The Resurrection of Alta

by Francis Clement Kelley

FATHER BROIDY rushed down the stone steps and ran toward the Bishop's carriage which had just stopped at the curb. He flung open the door before the driver could alight, kissed the ring on the hand extended him, helped its owner out and with a beaming face led the Bishop to the pretty and comfortable rectory.

"Welcome! welcome to Alta, Bishop," he said as they entered the house, "and sure the whole Deanery is here to back it up."

The Bishop smiled as the clergy trooped down the stairs echoing the greeting. The Bishop knew them all, and he was happy, for well was he aware that every man meant what he said. No one really ever admired the Bishop, but all loved him, and each had a private reason of his own for it that he never confided to anyone save his nearest crony. They were all here now to witness the resurrection of Alta—the poorest parish in a not too rich Diocese, hopeless three years ago, but now—well, there it is across the lot, that symphony in stone, every line of its  chaste gothic a "Te Deum" that even an agnostic could understand and appreciate; every bit of carving the paragraph of a sermon that passers-by, perforce, must hear. To-day it is to be consecrated, the cap-stone is to be set on Father Broidy's Arch of Triumph and the real life of Alta parish to begin.

"I thought you had but sixteen families here," said the Bishop as he watched the crowd stream into the church.

"There were but eighteen, Bishop," the young priest answered, with a happy smile that had considerable self-satisfaction in it. "There are seventy-five now."

"And how did it come about, my lad?" questioned the Bishop.

"Mostly through my mission bringing back some of the 'ought-to-be's,' but I suppose principally because my friend McDermott opened his factory to Catholics. You know, Bishop, that though he was born one of us he had somehow acquired a bitter hatred of the Church, and he never employed Catholics until I brought him around."

There was a shadow of a smile that had meaning to it on the Bishop's face, as he patted the ardent young pastor on the arm, and said:

"Well, God bless him! God bless him! but I suppose we must begin to vest now. Is it not near ten o'clock?"

Father Broidy turned with a little shade of disappointment  on his face to the work of preparation, and soon had the procession started toward the church.

Shall I describe the beauty of it all?—the lights and flowers, the swinging censers, with the glory of the chant and the wealth of mystic symbolism which followed the passing of that solemn procession into the sanctuary? That could best be imagined, like the feeling in the heart of the young pastor who adored every line of the building. He had watched the laying of each stone, and could almost count the chips that had jumped from every chisel. There had never been so beautiful a day to him, and never such a ceremony but one—three years ago in the Seminary chapel. He almost forgot it in the glory of the present. Dear me, how well Kaiser did preach! He always knew it, did Father Broidy, that young Kaiser had it in him. He did not envy him a bit of the congratulations. They were a part of Father Broidy's triumph, too. It was small wonder that the Dean whispered to the Bishop on the way back to the rectory:

"You will have to put Broidy at the top of the list now. He has surely won his spurs to-day."

But again the shadow of the meaning smile was on the Bishop's face, and he said nothing; so the Dean looked wise and mysterious as he slapped the young pastor on the back and said: 

"Proficiat, God bless you! You have done well, and I am proud of you, but wait and listen." Then his voice dropped to a whisper. "I was talking to the Bishop about you."

The dinner? Well, Anne excelled herself. Is not that enough to say? But perhaps you have never tasted Anne's cooking? Then you surely have heard of it, for all the Diocese knows about it, and everyone said that Broidy was in his usual good luck when Anne left the Dean's and went to keep house for the priest at Alta.

Story followed story, as dish followed dish, and a chance to rub up the wit that had been growing rusty in the country missions for months never passed by unnoticed.

The Dean was toastmaster.

