Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Divesting from Fossil Fuels

Global_Carbon_Emissions.svgIt’s official – 2014 was the hottest year on record. And most everyone I talk to is concerned about the threat that global warming and climate change, with their potentially devastating and possibly permanent consequences, pose to the lives and livelihoods of our children and grandchildren.

Scientists tell us that sea levels and water temperatures are rising, imperiling coastal populations, as well as regional environments and economies; that sea ice is being lost and glaciers receding at unprecedented rates or disappearing altogether; that seasons and plant and animal ranges are shifting and habitat vanishing, threatening to drive entire species of animals to extinction; that weather patterns are becoming more erratic and less predictable; and that worldwide, the number, intensity, and resilience of violent tropical storms is increasing. They warn that other potential future effects of global climate change include more frequent wildfires, more severe heat waves, sustained periods of drought in certain regions, and unprecedented winter weather conditions in others; all of which jeopardize fresh water supplies, wildlife, and in some instances, indigenous people and their ways of life. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Women’s History: Battling Bishop Doane

P1A WCDoane1896“Woman cannot do man’s work. There is not, in my opinion, any mental equality between the sexes…. Women are just as bright as men, but they are less logical, more moved by impulses and instincts…. Each sex must confine itself to certain sorts of occupation, men being unable to do much of women’s work, as women are unable to do much of men’s.”

What a great quotation to open with during Women’s History Month. As you may have guessed, those words were spoken long ago—1909, in fact. The statement alone was disturbing enough, even back then, but what made it worse was the source: not an illiterate, but one of the most powerful and influential men in upstate New York. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Early Morning On The Cabin Porch

Howard Zahniser at Mataskared, Crane Mtn in backgroundThe importance of religion is not so much the forgiveness of sins as it is awareness and gratitude, I tell my sons, Eric and Justin, aged twelve and fifteen, respectively. Amazing grace throbs in daily life, I tell them. There are debts of love owed life.

We are not Jewish, but I sometimes think it would be easier for me to teach them the Hebrew language, which I do not know, than to tell them about this untellable story, which, in a way, I do know. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

John Todd’s ‘Long Lake’ Recalls The 1840s

Long Lake Church in the WildernessThe Long Lake Historical Society has voted to acquire a first edition of John Todd’s book, Long Lake.

First printed in 1845, this small volume was written after Todd’s fourth trip to Long Lake. He first arrived in September, 1841 and found eight or ten families “scattered along towards the head of the lake. . . .They lived in their little log houses, and their little boats were their horses, and the lake their only path.” » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dr. King’s Struggle For Economic Justice Being Celebrated

dr martin luther king being attacked during a nonviolent march for the chicago freedom movement in 1966On Sunday, April 6, 2014 at 3 pm at the First Presbyterian Church in Saranac Lake, the Tri-Lakes will celebrate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and continue his fight for economic justice. The Saranac Lake Ecumenical Council, local clergy, and dreamers of Dr. King’s dream are sponsoring this event. Dr. King’s efforts to achieve economic justice for all will be celebrated through his words and the music of the Civil Rights Movement.

There will be an eyewitness testimony from a local resident who worked alongside Cesar Chavez; excerpts from the Dr. King’s writings will be read, and the singing of music from the movement. A free will donation will be accepted to support Samaritan House, the Saranac Lake Ecumenical Council’s Homeless Shelter initiative. Afterward, refreshments will be served in the Great Hall. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Planned Parenthood Street Fight Underway in Glens Falls

Photo by R.K. Cowles PhotographyResponding to a “40 Days of Prayer” movement that vows to close the Glens Falls Planned Parenthood, a group of counter-protesters has been facing anti-abortion protesters for the past several weeks on the street in front of the women’s health clinic.  The group is calling itself “Get Your Girl On” and intends to carry out their own “40 Days of Appreciation.”

Coinciding with two Glens Falls Chronicle stories pro-choice protesters called “anti-abortion” and “promotional”, the “40 Days of Prayer” campaign has turned-up the pressure outside the Planned Parenthood offices.

