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CHAPTER VIII: A QUESTION OF CREED

I

I MAY not have understood at the time, but I must have been vaguely conscious that if so often I felt myself a stranger in my native town, it was not only because of the long years I had been shut up in boarding-school, but because that boarding-school happened to be a Convent.

There were schools in Philadelphia and schools out of it as useful as Rittenhouse Square in laying the foundation for profitable friendships. Miss Irwin's furnished almost as good social credentials as a Colonial Governor in the family. But a Philadelphia Convent did the other thing as successfully. It was not the Convent as a Convent that was objected to. In Paris, it could lend distinction: the fact that, at the mature age of six, I spent a year at Conflans, might have served me as a social asset. In Louisiana, or Maryland, a Philadelpliia girl could see its door close upon her, and not despair of social salvation. Everything depended upon where the Convent was. In some places, it had a social standing, in others it had none, and Philadelphia was one of the others. In France, in Louisiana, in Maryland, to be a Catholic was to be at the top of the social scale, approved by society; in Pennsylvania, it was to be at the bottom, despised by society.

This was another Philadelphia fact I accepted on faith. It was not until I began to think about Philadelphia that I saw how consistent Philadelphians were in their inconsistency. Their position in the matter was what their past had made it, and the inconsistency is in their greater liberality to-day. For Pennsylvania has never been Catholic, has never had an aristocratic Catholic tradition like England: to the Friends there, all the aristocracy of the traditional kind belongs. The people—the World's People—who rushed to Pennsylvania to secure for themselves the religious liberty William Penn offered indiscriminately to everybody, found they could not enjoy it if Catholics were to profit by it with them. They had not been there any time when, as one of the early Friends had the wit to see and to say, they "were surfeited with liberty," and the Friends, who refused to all sects alike the privilege of expressing their religious fervour in wood piles for witches and prison cells for heretics, could not succeed in depriving them of their healthy religious prejudice which, they might not have been able to explain why, concentrated itself upon the Catholic. Episcopalians approved of a doctrine of freedom that meant they could build their own churches where they would. Presbyterians and Baptists objected so little to each other that, for a while, they could share the same pulpit. Moravians put up their monasteries where it suited them best. Mennonites took possession of Germantown. German mystics were allowed to search in peace for the Woman in White and wait hopefully for the Millennium on the banks of the Wissahickon. Later on Whitefield set the whole town of Philadelphia to singing psalms, and Philadelphia refrained from interfering with what must have been an intolerable nuisance. Even Jews were welcome—their names are among early legislators and on early Assembly lists. Catholics, alone, they all agreed, had no right to any portion of Penn's gift, and popular opinion is often stronger than the law. Whatever ill will they had to spare from the Catholics, they reserved for the Friends to whom they owed everything—if Pennsylvania was "a dear Pennsylvania" to Penn, a good part of the blame lay with the "drunken crew of priests" and the "turbulent churchmen" whom he denounced in one of those letters to Logan, which are among the saddest ever written and published to the world.

After religious passions had run their course, the religious prejudice against the Catholic was handed down as social prejudice, which was all it was in my day when Philadelphians, who would question the social standing of a Catholic in Philadelphia simply because he was a Catholic, could accept him without question in the Catholic town of Baltimore or New Orleans simply because he was one. The Catholic continued to pay a heavy price socially for his religion in Philadelphia where it was not the thing to be a Catholic, where it never had been the thing, where it got to be less the thing as successive Irish emigrations crowded the Catholic churches. I fancy at the period of which I am writing Philadelphians, if asked, would have said that Catholicism was for Irish servants—for the illiterate. I remember a book called Kate Vincent I used to read at a Protestant Uncle's, where it may purposely have been placed in my way. Does anybody else remember it?—a story of school life with a heroine of a school girl who, in the serene confidence of her sixteen or seventeen summers, refuted all the learned Doctors of the Church by convicting a poor little Irish slavey of ignorance for praying to the Blessed Virgin and the Saints. I think I must have forgotten it with many foolish books for children read in my childhood had not Kate Vincent been so like Philadelphians in her calm superiority, though, fortunately, Philadelphians did not share her proselytising fervour. They went to the other extreme of lofty indifference and for them the Catholic churches in their town did not exist any more than the streets of little two-story houses south of Pine, a region into which they would not have thought of penetrating except to look up somebody who worked for them.