"Right Reverend Bishop and Reverend Fathers," he began, when he had enforced silence with the handle of his fork, "it is my pleasure and pride to be here to-day. Three years ago a young priest was sent to one of the most miserably poor places in the Diocese. What he found you all know. The sorrowful history of the decline of Alta was never a secret record. Eighteen careless families left. Bigotry rampant. Factories closed to Catholics. Church dilapidated. Only the vestry for a dwelling place. That was three years ago, and look around you to-day. See the church, house and school, and built out of what? That is Father Broidy's work  and Father Broidy's triumph, but we are glad of it. No man has made such a record in our Diocese before. What have we others done by the side of his extraordinary effort? Yet we are not jealous. We know well the good qualities of soul and body in our young friend, and God bless him. We are pleased to be with him, though completely outclassed. We rejoice in the resurrection of Alta. Let me now call upon our beloved Bishop, whose presence among us is always a joy."

When the applause subsided the Bishop arose, and for an instant stood again with that meaning smile just lighting his face. For that instant he did not utter a word. When he did speak there was a quiver in his voice that age had never planted and in spite of the jokes which had preceded and the laughter which he had led, it sounded like a forerunner of tears. He had never been called eloquent, this kindly-faced and snow-crowned old man, but when he spoke it was always with a gentle dignity, and a depth of sympathy and feeling that compelled attention.

"It is a great satisfaction, my dear Fathers," he began, "to find so many of you here to rejoice with our young friend and his devoted people, and to thus encourage the growth of a priestly life which he has so well begun in Alta. No one glories in his success more than I. No one more warmly than I, his Bishop, tenders congratulations. This is truly a day  the Lord has made—this day in Alta. It is a day of joy and gladness for priest and people. Will you pardon an old man if he stems the tide of mirth for an instant? He could not hope to stem it for long. On such an occasion as this it would burst the barriers, leaving what he would show you once more submerged beneath rippling waters and silver-tipped waves of laughter. It seems wrong even to think of the depths where lie the bodies of the dead and the hulks of the wrecked. But the bottom always has its treasure as well as its tragedy. There are both a tragedy and a treasure in the story I will tell you to-day."

"You remember Father Belmond, the first pastor of Alta? Yes! Then let me tell you a story that your generous priestly souls will treasure as it deserves."

The table was strangely silent. Not one of the guests had ever before known the depth of sympathy in the old Bishop till now. Every chord in the nature of each man vibrated to the touch of his words.

"I asked him how he lived on the pittance he had
received."

"I asked him how he lived on the pittance he had received."

"It was ten years ago," went on the Bishop—"ah, how years fly fast to the old!—a friend of college days, a bishop in an Eastern State, wrote me a long letter concerning a young convert he had just ordained. He was a lad of great talents, brilliant and handsome, the son of wealthy parents, who, however, now cast him off, giving him to understand that he would receive nothing from them. The  young man was filled with zeal, and he begged the bishop to give him to some missionary diocese wherein he could work in obscurity for the greater glory of God. He was so useful and so brilliant a man that the bishop desired to attach him to his own household and was loath to lose him, but the priest begged hard and was persistent; so the bishop asked me to take him for a few years and give him actual contact with the hardships of life in a pioneer state. Soon, he thought, the young man would be willing to return to his larger field. The bishop, in other words, wanted to test him. I sadly needed priests, so when he came with the oil still wet on his hands, I gave him a place—the worst I had—I gave him Alta. Some of you older men know what it was then. The story of Alta is full of sorrow. I told it to him, but he thanked me and went to his charge. I expected to see him within a week, but I did not see him for a year. Then I sent for him, and with his annual report in my hand I asked him how he lived on the pittance which he had received. He said that it took very little when one was careful and that he lived well enough—but his coat was threadbare and his shoes were sadly patched. There was a brightness in his eyes too, and a flush on his cheek that I did not quite like. I asked him of his work and he told me that he was hopeful—told me of the little repairs he had made, of a soul won back, but in the conversation I actually stole the sad tale of his  poverty from him. Yet he made no complaint and went back cheerfully to Alta.

