Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana Archives

Reginald Mallett, Third Bishop

Of the eight episcopates that have characterized the first 120 years of the Diocese of Northern Indiana, that of Reginald Mallett, the third bishop, stands in many ways as the most difficult and turbulent. Mallett came to office during the middle of World War II, and his authoritarian leadership style and personal prejudices brought strain to much of the diocese, in spite of the paradox that it grew significantly under his troubled administration. This irony makes the Mallett years with all of its flaws the most challenging to appreciate among those of his predecessors and successors.

When Bishop Campbell Gray died unexpectedly in 1944, there were no organized plans in place for a successor. The diocesan archdeacon, Ven. J. McNeal Wheatley of Trinity Fort Wayne, enjoyed strong popularity with the laity but not with his fellow clergy, nearly all of whom disliked his leadership style. At a Special Council held in South Bend on 28 June 1944, a divisive meeting was held that included a resolution calling for investigating a possible reunion with the Diocese of Indianapolis, but it was declared out of order. Seven priests were nominated for bishop, but none secured a majority. The Rev. Robert J. Murphy of St. Mark's Church in Howe received sufficient clerical votes on the eleventh and twelfth ballots, while Wheatley led the lay order on fifteen consecutive ballots. When it became obvious that the meeting was deadlocked, it adjourned for a month.

At a second convocation on 26 July, the Rev. Reginald Mallett of Grace and St. Peter's Church in Baltimore received the necessary clerical and lay support on the first ballot. Mallett had no idea he was under consideration for bishop, and when he received the call notifying him of the election, he thought at first it was a joke.

James Reginald Mallett, who never used his first name, was born at Fernbank, Ohio, on 27 February 1893, the son of the Rev. Frank James Mallett and Mary Emily (Long). His father had been a prominent and respected priest in North Carolina and Ohio. Reginald attended Erasmus Hall in New York, received his Bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina in 1915, and then attended General Theological Seminary, graduating in 1918 during World War I. He was ordained to the priesthood later that same year by Bishop Joseph Blount Cheshire of North Carolina. He then served several parishes in North Carolina, including St. John's in Wilmington. He married Lucy Atkinson Murchison, known to her friends as "Miss Lucy," on 12 February 1924. As the granddaughter of the late Bishop Thomas Atkinson of North Carolina, Lucy came from an old Episcopal family and was warmly remembered across the diocese for her hospitality, graciousness, and keen sense of humor. They would adopt a son, Reginald II, who was later ordained a priest by Bishop Mallett in 1960.

Mallett had gone on to serve several parishes, including canon of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio; rector of Holy Trinity, Greensboro, North Carolina; rector of Christ Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee; and rector of Grace Church in White Plains, New York. He then had a long stint at Grace and St. Peter's Church in Baltimore, beginning in 1936, where he solidified his reputation as a strong Anglo-Catholic, a qualification that brought him to the attention of Northern Indiana as a compromise candidate for bishop. His consecration took place at St. James Church, South Bend, on 25 October 1944. A reporter for a Protestant newspaper, The Chronicle, complained about the copes, miters, candles, and incense at the service, writing, "Oh, it was very, very Catholic, and blessings were as thick as gooseberries in July."

In 1944, the diocese was still suffering from the dual effects of the Great Depression and World War II. It had just nineteen parishes and ten missions, only fifteen active clergy, and 199 total confirmations had been celebrated. The diocese paid to the national church a quota of just $3,500. When asked about what his new policies would be, Mallett said, "I made up my mind that it should be to change things as little as possible and to learn in these days of changing conditions how to plan hopefully for the future." He would continue Bishop Gray's focus on the Eucharist as the centerpiece of the liturgy every Sunday, and even those not confirmed, he believed, should be present and worship at Holy Communion even if they could not fully partake.

Early on, Mallett took a strong interest in evangelism and wanted to see a rise in the total number of confirmations across the diocese. No new parishes had been added to the diocese since Christ Church, Gary, in 1908. The new bishop challenged his priests and laity to achieve a ten percent yearly growth in the total number of communicants, doubling the national average of just five percent. His challenge came at an opportune time, just as veterans were returning from the war, starting families, and launching the Baby Boom generation. By 1946, every parish in the diocese met its annual financial assessment, having both a seat and vote at the annual convention. Northern Indiana followed only the dioceses of Florida and South Florida in the rate of growth. "From having been on its last legs during the Depression," said one writer, "the Diocese enjoyed considerable advance in the post-war world."