II

I might have learned as much during my holidays at my Grandfather's had I been given to reflection during my early years. My Father was a convert with the convert's proverbial ardour. He had been baptised in the Convent chapel with my Sister and myself—I was eight years old at the time—and many who were present declared it the most touching ceremony they had ever seen. However, to the family, who had not seen it, it was anything but

THE PULPIT, ST. PETER'S

{{hyphenated word end|ing|touching. They were all good members of the Episcopal Church and had been since they landed in Virginia; moreover, one of my Father's brothers was an Episcopal clergyman and Head Master of the Episcopal Academy, Philadelphia's bed-rock of religious respectability. The baptism was only conditional, for the Catholic Church baptizes conditionally those who have been baptized in any church before, but even so it must have been trying to them as a precaution insolently superfluous. I do not remember that anything was ever said, or suggested, or hinted. But there was an undercurrent of disapproval that, child as I was, I felt, though I could not have put it into words. One thing plain was that when we children went off to our church with my Father, we were going where nobody else in my Grandfather's house went, except the servants, and that, for some incomprehensible reason, it was rather an odd sort of thing for us to do, making us different from most people we knew in Philadelphia.


Nor had I the chance to lose sight of this difference at the Convent. The education I was getting there, when not devoted to launching my soul into Paradise, was preparing me for the struggle against the temptations of the world which, from all I heard about it, I pictured as a horrible gulf of evil yawning at the Convent gate, ready to swallow me up the minute that gate shut behind me. To face it was an ordeal so alarming in anticipation that there was an interval when I convinced myself it would be infinitely safer, by becoming a nun, not to face it at all. If I stopped to give the world a name, it was bound to be Philadelphia, the place in which I was destined to live upon leaving the Convent. I knew that it was Protestant, as we often prayed for the conversion of its people, I the harder because they included my relations who if not converted could, my catechism taught me, be saved only so as by the invincible ignorance with which I hardly felt it polite to credit them. To what other conclusion could I come, arguing logically, than that Philadelphia was the horrible gulf of evil yawning for me, and that in this gulf Protestants swarmed, scattering temptation along the path of the Catholic who walked alone among them?—an idea of Philadelphia that probably would have surprised nobody more than the nuns who were training me for my life of struggle in it.

The gulf of the world did not seem so evil once it swallowed me up, but that socially the Catholic walked in it alone, there could be no mistake. When eventually I left school and began going out on my modest scale, I could not fail to see that the people I met in church were not, as a rule, the people I met at the Dancing Class, or at parties, or at receptions, or on that abominable round of morning calls, and this was the more surprising because Philadelphians of the "Chestnut, Walnut, Spruce and Pine" set were accustomed to meeting each other wherever they went. Except for the small group of those Philadelphia families of French descent with French names who were not descendants of the Huguenots, and here and there a convert like my Father, and an occasional native Philadelphian who, unaccountably, had always been a Catholic, the congregation, whether I went to the Cathedral or St. John's, to St. Joseph's or St. Patrick's, was chiefly Irish, as also were the priests when they were not Italians.