Anti-abortion crusader and local realtor Susan Balfour has purchased the house next door and announced she will be moving the Open Arms Pregnancy Center there from its current location in her real estate office.  Another developer, Rocco Musumeci,  recently purchased the building across the street and announced his plans to open an anti-abortion “adoption agency” there. That building has been decorated with life-sized statues of Jesus and Mary that overlook protestors.  » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lake George Church Tapped for NYS, National Registers

St James Episcopal Church in Lake GeorgeThe New York State Board for Historic Preservation has recommended the addition of 20 properties, resources, and districts to the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Just one of the recommendations is located in the Adirondack Park, St. James Episcopal Church in Lake George. Just five are located North of the Mohawk River.

“Survival of these noteworthy places is crucial in preserving the great diversity of New York’s communities,” said Rose Harvey, Commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “Placing these landmarks on the State and National Registers of Historic Places will offer well-deserved recognition along with tools to help them last into the future.” » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Adirondac: The Search for the Church of Tubal Cain

Tubal Cain on North Elba 1858 Land MapToday I return to my series on the McIntyre Mines, the Settlement of Adirondac and the romantic sense of the past the area embodies.  Being a ghost town, and an area of historical significance dating back nearly two centuries, the remains of the works, village, and private club possess an unmistakable aura of mystery.

This sense of the unknown, of the forgotten lives and fortunes of those who partook of Archibald McIntyre’s enterprise, extends beyond the experiences of wondering visitors who are discovering it for the first time or the hundredth.  Indeed, despite the fact that the history of Adirondac has been well-chronicled and that primary documents abound (mostly in the form of letters and business records) there are many things that remain legitimate mysteries to this day.  For example there were several furnaces  that were built or improved during the nearly thirty years the proprietors tried to make a go of it.  We still do not know where all of them were located.  We do not know where the original log boarding house sat, nor do we know where the great guide John Cheney lived during his many-year association with the mines. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Scene from Kateri Tekakwitha’s Fonda Shrine

As I was leaving St. Peter’s Chapel Friday, a white van with New Jersey plates pulled up. Nine young, smiling nuns filed out. They were dressed in the white and blue-striped saris of the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s order. They opened an off-kilter screen door and entered the dusky chapel. I followed, conspicuously tall, pale and bareheaded at the end of the line. The sisters walked to the front of the church, knelt before a cross and sang “O What Could My Jesus Do More.” I listened for a minute then left them alone.

I had come to the National Shrine of Kateri Tekakwitha, south of the Adirondack Park in Fonda, expecting signs of anticipation. Pope Benedict XVI canonized the Mohawk-Algonquin woman this morning, the first Native American saint.

But until the nuns arrived I had the place to myself. The chapel occupies the second story of a red clapboard building housing a Native American exhibit on the first. I put $2 in the slot of a box and went to light a votive by a wooden statue of Kateri in buckskin and long loose braids. There were no matches, no holy church-candle smell; the votives were electric—push down on a plastic covering and a light clicks on. I knelt and realized that nothing from childhood religious instruction prepared me for what prayer to say before this most proximate yet entirely new kind of saint.
» Continue Reading.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sandy Hildreth: Exploring Adirondack Landscape Art

As a former high school Art and Humanities teacher, one of my favorite time periods of American history was the mid-nineteenth century when the Hudson River School of Painting was at its peak. Thomas Cole had sparked the whole movement with his first paintings of Katerskill Falls and other Catskill wilderness scenes in 1825. Prior to that time, only one of every ten paintings was a landscape, but by the 1850’s, nine of every ten were paintings of wild American places.

At the very same time that our country was on the path to fulfill the charge of Manifest Destiny! Settlers were cutting down trees, damming rivers, clearing fields and building roads. The Erie Canal had just opened and railroads were pushing farther and farther into the remote areas of the continent. From a limited number of landscapes that were merely backdrops for pastoral farm, military encampment, or village scenes to an abundance of masterful paintings of unspoiled wilderness was quite a development and it had more of an impact than many people realize.

The popularity of American wilderness landscapes in the 19th century is partly due to the new, young Republic’s search for a heritage that was not linked to Europe. The political break of the Revolution had left America a newly born nation without a past. European painting was based on tradition and history. They had mythology, ancient Greek and Roman ruins, medieval castles, Gothic cathedrals, and centuries of civilization to glorify or refer to in their various art forms. America had the heroes of the Revolution, but not much more. In “Fair Wilderness: American Paintings in the Collection of the Adirondack Museum” Thomas Cole is quoted as saying that the most distinctive characteristic of the region was its wildness, “distinctive because in civilized Europe the primitive features of scenery have long since been destroyed or modified – the extensive forests that once over shadowed a great part of it have been felled – rugged mountains have been smoothed, and impetuous rivers turned from their courses… the once tangled wood is now a grassy lawn…”.

