Reverend Jacob R. Buck
LIKE UNTO THE LITTLE BOY who
was sent home to get data for his age and his mother wrote out
the date of his birth, and he came back, drawing the note from
his pocket and remarking: "Here, teacher, is my excuse for
being born," I can vouch that I was born on the ninth of
February, 1870. But there are times when I wonder what excuse
I can give for that event.
My parents were Presbyterian,
and my youthful days were various and mixed with the usual capers
of youth. I was sent to the public schools where I learned my
ABC's and in time the three R's and something of music. Later,
a kind lady taught me to do some drawing and painting in oils.
Of course my religious training
was Calvinistic and strict, which made everything pleasurable
to youth sinful. Not being old or experienced enough to understand
its inconsistency, I did not see its doing away with free will,
and the throwing all blame upon God. Its principle is not "Am
I offending God?" but rather, "What will people say?"
Dancing, card playing and even mumbletypeg, especially
on Sunday, were heinous. Every morning there was family prayer
and reading of Holy Scripture. One morning, unthinkingly, I ate
some green gooseberries. "That's what you get for picking
and eating them on Sunday," I was told.
As a lad, I did any odd job
to turn an honest penny, and thought I had reached man's estate
when I secured a certificate to teach school. School teaching
followed in Minnesota and North Dakota. I was a favorite with
my pupils, enjoying many of their sports.
One morning in Sheldon, North
Dakota, the school-bell was muffled. The face of every pupil
was stolid and wore a shocked look. That evening I went for a
sleigh-ride with the older pupils. "My," I said to
Frank Mougey as we rode along, "were you not frightened
to climb that icy roof to muffle the bell?" "Who told
you?" he exclaimed in surprise. The cat was out of the bag.
My first contact with Catholicism
was while teaching a country school near Georgetown, Minnesota.
The oldest pupil (C. P. as he was called), was a devout Catholic,
and I boarded with his parents. He and I have been the closest
of friends and pals ever since. C. P. was very instrumental in
my becoming a Catholic. I determined to learn something about
the doctrines and dogmas so I could refute the many abominable
stories which floated about continually.
'Next, I worked for a time
for the Security Trust Company in Fargo, North Dakota. There
I joined the Masonic Lodge. Mr. W. A. Scott-a veritable David
Harum type of man-was Past Grand Master of the Lodge, and manager
of the company. I had chosen as my instructor a kindly old priest
of Moorhead, Minnesota.
Mr. Scott, always chewing tobacco,
surprised me one day by aiming at the cuspidor in the corner,
hitting the bull's eye, and asking: "Buck, I hear you are
studying Catholicity. Is it true?" I admitted it was. "I
am a Unitarian," continued Mr. Scott, "and do not believe
in the Trinity. But if you believe in Christ's divinity, you
gotta be a Catholic. Going to be a Catholic?"
"The study is interesting,
but I have made no decision, as yet," I returned. I began
to think I might be mistaken about so-called Catholic superstitions.
Through C. P. and his parents I had learned better about many
things for which I had felt great repugnance.
I commenced my writings while
I taught school. Sending articles to school journals, I grew
quite proficient in expressing myself. I tried other publications
too. I laugh now at my first effort about two young men who started
a mercantile business in the backwoods. It was returned to me
"with thanks." We had few story papers in those days
from which to glean ideas, and though I tried to work in the
calf-love sort in mine, they were not lurid.
The first story for which I
was paid (two dollars) was short and indifferent, though amusing.
I tried poetry also, but evidently my ditties were worthless
and received little notice. I even tried detective stories in
which I thought the main thing was to have the villain masked.
But still no success.
I kept right on with my instructions
in Catholicism. And they were long and strenuous. I think my
instructor considered me insincere. But I finally yielded and
was baptized on June 29, 1902, the feast of Saints Peter and
Paul. C. P. was my Godfather, and my baptism was public. It was
in Moorhead just across the river from Fargo where I was known
as a Mason. Perhaps Father Augustine was acute. He announced
it at Mass in the morning and the church was well filled. C.