Fashion sent the Philadelphian to the Episcopal Church. It could not have been otherwise in a town as true to tradition as Philadelphia had not ceased to be in my young days. No sooner had Episcopalians settled in Philadelphia than, by their greater grandeur of dress and manner, they showed the greater social aspirations they had brought with them from the other side—the Englishman's confidence in the social superiority of the Church of England to all religion outside of it. Presbyterians are said to have had a pretty fancy in matters of wigs and powdered and frizzled hair, which may also have been symbolic, for they followed a close fashionable second. Baptists and Methodists, on the contrary, affected to despise dress and, while I cannot say if the one fact has anything to do with the other, I knew fewer Baptists and Methodists than Catholics. By my time the belief that no one could be "a gentleman" outside the Church of England, or its American offshoot, was stronger than ever, and fashion required a pew at St. Mark's or Holy Trinity or St. James's, if ancient lineage did not claim one at St. Peter's or Christ Church; though old-fashioned people like my Grandfather and Grandmother might cling blamelessly to St. Andrew's which was highly respectable, if not fashionable, and new-fashioned people might brave criticism with the Ritualists at St. Clement's. As for Catholics, a pew down at St. Joseph's in Willing's Alley or, worse still, up town at the Cathedral in Logan Square, put them out of the reckoning, at a hopeless disadvantage socially, however better off they might be for it spiritually. That the Cathedral was in Logan Square was in itself a social offence of a kind that society could not tolerate. At the correct churches every function, every meeting, every Sunday-school, every pious re-union, as well as every service, became a fashionable duty; and at the church door after service on Sunday, a man with whom one had danced the night before might be picked up to walk on Walnut Street with, which was a social observance only less indispensable than attendance at the Assembly and the Dancing Class.

I recall the excitement of girls of my age, their feeling that they had got to the top of everything, the first time they took this sacramental walk, if not with a man which was the crowning glory, at least with a woman who was prominent, or successful, in society. But I believe I could count the times I joined in the Walnut Street procession on Sunday morning. As long as I lived in Third Street, my usual choice of a church lay between St. Joseph's, the Jesuit church in Willing's Alley with its air of retirement, and St. Mary's on Fourth Street, where the orphans used to come from Seventh and Spruce and sometimes sing an

THE CATHEDRAL, LOGAN SQUARE

anthem that, for any save musical reasons, I delighted in, and where we had a pew. After we moved from Third Street, our pew was at the Cathedral, more distinguished from the clerical standpoint, for there we sat under the Bishop. No matter which our church, High Mass was long: I could not have got to the appointed part of Walnut Street in time, had I found at the door the companion to go there with me. There was nothing to do but to walk home alone or sedately at my Father's side, and one's Father, however correct he might be under other circumtances, was not the right person for these occasions. On Sundays I could not conceal from myself that I was socially at a discount. The reflection that this was where I, as a Catholic, scored, should have consoled me, for if the Episcopalian was performing a social duty when he went to church, I, as a Catholic, was making a social sacrifice, and sacrifice of some sort is of the essence of religion.


III

If I could but have taken the trouble to be interested, it must also have occurred to me to wonder why St. Joseph's, where I went so often, was hidden in an obscure alley. In Philadelphia, the town of straight streets crossing each other at right angles, it is not easy for a building of the kind to keep out of sight. But not one man in a hundred, not one in a thousand, who, passing along Third Street, looked up Willing's Alley, dreamt for a minute that somewhere in that alley, embedded in a network of brokers' and railroad offices, carefully concealing every trace of itself, was a church with a large congregation. Most churches in Philadelphia, as everywhere, like to display themselves prominently with an elaborate façade, or a lofty steeple, or a green enclosure, or a graveyard full of monuments. St. Peter's, close by, fills a whole block. Christ Church stands flush with the pavement. The simplest Meeting-House, by the beautiful trees that overshadow it or the high walls that enclose it or the bit of green at its door, will not let the passer-by forget it. But St. Joseph's, evidently, did not want to be seen, did not want to be remembered; evidently hesitated to show that its doors were wide and hospitably open to all the world in the beautiful fashion of the Catholic Church. There was something furtive about it, an air of mystery, it was almost as if one were keeping a clandestine appointment with religion when one turned from the street into the humble alley, and from the alley into the silence of the sanctuary.