Cole’s biographer wrote that in the spring of 1823 “It was now that a great thought came to Cole, and told him he had gone to work wrong. Hitherto he had been trying mainly to make up nature from his own mind, instead of making up his mind from nature. This now flashed on him as a radical mistake. He must not only muse abroad in nature, and catch her spirit, but gain for his eye and hand a mastery over all that was visible in her outward, material form, if he would have his pictures breathe of her spirit.”

In 1825 Cole moved with his family to New York City and a painting placed in a store window sold for $10 and financed a sketching trip up the Hudson River that autumn. That trip, which corresponded to the 10 day celebration marking the opening of the Erie Canal, resulted in 3 new paintings, which sold immediately after being put on display in New York city, and the era of the Hudson River School began. The name was coined because most of the paintings were produced within the Hudson River watershed – the river valley itself, the Catskills, and the Adirondacks.

Popular philosophy of the early 19th century associated nature with virtue and civilization with degeneracy and evil. Artists like Thomas Cole, and writers like Emerson and Cooper believed nature to be synonymous with both personal and national health and viewed the city, the bank, and the railroad as producing sickness by encroaching upon nature and finally by destroying it. Cole illustrated these beliefs in several of his allegorical series of paintings like “The Course of Empire”. It showed that the replacement of nature by civilization results in the ultimate collapse of civilization. When combined with the growing national pride, it seems that Cole’s wilderness paintings became “an effective substitute for a missing national tradition. America was thus both new and old”. ‘New’ in being previously undiscovered, with unsettled, wild territories, and ‘old’ in terms of the ancient wild mountains, older than mankind.

Our wilderness became a substitute for the European historical past. It also became linked directly with the divine destiny believed to belong to Americans – that the continent was there for us. In a nation founded on concepts of religious freedom, and whose Protestant colonists practiced their religion in environments devoid of religious art, 19th century landscape painting almost becomes our religious art, the essence of the spiritual beliefs of the country. We proclaimed separation of church and state, yet never abandoned the belief in “God on our side” as we conquered the wilderness and the virgin bounty of the continent.

The spiritual message contained in many of the landscapes of the Hudson River era was repeatedly mentioned in the literature of the era. From “The Knickerbocker”, in 1835: “God has promised us a renowned existence, if we will but deserve it. He speaks of this promise in the sublimity of Nature. It resounds all along the crags of the Alleghenies. It is uttered in the thunder of the Niagara. It is heard in the roar of two oceans, from the great Pacific to the rocky ramparts of the Bay of Fundy. His finger has written it in the broad expanse of our Inland Seas, and traced it out by the mighty Father of the Waters! The august TEMPLE in which we dwell was built for lofty purposes. Oh! that we may consecrate it to LIBERTY and CONCORD, and be found fit worshipers within its holy wall!” America’s Transcendentalists, like Emerson and Thoreau, believed that bonding with nature’s solitude and silence nurtured spiritual development and character. The paintings mirrored these beliefs.

Tied to the spiritual message was current aesthetic philosophy. Landscape painting was usually classified as sublime or beautiful and picturesque. European landscapes were generally considered picturesque, with their ancient ruins and craggy, snow-capped Alps. Because America was lacking in the picturesque, and also since much of the known landscape consisted of split rail fences and burnt or hacked off trees, the unknown, wilderness scenery, vast and diverse, was easily accepted, once artists began painting it.

The sublime aspect of the wilderness landscape was also apparently well discussed in artistic circles. While scenes could easily be rendered beautiful and picturesque, to evoke the sublime, was uniquely special. Sublime is the addition of something terrifying, fear or awe-inspiring in its power or potential – bringing to the viewer a feeling for Divine authority or design. Many of the Hudson River artists intentionally included the sublime in their paintings – the distant threatening storm clouds, dramatic sunsets, the rushing, over-powering torrent of a cascading waterfall, or the gnarled and broken tree, evidence of the awesome power of nature (God).

