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Autobiography Part II - High School through Seminary

I attended Atlantic Highlands High School. To get there required a one and a half-mile walk each day to catch a train. The steam train transported the local students to Atlantic Highlands. They walked from the train to the school. In high school and in college I appeared in plays, did magic tricks and was always selected to do any public readings. As a boy I would also ride in the delivery truck with my grandfather to Newark to bring back store supplies, and would visit a magic and joke shop near the food supply center. My grandfather knew Stuart Robson, once manager for the Ziegfeld Follies. Robson had lived in Highlands and later owned the Conjurers Shop in New York City. My father and grandfather took me to Robson, who sold and taught me several tricks. Magic became a hobby for a basically shy youngster who had found a way to be noticed! From high school, I entered college. I wanted to be a schoolteacher. It was not to be.

In 1951, Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) was a teacher’s college only. Apart from academic interests, religious feelings were also present in my makeup, and that would eventually change all my plans. I graduated with a B.S. in Education, and had become a Postulant two years before. The Vicar of Highlands, and also Fair Haven, made a deep impression, and presented me with a natural approach to the religious life, where I could find a balance of personality and spirituality. I served as a Lay Reader and came home weekends to assist the priest. Somehow I knew this was what I must do. I then attended The Divinity School for three years. After graduation in 1957 I was made a Deacon, and ordained a Priest.

Wallace J. Gardner was the first bishop I remember. I thought him stern, threatening, a bit gruff, but quite a preacher. Alfred L. Banyard followed, and under him I was ordained and was recommended for both my first parish and eventually Christ Church. He was dominating, unbending and totally dedicated. You knew where you stood. His successor, Albert W.Van Duzer, was my affable, outgoing, personable bishop, and my Masonic friend. He was sincerely loved by his people. G. P. Mellick Belshaw was the fourth bishop I served. His interest in the lives of the saints, quiet manner, and writings left a strong impression upon me. I always thought of him as the gentleman bishop. Joe Doss remains as the final bishop of my ministry. He was a contemporary, very liberal man with personality a reorganizer with projects never fulfilled. Under his strange leadership a once great diocese was slowly dismantled and left eroded following his forced resignation. These bishops were all very different.

When he left St. Andrew’s, I told him I would miss him. He said, "Billy, some day they will forget I was here." I have not forgotten that he was there.

Two priests stand tall in my memory - The Rev. Weston E. Grimshaw and The Rev. Christopher H. Snyder. They were motivating factors in my path to the altar. As a boy, Fr. Grimshaw appeared to me as mysterious and austere. He was a devout man and knew who he was. He was refined and celebrated the Holy Eucharist very precisely and was immaculate in his attire. When he left St. Andrew’s, I told him I would miss him. He said, Billy, some day they will forget I was here. I have not forgotten that he was there.

Fr. Snyder was a late vocation and was really my mentor. At one time he had a million-dollar hardware business in Asbury Park. He left it all to become a priest. He and Mrs. Snyder were good to me, and it was a great day when he let me drive his big car! He was down to earth, but yet had a spiritual quality tempered by an easy going serious nature that made you feel he knew more about you than you thought. He was a dignified converted man who knew the best and worst of life. At least that was the way it appeared to me. I remember his words; "You can avoid a lot of problems, Bill, if you always have a friend who has been through the mill." He knew a lot about the shore area, and it interested me. He was also in charge of the Church of the Holy Communion in Fair Haven and the Church of the Presidents in Elberon, New Jersey. Along the shore ride in Deal he would point out the homes of well known people of long ago: Grant’s House, President Garfield’s summer cottage, the house of the Goulds,’ Vanderbilts’ and Childs,’ all along the ocean. I would visit Fr. and Mrs. Snyder in the giant old rectory in Elberon where they went in the summer. It was a big spooky place that even had a large player organ. Through Fr. Snyder I met other interesting and well educated priests in our diocese, such as the late Charles Best of Red Bank and Henry Beck, a journalist, who later became a priest and authority on the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Then there was the somewhat pompous George Robertshaw in Rumson. Rumson was a wealthy parish on the river. Radio comedian Tom Howard lived there. Major Bowes of the old-time Amateur Hour (Round and round she goes, and where she stops nobody knows) had a mansion on the river, and I remember Snyder humorously calling Robertshaw’s parish Codfish Aristocracy. I felt very sad when Fr. Snyder died. I still think of him.

One very gentle priest, Howard Frazer, stands out in my mind. He was known as the missionary to the Pine Barrens. I went with him on several occasions on a Sunday as he made his journey to four or five missions. Mrs. Frazer played the small pump organ. There was no heat in those small churches, and the water for the Eucharist froze in the cruet. His schedule was so close that he did not get a chance to light the little potbelly stove. It didn’t bother Fr. And Mrs. Frazer. They were totally dedicated, and the poor people of the Pines loved them.

While in the seminary, I was associated with the Seaman’s Church Institute, Home of the Merciful Savior for Crippled Children in Philadelphia, St. Martin’s In The Field, Chestnut Hill, and the Church of the Atonement. My seminary had the most beautiful of chapels. It also had a complement of intellectual characters as professors. The chapel services were held every morning and evening. It was expected that you would be present. I have always regretted that it eventually closed and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. The worn buildings at 42nd and Spruce remain, and I have a sense of déjà vu whenever I drive by. It seems to remind me of a more orderly time in our church, a time when we were trained for a parochial life where the parishes were the focal point of diocesan structure, and from there the outreach began. Moving pictures of the mind replay sometimes. I can see Dean Gifford holding the baby doll to show us how to baptize; Fr. Pottle yelling at someone for not being in chapel; the procession of students each Thursday for Evensong; the great library, guest preachers, visiting bishops, scholastic demands, rides on the trolley to downtown Philadelphia, supper at the Russian Inn, visits from my parents, and of course, the classmates who have died. Those three tension-filled but important years set the stage for parish life. It is strange how we remember past days. It often appears like a puzzle, being slowly fitted together along the way, but not knowingly. The future that we once did not know is part of the past we now remember.