"The next month he came again, but this time he told me of the dire need of aid, not for himself, but for his church. The people, he said, were poor pioneers, and in the comfortless and ugly old church they were losing their grip on religion. The young people were falling away very fast. All around were well ordered and beautiful sectarian churches. He could see the effect, not visible to less interested eyes but very plain to his. He feared that another generation would be lost and he asked me if there was any possibility of securing temporary aid such as the sects had for their building work. I had to tell him that nothing could be done. I told him of the poverty of my own Diocese, and that, while his was a poor place, there were others approaching it. In my heart I knew there was something sadly lacking in our national work for the Church, but I could do nothing myself. He wrote to his own State for help, but the letters were unanswered. Except for the few stipends I could give him and which he devoted to his work, it was impossible to do anything. He was brave and never faltered though the eyes in him shone brighter and in places his coat was worn through. A few days later I received a letter from his bishop asking how he did and saying that he would appoint him to an excellent parish if he would return home willingly. I sent the letter to  Alta with a little note of my own, congratulating him on his changed condition. He returned the letter to me with a few lines saying: 'I can not go. If I desert my people here it would be a sin. There are plenty at home for the rich places but you have no one to send here. Please ask the bishop to let me stay. I think it is God's will.' The day I received that letter I heard one of my priests at the Cathedral say: 'How seedy that young Belmond looks! for an Eastern man he is positively sloppy in his dress. He ought to brace up and think of the dignity of his calling. Surely such a man is not calculated to impress himself upon our separated brethren.' And another chimed in: 'I wonder why he left his own diocese?'"

"I heard no more for two years except for the annual report, and now and then a request for a dispensation. I did hear that he was teaching the few children of the parish himself, and every little while I saw an article in some of the papers, unsigned but suspiciously like his style, and I suspected that he was earning a little money with his pen.

"One winter night, returning alone from a visitation of Vinta, the fast train was stalled by a blizzard at the Alta station. I went out on the platform to secure a breath of fresh air, but I had scarcely closed the door when a boy rushed up to me and asked if I were a Catholic priest. When I nodded he said: 'We have been trying to get a priest all day,  but the wires are down in the storm. Father Belmond is sick and the doctor says he will die. He told me to look through every train that came in. He was sure I would find some one.' Reaching at once for my grip and coat I rushed to the home of the Pastor. The home was the lean-to vestry of the old log church. In one corner Father Belmond lived; another was given over to the vestments and linens. Everything was spotlessly clean. On a poor bed the priest was tossing, moaning and delirious. Only the boy had attended him in his sickness until the noon of that day when two good old women heard of his condition and came. One of them was at his bedside when I entered. When she saw my collar she lifted her hands in that peculiarly Hibernian gesture that means so much, and said:

"'Sure, God sent you here this night. He has been waiting since noon to die.'

"The sick priest opened his eyes that now had the brightness of death in them and appeared to look through me. He seemed to be very far away. But slowly the eyes told me that he was coming back—back from the shadows; then at last he spoke:

"'You, Bishop? Thank God!'"

"He made his simple confession. I anointed him and brought him Viaticum from the tabernacle in the church. Then the eyes went wild again, and I saw when they opened and looked at me that he had already turned around, and was again walking  through the shadows of the Great Valley that ends the Long Road.

"Then I learned—old priest and bishop as I was—I
learned my lesson."

"Then I learned—old priest and bishop as I was—I learned my lesson."