In “Kindred Spirits”, the strong connection between the artists and writers of the Hudson River region was exposed. The rawness of the American landscape, with its lack of polish and historic ruins, came to be ignored by both artists and writers who focused on the wildness and freshness of the New World. The writers created and publicized the legends and folklore in characters like Rip Van Winkle, Ichabod Crane and Natty Bumppo. The lack of a past was replaced with the unlimited potential for the future and the relatively new historical sites, like Fort Ticonderoga could substitute for the missing ancient ruins. So while the writers were supporting and describing a positive, patriotic recognition of the assets of the continent, the artists capitalized on this with their paintings. In response, they received public praise from the writers, and the artists also published their own poems and essays in support of their work. For nearly 50 years, the Hudson River School painters and the Knickerbocker writers enjoyed common and self-supporting popularity. It is interesting to note that this mutual focus on the uniqueness of America extended right through and past the Civil War, almost totally ignoring it.

Paintings: “Katerskill Falls”, by Thomas Cole and “Twilight in the Wilderness” by Frederic Church.


Monday, February 6, 2012

The Chazy Native Who Upturned Mormon Politics

During the ongoing battle for the Republican nomination, a candidate’s religion has sometimes surfaced as an issue. The intent was to scare voters and create a negative feeling about the candidate whenever the religion is mentioned. In this case, the candidate is Mitt Romney and the religion is Mormonism. It’s interesting that fear and loathing of Mormons coming to power is not a new thing. In the 19th century, when they dominated life in the Utah Territory for several decades prior to statehood, a fierce battle was waged between two religious factions.

Many factors came into play before things were resolved. In one of the climactic moments that helped eliminate a powerful theocracy, a North Country man ended the Mormon’s 43-year rule of their greatest bastion, Salt Lake City.

George Montgomery Scott was born in July 1835 in Chazy, New York. From northern Clinton County, he moved West during California’s gold rush. In San Francisco, he established a successful hardware business, supplying the tools of the trade to hundreds of miners.

In 1871, in pursuit of new opportunities, Scott moved to the Utah Territory, where many mines were in early development. Besides investing in the Crystal Gold and Silver Mining Company, he also established the very successful George M. Scott Hardware in Salt Lake City.

As a member of the Lily Park Stock Growers Association in Colorado, he frequently dabbled in horses and range stock. In one transaction alone, Scott purchased 60 railcars of cattle (over 1000 head). The man obviously had plenty of money. Known as one of Salt Lake City’s leading businessmen, he traveled in first-class accommodations to several states and territories on both business and pleasure trips.

The downside among all this financial success was Utah Territory’s political atmosphere. Non-Mormons had virtually no voice in government because Mormons (a very high percentage of the population) were strictly bound by church rules, which applied to their entire lives, not just their religious activities. They generally voted as a bloc, which gave them absolute control of government. And unlike federal law, they allowed suffrage, in effect doubling their voting power.

When the US expanded westward, winning the Mexican-American War added vast new territory to the nation. Mormon leaders in Salt Lake City grasped the opportunity to firmly establish a power base. Statehood was applied for under the name Deseret. Had they been successful, the newest American state (Deseret) would have encompassed modern-day Utah, most of Arizona and Nevada, plus parts of California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wyoming. Officers were elected to represent Deseret, led by Governor Brigham Young.

At the federal level, the State of Deseret’s application was denied because of two main issues: the proposed size was too large, and the controversial policy of polygamy was incompatible with American law. Since Mormon rules governed people’s religious and civil life, Washington legislators were doubtful about their future adherence to the laws of the land. Technically, the denial came because the area fell short of one requirement for statehood, a minimum population of 60,000.

The application was modified in 1850 to embrace what became known as the Utah Territory, and with congressional and presidential approval, Brigham Young was appointed as governor.

During the next four decades, at least six applications for Utah statehood were denied. There were many impediments, but the territory had become a virtual theocratic state controlled by the Mormons. Added to that was the ultimate deal-breaker: polygamy. To the adherents of other religions, plural marriage made Mormons nothing more than heathens.

For decades, the struggle for control of the Utah Territory was much more a religious battle than a political one. Progress was slow, but the non-Mormons made inroads, supported by federal laws outlawing bigamy and the president’s official removal of Brigham Young as governor in 1857.

Young resisted the order and prepared for war when federal troops were dispatched (the standoff became known as the Utah War, although no battles were actually fought). It is testament to Mormon power that, despite the setbacks, they maintained control of the territory for three more decades.

One reason for that dominance was revealed by a simple head count. In 1870, Salt Lake City’s population was about 90 percent Mormon, a number that would gradually decline during the great western migration.