Having had his institution at St. James Church in South Bend, Mallett took a liking to that city and decided to sell the bishop's residence in Mishawaka and move there. He purchased a house at 2117 East Jefferson Boulevard, paying a third of the cost himself and using donations from his former parishioners in Baltimore for the remainder. In 1950, he announced that St. Paul's in Mishawaka would cease to have its pro-cathedral status, and he eventually accepted the invitation of St. James to become the new cathedral. Its vestry agreed to purchase a nearby building for use as diocesan office space. Between 1950 and early 1957, however, the diocese operated without a cathedral. The bishop had an oratory for celebrating Mass and an office in his official residence. On 30 January 1957, Mallett was formally enthroned as bishop, and the status of St. James officially changed.

If Mallett's liturgical and evangelical styles proved a good fit for his times, his leadership style did not. By his own acknowledgement, he was not a good speaker. Though he had a sense of humor, the new bishop was also authoritarian in his relations with his fellow clergy, and within a short time turned his back on several priests and made them outcasts. Some observers concluded that the behavior was decidedly unchristian and not befitting the chief pastor of the diocese. According to Robert Center, "While he was a devoted pastor to many of his clergy, there were some who, for good reason or ill, were persona non grata. There were alienation and ill-conceived hostility among them. Assigning the culpability for this pastoral breakdown would be difficult. But as any priest knows all too well, a sense of alienation is destructive of the pastoral relationship. Until the day of Bishop Mallett's death, some deep wounds were never healed. There was a price to be paid for this unhappy situation. It cost the bishop in terms of his spiritual well being, cost some of the clergy a warm relationship with their father-in-God, and cost the diocese in terms of as shadow which hovered over the diocesan family."

Part of the problem undoubtedly stemmed from Mallett's personality. Soon after becoming bishop, he became accustomed to giving orders and having them unquestionably obeyed without any attempt at collegiality. In 1947, he ordered, without first requesting, that William Sheridan leave Marion and assume the rectorship of St. Thomas, Plymouth. Sheridan obeyed and gave Mallett his stalwart support. Similarly, when the mission of St. Michael and All Angels was founded in South Bend, the bishop ordered all parishioners of the Cathedral living east of Twyckenham Avenue to join the new church and terminated their membership at the Cathedral without their consent. He forbid them to return to the Cathedral.

The same obedience did not hold at Trinity, Fort Wayne, where its rector, James McNeal Wheatley, the diocesan archdeacon who had almost been elected bishop, displeased Mallett with his independence. Without consulting Wheatley beforehand, Mallett eliminated the archdeacon office and ordered him by mail to take charge of the chaplaincy of Howe School and chairmanship of the Diocesan Council. Wheatley refused curtly in a replying telegram, infuriating the bishop. In 1947, when open conflict erupted at Trinity Fort Wayne, Mallett did nothing to intervene until Wheatley had resigned. However, in the wake of the departure, the conflict produced a deeply divided parish, half of whom despised the bishop. Once at a meeting, in an effort to challenge his heavy-handed approach to personal relations, a vestryman had called him "Reggie," much to his displeasure. The bishop excommunicated the senior warden after he urged fellow Wheatley supporters to withhold their pledges and refusing to recognize Peter Langendorff as priest-in-charge. Indeed, Mallett developed such a strong dislike for Fort Wayne that years later, when conducting a rehearsal for a confirmation class, he warned the teenagers, after ordering them to kneel, that they were required to kiss his ring during the ceremony: "Do you know how I got my name? I am Bishop Mallett, and if any of you fails to kiss my ring, I will hit you on the side of the head with a mallet." It was not spoken as a joke, and many youths later recalled being terrified of him.

Contrasted with this attitude was the friendly sentiment Mallett felt for Christ Church Gary, its retiring rector, the Rev. James E. Foster, and the incoming rector, the Rev. James Curtis. Photographs show him sharing laughs with the priests and with Mrs. Curtis in a parish that was clearly much closer to his heart. Those whom the bishop liked remembered him and his wife, Miss Lucy, as friendly, affectionate hosts, who thought nothing of hosting fifty faculty members of Howe School for dinner in their large home. He enjoyed playing the parlor organ in his home, and the bishop and his wife often hosted various diocesan ECW groups, where the members recalled him playing. With certain priests he maintained close friendships, even Horace Varian, whom he defrocked for sexual impropriety, and kept in contact for years afterward.

