he received his allotment, Philip Gordon went directly to the American
College in Rome where he spent one year. He then attended the University
of Innsbruck in Austria for two years.
The university was a typical German university, staffed by eminent
professors. There was a large student body and many of Philip Gordon's
schoolmates became bishops in Germany, Hungary, Austria and several
in the United States.
Philip enjoyed traveling and spent two summer vacation periods in
France, Germany, Hungary, Australia, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium
and made one trip to England. Some of these were walking tours.
In the land of his French ancestors, he learned to speak the language
fluently and spent much of his time in the French department of
Loir-et-Cher. Besides English and French, he spoke fluent German,
Italian and numerous Indian dialects.
Philip's vigorous schedule may have brought on a recurrence of his
old ailment. He was forced to spend many weeks in a sanatorium in
southern Tyrol as a suspected T.B. patient. He carried a scar the
rest of his life from surgery on his neck at this time. His Roman
collar covered the scar, and so few people were aware of it.
On his trips to France, he visited the shrine of the Little Flower,
St. Therese of the Infant Jesus. It is to her he attributed the
restoration of his health and numerous great favors. He said, "I
have heard the living voice of the blood sisters of St. Therese."
After his ordination he said Masses at her tomb.
Following two years at Innsbruck, Phil returned to the United States
and again attended St. Paul Seminary, where he studied Indian history
and lore. He then spent several months at St. John's University
at Collegeville, Minnesota, awaiting his ordination.
On December 8, 1913, the day for which he had been preparing all
these years, finally arrived and he hoped he could now begin to
help the downtrodden Indians. He was ordained in the cathedral in
Superior, Wisconsin, by the second bishop of the diocese, the Most
Reverend Joseph Mary Koudelka, D.D.
When Father Gordon read his first Mass on January 6, 1914, at Odanah,
on the Bad River Reservation, Father Odoric, the Franciscan missionary
who had baptized Philip, preached the sermon of the Mass.
Father Gordon remained as an assistant Indian missionary for a short
time in the diocese of Superior. Then after serving a few months
as pastor of a white perish at Hayward, Wisconsin. He spent the
next year at the Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.
Here he made lifelong friends of eminent professors, Dr. Kerby,
Dr. Guilday, Dr. John A. Ryan, a former schoolmate at St. Paul Seminary,
He encountered some problems as shown in the following letter he
wrote on October 12, 1914, from the Apostolic Mission House at the
University, to the vicar general of the Superior dioceses, Very
Reverend C.F. Schmit, asking for an extension of his leave of absence:
Reverend dear Father:
I write to inquire if you could, in some way or other, make arrangements
with His Lordship for an extension of my leave of absence until
I am able to finish my course at this University, or rather, at
the Mission House. One of the original complaints of Father Odoric
was that I did not prepare my sermons and His Lordship also mentioned
the same disorder. I am taking a special course in mission-work,
sermon-writing in particular, as well as hours at the question-box
in preparation for missions to non-Catholics.
wish you would kindly communicate with me as soon as you have
any definite information on the point I ask about. I will need
to know a considerable time beforehand so that I can govern myself
With kindest best wishes, believe me,
Yours very sincerely,
Philip B. Gordon.
No matter where Father Gordon went, he made friends easily. While
at the Catholic University, he also worked as a part time chaplain
at Carlisle Institute in Pennsylvania. The school was founded in
1879 by Captain (later General) Pratt, who obtained from the army
the use of Carlisle Barracks.
At the Institute Father Gordon became acquainted with Dr. Charles
Eastman (Chiyesa), a Santee Indian who began his education without
knowing one word of English. With the encouragement of his father,
we walked 150 miles through the wilderness to enter the Santee Mission
School in Nebraska, when he was about sixteen years old.
At a time when there was considerable hostility toward the Sioux
nation, which included the Santees, Eastman went on to graduate
with honors from Dartmouth (B.S.) and Boston University Medical
School (M.D.). He wrote nine books and then reentered the Indian
Service as inspector at Carlisle. Dr. Eastman later investigated
the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation while Father Gordon was there.