Religious differences are often the root causes of war, and in Utah, that’s what dominated politics. Unlike most of the nation, Utah had no Democratic or Republican parties. Instead, it was the Liberals (the anti-Mormons) versus the People’s Party (the Mormons).

The anti-Mormons made gains over the years, particularly in Tooele County, which became known as the Republic of Tooele when residents voted the Liberals into power for a five-year period. During that time, it created an odd situation. Tooele leaders, under the Liberal flag, instituted women’s suffrage.

While it may have worked well in Tooele County, the Territory’s Liberal Party was forced to oppose the measure. Independent women might vote their own minds, but the Mormons already practiced suffrage, which added to their power because the Mormons generally voted as a bloc.

Anti-Mormons gained small victories here and there, gaining a more solid footing. Dramatic changes in the character of the population aided their cause. By the late 1880s, it was estimated that Salt Lake Mormons had been reduced from 90 percent to about 50 percent of the city’s head count.

The bitter battle came to a head in the 1880s with the aggressive enforcement of new laws against polygamy. Within that atmosphere, the fight against religious rule was won in several more communities. While it may have had a political face, the conflict was between two sets of church beliefs.

The ultimate seat of Mormon power, Salt Lake City, had remained untouchable for four decades. What many saw as the death knell of Mormon political control came in 1890. The results were touted across the country as the most important election of the year. For the first time, Salt Lake City had elected a non-Mormon mayor.

The victor was George Montgomery Scott, born and raised in Clinton County, New York. It was a prodigious victory, creating hundreds of media headlines.

With Scott assuming control in what had long been the Mormon center of power, change came swiftly to both sides. Latter Day Saints President Wilford Woodruff soon issued the Woodruff Manifesto, forever revising church doctrine with the line, “I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.”

With the grudging acceptance of federal marriage law by the official church, the crux of the problem was suddenly gone. The Mormons, always politically astute, disbanded the Peoples’ Party within a year and directed its followers to the nation’s two major national parties, Democrats and Republicans.

The Liberals were slower to move, but did the same two years later. Since that time, the Mormons have always held great sway in Utah politics, but well short of the control they once tried to parlay into a Vatican-like theocracy. No matter how great your god is, that’s a tough sell in a democracy.

The newly elected mayor of Salt Lake City was virulently anti-Mormon and a devout Episcopal, reflecting one facet of the religious war that shook the West. A number of issues ruled Utah’s early development, but a prominent theme was “my god is better than your god,” the basic foundation of so much strife in the world’s history. In Utah, the god issue came to a head over the concept of plural marriage.

George Montgomery Scott commanded center stage for only two years. The mayoral run was his only foray into politics in a career devoted principally to the world of business and community development. He was a commissioner of the 1883 World’s Fair, treasurer of the Utah Eastern Railroad, a founding member of the Utah Stock Exchange, and supported Episcopal hospitals and churches. His election victory, once the biggest news in the nation, is now a footnote in history

Due to illness and age, Scott sold his business interests in 1904 and retired to California. He died of pneumonia in San Mateo in 1915.

Photos: George Montgomery Scott; advertisement for hardware business.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Philosophy: Aldo Leopold, Heresy and Prophecy

I was nineteen when I first considered what has become a personally recurrent theme: what is the role of the divine in an aesthetic life? Is a beautiful life animated by the poetic mysteries?

One etymological reading of “atheism” is to be abandoned by the gods, godless. And as if abandonment wasn’t enough to spur repentance, a beloved and deeply spiritual teacher once told me that to be an atheist is to declare a world without the divine.

Why, I wondered, does that world seem as attractive as a strip mall, so terribly un-poetic and not at all like a reality that I want to inhabit? My attempts to answer this question have charted an interesting intellectual and (dare I say) spiritual course. It’s true that a godless world isn’t absent its natural beauty, but in a godless world I am confined to behold it without mysticism.

I prefer Emerson’s belief that “the world exists to the soul to satisfy the desire of beauty.” If only so I can observe with him “…the spectacle of morning from the hilltop over against my house, from daybreak to sunrise, with emotions which an angel might share. […] I seem to partake its rapid transformations; the active enchantment reaches my dust, and I dilate and conspire with the morning wind.” At the same time I resist Thoreau’s disenchantment when he writes of spirit, “however much it is to be regretted, with years I have grown more coarse and indifferent. Perhaps these questions are entertained only in youth, as most believe of poetry.”

