January 1926, dear friends of Father Gordon, Major J. Frank Quilty
and his wife of Chicago, made it possible for Father Gordon to take
a three-week vacation by way of a lecture trip to Florida. He spoke
at Daytona Beach, Mr. Dora, Leesburn, Clermont, Winter Haven, Bradenton,
Lakeland, and Clearwater. He met many Wisconsin people all over,
but found race prejudice strong, with Jim Crow cars used by law
on all the railroads. Negroes had their own waiting rooms, cars,
places in the busses, etc.
At the time he said, "Give me good old Wisconsin. We have a variety
of climates here. Good roads, Bob LaFollette - and as a man told
me down in Florida, 'Prohibition is better than no liquor at all.'"
A Florida publication called him "a most fascinating and lovable
member of his race as he pointed out to the Open Forum audience
last Sunday afternoon interesting and pathetic facts about present
day life on reservations."
In writing the History of St. Pat's in the 1940's Father Gordon
recalled the lectures in Florida. He said, "I refrain from repeating
the address because many will learn how old the joke are that I
still use in my talks."
Father Gordon continued to use the old parish house at Long Lake.
Charlie Turner said the money was there to build a new one and he
asked the priest why he didn't go ahead and build.
I won't be here long I wouldn't want to build a house that maybe
the next person wouldn't like."
was proud to say the parish had the unusual distinction of never
being in debt, and he is upset now that some want to build a new
church for the tourists. The old building that had housed the chapel
had been turned into a tavern and a hardware store.
Lynch tells of taking the priest from his house at Long Lake to
the church in Centuria.
Sunday it was snowing terrific and blowing and we were about halfway
out and he said, 'Sinon, if next Sunday is like this, we're not
going out.' It was snowing and blowing so much the horses had to
pick their way. It was about four miles from the old parsonage to
Sinon recalls that Father Gordon was always on time. "Not before,
not after. He was always punctual."
The Long Lake cemetery is still there, with names representing many
nationalities, but mostly Irish. As Charlie Turner says, "Long Lake
was all Irish years ago and almost all related. Centuria was all
Swedes; Milltown, all Danes. Between them was the Irish and they
kept the Danes and Swedes from fighting." There were others who
said it took an Indian to keep the Irish from fighting.
Father Gordon's well-known sense of humor made him compatible with
the Irish community. In an article in Badger Trails, No. 24, May
9, 1928, entitled, "Indian Priest Makes Good in Irish Parish," John
H. Lienhard wrote, "When a Chippewa Indian priest was sent four
years ago to take charge of the Irish parish of St. Patrick's, embracing
almost half of Polk County some persons were skeptical."
not for long. Father Philip Gordon came down from Reserve and proceeded
to show them that anyone who has played left end for St. Thomas
College at St. Paul three years is a good enough Irishman to run
any kind of parish. Now he ranks with Sheriff Jim Olson at Balsam
Lake as one of the two most popular men in the county."
Croix Falls, Luck, Centuria, Balsam Lake, and Milltown are all in
Father Gordon's parish as well as Long Lake where he lives in the
parish house with his father as housekeeper. There are five public
high schools and 25 district schools in his parish."
is scout master of Centuria Troop No. 2, Boy Scouts of America.
He is largely interested in the work of the Parent Teachers Association
and addresses their meetings as well as the various high schools
in his parish. Every year he gives a big parish picnic with Indian
dances and notable speakers."
last one was attended by Governor Fred Zimmerman of Wisconsin, Tommy
Gibbons of St. Paul, former heavyweight boxing aspirant, and Chad
Smith, St. Paul airmail pilot."
Charlie Turner said if Father had anything to say to anybody he
often brought it out in his sermon.
had a sister," Charlie said, "that rode to the city with him. So
he was telling his sermon, 'I never knew that the ladies of this
parish were so religious as they are.' He said. "You know I took
a lady down to the city. She wanted to go to the city and I was
going down and she rode along. She sat in the backseat and you know,
she didn't know I saw it, but I think she blessed herself twenty
times on the way.' Oh he drove fast. He was a wonderful driver.
I never heard of him having an accident and he always had a big
car, a heavy car, but he could see in the looking glass and she
blessed herself twenty times." Fast, at the time, was probably 35
miles per hour.
Even his father agreed that Father Gordon was a fast driver. He
said, "My how my son drives fast. I do not want to ride with him."
But he also said, "My son is a smart Indian." Father Gordon had
to drive fast to get to his many activities.
Charlie Turner said, "He was a wonderful person. He had a way of
telling you to do things. I never went to a dance during Lent and
we were brought up quite strict. But there were about a dozen married
couples who went to dances during the year and being I knew Father
so well, they wanted me to go and ask if it would be alright to
dance on St. Patrick's Day. And you know, I got the most beautiful
answer I ever heard. He said, 'you know I don't see no harm in it
but I am sure that St. Patrick would not thank you.' And we did
not go. Now he didn't say right out, 'No, you can't go.' Now you
couldn't go after that."
The priest's aunt, Tressie Lynch, 87, who is living in a nursing
home said Father Gordon had many, many friends. Her son was the
first baby he baptized in Centuria.
Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Reidner sill lived near the church in 1975.
Mrs. Reidner remembered when they had a little hotel in Centuria
and Father Gordon would eat dinner there.
ate there lots of times. He was always in a hurry. He'd eat and
go. He didn't wait for dessert: if you didn't have dessert right
there, he'd be gone. He was always busy. The first time I met him,
I lived in St. Pal and he brought a basketball team down to St.
James Church in our neighborhood. After a while I got pretty well
acquainted with him. He sponsored a girl's team, too."
The Reidner's described Father Gordon as being a big man, a little
on the plump side, but his father, who lived with him for some years,
was a tall slender man.
Father Gordon liked good food, and Mrs. Reidner recalls that, back
in those days, Catholics had strictly enforced abstinence from meat
on Fridays. Those were the days when the 'thrashing' crew moved
from farm to farm with a gigantic threshing machine run by a long
belt attached to a powerful, chugging steam engine. Farmers' wives
loaded the tables with huge platters of meat, bowls of mash potatoes,
gravy, vegetables, homemade pickles, and pies and cakes.
When the farmer knew the threshing crew would be coming on Friday,
he would get permission to serve meat to the large group of men
they would have for meals. So the priest always knew where the good
meals were going to be served. That was where Father Gordon had
dinner that Friday. In fact, he was known to ask one of his friends
to try to have the threshers on Friday.
Father Gordon loved children and had an impact on them. Russell
H. Johnson, now senior vice-president of the First National Bank
of St. Paul, tells how Father Gordon made a bow and arrow for him.
Mr. Johnson's parents had a store in Centuria. When he was seven
or eight years old, around 1925, the priest sat in the back room
of the store and whittled out Russell's first bow and arrow from
an apple crate. No doubt he made many more for other children.
Even with his busy schedule, the priest found time to sponsor both
boy's and girl's basketball teams and other athletics. He was Scout
Master, which eventually led to the presentation of the drum and
peace pipe to the St. Paul Troop, which finally went to President