Bishop Mallett took an interest in acquiring Central Normal College in Danville, Indiana, and in partnership with Bishop Richard Kirchhoffer of the Diocese of Indianapolis, hoped to turn the school into a liberal arts Episcopal college. In 1946, its president, Edgar Cummings, had approached both dioceses about its purchase. It had five buildings and assets of $300,000. Upon approval by both dioceses, the new school was called Canterbury College. In spite of high hopes of both bishops for its success, they both came to realize that the amount of money needed to sustain the school proved too great to be sustained with the available budget. Moreover, the liturgical styles of the two dioceses differed so greatly that Mallett and Kirchhoffer, who disliked each other personally, could seldom agree on strategy for the school. After years of struggling membership, the school closed permanently in 1951.

Mallett and his wife continued to extend hospitality to those priests and families in the bishop's good graces by sending invitations to the bishop's home for overnight retreats, as well for picnics at Lake Wawasee in the summers. The diocese was able to acquire additional land in 1951 when Bishop White's daughter, Mrs. George Doubleday, presented two cottages as a gift. For those whom the bishop liked, these lakeside events were warm and well-remembered for the hospitality provided. Some priests and congregations were frozen out of these events, however. In 1956, the Rev. Harold Kappes of Holy Trinity, South Bend, a popular priest with his parish, was abruptly removed from his post without explanation. Mallett always invited the African American congregation of St. Augustine's in Gary, and when his neighbors complained to him, he defended the invitation by saying they were part of his church and always welcome here.

The Baby Boom years led to significant growth in the diocese, but it was uneven. New missions were formed, and some older congregations grew while others experienced little change. The Church of the Good Shepherd, East Chicago, a mission of long-standing, was admitted as a parish in 1956, followed in quick succession the following year by St. Michael and All Angels, South Bend, and St. Andrew's, Long Beach (now Michigan City);  by St. Andrew's, Valparaiso, in 1960, and by St. Augustine and St. Barnabas in Gary, both in 1961. In 1956, Mallett had cautioned against a new, larger building for St. Augustine's, telling its rector, Wallace Wells, that the plans initially drafted by Chicago architect Edward Dart were "too ambitious for a colored congregation." The congregation raised the funds anyway ($100,000) for a smaller building designed by Dart, and they did receive some diocesan financial support.

New diocesan missions were begun during this era with Mallett's encouragement, including St. Christopher's at Crown Point, St. Charles the Martyr at Butler, St. Peter's at Rensselaer, and Holy Family at Angola. Of these four, only Butler would close. Two parochial missions also were founded, including St. Alban's, a mission of Trinity Fort Wayne, and St. David's, a mission of St. John the Evangelist in Elkhart. Mallett also supported the Benedictine monks who had taken charge of Valparaiso, urging them as a matter of personal growth to establish their own self-sustaining priory at Three Rivers, Michigan. In 1961, the diocesan convention approved the creation of the Diocesan Expansion Fund with the goal of raising $200,000. The goal  was to provide low-cost loans out of the fund for parishes planning to make renovations. Some felt this sum was far too low, and because of poor planning, there was no follow up to help shepherd the campaign to its conclusion. Nevertheless, the growth was real. In 1963, Northern Indiana had 22 parishes, 12 missions, and was paying a national quota of more than $24,000.

Bishop Mallett also took an interest in the church overseas. He and his wife made a number of foreign trips. In 1956, the Archbishop of Canterbury sent him with two other Anglican bishops on a secret mission to Spain, where they consecrated the Rev. Santos Molina as bishop of the Spanish Episcopal Church. The church there had been persecuted under the Franco regime, and it faced extreme hostility as a non-Catholic church. Mallett was deeply satisfied with the success of this trip and securing the Anglican Church's future in Spain.

Miss Lucy died in 1959, and by 1961, Mallett's own health began to fail. He was diagnosed with cancer, and according to Robert Center, "the constant pain and intensive treatment required effected a definite change in his normal personality." He called for the election of a Bishop Coadjutor on 12 December 1962, and March 1963, Walter Conrad Klein was elected. He retired the following October, moved back to North Carolina, and died there in 1965.

Rev. William Sheridan, then rector of St. Thomas Church in Plymouth and later bishop, commented: "[Bishop Mallett] suffered from as many weaknesses as you and I, being human. But side by side these weaknesses, there was great human warmth, kindness, and profound charity." For several years in the late 1960s the diocese ran a summer camp for youth named the Bishop Mallett Camp, but by the 1970s, perhaps due to his unpopularity, the name was changed to the Bishop White and Bishop Gray camps. Mallett's primary legacy remains the growth the diocese enjoyed under his leadership, even though the laity and clergy should take most credit for that accomplishment.

Order of Service for the Consecration of the Reverend Reginald Mallett ... 25 October 1944

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