Charles Neale Field, S.S.J.E. (1929)
By the Rev. William H. van Allen, S.T.D.
WHEN Father Field was buried, January 17th, it marked the end of an epoch in the history of the American Church. He was the oldest member of the Society of St. John the Evangelist; and when he joined the staff of St. Clement’s, Philadelphia, the habit of the society was rather a reason for suspicion than a recommendation. In these forty years, the attitude has altogether changed; and Fr. Field was himself largely answerable.
Born in Reading, Berkshire, in 1849, the son of a priest, graduated B.A. from Durham, and from Cuddesdon a little later, he was made deacon in 1872 and priest the following year, by the Bishop of Exeter. His first curacy was at Plympton St. Mary’s, Devon; but after several years there he determined to identify himself with the Cowley Fathers at Oxford. In 1890 he joined the staff of St. Clement’s, Philadelphia, afterwards being sent to St. John Evangelist’s on Beacon Hill, Boston, becoming Superior in due course and holding that office for many years. Laying it aside, he remained a member of the order until his death. Strangely, he is the first member in America to fall asleep.
Such are the essential facts of Fr. Field’s career in the Church; yet one had to know him well to clothe those facts with reality. “He was a holy and a humorous man,” one said on the morning of his funeral; and those two qualities, marvelously combined in him, were distinctive. Tall, spare, utterly frank, never concerned too much about his own dignity, no one could meet him first without recognizing his transparent simplicity and sincerity. His enthusiastic sympathy for every sort of constructive good work was never appealed to in vain, whether for discharged prisoners, for the souls in purgatory, or for the unprivileged here. He was chaplain-general of the Iron Cross, president of the Massachusetts Catholic Club, on the councils of the Guild of All Souls and the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament; but, more than these, he was peculiarly the apostle to colored folk. With shame be it said no American-born priest has even shown such aptitude to understand them and their characteristics, for good and for evil, as this Englishman. To see him among the colored children who loved to crowd around him was to learn to love him afresh; and his farm at Foxboro is a perpetual memorial of his affectionate care for the needy little folk of that race.
Like all truly humorous persons, he was admirably patient and forbearing, suffering fools gladly; and his conversation, whether at table, in general society, or alone with one other, glowed with all the qualities which endeared him to people of every type and class.
Of late he had formed the habit of spending the winters in the West Indies, and had made himself a place there such as he had filled in Boston for so long. But this year he remained in the North; and it was at the home of a loving friend that he breathed out his soul in peace.
“O may my soul be with Bedell!” Such was the aspiration of a Roman cleric as he stood by the grave of the holy Bishop of Kilmore, the echoes still in the air of the salute which the muskets of the Irish rebels had fired in honor of that ornament of the seventeenth-century Church of Ireland.
We, who rejoiced in his friendship, may well have echoed that phrase as we passed out today from his funeral, bishops, a goodly company of priests, and members of religious communities. Among all men there was now no suspicion, no wrong ideas, but only a reverent gratitude for all that he had meant to the Church, the city, the community, and to ourselves. May he rest in peace!
—The Living Church, January 26, 1929, p. 432.