Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Accurately Remembering Bishop Scanlan

Yesterday I wrote and uploaded a post on our parish blog entitled The deacon's office in which I relate what a truly wonderful experience it is to toil in the Cathedral's rectory, particularly in what was formerly Bishop Lawrence Scanlan's bedroom. After being kindly corrected by our diocesan historian and archivist, Dr. Gary Topping, about the details of the bishop's death, it dawned on me that it had been far too long since I had done any serious reading on the history of our local Church. With the recent kick-off of our three year Centennial campaign at the Cathedral and the rapidly approaching installation of the Most Reverend John C. Wester as the eighth successor of Bishop Scanlan, it seems an opportune time to remember this great pioneer.

On page 104 of Salt of the Earth: The History of the Catholic Diocese in Utah 1776-1987, I re-read these words which my eyes had not passed over in more than 10 years. The words are those of then-Father Francis Clement Kelley, founder of the Catholic Church Extension Society and later the bishop of Oklahoma City/Tulsa. The passage is taken from his memoir The Bishop Jots it Down, published in 1938. This meeting took place, as Bishop Kelley's account makes abundantly clear, when Bishop Scanlan, after a life of hardship and sacrifice, was in decline.

On the way to California I stopped off to see Bishop Scanlan of Salt Lake City. I can close my eyes and see him still, but his type exists no longer. It is a trite old saying that men are moulded by their environment. Bishop Scanlan was the living reproduction of the mountains, the plains, and skies of his field of long missionary labor. There was about not a sign that he had ever for a single minute permitted himself to forget the problem that was his. It had worsted him but he had not given up." Bishop Kelley continues with his observation "that battle was" Lawrence Scanlan's "natural element". Bishop Kelley continues his remembrance by fleshing out the description in accordance with his seeing in Bishop Scanlan something of his environment by writing: "His brows were tilted downward as if to shade his eyes from a desert sun. The eyes themselves looked as if they had appraised many men and found them wanting. He walked, even in the house, with the heavy tread of the mountain man. He spoke few but direct and plain words. His voice was not attuned to the niceties of diplomacy."

He then relays that the Bishop Scanlan refused the money offered by the fledgling extension society saying, "It would only do us harm". He then expressed pessimism about the Utah Church's prospects by telling Kelley to give money to others "where there is hope".

However, Bishop Kelley, even after relaying this bit of negativity, maintains a healthy, compassionate, and accurate perspective by stating that he "left Salt Lake City that night, not wishing to change the old man's mind even if I could." In Kelley's assessment, Bishop Lawrence Scanlan "was what hard toil and long service in a hard land had made him. Here he had taken up his burden and here he would lay it down. He had heard a Sermon on the Mount and would stay to practice what it taught as best he could. The grip of his hand when I left him told me that."

Bernice Mooney then nicely summarizes the life of Lawrence Scanlan by quoting the words, "the life of a missionary is a slow martyrdom". But his life, in my view, is even better summarized by the words he no doubt heard from his Lord and Master, whom he served with all his heart, might, mind, and strength: "Well done, my good and faithful servant" (Matt 25,23). According to W. Paul Reeve, in his article Father Lawrence Scanlan Established Catholic Church in Utah, drawing heavily on the work of Robert J.Dwyer, writes about the death of Lawrence Scanlan, which occurred on 10 May 1915 "in the presence of attending sisters, Scanlan raised his cross to his lips, kissed it, and peacefully died. Fittingly, in honor of his last request, he was interred beneath the sanctuary of St. Mary Magdalene's, the cathedral he helped to build".

For more readily accessible information on the life of Bishop Scanlan see Gary Topping's Bishop Scanlan and his The Human Side of Bishop Scanlan, both of which are installments in his on-going occasional series, From the Archives, on the Diocese of Salt Lake City's website. For further reading, which I intend to do, Dr. Topping informs me that the April 1952 issue of the Utah Historical Quarterly contains a biography of Bishop Scanlan written by Robert J. Dwyer. Dwyer, a priest of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, remains our only native son to become a bishop. However, he is the second priest of our diocese to be ordained a bishop. The first was Bishop Duane Garrison Hunt. Bishop Hunt was not a native Utahn, he came here as an adult and it was here that he converted to the Catholic faith. As a bishop Dwyer first led the Diocese of Reno, of which he was only the second bishop and which was created from territory taken from the Dioceses of Salt Lake City and Sacramento, before moving on to become Archbishop of Portland, Oregon. The title of the article is Pioneer Bishop: Lawrence Scanlan, 1843-1915, beginning on page 135 of volume 20. Archbishop Dwyer was himself a trained and active historian. You can read about him in Dr. Topping's Robert J. Dwyer and the Writing of Utah History in the Winter 2003 issue of the same publication.

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