unique friendship between the Chief and Paul continued after the
war. They knew each other intimately and understood each other in
a way no one else did. Paul had heard Father Gordon's great oratory;
but he had also been with him when he would drive for a half hour
without saying a word, then apologize because he had been thinking.
He was with the Chief when he visited his mother or other relatives
on the reservation and the only word he heard spoken was 'Ba Zhu'
(Phonetically spoken probably not a written word) A few gestures
may have passed between them, a shake of the head, a smile, but
when they left he knew that his aunt was alright, his mother's cousin
was fine, everything was o.k.
In 1941 Father Gordon was in Chicago visiting Paul when he received
a call that his mother, A-te-ge-kwe, had died of pneumonia at the
age of 86. She had gone back to the reservation many years ago and
later lived in her little house Gordon, where Catherine Gordon McDonald
now spends the summer. Catherine, who was home in Superior, is a
daughter of Father Gordon's brother Joe. She says, 'this was his
mother's house. She lived here until she died. She used to do all
kinds of work, beadwork, tanning hides, she made jackets and sold
them. People would bring their hides and she would tan them and
make jackets. I don't know how she did it. She's soak them and then
scrap them. She was a beautiful sewer, knitter, she could do anything.
The funny par of it was she never had to have glasses."
Father Gordon continued to visit the reservation as often as possible,
keeping in touch with his remaining friends and relatives. But his
age and the ravages of his illness were taking their toll.
In 1946 after the war ended, Paul spent a great deal of time visiting
the Chief at his home at Long Lake. The priest would light a cigar
- he loved to smoke cigars but couldn't learn to smoke a pipe 00
and was ready to discuss anything.
Paul said, "The only Catholic education I received was from my parents
as a child and from Father Gordon. On many occasions, whenever we
discussed religion, if I had a question, he had the answer. He was
an eloquent speaker on any subject. Certainly he was an authority
on his own religion."
had different political views. He was a liberal and my family was
always conservative. We spent long hours far into the night discussing
politics and the merits of candidates. It had nothing to do with
our friendship. This went on whether we were talking politics, religion
or history. He loved history and had an extensive library of Indian
Gordon had an uncanny sense of humor. He saw a great deal of humor
in things that other people didn't even think were funny. I think
that's one reason he and I got along so well. We laughed and got
a kick out of living."
In 1946 Father Gordon mentioned in a letter to Paul that maybe the
war would be over and then they could travel again. But when Paul
returned to Europe in 1947 the Chief was too ill to go. When Paul
visited some of the countries they had traveled through twelve years
earlier, many people remembered the Indian priest and his feathered
Paul's visit to Pope Pius XII was written up in Paul Light's column:
Paul was informed by Vatican officials that the Pope was
in summer residence and was holding no audiences."
get word to him," the St. Paul visitor said, "I came all the way
from St. Paul to see him."
will do no good," he was told.
him I met him when he was in St. Paul as Cardinal Pacelli 11 years
ago and that he invited me to see him if I ever came to Rome."
Paul was summoned for a private audience with the Pope who recalled
that Paul's grandfather had restored a village church in the Vosges
mountains of France after World War I. He asked many questions about
the United States and expressed apprehension over the spread of
Father Gordon was in and out of the hospital from then on. He had
planned to officiate at Paul's marriage in the chapel of St. Joseph's
Hospital the latter part of November, but he was too sick.
After a long period in the hospital, November 6, 1946 to January
3, 1947, he wrote a letter for publication, thanking all his friends
from their solicitude. He named a long list, including the Sisters
of St. Joseph, Dr. William Carroll; Dr. Richard M. Leick; Dr. James
V. Wilson; nurses and hospital personnel; and the Most Reverend
Archbishop of St. Paul; Governor and Mrs. Ed Thye, Can and Cecil
Wallace; Harry and Jen Carson; Monsignor Ed Casey; Fathers Peter
Rice and Philip Krembs; Fathers Richard Doherty, James Guinney and
Francis Missia; school children from many places; and many, many
others, including Paul of course, who was a daily visitor.
debt to each and all can never be repaid. Left in our weak power
is but to promise each a memento in my yet-to-be-read Holy Mass
(may they be many) ere the twilight comes - prelude to the Great
Adventure - 'and the evening comes, and the busy world hushed, and
the fever of life is over, and our work is done! Then in His mercy
may He give us safe lodging and a holy rest, and peace at the last!"
Paul recalls one of his visits at the hospital: "I walked in one
day and he had tears in his eyes. I asked him what happened. He
said, 'The Bishop was just here and he gave me the last rites of
the church and I'm going to die and I'm happy about it.'"
told him if I had a son I was going to call him Philip Gordon (Philip
Gordon Villaume is living in St. Paul today)."
Gordon suffered a lot and was in and out of the hospital and it
was hard on him. But the Sisters of St. Joseph's took good car of
Even during the intermittent periods out of the hospital, Father
Gordon was still in there fighting, or at any rate, lending his
support to others taking up the cause. On January 4, he appeared
in a picture with others, although he was evidently a very sick
man. More than 100 Chippewa Indians had joined the Inter Tribal
Organization to outline their claims for approximately 235 million
dollars which they say is due them for their original lands.
On May 2, 1948, Paul drove the Chief home to St. Patrick's for the
last time. He was home a few weeks when he called to tell Paul he
had return to the hospital. But somehow he attended Bastille Day
on July 14. He arrived in a wheel chair. It was his last public
Paul spent the evening of September 30 with the priest and left
received a call the following morning, October1, 1948, telling me
that Father Gordon was dying. Ten minutes later I was in the room
and I had the privilege of joining the nuns in final prayer. The
nuns tell me that he recognized my voice. He died peacefully soon
Although he never received worldwide acclaim, Father Gordon had
put up a good fight for human rights and the caused he believed
in. The first Indian priest in the United States was loved by all
who knew him. They loved him because he loved everyone. They loved
him because of his broad-minded, ecumenical views. They respected
him for his struggle of rights of the Indians, the farmers, and
anyone else who rights were being violated; for his love of children;
for his magic oratory.
Father Gordon was a man ahead of his time. If he were alive today,
he would be disappointed that the cause he fought for is still not
resolved. He would, no doubt, still be in there fighting. He was
truly a man of two words - the white and the Indian, as well ass
the worldly and the spiritual.
Ti-bish-ko-gi-jik, the first American Indian in the country to become
a priest, was honored when a new Knights of Columbus Council was
established, comprising a number of area parishes, including St.
Patrick's Centuria. The unanimous choice of a name was "Father Philip
Gordon Council 6370 of Knights of Columbus."