Fred Buss on early days of the Order

I am intrigued that none of the responses to Larry’s email have mentioned a beginning to the Order – Evanston all in one house? Fifth City? The send out in 1968? Wearing blue? Maybe it never had a formal beginning.

David, Doris, Richard & Maria, there were many beginnings, probably a pace demanded by the radical shift represented.

I am pleased by this conversation, so appropriate in the context of celebrating Wes Seeliger’s completed life. He was typical (but never ever predictable) of the many focused, unrepeatable and hilarious, mad muscles and musical minds, which were released by this new form, forming but un-named in 1962.

In Austin (1956) and Evanston (1962) and the West Side (1963) we were, at first, a struggling, seeking, intense bunch of middle class American Protestants, pretty bare on any gut acquaintance with the powerful role that the dynamic of religious order had played in the life of the church. Most Americans even today would be shocked if you said that the initial forms of being a monk were created, ca. 80 to 380 AD, by the Desert Fathers, a plurality of Egyptians and the majority Middle Easterners. I affectionately refer to them as the brass balls division of Christianity: they prayed and lived in low- ceiling caves in the desert, and celebrated High Holy Days by adding salt to their bread and water.

But we were cautious about putting our toe into the future, there were no desert Fathers at our elbows. I think we all became ready sooner than we imagined, but the slow, gradual process was to reduce the chance that we would lose anybody (including ourselves) along the way.

However, the Fathers might well consider our inventing/borrowing and getting into this new configuration in less than a decade pretty swift. The JWM/s arrived at the Christian Faith & Life Community in Austin in 1956. The Congolese cross was nailed to the Westside wall in 1964.

If not recorded elsewhere JWM felt the Congolese cross, symbolic of 1. Cruciform shape, 2 International, 3 developing world, 4. As money, the transfiguration of the secular into the religious as a demand on the 20th century church’s mission. The cross was the form of exchange (money) and made of solid copper. You could buy a wife with five to eight. The copper is the same stuff and from the same place which gave the colonial robber baron, Cecil Rhodes, the resources to found his famous, and worthwhile, Rhodes scholarships.

Later, our work in Europe meant seeing order existence from much closer, being an observer/guest at the Benedictine monastery in Belgium charged with care of the Liturgy/Chant for the whole Church for a week’s official unity conversations between the Anglicans and Rome, and later teaching a five-day Parish Strategies Colloquy to nine major order Adjutants General at the Jesuit General House, Rome. But way back in 1962, of St Francis (and his birds) we knew only those concrete figures in somebody’s small garden corner. St. Benedict and Ignatius and Dominic by name only. Meeting in Belgium in 1974 a giant Dutch Capuchin (Franciscan w/ cap) actually named Jacques came later (get it – the holy grail, Frere Jacques).

Frere Jacques had been transferred out of Pakistan by the Franciscans under duress when the local authorities repeatedly insisted they must as it was impossible to guarantee his safety as he would ride alone into Afghanistan, into the tribal villages (right, on a donkey) to demand the return of the young girls they had recently kidnapped, and get them.

Doris mentioned Joe and Lyn’ trip to Taize, yet again, David, Donna, Fred & Sarah visited there also getting to the Africa Research trip (1963), that experimental French Order was very formative for all of us. Doris mentioned David didn’t say anything at dinner – you can see, amongst us, it all balanced out, wordiness-wise.

Doris had the rest of the beginnings right also.

Five eighths of the Christian Faith and Life community faculty resigned in early 1962 when it was proposed that the CFLC give more attention to the mortgages on the men’s, women’s and Laos branches since they consumed so much of our nervous energy. We should now give up so much “experimentation” and much like a good corporation with a “product” move into “manufacturing,” that is, reduce heavy work on liturgy and curriculum and communal forms in order to teach like the dickens the courses we had developed, to become debt-free, fund our pensions and do other good things. Don Warren (now Dean, College of Education, Indiana University) was at Harvard Divinity and I was at Yale Divinity, both with plans to join the effort in Austin. We resigned by telegram to the Board from New England. Charles & Doris Hahn and many others were already part of this in risking their careers supporting the community and its RS1s in their congregations in the midst of the Methodist and Presbyterian politics in the Southwest at the time. (My mother took RS1 from Joe Slicker and Joe Pierce at the Lace House in Austin in the spring of 1961. You can go to churches even now with liturgies printed in the CF&LC format all over Texas.)

11962 – Bishop Mathews offered us Boston’s wonderful, historic “old South” church a parish base but we didn’t want to play the Bishop card unless we had to. So we accepted an alternate invitation from the Church Federation of Greater Chicago to fill the Director’s position of the Evanston Ecumenical Institute, which was founded by the World Council of Churches in 1954 as a way to mark the WCC’s Second Assembly in Evanston. The Federation Board was very amused that they could offer one salary and get seven staff. It was George Sisler’s (their Board President) favorite story every time he introduced us for two years.

