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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 exclaimed.

"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 seminary.

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 for ordination.

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 been born."


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 Visitor.

Originally published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig, Third Series, 1945.


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