Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Two Feasts Today: The Martyrs of Memphis & Fr. Charles Lowder

The "Martyrs of Memphis"

Sister Constance
née Caroline Louise Darling, b. Medway, Mass., 1846, † Sep. 9, 1878


Today Anglicans have two important commemorations.  The first is the "Martyrs of Memphis" a group of four religious sisters of the Sisters of St. Mary and two priests who died while serving the sick during the Yellow Fever epidemic in Memphis in the Summer of 1878.  They were
•Sister Constance (neé Caroline Louise Darling, b. Medway, Mass., 1846), superior of the work at Memphis, headmistress of St. Mary’s School for Girls.
•Sister Thecla, sacristan of St. Mary’s Cathedral and its school chapel, instructor in music and grammar (English and Latin)
•Sister Ruth, nurse at Trinity Infirmary, New York
•Sister Frances, a newly professed nun given charge of the Church Home orphanage
•The Rev. Charles Carroll Parsons, rector of Grace Episcopal Church, Memphis; former U.S. Army artillery commander, West Point alumnus and professor (Served with classmate Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer in Kansas, defense counsel in Custer's 1867 court-martial trial.)
•The Rev. Louis S. Schuyler, newly ordained assistant rector at Parsons' prior parish, Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, Hoboken, New Jersey.*

The Sisterhood of St. Mary was the first religious order founded in the Episcopal Church in U.S., being founded in 1865 in New York.   In 1873 a group of sister came to work at St. Mary's School at the invitation of Bp. Quintard (himself a high churchman with a passion for work among the poor and disadvantaged).

Memphis had been subject to frequent epidemics of yellow fever, but the worst occurred in the summer of 1878.  Yellow fever returned to Memphis with a vengeance in August of of 1878, and the hospitals were overwhelmed.  25,000 people evacuated the city, but the sisters stayed to take care of those who could not leave.  They went from street to street, often into houses with dying or dead inhabitants.  Eventually  all four sisters and two priests succumbed to the fever, Fr. Parsons dying first on September 5, and Sister Thecla dying last on the 12th.  Sr. Constance had died on the 9th, her last words being "Hosanna, Alleluia!"

The sacrifice of the sister did much to reconcile many Episcopalians who had theretofore been suspicious to the existence of religious life in the church, and also did much to advance the Anglo-Catholic Movement in this country.

We give thee thanks and praise, O God of compassion, for the heroic witness of Constance and her companions, who, in a time of plague and pestilence, were steadfast in their care for the sick and the dying, and loved not their own lives, even unto death. Inspire in us a like love and commitment to those in need, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
*From the Website of St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, Constance & Her Companions


Fr. Charles Lowder


Charles Lowder was one of Newman's disciples at Oxford.  He was priested in 1844.  In 1845 he became assistant curate at St. Barnabas Pimlico, a center of the catholic revival and an advanced ritualist parish located in the slums of London. In 1855, with five other priests, he founded the Society of the Holy Cross.  In August 1856 he became rector of St. George's in the East, a mission church, where, working with the sisters of the Community of the Holy Cross, they provided schools, a prostitutes' refuge, "a hostel for homeless girls, night classes and parish clubs, an insurance scheme for dockers, coal for the poor and general poor relief."  He helped found St. Peter's London Docks in 1866, where he was first perpetual curate (priest-in-charge), and then vicar.  

A cholera epidemic broke out almost immediately after the consecration of the church.  The tireless work of Charles Lowder, the other mission priests, and the sisters in ministering to the sick earned him the respect of the nation and the love of his parishioners, who began to call him "Father," a title previously used in England only by religious clergy of the Roman Communion.  It is from this time that the title "Father" began to be used in English for secular priests. 

Fr. Lowder's personal holiness and work for the sick and the poor did much to advance the Anglo-Catholic cause, and to earn acceptance of the ritual promoted by the movement.  More importantly, the combination of charitable works, worshipful services, and a devout spirituality brought many to Christ who lived on the cruel fringes of society.  He died on September 9, 1880, and his burial was attended by hundreds of clergy and thousands of his parishioners.

O heavenly Father, Shepherd of thy people, we give thee thanks for thy servant Charles Lowder., who was faithful in the care and nurture of thy flock; and we pray that, following his example and the teaching of his holy life, we may by thy grace grow into the stature of the fullness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

✠ Holy Martyrs of Memphis, Blessed Charles Lowder, pray for us. ✠

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