taken over by the English SSJE Fathers and renamed “The Church of St John the Evangelist.” Fr. Grafton moved (with his now-depleted congregation and without the Sisters of St. Margaret) to the new Church of the Advent on Brimmer Street in 1883. He then constituted a new Order, the Sisters of the Holy Nativity, with the few Sisters who had stayed with him at Advent.

The parish thrived beyond all expectations, with more baptisms and confirmations than any other parish in the diocese. In spite of on-going friction with the lowchurch bishop, Advent’s congregation grew astoundingly, and the new church was completed and splendidly furnished. Four of the many parish curates eventually became bishops. And suddenly, in mid-1888, in the midst of unparalleled success, Fr. Grafton resigned as rector, and in October he moved with the Sisters of the Holy Nativity to Providence, RI, intending to exercise a ministry of preaching missions and retreats, building up his Sisterhood, and working for the development of the religious life in America.

But his intended new life was short-lived, for only a month later, Grafton was elected second bishop of the still-new Diocese of Fond du Lac, and another period of harassment started immediately, because confirmation to the election was Blessed Charles Chapman Grafton Page 4 of 8 needed from the bishops and Standing Committees of a majority of dioceses before he could be consecrated — and for a time, there was some doubt that sufficient consents would be received. As a matter of course, the anti-ritualists opposed his election, but quite astoundingly, some English Cowley Fathers (perhaps smarting over Grafton’s independence) joined the opposition. Rumors circulated that Grafton did not have the “mental vigor” for such a position. But such opposition tended to have the opposite effect wished for, and several voted for confirmation out of sympathy for Grafton in the face of the mean-spirited accusations and groundless allegations. Twelve bishops withheld consent, but four months later, the majority of confirmations were received, and the consecration set for Saint Mark’s day: April 25, 1889.

Bishop McLaren of Chicago was appointed by the Presiding Bishop as Celebrant and chief Consecrator. The co-consecrators were Bishop Seymour of Springfield and Bishop Knickerbacker of Indiana. Bishop Burgess of Quincy was preacher, and Bishop Gilbert, assistant bishop of Minnesota, and Bishop Knight of Milwaukee were presenting bishops. And Grafton became the bishop of one of the newest, smallest, and poorest dioceses in the American Church.

During his lifetime, and especially during his episcopate, Grafton supported what he called the “six points” of ritual: (1) use of Eucharistic vestments, (2) mixed Chalice of wine and water, (3) use of wafer bread, (4) the east-ward position of the Celebrant, (5) candles on the altar or in procession, and (6) use of incense. In today’s Church, we wonder that any of these could be a matter of contro-versy, but they were very contentious in Grafton’s day.

It became the bishop’s practice to give “memorials of my visitation” to every parish he visited, using funds from his wealthy family and friends in the East to provide candlesticks, sanctus bells, crucifixes, censers, vestments, altars, and even reredoses and statues. [He brought an entire family of woodcarvers from Oberammergau to Fond du Lac to provide woodwork and statues for his churches.] In a letter to the London “Church Times”, he wrote: “I am gradually getting my diocese in order, and it is filling up with good Catholic priests. It is large in extent of territory…yet small in numbers and clergy. There are about thirty clergy only, and it is the poorest of all our dioceses … I hope by God’s help, to make this a Catholic diocese … You see … the Church is free from the state, and when the bishop is Catholic, the way is open to these new dioceses of the West for the introduction of all Catholic teaching and practice.” As one of his biographers said clearly Bishop Grafton was always most careful to avoid lawlessness, and stressed obedience to lawful authority, whether it be Canon Law, Prayer Book, authority of the Bishop, or custom.



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