Right Reverend Mark Anthony De Wolfe Howe, D. D. First Bishop of Central Pennsylvania: A Biographical Sketch
Mark Anthony De Wolfe Howe was born in Bristol, R. I., April 5, 1808, the only son of John and Louisa (Smith) Howe. Through his father he traced direct descent to James Howe, who came from England to Roxbury in 1637, and settled the next year in Ipswich. When Bristol was settled in 1680, the first town clerk was Richard Smith, the ancestor of Mrs. John Howe. The mother of John Howe was Abigail D'Wolf, a daughter of Mark Anthony D'Wolf and sister of Captain (and United States Senator) James D'Wolf. A full inheritance of Massachusett's blood and Rhode Island traditions was thus transmitted to the subject of this sketch.
Of his schooling in the Bristol Academy, at Phillips-Andover, South Kingston and Taunton, it is not necessary to speak in detail. It prepared him to enter Middlebury College, Vermont, which at the end of two years he left to become a member of the junior class at Brown University, his father's alma mater. Here he graduated in 1828, with the honor that belongs to a class poet, and the sense, destined to live through all his years, of a large personal debt to the influence of President Francis Wayland.
Before he decided to enter the ministry there were several years of teaching—in the public schools of Boston and as tutor in Latin at Brown University—preceded by a beginning at the study of law in his father's office. But while he taught at Brown, his studies for the ministry, directed by the Rev. John Bristed, son-in-law of John Jacob Astor, and father of the graceful writer, Charles Astor Bristed, were in progress. In January of 1832 he was ready to receive deacon's orders, administered in St. Michael's by Bishop Griswold of the Eastern Diocese, his spiritual father in an intimate sense peculiar to the time and place.
After a brief term of service at St. Matthew's Church, South Boston, Mr. Howe, before the end of 1832, became rector of the new parish of St. James, Roxbury. Except for a period of nine months, spent in charge of the historic Christ Church, Cambridge—the "nun" of Dr. Holmes' familiar poem—he retained the rectorship of the Roxbury parish until 1846. The dignified stone building still used for its worship, after nearly seventy years, is one of the monuments of his ministry there. In his own later life the ties of early work, friendship and affection served to fix permanently for him the New England standards which be carried in 1846 to the rectorsbip of St. Luke's Church, Philadelphia.
To the conduct of this young parish, soon to become a vital power in the life of Philadelphia, he brought also the ripened energies of manhood. For twenty-six years he guided the many activities of his people with signal effect. Of his personal influence it is best to let one of his parishoners speak: "Strong in his convictions, but never arbitrary; deep in his realization of things divine and eternal, yet genial and humorous never sad, but always sympathetic, dignified; but coming close to the hearts of his people-surely his was a rare nature, and one to leave its impress, as it did, upon high and low, rich and poor, in that large congregation."
Of the power of any man's preaching the best proof lies in the results. Another quotation, then—from the sermon of the Rt. Rev. Henry C. Potter, of New York, to commemorate the life and services of Bishop Howe—may be permitted: 'One there is—may he venture to repeat here what he said his own Diocese?—who will most surely never forget him. A wayward youth, sitting once in St. Luke's Church in Philadelphia, hears the man who was your first Bishop preach a sermon from the text, 'Young man, I say unto thee arise!' Its impression never left him—the clear, close, faithful message, searching, personal, awakening, starting in him a train of thought and emotion that, touched a little later by another hand, changed the whole current of his life. Is it violatin the most delicate reserve if he recalls that debt to-day, and owns that he has been glad and thankful for the privilege of coming here and laying thus the tribute of his love and gratitude upon your Bishop's grave."
But preaching and parish work were by no means the limit of his activities. In the counsels of the church at large, he played an important part. Sent first, in 1850, as a delegate to the General Convention, he held, for the twelve following years, the post of Secretary of the House of Deputies. In committee work outside the convention, he was one of those who, meeting under his roof at Bristol in 1859 and again in 1865, laid the foundation for the present Hymnal of the church. In other years he was delegated to travel through the north and west and speak for the cause of missions. Nor were literary labors wanting. In the summer of 1870, at the instance of the family of his beloved bishop and friend who had died five years before, he completed the Memoirs of tlte Life and Services of the Rt. Rev. Alonzo Potter, D.D., LL.D. (Philadelphia, 1871. J. B. Lippincott & Co.)
In 1871, Dr. Howe was elected bishop of the new diocese of Central Pennsylvania. The acceptance of this charge moved his residence from Philadelphia to Reading, where it remained till the last summer of his life. The work of organizing a diocese of magnificent distances and, in many parts, of sparse settlement, might have overtaxed the strength of a younger man. Beginning it at the age of sixty-four, he spared himself through none but the last few of his twenty-three remaining years. The fruits of his labors were an effective and harmonious organization, and the strength which any such body derives from the loyal following of a leader who is also a personal friend.
In the spring of 1895, Bishop Howe felt that the time had come for committing all this leadership to his successor. Accordingly he removed to his well-beloved home, Weetamoe Farm at Bristol, Rhode Island, where on the 31st of July, 1895, he died.
It is in this home that his immediate family and his kinsmen—for whom especially these words are written—love best to remember him. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, he gave and enjoyed the pleasures of hospitality in fullest measure. His love for the place of his birth, and for all those to whom the tie of common blood bound him closely or remotely, was an essential element of his nature. A wonderfully retentive memory made his mind a store-house of local and family tradition. Travel and wide acquaintance never moved from the first place in his heart the scenes of Bristol and his interest in her sons and daughters. This brief outline of his life, therefore recording the chief events of eighty-seven years truly devoted to the service of his fellowmen in many places, should rightly end where it began—at Bristol.