The Life of Father Bishop

Chapter 2

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
The purpose of this study, to deepen our understanding of the charism of Father Bishop, might appropriately be likened to tracing the source of a river. The process of exploration requires time and patience and in the end we may discover that the river does not have a single source, but is fed by a multitude of springs and streams. We might even feel a tinge of disappointment when we discover the fact that such a mighty river has humble and inauspicious beginnings.

One of the main characteristics of the charism of the founder of a religious community is that it develops and gradually unfolds over an extended period of time. Father Bishop’s charism is like a river, in that it does not magically appear overnight, but grows, is nurtured, and influenced by a variety of factors. There are many “streams” that contribute to its power and magnificence. As our search progresses we might even feel a bit disheartened to find that Father Bishop was a human being with human qualities and failings, strengths, and weaknesses. It is from such humble beginnings that we will first begin to witness the loving and graced action of the Holy Spirit in his life and the inception of his charism. The words of St. Paul are especially enlightening as we begin our exploration: “For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”(1)

The study focuses on what we have described as the “formative” years in the development of Father Bishop’s charism and the purpose of the second chapter is to give an overview of those years. As we begin we are already aware of the limitations of this chapter. There are numerous “streams” that influence and contribute to Father Bishop’s charism and as important as they are, they must be left for future studies.

There will be two themes that will provide the underlying unity to this second chapter: Father Bishop’s faith-vision and his spirituality. We could restate those themes by putting them in the form of the two questions that we will be posing throughout the chapter: 1) What is Father Bishop’s unique understanding of the Christian mystery? 2) How does he live out his understanding of the Christian mystery?

The first part of this second chapter will survey Father Bishop’s life from 1915 through 1939. We have divided these twenty-four years into four periods that seemed to flow naturally from the events of his life. Drawing from the insights of this survey in the second part of this chapter, we will broadly outline Father Bishop’s faith-vision and his spirituality.

Survey of the Period

1915-1917: Curate of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart
1917-1923: Building a Parochial School in Clarksville
1923-1935: The National Rural Life Conference
1936-1939: “Under the inspiration of Christ’s love…we are privileged to begin a great work.”
Father Bishop’s Faith, Vision and Spirituality
(1) I Cor. 1:26, 27.