Perhaps I thought less about this mysterious aloofness because, once in the church, I felt so much at home. I do not mind owning now, though I would not have owned it then for a good deal, that after my return from the Convent, I had the uncomfortable feeling of being a stranger not only in my town, but in my family. I had been in the Convent eleven years and until this day when I look back to my childhood, it is the Convent I remember as home. St. Joseph's seemed a part of the Convent, therefore of

CHRIST CHURCH, FROM SECOND STREET

home, that had strayed into the town by mistake. In some ways it was not like the Convent, greatly to my discomfort. The chapel there was dainty in detail, exqnisitely kept, the altars fresh with flowers from the Convent garden, and for congregation the nuns and the girls modestly and demurely veiled. But nothing was dainty about St. Joseph's,—men are as untidy in running a church as in keeping a house—it was not well kept, the flowers were artificial and tawdry, and the congregation was largely made up of shabby old Irishwomen. The priests—Jesuits—were mostly Italian, with those unpleasant habits of Italian priests that are a shock to the convent-bred American when she first goes to Italy. They had, however, the virtue of old friends, their faces were familiar, I had known them for years at the Convent which they had frequently visited and where, by special grace, they had refrained from some of the unpleasant habits that offended me at St. Joseph's.

There was Father de Maria, tall, thin, with a wonderful shock of white hair, a fine ascetic face and a kindly smile, not adapted to shine in children's society—too much of a scholar I fancied though I may have been wrong—and with an effect of severity which I do not think he meant, but which had kept me at a safe distance when he came to see us at Torresdale. But he had come, I could not remember the time when I had not known him, and that was in his favour.

There was Father Ardea, a small, shrinking, dark man, from whom also it was more comfortable to keep at a safe distance, so little had he to say and such a trick of looking at you with an "Eh? Eh?" of expectation, as if he relied upon you to supply the talk he had not at his own command. But I could have forgiven him worse, so pleasant a duty did he make of confession. His penances were light and his only comment was "Eh? Eh? my child? But you didn't mean it! You didn't mean it!" until I longed to accuse myself of the Seven Deadly Sins with the Unpardonable Sin thrown in, just to see if he would still assure me that I didn't mean it.

There was Father Bobbelin—our corruption I fancy of Barbelin—a Frenchman, short and fat, sandy-haired, with a round smiling face: the most welcome of all. He was always very snuffy, and always ready to hand round his snuff-box if talk languished when he went out to walk with us, which I liked better than Father Ardea's embarrassing "Eh? Eh?" It was to Father Bobbelin an inexhaustible joke, and the only other I knew him to venture upon resulted in so unheard-of a breach of discipline that ever after we saw less of him and his snuff-box. He was walking with us down Mulberry Avenue one afternoon, the little girls clustered about him as they were always sure to be, and the nun in charge a little behind with the bigger, more sedate girls. When we got to the end of the Avenue, the carriage gate leading straight out into the World was open as it had never been before, as it never was again. Father Bobbelin's fat shoulders shook with laughter. He opened the gate wider. "Now, children," he said, "here's your chance. Run for it!" And we did, we ran as if for our lives, though no children could have loved their school better or wanted less to get away from it. One or two ran as far as the railroad, the most adventurous crossed it, and were making full tilt for the river before all were caught and brought back and sent to bed in disgrace. After that Father Bobbelin visited us only in our class-room.

And there were other priests whose names escape me, but not their home-like faces. Now and then Jesuits who gave Missions and who had conducted the retreats at the Convent, appeared at St. Joseph's,—Father Smarius, the huge Dutchman, so enormous they used to tell us at the Convent that he had never seen his feet for twenty years, who had baptized my Father and his family in the Convent chapel; and Father Boudreau, the silent, shy little Louisianian, whom I remember so well coming with Father Smarius one June day to bless, and sprinkle Holy Water over that big yellow and white house close to the Convent which my Father had taken for the summer; and Father Glackmeyer, and Father Coghlan, and with them others whose presence helped the more to fill St. Joseph's with the intimate convent atmosphere.