"Through the night we three, the old woman, the boy and myself, watched him and listened to his wanderings. Then I learned—old priest and bishop as I was—I learned my lesson. The lips that never spoke a complaint were moved, but not by his will, to go over the story of two terrible years. It was a sad story. It began with his great zeal. He wanted to do so much, but the black discouragement of everything slowly killed his hopes. He saw the Faith going from his people. He saw that they were ceasing to care. The town was then, as it is to-day, McDermott's town, but McDermott had fallen away when his riches came, and some terrible event, a quarrel with a former priest who had attended Alta from a distant point, had left McDermott bitter. He practically drove the pastor from his door. He closed his factory to the priest's people and one by one they left. Only eighteen families stayed. The dying priest counted them over in his dreams, and sobbed as he told of the others who had gone. Then the bigotry that McDermott's faith had kept concealed broke out under the encouragement of McDermott's infidelity. The boys of the town flung insults at the priest as he passed. The people gave little, and that grudgingly. I could almost feel his pain as he told in his delirium how, day after day, he had dragged his frail body to church and on the  round of duty. But every now and then, as if the words came naturally to bear him up, he would say:

"'It's for God's sake. I am nothing. It will all come in His own good time.'

"Then I knew the spirit that kept him to his work. He went over his visit to me. How he had hoped, and then how his hopes were dashed to the ground. Oh, dear Lord, had I known what it all meant to that sensitive, saintly nature, I would have sold my ring and cross to give him what he needed. But my words seemed to have broken him and he came home to die. The night of his return he spent before the altar in his log church, and, Saints of Heaven, how he prayed! When I heard his poor, dry lips whisper over the prayer once more I bowed my head on the coverlet and cried as only a child can cry—and I was only a child at that minute in spite of my white hair and wrinkles. He had offered a supreme sacrifice—his life. I gleaned from his prayers that his parents had done him the one favor of keeping up his insurance and that he had made it over to his church. So he wanted to die at his post and piteously begged God to take him. For his death he knew would give Alta a church. He seemed penetrated with the idea that alive he was useless, but that his death meant the resurrection of Alta. When I heard that same expression used so often to-day I lived over again the whole story of that night in the little vestry. All this time he had been  picking the coverlet, and his hands seemed, during the pauses, to be holding the paten as if he were gathering up the minute particles from the corporal. At last his hand found mine. He clung to it, and just an instant his eyes looked at me with reason in them. He smiled, and murmured, 'It is all right, now, Bishop.' I heard a sob back of me where the boy stood, and the old woman was praying. He was trying to speak again, and I caught the words, 'God's sake—I am nothing—His good time.' Then he was still, just as the morning sun broke through the windows.

"That minute, Reverend Fathers, began the resurrection of Alta. The old woman told me how it happened. He was twenty-five miles away attending one of his missions when the blizzard was at its height. McDermott fell sick and a telegram was sent for the priest—the last message before the wires came down. Father Belmond started to drive through the storm back to Alta. He succeeded in reaching McDermott's bedside and gave him the last Sacraments. He did not break down himself until he returned to the vestry, but for twenty-four hours he tossed in fever before they found him.

"McDermott grew better. He sent for me when he heard I was in town. The first question he asked was: 'Is he dead?' I told McDermott the story just as I am telling you. 'God forgive me,' said the sick man, 'that priest died for me. When he came here I  ordered him out of my office, yet when they told him I was sick he drove through the storm for my sake. He believed in the worth of a soul, and he himself was the noblest soul that Alta ever had.'

"I said nothing. Somebody better than a mere bishop was talking to McDermott, and I, His minister, was silent in His presence. 'Bishop,' said McDermott, after long thought, 'I never really believed until now; I'm sorry that it took a man's life to bring back the Faith of my fathers. Send us a priest to Alta—one who can do things: one after the stamp of the saint in the vestry. I'll be his friend and together we will carry on the work he began. I'll see him through if God spares me.'

"Dear Fathers, it is needless to say what I did.

"Father Broidy, on this happy day I have not re-echoed the praises that have been showered upon you as much as perhaps I might have done, because I reserved for you a praise that is higher than all of them. I believed when I sent you here that you were of his stamp. You have done your duty and you have done it well. I am not ungrateful and I shall not forget. But your best praise from me is, that I firmly believe that you, under like circumstances, would also have willingly given your life for the resurrection of Alta."