Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sepia Saturday-- William Fraser 1867--1952

My great uncle, William Fraser, was born on April 2, 1867 in Inverness-shire Scotland and immigrated to Canada at age five in 1872. This photo of him with his younger sister is the oldest in our family album. He attended St. Paul's School in Toronto and the University of Toronto's St. Michael's College. Following his graduation (about 1888) William joined the building trades as a carpenter like his father, working at his trade for over a decade. Then he made a very dramatic move,joining the Trappist Monks at the Abbey at Our Lady of Gethsemani of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, in Louisville Kentucky in July of 1896 at 29 years of age. Although second oldest in the family, William was the last to join a religious order.

William became attracted by the monastic life after doing some carpentry work at his sister Teresa's convent. The peace and tranquility of her new life as Sister St. John, had a profound affect upon him.

William also believed that the monistary offered hope of his becoming a priest. However, when it became clear that this was not to be the case, after three years as a monk (he had taken the religous name of Brother Andrew), William left in 1899 to study for the Priesthood at the Collegio Brignole-Sale, in Genoa, Italy where he majored in Philosophy. He was ordained on March 31, 1905 and literally set sail to join his younger, brother Msgr. John Fraser as a missionary in Ichi Kiang, China until 1909. However, he did not have the same linguistic skill as his brother and could never master the Chinese dialect. He returned to Toronto as Associate Pastor of St. Ann's Parish until 1913, then was named Pastor of St. Joseph's Parish in Grimsby Ontario. 1915 found him serving as Associate pastor at St. Michael's Cathedral and associate pastor of St. John's. In January of 1917 he served as associate pastor at St. Francis of Assisi (later St. Agnes) at 15 Grace Street in Toronto, just a block away from his parents home at 41 Grace St. He was joined there for the summer of 1917 by his nephew, the future Bishop Francis Carrol, just prior to Francis Carrol's first appoitnment as pastor of his own church. William was still at St. Agnes when his parents died, within six months of each other, in 1920.

Fr. William Fraser, originally uploaded by Anexplorer.

Father William was an easy going man who enjoyed a cigar and a occasional drink. When in the wake of a scandal involving a young priest, the church, in Toronto, decided no priest would be permitted to drive within twelve hours of consuming alcohol or ever ride in the same car with a woman, Father William, one of the oldest men present at the meeting called to announce the new rules, publicly challenged the Cardinal's decrees, saying they went too far. The Cardinal was not amused.

After a brief stint as administrator of St. John the Evangelist Parish he returned to China with his brother from 1926 until 1929. Finally returning to Toronto in 1929 at 52 years of age, he was appointed Champlain of Loretto Abbey and Loretto College School, an exclusive Catholic Womens College in Toronto. According to Sister Juliana Dusel, General Archivist of Loretto Abbey, William went blind in the latter years of his time at the Abbey, however he had memorized two forms of the Mass (The Mass of the Blessed Virgin and the Mass of the Dead) so that he could continue to serve. However, blind and now old, his saying of the Mass began to take so long that the Sisters, required to be at their various schools to teach, were frequently made late. Sister Juliana also notes that, "he is remembered fondly by all who knew him, and who describe him as having been always kind and gently--an excellent chaplain to the Sisters and our boarders."

revwilliam, originally uploaded by Anexplorer.

Notes from the handwritten annals of the Abbey track his decline:

"April 16, 1950 - Father Fraser has not been able for some time to say mass. He is not able to walk and comes to the second Mass on Sundays in a wheel chair. Msgr. Fraser is soon to leave for Japan and the parting will be hard.

"June 5, 1950 - Bishop Carroll said Mass at 8 a. m. He is to give the priests' retreats at St. Augustine's Seminary in the next three weeks. He spoke of Father Fraser and intends to speak to the Cardinal, he thinks Mercy Hospital would be the best place for him now that he is no longer able to say Mass.

"Sept. 22, 1950 - Our dear Fr. Fraser whose strength has not returned enough to enable him to say Mass at all since last March had finally become reconciled to moving to Mercy Hospital and was ready when a room was announced for him for today. Mother General and a number of the community were at the door to see him into the car with Mr. Smith (driver for the sisters), his radio and other things occupying the other seat. M.M. Dionysia had done much, and Mrs. Ralston his neice the rest, in sorting and packing everything. He was very lonely leaving but cheered up somewhat when Mother General (Victorine O'Meara) held out the hope that he would come back to say Mass in the new chapel."

Father Fraser lived out the last years of his life at his nephew, Bishop Carroll's beloved St. Agustine's Seminary until his death on November 24, 1952 at age 85. He is buried in the Regina Cleri Cemetery in Scarborough Ontario. Bill and Rosanna Fraser, attended his funeral where they met several relatives (Father's Frank and Gerald Fraser) who were Catholic priests from Chicago, Illinois, son's of William's brother Alexander, from the Chicago branch of the family. Father William was well known to them and had visited them in Chicago many times.

Carpenter, Trappist Monk, Parish Priest, Missionary to China, religious poet, Chaplain to St. Micheal's Hospital and Lorretto Abbey. Although the paths of our lives crossed in time, sadly I never met him and never even knew of his existence until I began researching my family history in 1990.

To view the many other contributors to Sepia Saturday, most not as wordy as this one turned out to be, CLICK HERE