Reverend William Howard Bishop: Toward an Understanding of His Charism as Founder of the Glenmary Home Missioners
By Father Dan Dorsey
(Numbered notes, indicated in parenthesis, are listed at the end of this Web page.)
II. The Life of Father Bishop, 1915-1939 (con’t)
Survey of the Period
1915-1917: Curate at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart
On March 25, 1915 William Howard Bishop received the sacrament of Holy Orders at the hands of Bishop Thomas Shahan in the Caldwell Hall Chapel of Catholic University. The following two months Father Bishop served as the weekend assistant at St. Teresa’s Church in Anacostia (Washington, D.C.) while completing his studies in philosophy at Catholic University. From June through August of that year he was assigned as the chaplain at the Convent of Villa Maria in North Cliff, Maryland.(2)
Finally, on August 1 Father Bishop received an assignment of a more permanent nature when Cardinal Gibbons appointed him as curate to Father C.F. Craig at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Mt. Washington, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore. Like most newly ordained priests, Father Bishop possessed an abundance of energy and was anxious to prove himself a competent parish priest. Feelings of awkwardness, insecurity, and self-consciousness needed to be conquered. It should be no surprise that Father Bishop’s initial impression of Father Craig, a veteran priest who enjoyed a glowing reputation, would be one of awe and admiration.(3)
Unfortunately the ensuing two years were not a time of growing admiration between the young curate and his pastor. On the contrary, it proved to be a period of suffering and trial for Father Bishop. The deteriorating nature of his relationship with Father Craig, and the consequences that resulted from this, were the dominant themes of his tenure at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart.
Father Bishop arrived at the parish on that August day a man who had always been painfully shy and who often felt out of place in large crowds.(4) He believed that he was lazy and inefficient in the use of his time and tended to be harsh in his self-criticism.(5) The poor quality of his relationship with Father Craig only served to feed the fires of his self-depreciating nature.
An excellent illustration of the dynamic that evolved can be seen in Father Bishop’s perception of the way he celebrated mass. He believed that his masses were said too slowly, were full of errors, and that his sermons were poor.(6) These feelings of inadequacy were further compounded by Father Craig’s criticism. He “holds the watch” on Father Bishop while he is saying mass and publicly admonishes him for being slow.(7) After one occurrence like this Father Bishop noted:
Father Craig passed some strong hints about men who are long saying mass, seeming to place them in the same category, as far as service to the people is concerned, with a certain priest who has given much scandal on account of drink.(8)
A New Year’s resolution for 1917 reflects the effect such criticism had:
I will endeavor by careful study of liturgy and ceremonies to make the Mass my chief preoccupation and care, the center of my religious life in every sense.(9)
Less than six months into his stay at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, the depth of the animosity that existed between the two men started to reveal itself in Father Bishop’s diary:
I am tired of being ignored…I am tired of being overreached, interfered with and prevented in everything I am given to do. I am tired of having the watch held on me while saying Mass.(10)
Another diary entry one year later demonstrates the toll that these personal problems eventually affected:
Received phone message from Washington of Mr. Howard’s death. R.I.P. 6:30 mass at convent. Fr. Bean away. Felt very bad physically and expressed myself freely to Mother Annuciata after mass. Morning dull and cloudy. Slight diarrhea. Slept after breakfast until 10, rose and typewrote some letters. Dinner with Bob and Fr. C. Finished letter to K. Ottwa and went to town. Too late for bank. Got toothbrush, typewriter ribbon and some medals and exchanged fountain pen. Called on Sr. Xavier at Mercy Hospital. Talked to Robert, Mr. And Mrs. Scott on porch. Supper. Office.(11)
The tone of this entry is illustrative of Father Bishop’s final year with Father Craig. The cost that these personal problems exacted from Father Bishop was high. It was a year whose days were predominantly occupied with “busywork,” filled with complaints of illness and tiredness, and laced by feelings of despondency.(12)
Notably absent from Father Bishop’s diary entries throughout this period are reflections of a spiritual nature which could have offered us an insight into how he understood his sufferings, especially in light of his faith. This omission is even all the more notable because it seems that his interior life would have offered him a natural respite and consolation from the emotional and physical turmoil that he was enduring.