Throughout history poets, painters, philosophers, musicians have drawn on the human condition and its mysteries to inspire their craft – from Emerson’s Christianity to Thoreau’s reliance on the Hindu Vedas. After all, society expects this from those of us in the humanities who seek to understand what it means to be human. I share their desire for a beautiful life animated by spirit, enlivened by the mysterious and written in poetry. This desire fuels a personal resistance to an explainable life. In this I am at least in pretty good company. Among others, conservationist Aldo Leopold who considers it fortunate that “no matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all of the salient facts about any one of them.”

I was thinking of this and of Leopold recently when a colleague in biology compared Leopold and his Land Ethic with the prophet Muhammad and Christ. Did I hear what I think I heard? Certainly the Transcendental style of Leopold’s predecessors can be read in Leopold’s own, and as often as Thoreau resisted doctrinal spirituality, he embraced naturalism and animism in turn. I would even argue that it is impossible to read Thoreau’s chapter titled “Where I Lived and What I Lived For” in Walden without recalling Leopold’s chapter called “July” in the Sand County Almanac. And as influences go, Leopold’s voice emerges also in concert with his contemporary John Muir. Muir’s observations on the Wisconsin prairie are cited in Leopold’s Almanac and call to mind Muir’s description of the great forests of the western United States as “God’s first temples.”

Nevertheless it is one thing to acknowledge a spiritual quality in our own work and in the work of someone like Leopold; to chart his influences back to a mostly Christian origin provides context and reveals some of what is unspoken in philosophy and science. And it is another thing entirely to elevate the work and the man to the level of prophet. We would do well to remember that heresy and prophecy are two sides of the same coin and they make dangerous the critique that is essential to responsible scholarship.

Marianne Patinelli-Dubay is a philosopher living, teaching and writing in the Adirondacks

Photo from The Aldo Leopold Foundation


Monday, April 18, 2011

Local History: Liberian Pioneer Jehudi Ashmun

Thursday, April 21, marks the birthday of one of the most famous men you never heard of, and surely the least known of all North Country figures who once graced the world stage. It is also appropriate to recall his story at this time for two other reasons. It has ties to slavery and the Civil War during this, the year marking the 150th anniversary of America’s darkest period. And, in relation to current world news, it involves fighting for change in Africa.

If you’re well familiar with the work of Jehudi Ashmun, you’re in a very small minority. Even in his hometown, little has been done to mark his achievements other than a single roadside historical marker. And yet, if you look, you’ll find him in dozens of encyclopedias and reference books as an important part of African and Liberian history. » Continue Reading.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Paulist Fathers Ponder Future of LG Lands

The Paulist Fathers, the Roman Catholic order founded by the 19th century American transcendentalist Isaac Hecker, celebrated its 140th summer on Lake George in 2008.

More than 200 people boarded the Lac du St. Sacrement for a cruise that took them past St. Mary’s on the Lake, the 76 acre retreat on the east side with thousands of feet of undisturbed shoreline, and down the lake to the Harbor Islands, where the Paulists erected a chapel in 1903.

Now, two years later, the leaders of the order are debating how best to preserve those properties; if, that is, they can be preserved.

On Tuesday, September 14, the order’s new president and its officers met in New York to discuss a proposal that would allow St. Mary’s on the Lake to be used as a campus for local colleges’ environmental studies programs during the school year.

In December, a meeting will be held in Washington to discuss other possibilities, such as selling conservation easements to ensure the properties will remain undeveloped, or permitting weddings to be held at St. Mary’s and even at Harbor Islands.

“The Paulists have not decided what to do, but they have to do something,” said Michael Stafford, a Lake George attorney who serves as the order’s local counsel.
The Paulists’ new president, Father Michael McGarry, took office in May with a mandate to improve the order’s financial condition, said Father Ken McGuire, the director of St. Mary’s.

In a formal statement upon taking office, Father McGarry said, “We will no doubt have to make some painful choices about curtailing ministries in some areas. The most important thing is that the Paulist mission will not become diluted.”

According to Father McGuire, the tenuous state of the order’s finances should come as no surprise.

“We’ve always been a small community,” said McGuire. “At our largest, we had 276 priests; that was in 1976, when Time magazine said we were more influential than the Jesuits, which had 43,000 priests.”

