Retreat master, Gunn rides rails west, part II

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward

JACKSON – In the last episode we had travelled with Bishop Gunn out West for a series of retreats. He had just arrived in Seattle on Aug. 14, 1918 and found himself with a week before his next engagement.
Seizing a few days off, he left Seattle and made his way across the border to British Columbia in Canada. Bishop Gunn had visited this part of the world before and he comments on its progress, although he makes a very “Gunnian” comment about war rations and the inhabitants of this British province.

“I left Seattle and went up the Puget Sound and spent a few days in Victoria and British Columbia. This was during the hottest part of the war when the Americas were eating stale bread, doing without sugar, sparing of everything and it was strange to find in the British Dominion that restrictions were unheard of. We were starving ourselves for the British and they were growing fat on our service and sacrifice.”

Wow. Bishop Gunn’s candor and wit are priceless moments of discovery. The journey continues below:
“I had been in Victoria and British Columbia years before, but the change and the betterment of both places was a distinct surprise. The trip on the Sound was ideal and when I got back to Seattle I was sorry to leave it.

“Seattle had grown from 20,000 to 600,000 between my two visits although there was not more than ten or fifteen years between the two. I had stopped in a little wooden frame hotel called the Washington. I looked for the same place in 1918 to find a hotel almost as big as the Waldorf-Astoria of New York.

“I enjoyed the week’s rest and left Sunday the 18th for Portland where I was booked to preach the retreat for the Archdiocese from the 19th to the 23rd. Archbishop Christie received me like a prince. I was comfortably installed in the Holy Cross College known as Columbia University and I found the priests attentive and respectful.

“There were about 85 in attendance. I gathered that the men would rather talk then mediate and it was like squeezing blood out of a turnip to me to give six original talks each day. However, I did it and they enjoyed it.

“At the close of the retreat, we had a big dinner at the Archbishop’s house and I was surprised to meet there Mgr. Kelley of [Catholic] Extension and Chas. Denechaud of New Orleans. After dinner we took a drive on probably the finest highway in America – the famous Oregon Highway which runs along the Dalles for fifty or sixty miles and affords scenery which cannot be duplicated anywhere.
“I left Portland for Helena arriving there on August 26th to begin a retreat which ended on the seventh anniversary of my consecration, August 29th.

“There were about eighty priests present and there was more formality in Helena than in St. Paul’s, St. Cloud or in Portland. The bishop, Bishop Carroll, assisted from the throne vested in all his glad rags.
“I tried some heavy stuff on the first day, but I found that the priests were human like everybody else and I switched to things practical and pastoral, with the result that we had really a very interested, I was told, and enthusiastic retreat.

“On Thursday a surprise, and frankly a very welcome one, came to me. The bishop was all apologies and told me that he was up against it – that some state law had come into effect on which all the priests had to take immediate action in view of getting St. Charles’ College accredited as a war college during the period of the war.

“The bishop said it was vital to the diocese that the priests should all hurry home and get busy pulling political strings on Friday and Saturday and make college announcements on the following Sunday. I yielded with internal joy and external resignation.

“The bishop asked me to give a closing lecture on education and as a talk like that needed no preparation on my part, I satisfied the bishop and primed the priests for their work, especially on the following Sunday. The result of their action was that St. Charles got the appointment.

“On Thursday night I left with the priests and many of them came as far as Butte and among them was an ex-Marist who was pastor of one of the Butte churches. I had taught this man in Washington in 1892. He was a little scatter brained and his assignment to Salt Lake College gave him wanderlust and he managed to get identified with the Diocese of Helena. He was a good fellow and I really enjoyed him.

“I got away from Butte on the night of August 29th and spent the two remaining days of August on the train. On September 1st I arrived in Chicago where I ran into a well-organized strike. This strike was among the cabmen, taxi drivers and streetcar men and I found myself at the railroad station and no means to get myself to a hotel.

“The strike was thorough and not a wheel could be turned in Chicago for money. I was in such a pickle that I threw timidity to the winds and asked a gentleman who was driving a private auto to take me to my hotel.

“I was in a city of churches on Sunday, September 1st and I could not find a Catholic Church in Chicago, with the result that I neither said Mass nor heard Mass – a nice example of a man who had been preaching retreats to priests for about a month.”

This concludes our world wind 1918 summer journey across the continent with Bishop Gunn. I hope it gives us a better understanding of and appreciation for our early church leaders in this country. Quite the time…

(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)