The strength and resiliency of Father Bishop’s character also began to surface during these “dark days.” He did not passively retreat from Father Craig, but engaged him in head to head combat. During one of their many disputes he mentions giving “Craig no opening”(13) and in a disagreement about Father Craig’s policy of contracting parish work (e.g. plant maintenance) to outsiders he noted, “I replied that I would make it cost him as much as possible in things that mean much more than cash.”(14) He was also direct and clear in voicing his displeasure:
I politely demanded a show-down. Told him I was doing my best and he need not look for any improvement. If he wanted a change it was his privilege to take the means of getting it…he must decide what he wants to do.(15)
Coupled with the confrontative dimension of his personality is Father Bishop’s ability and willingness to forgive.(16) He desperately hoped that the misunderstandings that existed between the two of them would fade. Even Father Craig’s slightest overtures of reconciliation were warmly received by Father Bishop:
In the afternoon after my nap, Fr. C. asked me to sign and stamp some invitations, actually came to my room and knocked to get me to do it. This is quite remarkable. It made me feel good all the rest of the day.(17)
One of the few areas in which Father Craig allowed Father Bishop to become involved was the parish school. Father Bishop was studious by nature and had always been interested in teaching.(18) The school provided an environment for success and it is here that he felt needed and recognized: “Had talk with Sr. Norberta who seems to deeply appreciate my work in the school.”(19)
Early in 1917 the relationship between the two men had deteriorated to the degree that on February 2 Father Bishop went to see Cardinal Gibbons about a change of assignments. Although he had contemplated such a “move for over a year” he nonetheless continued to have doubts and misgivings. Praying that God would see him “through this ordeal” he felt he had taken a “decisive step” in going to see the Cardinal.(20)
In late April the secretary to the Cardinal, Father Stickney, offered him a “preference between two or three openings.” Father Bishop declined the offer replying that he “preferred to leave the decision entirely with His Eminence.”(21) This docility of spirit was rather uncharacteristic of Father Bishop and resulted in his receiving an assignment that would change the course of his life; it provided an opening for the graced action of the Holy Spirit.
Father Bishop’s “openness” to the will of the Cardinal, however, was not without its negative consequences. His transfer did not occur until September, which was almost five months later than originally promised by the Cardinal. Those spring and summer months brought with them a great deal of personal suffering: “Despondent all morning because of Craig’s attitude. Almost on point of begging for immediate change. . .”(22)
Finally, on September 8 Father Bishop, along with Father Craig, was called into Cardinal Gibbons’ office at which time, “His Eminence told me of my appointment to succeed John Liljencrants at Clarksville.”(23) His two-year tenure at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart had come to an end.
2) Herman Santen, Father Bishop (Milwaukee: Catholic Life Publications, Bruce Press, 1961): 15-6.
3) Diary, August 1, 1915.
4) Diary, January 21, 1916; February 9, 1916.
5) Diary, August 1, 1915; August 14, 1916. While he was curate at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Father Bishop took a correspondence course to improve his efficiency in the use of time.
6) Diary, August 1, 1915; December 25, 1916.
7) Diary, February 8, 1916.
8) Diary, March 27, 1916.
9) Diary, December 31, 1916.
10) Diary, February 8, 1916.
11) Diary, July 9, 1917.
12) Diary, July 9, 1916, December 2, 1916; December 16, 1916; January 15, 1917; March 13, 1917; June 3, 1917.
13) Diary, March 13, 1917.
14) Diary, August 1, 1917.
15) Diary, March 27, 1916.
16) Diary, July 1, 1916; July 12, 1916; May 29, 1917.
17) Diary, July 21, 1916.
18) Diary, Interview with Colonel Harry Bishop, code 001, p. 2; Herman Santen, Father Bishop, op. cit., p. 16.
19) Diary, May 7, 1917; January 15, 1917; April 27, 1917; February 28, 1917.
20) Diary, February 2, 1917.
21) Diary, April 28, 1917.
22) Diary, June 3, 1917.
23) Diary, September 8, 1917.