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Collateral Benefit


These days collateral has a nasty connotation: the leverage banks require for a loan or the death of non-combatants in an act of war. I’d like to think my Episcopal church project has had some positive collateral effect. Take the second group of biographies (mentioned in the previous entry Toward Product) as example.

“Bishops and Pawns” is a cluster of thirty or more short biographical sketches of clergy active in Dakota during the last territorial decade, 1879-1889. Bishops were rarely on the scene. Initially we were administered from Omaha by the elderly Bishop Robert Harper Clarkson, with responsibility for more than 225,000 square miles and no convenient way to reach its northwestern extremities than travel through the Twin Cities. I suppose Missouri River steamboats were an option. When the Missionary Diocese of North Dakota was finally established, Clarkson continued as bishop but was assisted by his brother in Christ, Henry Benjamin Whipple, Bishop of Minnesota, a good deal more conveniently situated. During those years, northern Dakota’s Episcopalians depended on the spiritual strength and physical stamina of yeoman priests—virtual circuit riders—like Rev B. F. Cooley who came to Fargo in the spring of 1881.


Cooley proves to have been a “type” among 19th century Episcopal clergy. A “High Churchman”—meaning he was drawn to Anglo-Catholic patterns of liturgy, music and design—he was born in Massachusetts at a time when his diocese was decidedly “Low” or Evangelical. His bishop Manton Eastburn was barely tolerant of such popish pageantry as elevating the host at communion and bowing during the liturgy of consecration. These actions got Cooley in trouble more than once. There were, have been and continue to be pockets of liturgical conservatism in the Episcopal denomination, so much so that a splinter denomination (the Anglican Church in North America) has formed from defecting parishes. Recently the entire Diocese of Quincy (Illinois) went its own way and sought refuge in the ACNA. In Cooley’s time such wholesale defection was unthinkable, so he migrated from parish to parish throughout New England, eventually seeking greater tolerance in dioceses like Newark and Chicago.

The frontier attracted High Churchmen like Cooley. It may be that their zeal needed the outlet afforded, even required, by frontier conditions, the paucity of resources, the virtual blank slate of a raw new community. So it made sense to have found him in Dakota as one of a string of priests at Fargo’s Christ Church (it would later be named Gethsemane). Cooley was here from 1881 into the fall of 1885, when he somehow ran afoul of the congregation and left town with the faint whiff of tar and feathers on the wind. The Fargo Argus is so circumspect about the reasons that we may never know. In a clerical career of nearly fifty years, however, Rev Benjamin Franklin Cooley served parishes in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maine, Dakota, Illinois and Wisconsin, returning ultimately to his hometown of Granville, Massachusetts where he died and was buried in 1913.

The priestly life had taken its toll on Rev Cooley. His marriage failed (they separated; clerical divorce being out of the question); he was driven from two parishes for unspecified reasons (Fargo and Eau Claire); he was hospitalized at least twice for fatigue. He and his wife Ellen Josephine (Hodges) Cooley had no children and he left no written legacy: letters, diaries, photographs, etc. But, oh my, he did leave churches in his wake!

At a dozen localities, he could legitimately claim to have organized a parish, raised funds, secured a lot and, at a time when the architectural profession was still forming, to have practically designed a half dozen churches independently or with benefit of architectural consultation. Cooley played a strong design role at both Lisbon and Casselton, as well as communities in Wisconsin and Massachusetts. And his hand can be detected elsewhere. So why not borrow him for a few months in Agincourt, Iowa?

To be more architecturally interesting, I had imagined the parish of St Joseph-the-Carpenter to have had an Anglo-Catholic orientation. And the time would ripe for Cooley’s presence: a few months after his departure from Fargo and before his appearance in Milwaukee. And those months would be more than enough to set the course of construction firmly on a path toward liturgical authenticity.


It’s comforting to think that the good father channelled a bit of himself through me in the design of St Joe’s.

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