IV

These old friends and old associations took away from the uneasiness it might otherwise have given me to find the church, for which I had exchanged the Convent chapel, hidden up an alley as if its existence were a sin. But overlook it as I might, this was the one important fact about St. Joseph's which, otherwise, had no particular interest. It did not count as architecture, it boasted of no beauty of decoration: an inconspicuous, commonplace building from every point of view, of which I consequently retain but the vaguest memory. As I write, I can see, as if it were before me, the Convent chapel, its every nook and corner, almost its every stone, this altar here, that picture there, the confessional in the screened-off space where visitors sat, the dark step close to the altar railing where I carried my wrongs and my sorrows. But try as I may, I cannot see St. Joseph's as it was, cannot see any detail, nothing save the general shabbiness and untidiness that shocked my convent-bred eyes. Could it have appealed by its beauty, like the old Cathedrals of Europe, or, for that matter, like the old churches of Philadelphia, no doubt I should be able to recall it as vividly as the Convent chapel. Because I cannot, because it impressed me so superficially, I regret the more that I had not the sense to appreciate the interest it borrowed from the romance of history and the beauty of suffering—the history of the Catholic religion in Philadelphia which I might have read in this careful hiding of its temple; the suffering of the scapegoat among churches, obliged to keep out of sight, atoning for their intolerance in a desert of secrecy, letting no man know where its prayers were said or its services held. Catholics had to practise their religion like criminals skulking from the

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, SEVENTH STREET AND WASHINGTON SQUARE

law. Members of a Protestant church might dispute among themselves to the point of blows, but they never thought of interfering with the members of any other church, except the Catholic, against which they could all cheerfully join. There were times when the Friends, most tolerant of men, were influenced by this general hostility, and I rather think the worst moment in Penn's life was when he was forced to protest against the scandal of the Mass in his town of Brotherly Love.

The marvel is that Catholics ventured out of their hiding-places as soon as they did. They had emerged so successfully by Revolutionary times that the stranger in Philadelphia could find his way to "the Romish chapel" and enjoy the luxury of knowing that he was not as these poor wretches who fingered their beads and chanted Latin not a word of which they understood. The Jesuits have the wisdom of their reputation. When they built their church the Colonies had for some years been the United States, and hatred was less outspoken, and persecution was more intermittent, but they believed discretion to be the better part of valour and the truest security in not challenging attack. That is why they built St. Joseph's in Willing's Alley where the visitor with a dramatic sense must be as thrilled by it as by the secret chapels and underground passages in old Elizabethan mansions and Scott's novels. Philadelphia gave the Jesuits a proof of their wisdom when, within a quarter of a century, Young America, in a playful moment, burnt down as much as it could of St. Michael's and St. Augustine's; churches which had been built bravely and hopefully in open places. Young America believed in a healthy reminder to Catholics, that, if they had not been disturbed for some time, it was not because they did not deserve to be.

Philadelphia had got beyond the exciting stage of intolerance before I was born. There were no delicious tremors to be had when I heard Mass at St. Joseph's or went to Vespers at St. Mary's. There was no ear alert for a warning of the approach of the enemy, no eye strained for the first wisp of smoke or burst of flame. With churches and convents everywhere—convents intruding even upon Walnut Street and Rittenhouse Square—with a big Cathedral in town and a big Seminary at Villanova, Catholics were in a fair way to forget it had ever been as dangerous for them as for the early Christians to venture from their catacombs. Their religion had become a tame affair, holding out no prospect of the martyr's crown. Only the social prejudice survived, but it was the more bitter to fight because, whether the end was victory or defeat, it appeared so inglorious a struggle to be engaged in.