Also attending Carlisle Institute was Jim Thorpe, named by the elders
of his tribe 'Athahuck' (Path Lit by Lightening). He made the school
famous for its football team and swept the track and field events
at the 1912 Olympics, played professional baseball, and helped organize
the earliest pro football teams. He was later the subject of controversy
for his pro standing and was stripped of his Olympic medals.
While in the East, Father Gordon was often called upon to speak.
The Baltimore Sun, reporting on the Federation of Catholic Societies
Convention in 1914, said:
Indian priest, Reverend Philip Gordon of Superior, Wisconsin,
was also on the program. Father Gordon could not deny his Indian
ancestry. Every line of his face revealed the redskin, while his
jet-black hair added to the picture of the aborigines of America.
However, imagine the surprise of the assembled delegates when
Father Gordon entered into the most interesting discussion of
the Indian missions in the most faultless English you could have
heard. But what was even more striking than his unexpected pure
English was his unusual wit, with which he kept his audience in
almost continuous convulsions of laughter. He was a living proof
of what real civilization has meant to the former wild tribes
of our soil." (Editor's Note: Father Gordon says he will take
care of the Sun when he comments on this hyperbole.)
Father Gordon now began an active part in Indian Affairs. He was
impatient with the mismanagement and tactics of the bureaucracy
that had been going on for so many years.
He knew the Indian generally were intelligent and perceptive and
learned quickly. These were traits they had developed for generations,
necessary for survival in their savage state. Unfortunately, for
a hundred years they had been denied the kind of education they
needed, largely because white teachers did not understand Indian
ways and did not believe Indian children were capable of learning.
Segregated on reservations, the Indians developed a terrible felling
of hopelessness and despair. They needed someone to take an interest
in their personal problems. Father Gordon always hoped he could
help them. He was commended for his work at the Carlisle School
by Monsignor William Ketcham, Director of the Bureau of Catholic
Indian Missions. On March 6, 1915, Monsignor Ketcham wrote to Bishop
Koudelka of Superior:
Philip Gordon, of the Diocese of Superior, will soon finish his
course at Mission House. The authorities of the Mission House
tell me that he is equipped to do efficient missionary work, and
I know that for sometime he has been putting his Sundays at the
Carlisle Indian School, where he as accomplished a great deal
of good. We who are interested in the general work of the Indians
believe that if we could employ him for a couple of years to do
work in the large non-reservation government schools of the country
that a great many Indian children would be saved to the Faith
and an impetus given to our work in these institutions."
should be glad if Your Lordship would grant me permission to make
use of Father Gordon for two years in the work I have mentioned."
Father Gordon had direct contact with the Federal Indian Bureau
and the Catholic Bureau to which he was appointed in 1915. He observed
the workings of Congress and met various members as well as Indian
delegations. He joined the Society of American Indians, a group
of educated Indians working for justice for the Redman and later
became president of the organization.
The Indian priest knew the Indians needed more patience and understanding
than they had been given and it was his earnest wish to spend his
life helping them. His ideas did not always go well with church
authorities. The Catholic Church, like the government, expected
too many changes in too short a time.
Despite his criticism of Father Gordon's work, Bishop Koudelka was
influenced by Ketcham's references and his request was granted.
On March 25, 1915, Monsignor Ketcham wrote the following letter:
favor of March 17, from Bridgeport, Conn., granting me permission
to employ Father Gordon in the special work I have in mind for
him, for a time, has been received. I beg to thank Your Lordship
for your kindness in this regard."
am surprised at your remark, which seems to indicate that Father
Gordon was not fulfilling his duties. It may be possible that
in a matter of this kind the Indian disposition and character
has to be taken into consideration. At any rate, Father Gordon
will have a fair chance to do some very good work during the next
two years, and this will give him a chance to 'prove his mettle'!"
Father Gordon worked strenuously with the Bureau of Catholic Indian
Missions and became chairman of the advisory board of the Society
of American Indians. He said it was a time of astonishing activity
and violent agitation in behalf of the Indians. He travel throughout
many Midwestern states as special missionary, covering Oklahoma,
Nebraska, Kansas, the Dakotas, Michigan, and Minnesota. He attended
many meetings and visited various government schools and private
church institutions for Indians.
