A monk among the poor

Daily Reading for November 25 • James Otis Sargent Huntington, Priest and Monk, 1935

For something short of ten years, the two priests, then constituting this small religious group, carried on the work at Holy Cross Mission Church, which afforded them an unparalleled opportunity amongst the poor and depressed. They had large numbers of children under their care. The boys and young men were a special charge, as the Sisters taught and trained the girls. The work was very engrossing, visiting, day and night, teaching, carrying on the guilds, keeping up the choir offices and the public services and in summer conducting a Fresh Air work for boys in a barn-like building put up for the purpose and known as “St. Andrew’s Cottage,” on a lot next to the Mission. When in New York they rarely left the East Side and had few acquaintances among “up-town” folk. All along, however, they had many visitors, and almost always one or two priests and laymen living with them. Many years afterwards Father Huntington wrote:

“We came gradually to understand something as to the attitude of mind of those among whom we laboured. We knew how they ate (or starved), toiled, slept (often on the floor), sickened (tuberculosis was rife), and died. Yet I think that we never succeeded in realizing how they felt,—what it must have meant, for instance, to grow up without having ever been out of the presence of other people, so crowded were the conditions. One thing was to us surprising and significant. Poor as our people were, always on the edge, at least, of utter destitution, they scarcely ever came to us for material assistance. They had the pride of their race, honest German peasants or craftsmen, and they wanted to feel that what they had of religion was not spoiled for them by mendicancy and material dependence. When we had a two weeks’ Mission at Holy Cross Church, under the Cowley Fathers our people gave, from their scant earnings, nearly five hundred dollars for the expenses of the Mission.”

Those who know the pathos and tragedy of work amongst the poor, haloed as it always is with something close akin to romance, can understand the life that the Order lived on the East Side. It was a drive, but a happy drive. In and out of the lofty tenements, day and night seeking out the sick, the poor; ministering incessantly to bodies and souls—in such a work every day offered opportunities for cementing sacred spiritual relationships that filled life with a satisfaction which those who have not ministered under such conditions can never know.

From An American Cloister: The Life and Work of the Order of the Holy Cross by Shirley Carter Hughson, O.H.C. (West Park, N.Y.: Holy Cross Press, 1948). http://anglicanhistory.org/religious/hughson_cloister1948/02.html

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