P. and I crossed the river over a railroad bridge through a pasture.
Something jumped in the bushes which startled me.
"What's that?" I
"Just the devil getting
out of your way," returned my friend.
My diligent study had engendered
the thought of the priesthood. But I felt unworthy and hesitated.
It seemed the very apogee of my former worldly ambitions, so
I prayed and took much time to consider it. And finally I went
to Saint John's Uni-versity, in Minnesota, where I entered the
I had a fight with myself over
my vocation, feeling I was too old. Consequently I went at my
studies with such vim that I used up much of my nervous energy.
I was deficient in Latin, scarcely knowing how to assist in hearing
Mass, and serving Mass was a bugaboo.
Before the summer vacation
I had broken down. I went to Regina, Canada, where my friends
were then living. Two physicians advised my giving up studying
and recommended a change of climate. I took this as a direct
sign from God that I had presumed in thinking of becoming a priest.
One morning C. P.'s mother
prepared a special dish of delicious fried chicken for me. I
partook of it heartily. Asking why none of the others shared
in it, I was informed by C. P., "0 none of the rest of us
have been to the seminary and learned that the mere laws of the
Church count for nothing. This is Friday."
I decided to come west, and
went to the Benedictine seminary at Mount Angel, Oregon. There
I consulted a good old monk who told me my difficulties were
but a trial which God had sent me to try me out, that it was
God's way of testing me. So I went at it again, and this time
made rapid progress. Through the Abbot, I applied to the Archbishop
of Oregon City (now Baker City). Archbishop Christie, a man of
very pleasing personality, accepted me at once. Then I made preparation
I was ordained in Portland
on the fifth of June, 1909, and was assigned to Forest Grove
to establish a church with the missions of Cornelius and Gaston
attached. I had kept up my writing and continued to do so, for
it was being accepted now.
On one of my vacations I went
to Florida to visit my nephew, Frank Goodman. While there an
incident happened which amused the Archbishop greatly. I had
said Mass and given Benediction, and Frank and I were sitting
under the trees. Suddenly Frank remarked, "Uncle, I have
about a hundred Negroes working for me. They have their own church,
and it might be interesting to you to attend, this evening. What
do you say?" I responded, "If I did not fear giving
scandal, I should like very much to go."
"Ah," said he, "they
do not know what a Catholic is, much less a priest." So
he, Mrs. Goodman and I went. As we entered the small oblong building
having a platform and a box used as a pulpit on which rested
a Bible, the old preacher eying me curiously said, "Da speaka
will please take his seat on the platform." I hesitated
but finally went up, taking my place among the others on the
platform. He then offered a prayer, announced a hymn which was
sung most beautifully. Then he turned to me saying: "We
sure would be glad if de white brudder would say a few words
to us." It was all done so kindly that I did not refuse,
reading a passage or two from the Bible and then told a simple
story. At its conclusion the congregation stamped their feet
and clapped their hands. I told them I was a Catholic priest.
The preacher said, "Well, that's the first time I ever heard
of a Catholic priest talking in a Baptist meetin' house."
I remarked to Frank on our
way home, "It is the first time I ever heard of it either."
When I told my Archbishop, he laughingly said he would have to
establish a church for the colored folk in Portland and make
me the pastor. I repeated the story many times at the instigation
of the Archbishop, which always gave him great pleasure.
After eight years in Forest
Grove, I was transferred to St. Joseph's Church in Salem, where
I remained until August 15, 1934.
In retrospect, I think I have
done some fairly good work. I am still writing and giving instructions,
so perhaps after all there may be "some excuse for my having
EDITOR'S NOTE Father Buck's hooks include A Convert
Pastor Explains, 2d revised ed., 1929, Bruce; The Sage
of Exeter, 1938, Bruce; Why Do Catholics-?, 1931,
and A Convert Pastor's Autobiography, 1942, Our Sunday
published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig,
Third Series, 1945.