In the Kansas City Star, June 1, 1917, Father Gordon was called
"a charming personality, highly educated and possesses a natural
humor which makes his remarks very entertaining as well as interesting
He spent some time in Kansas where he acted as chaplain to the Catholic
Indian students at Haskell Institute, Lawrence, Kansas. His outrage
at conditions there led to an investigation of the school by the
government agencies and consequent dismissal of employees for religious
discrimination and other irregularities.
His correspondence included caustic letter to high YMCA officials,
government officials, and Congressmen. All this agitation caused
uneasiness and dismay to the well-known Cardinal Gibbons, president
of the Catholic Bureau. The Cardinal eventually asked Father Gordon
to retire from the Bureau for the 'good of the cause.'
However he received praise from the Director of the Bureau Wm. H.
Ketcham in a letter to Bishop Koudelka of Superior, dated May 1,
Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, in 1915, employed Reverend
Philip B. Gordon for special work for a period of two years, an
emergency salary having been secured for this specific purpose
and period from an outside source."
action on the part of the Bureau was taken with your Lordship's
permission, and, sometime later, on July 9, 1915, you formerly
(sic) granted Father Gordon leave of absence from the Diocese
of Superior for a period of two years from that date. Hence, while
his engagement with the Bureau is up on June 1st, 1917, his leave
of absence extends to July 9, of the same year."
have been instructed to notify Father Gordon that after June 1,
1917, we cannot employ a priest for special work and that his
connection with the Bureau will cease on that date. This notification
will be sent immediately."
must thank your Lordship for allowing us the service of one of
your priests for two years and will say that Father Gordon has
worked diligently at the various tasks that have been given him
to do. He is a young man of vast energy and possesses much talent.
With the experience he has acquired he ought to be qualified to
do very effective work in any diocese. I assure you we all wish
him the greatest success possible in whatever work his superiors
may assign him."
Father Gordon knew many famous people on a first name basis, but
the extreme formality of address required by the church officials
was a source of annoyance to him. In the column he later published
in the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, he wrote, "In viewing the
two previous articles, I see I already have stuck out my neck. For
instance, I referred to the Bishop of the Diocese as 'the boss.'
This is, according to Webster's Dictionary, 'Slang, U.S.' The correct
reference to Catholic Bishop is 'His Excellency, the Most Reverend
So-and -So,' with a semi-pietistic bow in writing it. Such is the
reverence and respect for authority expected of a priest."
Now that the special assignment was completed, he again hoped that
his cherished wish of being assigned an Indian parish would be achieved.
But it was again delayed. The Indian priest was sent to collect
money for an Orphan Home, an assignment he resented. A letter to
his superior showed some bitterness at not being able to work among
his people as he had always hoped and planned. This is show in a
letter, which was addressed to the Franciscan missionary among the
Chippewa, Father Chrysostom Verwyst:
had the kindness to send me a little book by Father Pierz sometime
ago. I am going to ask you to allow me to retain this little book
a while longer. Just now, I am leaving Washington and will probably
be absent from the mission for two months or longer. Did you hear
that I have been appointed collector for our Orphan Home? This
is not a very pleasant piece of work. Everybody is your critic
and sometimes even holy men criticize very unjustly. For instance,
I have already been called 'liar' 'abominable liar' etc. by my
visited Nett Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota last week
with Father Simon O.S.B. Lots of pagans up there and no effort
was ever made to convert them until Father Simon went up two years
ago. Now a start has been made and much good may come out of it
provided that the pagan Indians are not turned against the Mother
Church by too harsh methods of evangelization. Sometimes the white
priest are too strict with the Redman. They really expect too
much from the neophytes. It took several hundred years to make
good people out of the Germans and I know some who condemn the
Indian because he is not a saint in a generation!!"
discussed with Father Simon the question of my stay with the Chippewa
for good. But dear Father, to the question: "Why doesn't Father
Gordon stay with the Chippewas', I must refer to my Bishop. My
Bishop is my superior and when the time comes for him to place
me with the Chippewas, I suppose I shall be appointed. If I was
my own 'boss' you may be sure I would have appointed myself to
some Indian place a long time ago. I have frequently been advised
by priest to stay with the Chippewas. Now you know how funny such
a question sounds when one is working under the orders of another."