In June 1962 the first six families moved into the EI’s main asset, the stately Knabe Mansion (built by the famous Knabe Piano Family) at 1742 Asbury with Frank Hilliard volunteering (he was still at Perkins) as a truck driver. The six were: Joe & Lyn Mathews, Joe & Anne Slicker, Joe & Joy Pierce, Bill & Greta Cozart, Don & Beverly Warren and David & Donna McCleskey. It had six bedrooms, the loveliest collegium room in N. America, and a huge carriage house. Sarah and I got married on July 21st, we took nine days to drive to Chicago from Ozona, Texas, and family number 7 moved into the Master bedroom (38’X26’) and bath (16’X12”), which they had saved for the newlyweds.

Story: In the ‘50’s and early ‘60’s many folk still got married as virgins. Sarah and I lived in that wonderful, huge bedroom for almost six months before we discovered that no one had mentioned we were sleeping in an antique three quarters bed and that cohabitation was not ALL ELBOWS for everybody.

Story: Since there were but six bedrooms, and the master BR was saved for the Busses, the Mathews moved into a partitioned off section of the basement. This launched the tradition that later Priors did not “deserve” best accommodations. It was really a nest: the mansion’s hot water reserve tank was over their bed. When the furnace created atmospheric conditions just so, this iron cloud produced rain.

Story: having transitioned from comfortable suburban home arrangements in Texas, stuff was abundant. Although the enormous two story carriage house took it all, it was full when the Busses arrived, requiring that we position several 6’ tall mahogany display cases in our massive bedroom to hide the wedding gifts, etc. we had. John Mathews, a leader always, was conducting a seminar on smoking while sitting on mattresses in the carriage house. The pious were want to say of the resulting total fire loss, “The Lord called a grand collection of suburban possessions out of being”. Sarah and I felt guilty and relieved; not sure in which order.

Our commitment to social engagement was not slow in being manifest. The Church Federation was, among others, invited by M. L. King to send help to Albany Georgia in support of the Albany Movement in its long, desperate and terrible struggle with an unyielding white community. The faculty decided that we could not postpone our initial step and I was sent to Albany, Andy Young met our bus, arrested with King the next day, and spent three days in City Jail. I had been married two months, 7 days and had been in what we now call the Order less than sixty days.

The decision to operate on a common economic rule was created in part by our early Austin experiments with a salary scale (points for years of schooling, years on CF&LC staff, and # of children), intent to move further, and the economic reality of seven staff filling one position. The earliest somber indication of later gender difficulties which would take a big bite out of corporate derriere; all the women were sent out to get the highest paying jobs they could find, i.e., Sarah joined the faculty at Northwestern teaching sell-child health at Evanston Hospital with her Masters in Child Development. It was a fantastic but scary experience as her first professional position. It was and is a marvelous thing to behold anyone confidently gaining momentum in competence, and rising to at least eight feet tall.

1965 – In the summer of 1964 when teaching Rs-1’s to all the Midwest Catholic school students (I did movie conversation with the 200 nuns to keep them busy – wow, tough, bright and humorous fold) at a summer conference at St. John’s College in Minnesota, Monsignor Egan (inventor of a retreat program for couple, advisor to the Chicago priests’ union, and confidant of the “good cardinal before Cody) and also on the program, met me for breakfast. He said, “If there is a Vatican Council during your lifetime, you have to be there.” I replied, that I didn’t think I had the time or the money. He asked if he took care of the money, could I manage the time. So Joseph and I were the invited guests of the Archdiocese of Chicago and Protestant Observers at the Third Session (1965) of Vatican II. I learned that French food is NO. 2, Italian NO. 1. And you have not experienced airborne liqueur service until you fly on a Chicago archdiocese Alitalia charter. But we were in the back of the bus, the last two seats row in the plane.

I am an amateur nut on spelling and word differences. I had noticed in many of our Roman contacts a peculiar function regarding order names. This was further confirmed in Rome. The orders, drawing on Latin, Italian, and Spanish etc. invariably put the modifier second. For example, in Spanish you would not write Grande Rio, (Great River) but Rio Grande. This it is OSB for Order Saint Benedict, OMI – Order Mary Immaculate, OP = Order Preachers (Dominican).

It was while in Rome that I first mentioned my tentative observation to Joe. ON the train to Zurich leaving Rome, I recall, I suggested and we decided that this new thing we were dong would be called The Order Ecumenical.


-- JackGilles - 28 Mar 2007
Topic revision: r1 - 28 Mar 2007, JackGilles
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