One good result there was of this social ostracism. I leave myself out of the argument. Religion, I have often heard it said, is a matter of temperament. As this story of my relations to Philadelphia seems to be resolving itself into a general confession, I must at least confess my certainty that I have not and never had the necessary temperament, that, moreover, the necessary temperament is not to be had by any effort of will power, depending rather upon "the influence of the unknown powers." But I am not totally blind, nor was I in the old days when, many as were the things I did not see, my eyes were still open to the effect of social opposition on Catholics with the temperament. It made them more devout, at times more defiant. I know churches that are in themselves alone a reward for faith and fidelity—who would not be a Catholic in the dim religious light of Chartres Cathedral, or in the sombre splendours of Seville and Barcelona? But St. Joseph's and St. Mary's, St. Patrick's and St. John's gave no such reward, nor did the Cathedral in its far-away imitation of the Jesuit churches of Italy and France. In these arid, unemotional interiors, emotion could not kindle piety which, if not fed by more spiritual stuff, was bound to flicker and go out. This is why the Philadelphian who, in those unattractive churches and in spite of the social price paid, remained faithful, was the most devout Catholic I have ever met at home or in my wanderings.


V

For his spiritual welfare, it might have been better had the conditions remained as I knew them. But even at that period, the signs of weakening in the social barrier must have jumped to my eyes had I had eyes for the fine shades. Catholics among themselves had begun to put up social barriers, so much further had Philadelphia travelled on the road to liberty.

Religiously, one of their churches was as good as another, but not socially. St. Mark's, from its superior Episcopal heights, might look down equally upon St. Patrick's and St. John's, but the Catholic with a pew at St. John's did not at all look upon the Catholic with a seat at St. Patrick's as on the same social level as himself. St. Patrick's name alone was sufficient to attract an Irish congregation, and the Irish who then flocked to Philadelphia were not the flower of Ireland's aristocracy. St. John's, by some unnamed right, claimed the Catholics of social pretensions—the excellence of its music may have strengthened its claim. I know that my Father, who was a religious man, did not object to having the comfort of religion strengthened by the charms of Gounod's Mass well sung, and, at the last, he drifted from the Cathedral to St. John's.

The Cathedral necessarily was above such distinctions, as a Cathedral should be, and it harboured an overflow from St. Patrick's and St. John's both. But it was the Cathedral, rather than St. John's, that did most to weaken the foundations of the social prejudice against the Catholic. The Bishop there was Bishop Wood, and Bishop Wood, like my Father a convert, was no Irish emigrant, no Italian missionary, but came from the same old family of

OLD SWEDES' CHURCH

Philadelphia Friends as J. Some people think that Quakerism and Catholicism are more in sympathy with each other than with other creeds because neither recognizes any half way, each going to a logical extreme. Whether Bishop Wood thought so, I am far from sure, but he had himself gone from one extreme to the other when he became a Catholic, and the religious step had its social bearing. With his splendid presence and splendid voice, he must have added dignity to every service at the Cathedral, but he did more than that: in Philadelphia eyes he gave it the sanction of Philadelphia respectability. The Catholic was no longer quite without Philadelphia's social pale.

I had no opportunity, because of my long absence, to watch the gradual breakdown, but I saw that the barrier had fallen when I got back to Philadelphia. Never again will Philadelphia children think they are doing an odd thing when they go to Mass, never again need the Philadelphia girl fresh from the Convent fancy herself alone in the yawning gulf of evil that opens at the Convent gate. I should not be surprised if an eligible man from the Dancing Class or Assembly list can today be picked up at the door of more than one Catholic church for the Sunday Walk on Walnut Street. St. John's has risen, new and resplendent, if ugly, from its ashes; St. Patrick's has blossomed forth from its architectural insignificance into an imposing Romanesque structure. The Cathedral has been new swept and garnished—not so large perhaps as I once saw it, for I have been to St. Paul's and St. Peter's and many a Jesuit church in the meanwhile, but more ornate, with altars and decorations that I knew not, and with Mr. Henry Thouron's design on one wall as a promise of further beauty to come. The difference confronted me at every step—and saddened me, though I could not deny that it meant improvement. But the change, as change, displeased me in a Philadelphia that ceases to be my Philadelphia when it ceases to preserve its old standards and prejudices as jealously as its old monuments. For the sake of the character I loved, I could wish Philadelphia as far as ever from hope of salvation by anything save its own invincible ignorance.