I to ask you: Stay with the Norwegians? Or why don't you stay
with the Hollanders? You could rightfully retort, ask my Father
Provincial! Some priests, strange to say, imagine that I travel
about and work here and there motu proprio!! They don't seem to
know that I am not an independent church by myself but am only
one of a host of common laborers working under orders of Bishops."
After several months of attempting to collect for this cause, probably
without much enthusiasm, Father Gordon wrote to the Bishop of Superior
from White Earth, Minnesota, on October 17, 1917, admitting his
failure in this work and again appealing for an assignment to an
will not be surprised to hear that I did not have any success
in my collecting-tour. I visited the cities of Kansas City, Chicago,
Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, but could secure
no audiences or having secured a listening was repulsed."
am seriously thinking of resigning my position as your special
collector. I have several opportunities to do missionary work
among my own people. In the meantime, too, I hear that I have
been slated for missionary work in our own Diocese. This may mean
that I am again to became a mere assistant to the Franciscans,
something which had already, I thought, proved unworkable."
seems to me that it would be both prudent and feasible to allow
me to resume my former work of general missionary to the Indians.
In that capacity, I am assured a regular salary as well as certain
my leave of absence still allows me time to collect for your great
Orphanage, I feel that my time is wasted if I attempt to collect
just at this time. You know the demands on the public, which rich
Americans all feel must be places ahead of all other appeals:
Liberty Loans, Red Cross, K.C. & Y.M.C.A., Library, Belgian
Relief, Polish Relief, etc., etc. It is possible that I may make
another attempt to reach those who could help us by the thousands
but this must be later.
Indians need me, dear Bishop, and you are not the one to allow
the call of the Redman to go unheeded."
Correspondence followed between Father Gordon and the Bishop and
friction developed, but harmony was restored by the following letter,
written by the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop John Bonzano, on December
Right Reverend Joseph M. Koudelka, D.D.
Bishop of Superior
Right Reverend and dear Bishop:
Reverend Philip Gordon called on me yesterday morning to explain
to me the trouble which has arisen between himself and Your Lordship.
He showed me the telegram which was sent to him by your Secretary
on October 26th directing him to take charge of the parish in
Mellen, Wisconsin, the letter of Your Lordship, dated November
2nd, in which you tell him to look for another Ordinary and give
him thirty days' time to find one, and finally the litterae excardinationis
which you gave him for this purpose."
cause of his trouble, which led up to his asking an exeat and
to Your Lordship's sending him the one which he displayed to me
was, he asserts, his refusal to resume the work of collecting
funds for you new orphanage. To justify this refusal he said that
experience had taught him that, as an Indian, he in not capable
of performing the work with much success among white people, and
that, besides, he wishes to be employed in the Sacred Ministry
for which he was raised to the priesthood. And, on my own account,
I beg to observe that it doesn't seem to be an act of prudence
to send around a young priest who is ordained only four years.
But, whatever may be said of the excuse given by the Reverend
Father for his refusal to resume the work of collecting, I am
sorry to remark, with reference to the litterae excardinationis
given him by Your Lordship, even though they were asked for by
him, that, since they were not issued to the Ordinary of any particular
Diocese nor were preceded by a written statement of any Bishop
declaring himself willing to incardinate the Reverend Father,
they are of no real canonical value."
consequence, therefore, since the Reverend Father has not nor
has at present a serious intention of leaving the Diocese of Superior
and only in a moment of anger, which in part is explicable, asked
Your Lordship for an exeat, it follows that he continues to belong
to the Diocese and that you cannot refuse to employ him but must
give him an appointment as you previously did; and this the more
so since the Diocese is in need of priests, as I have learned
on other occasions."
an answer from Your Lordship telling me what you have done in
the matter, I am, with sentiments of esteem and best wishes,"
yours in Xt.,
Archbishop of Melitene
In January 1918, during World War 1, the Indian priest resumed his
diocesan missionary work and volunteered as chaplain, awaiting appointment
by the Ordinary of the U.S. Army and Navy Chaplains, the Most Reverend
Patrick Hayes, D.D., later to become archbishop and then cardinal.
Father Gordon's appointment never materialized as the war ended
soon after his appointment as pastor at Reserve and surrounding
missions, where his long-time desire would come true, working among