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Father Muench Says...

Words from our first bishop

Aug. 17, 2022

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

I found it. I knew I had it. It’s a little book that would give me a glimpse of those early days of the Diocese of Ogdensburg when it was formed as a Roman Catholic Diocese 150 years ago. The book is entitled, “Reminiscences of Edgar P. Wadham, the First Bishop of Ogdensburg”, written by C.A. Walworth. So, today, I want to share a little with you about our first Bishop and those early days of our diocese as we celebrate our 150th Anniversary.

Edgar P. Wadhams was born in Lewis, New York. Today, there is a plaque on the road near the house. As a young man he entered an Episcopalian seminary. Later, he was ordained a deacon, and he ministered at Ticonderoga. He was to convert to the Roman Catholic Church. He entered the Catholic Sulpician Seminary of St. Mary’s, in Baltimore, Maryland (the very same seminary where I studied.). He was ordained a Catholic priest on January 15, 1850, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Albany by Bishop McClosky. Later, he became rector of the Cathedral Church and then Vicar-General of the diocese.

It was in 1871 that a decision was made to separate the Diocese of Ogdensburg from the Diocese of Albany. The new diocese was to consist of the Adirondack Region as well as the region to the north and west. Two cities in this area with sufficient population were Plattsburgh and Ogdensburg. Ogdensburg was the one chosen as the See city, the place for the Diocesan Cathedral. Chosen to be the first bishop was Father Edgar P. Wadhams.
Father Wadhams was consecrated a bishop by Archbishop McCloskey on May 5, 1872. At his consecration as bishop and his appointment as the First Bishop of Ogdensburg, a priest friend of Bishop Wadhams preached the homily. I want to share some of his homily with you. Remember this was 150 years ago. He spoke:

“Go forth then, man of God, where God and duty call thee! Be thou the Apostle of the American Highlands, and of that broad and noble plain whose borders are a majestic lake, a mighty river, an inland ocean, and the primeval mountains. Go plant the cross of Christ among the native hills; unfurl the Catholic banner on the banks of the St. Lawrence and on the shores of Ontario and Lake Champlain.

He then adds, “that our new Bishop will find new friends – in this new mission – yet there will be none to love thee better, none truer than those thou leaviest now in tears and sadness behind thee.”

I do want to add quotes that the author remembers that were made by Bishop Wadhams as he looked forward to coming to his new diocese. We are given a glimpse of Bishop Wadhams’ spirit and determination. Here he is speaking to a friend, a Professor Carmody, “I know, Carmody, the task I have before me. I know the country well. The population is poor and scattered. It is a land of small settlements and long distances. The people cannot be reached by railways or stagecoaches. Even good wagon roads are few. But I’ll tell you what I mean to do. I shall get a good pony that will carry me anywhere; and you take my word for it, it will not be long before I visit every family; every man and woman, barefoot boy and yellow haired girl in my diocese will know me. Yes, Sir-ee!”

Another quote was passed along by Bishop Lidden of Syracuse. Someone had asked Bishop Wadhams how he could leave the busy life in the city of Albany to go to the North Country. Bishop Wadhams responded, “My friend, I love those Adirondacks, I love those mountains, those streams and rivers, I love all that there is in that territory.”

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