The Touch of the Cross

By 1905 the Province of St. Paul of the Cross, now just over fifty years old, was flourishing and vibrant. There were nine monasteries in the Eastern and Central States and a new foundation had already been begun in Chicago. Earlier communities of the Province beyond the United States had grown strong enough to be separated – the ones in Mexico in 1893 forming part of the Spanish Province, and those in Argentina and Chile being organized in 1901 into the new Province of the Immaculate Conception.

Yes, by 1905 the American Province reached from Boston to St. Paul, Kansas. There were monasteries in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. It is not surprising, therefore, that at the General Chapter in the spring of 1905 the Provincial of the American Province, Father Felix Ward, was asked whether the Province should now be divided into an Eastern and Western section. Father Felix answered that he felt such a division should not take place now, but at the time of the next General Chapter. However, when the capitulars of the Provincial Chapter met in August of that very same year under the presidency of Father Fidelis Kent Stone, there was a unanimous decision to ask the General Council to divide the Province.

The General Superior, Father Bernard Mary Silvestrelli, with the authority of the Sacred Congregation, issued the letter authorizing the establishment of the new Province of Holy Cross. This letter was dated May 13, 1906.

Later that summer the American Provincial called all the Superiors of the Province to Louisville, Kentucky, for what Father Felix Ward nostalgically called “the last assemblage of East and West as one Province.” On Sunday, July 29, 1906, the then new Sacred Heart Retreat, together with the public chapel, under the patronage of St. Agnes, was solemnly blessed.

On the following Monday morning, July 30, 1906, the Provincial, Father Fidelis Kent Stone, read the decree of Rome creating the new Province of Holy Cross. One can almost hear the sonorous Latin of the Papal Document flowing from the eloquent tongue of the Harvard graduate.

For Father Charles Lang, the new Provincial of the new Province, the solemnity of the occasion very soon was more readily expressed by “The Touch of the Cross.” Three years later the secretary at the first Provincial Chapter of 1908 was to add: “If this Province is to live-out its name, the Cross must ever follow its progress.”

Yes, Father Charles Lang and his two Consultors, Father Philip Birk and Father Dennis Callagee, experienced this “Touch of the Cross” as they looked over the forty-two other priests in their search for a Novice Master, a Superior for the Louisville community and a Superior for the St. Louis community. In all there were eighty-nine religious in the new Province, forty-five priests, twenty brothers and twenty-four students. I believe that the oldest religious was Brother Richard Clarke at seventy-five and the Provincial was second-oldest at sixty-seven.

It is true that the Provincial Chapter of 1905 unanimously voted to divide the Province. However, many did not agree with this decision. Father Felix Ward, who wrote “The Passionist, Sketches Historical and Personal” in 1923, is quite circumspect in the way he speaks of the division of the Province (cf. p. 231-234). He gives the reasons for the division and the reasons against the division. He then states: “Postponement simply meant division without wrenches, and weakening existing bonds. But the division was made. It came with a wrench, and it took time for readjustment and ‘healing’. But at present all approve of it.” When one remembers that Father Felix rarely criticizes anything that took place in the past, one is amazed at his frankness in treating of this subject of the division of the Province.

“The Touch of the Cross” which Holy Cross Province experienced at its very beginning concerned personnel, finance and the structures of the buildings. I have already mentioned the number of religious in the new Province. There was a new monastery in Cincinnati (1900) and now in Louisville (1906). There was only a hospice in Chicago, so a new monastery had to be built. In both St. Paul, Kansas, and St. Louis the monasteries were adapted older buildings. The one in Kansas would soon be taken down and a new monastery built in 1913. The monastery in St. Louis, with additions in 1926, would continue until the move to Warrenton.

The Provincial, Father Charles Lang, in 1908 wrote to the Chapter of the Eastern Province about the many opportunities there were in the West, but that there was need of money and religious! After the Provincial Chapters in both Provinces in the summer of 1908, the General Consultor, Father Joseph Amhrein, called the two Curias together for a meeting and reconciliation in Louisville. There on September 7, 1908, an agreement was made between the two Provinces. The Eastern Province would give $50,000 to Holy Cross Province over the next ten years. The Eastern Province would also send two or three missionaries to the new Western Province. Other matters of communication and inter-change of ministries were agreed upon.

And so for almost thirty years the two Provinces would continue together. Some of the religious in Holy Cross Province would never speak of the Province of St. Paul of the Cross as the Eastern Province, but rather as the “Undivided Province.” They had been members of the Province and had been separated from it. Yes, during those opening years “this Province has felt The Touch of the Cross. . . If this Province is to live-out its name, the Cross must ever follow its progress” (Acts of the first Provincial Chapter of Holy Cross Province, 1908).

Very Rev. Roger Mercurio, C. P.
Provincial Superior
January 16, 1981

Please contact Fr. Rob Carbonneau, C.P. at [email protected] if you have any comments. Permission of Archives needed for publication.