No more than 127 priests now belong to the order, and of those 127, 53 of them are over the age of 70, said McGuire.

Some of them require care for medical conditions, which increases the order’s annual expenses, said McGuire, a spry, fit 80 year-old himself.

Those ranks have not been replenished by younger priests who will manage the order’s operations , such as the Paulist Press, the nation’s foremost publisher of theological works, or The Catholic World, its magazine.

Recruiting new priests is another priority of his administration, Father McGarry said in his inaugural statement.

“On a theoretical level, it is incomprehensible why men in their 20s, 30s and 40s are not entering the Paulist seminary because our mission is so exciting, so challenging and so fulfilling,” he said. “However, you look at the reality and realize the need to address the practical challenges to men entering the seminary,” McGarry said.

Every Paulist priest but one (who died in 1865) has spent at least part of every summer on Lake George, said Father McGuire, who is completing his 48th summer at the lake.

In the past, priests and seminarians tended to come for an entire summer; these days, they come, for the most part, only in August, when forty to fifty people might be in residence.

The days are unstructured; the priests are given three meals a day and encouraged to occupy their time as they see fit.

Some swim, boat and rock on the porch with a book, as anyone would while vacationing on Lake George. Others retreat to the Harbor Islands for privacy and contemplation.

“We have one priest who brings more books with him than clothes,” said McGuire.
Idyllic as it sounds, a vacation on Lake George is not always an easy sell, said McGuire.

“We think of Lake George as a million dollar vacation,” said McGuire. “But some of these modern kids need the cities where it’s daylight 24 hours a day; some can’t swim. A month in the country? My God, you’d think the sky had fallen in!”

Rather than allowing St Mary’s on the Lake to remain vacant in June and July, the Paulists host retreats for priests, nuns and lay people on topics as diverse as religion and quantum physics; peacemaking in the middle east; and dance as a form of meditation.

This past summer, McGuire himself, a cultural anthropologist who spent most of his career teaching at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, led a retreat entitled “Spiritual Discovery through Movies.”

Tuition fees range from $200 to $450 per person, depending upon the length of the retreat, and participants stay on the campus.

The oldest building on the grounds dates to 1875. In addition to a chapel, boat house and cottage, the facilities include two large two-story buildings, the Student House and the Priest House, which contain bedrooms, common rooms and kitchens. The Priest House was designed by Isaac Hecker himself and built with materials of his choice.

According to Father McGuire, he was especially partial to the wood of chestnuts, the tree that once flourished on the shores of Lake George.

Hecker’s bedroom is preserved in a condition very similar to, if not the same as, the state in which it was left after he spent his last summer on the lake, in 1888.

Even if underused, the buildings require maintenance and improvements, and some may need to be replaced, said McGuire.

Asked if the Paulists would ever sell the property, McGuire said, “Over several dead bodies, including my own!”

But, he acknowledged, at least one member of the Paulists’ previous administration had advocated selling the property to raise funds for the order.

“We would only sell it if we were to go bankrupt, and that’s a very, very remote possibility,” said McGuire.

Programs and activities that would make selling the property unnecessary, such as using it for an environmental education center or for weddings, must be scrutinized by attorneys to make certain they don’t compromise St. Mary’s status as a not-for-profit organization, McGuire said.

“We’re meeting with committed, serious members of the Lake George community to weigh these and other options,” said McGuire. “We need to think about what we want to accomplish here during the next hundred years.”

Photos of Harbor Islands and St Mary’s on the Lake, Lake George Mirror

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Adirondack Vigilantism Lecture in Wilmington

The Wilmington Historical Society will be hosting a program with historian and author Amy Godine entitled “Have You Seen That Vigilante Man?” to be held on Friday, July 30th at 7 pm at the Wilmington Community Center on Springfield Road in Wilmington.

Night riders, white cappers and vigilante strikes; the darker side of American mob justice was not confined to the Deep South or the Far West. Adirondack history is ablaze with flashes of “frontier justice,” from farmers giving chase to horse thieves to “townie” raids on striking immigrant miners to the anti-Catholic rallies of the KKK. Amy Godine’s anecdotal history of Adirondack vigilantism plumbs a regional legacy with deep, enduring roots, and considers what about the North Country made it fertile and forgiving ground for outlaw activity. » Continue Reading.