were many who had considered the priest's appointment to the little
town in northwestern Wisconsin a place of isolation, but it did
not prove so to Father Gordon. He was forty-eight when he came to
Long Lake, but he began his most active period of public life. He
was in demand as a public speaker; he maintained hi interest in
Indian affairs; he took an active part in farmer's organizations
and especially the Farmers' Union; he was interested in politics
in which he was a liberal in the La Follette tradition. He supported
Franklin Roosevelt and was a firm backer of Henry A. Wallace as
Secretary of Agriculture. The Wallace and Gordon families became
The Indian priest loved to travel and did so at every opportunity.
He often made trips to the reservations and was asked to speak at
many different events. On several occasions he attended the Eucharistic
Congress in Europe and the United States.
One of the first ones in which he was involved was in Chicago in
1926. He made the trip of automobile, taking along a number of Indians.
They were guest there at the Slovenian meeting. This was the nationality
of the first missionary to bring the gospel to the Chippewa Indians
and to do effective work among them, Bishop Baraga. Father Gordon
spoke in German at the Innsbruck Alumni meeting at the Congress.
A newspaper account dramatically described the Congress "a historical
painting such as one comes upon in galleries of the old world was
now touched to life and to actuality."
softly swaying; high aloft enormous golden garlands of grape leaves
and bunches of grapes; sheaves of the goodly wheat; triple crowns
of gold interlaces with silver fabric; Knights of the Holy See in
ceremonial cloaks partly revealing coat sleeves heavily embroidered
with gold and silver; colossal replicas of the papal arms
and here --- ah, marvelous continuity and comprehensiveness of the
Church's story - an American Indian wearing the feathered ceremonial
headdress of the Chippewas. That Indian is a priest now and known
and loved among his people and your people at Centuria, Wisconsin,
as Father Philip Gordon
It was during this week, June 20-24, 1926, that the KKK activities
caused some commotion in the neighboring county of St. Croix. A
Mr. Alfred Brown was engaged in a series of violent anti-Catholic
talks in that county.
Father Gordon wrote, "I do not know if he disgraced any Protestant
ministry by calling himself a Reverend or attached himself to any
On June 11, Mr. Fred L. Rothgeber, editor of the newspaper in Clear
Lake, Polk County, wrote the following letter to Father Gordon:
"Dear Sir: I would be pleased to have the pleasure of arranging
a debate between yourself and Mr. Alfred Brown in the immediate
future on the following subject: Resolve that the Roman hierarchy
is an un-American organization. Please advise me of you acceptance
or objection of the opportunity to debate Mr. Brown on the above
subject at your earliest convenience. Respectfully - Fred L. Rothgeber,
PO Box 56"
Father Gordon replied and suggested a date after the Eucharistic
Congress, which he planned to attend. After an exchange of letters,
on June 21, Mr. Rothgeber wrote, "It is my opinion and I believe
you will agree with me that it is advisable to abandon further effort
to complete arrangements for a debate on the subject mentioned in
previous letters, after the recent happenings at Northline, because
it may incite, or create, religious hatred."
The "recent happenings" referred to was the burning of Mr. Brown's
tent by a group from Hudson. Some of the disturbers of the peace
were subsequently arrested and court proceedings initiated. Father
Rice, then of Hudson, was instrumental in abolishing the KKK in
When Father Gordon traveled to Dublin, Ireland, in 1932 to attend
the Eucharistic Congress there, he was a member of a party of about
a hundred pilgrims from St. Paul.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press noted, "A full-blooded Indian priest
of the Chippewa tribe who appeared in the regalia of his people
in a procession of the Congress, is the star of the film made there."
Gordon of Centuria, Wisconsin
steals the show from the conventionally
dressed cardinals and the pope's legate who marched in the procession.
More than a million persons from all parts of the world attended
The film, which also included scenes taken in Germany, was filmed
by Leon M. Linden of Aurora, Illinois and was exhibited for the
benefit of the unemployed workers of St. Paul.
While in Ireland, Father Gordon met prominent Irishmen and spent
a day as the guest of Eamon de Valera, prime minister, who had visited
a mission at Reserve.
The following year the St. Paul Dispatch published an article, which
stated: "The only American Indian Catholic priest in the world,
Reverend Philip Gordon of Centuria, Wisconsin, will help lead a
Holy Year mission pilgrimage from St. Paul to Rome in July."
will assist Reverend James A. Troy, 244 Dayton Avenue, director
of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, in guiding Northwest
pilgrims along European travel trails far different from the trails
trod by his ancestors through the Chippewa forests."
The tour included visits to many historic places as well as a four-day
stay in Rome where they had an audience with Pope Pius XI, the Pope
Wherever he went, Father Gordon always rated write-ups in the newspapers.
Of these he said, "The so-called 'write-ups' that always were bound
to appear in the local newspapers 'on a visit of an Indian priest'
and which had become sort of stereotyped must by not become a nuisance
to the patient readers of these historic notes."
But they always appeared. In 1929, on an eastern trip, he was quoted
in the Trenton Times, "The poverty existing among the Indian tribes
in the United States is simply appalling. He quoted the survey recently
completed by the Bureau of Government research to prove that widespread
poverty, which verges upon actual starvation, can be found on many
Another sidelight to that trip which amused him was what he called
a literary curiosity, a write-up in a Hungarian newspaper, published
in Trenton, called "Uj Vilag." There were about twenty-five paragraphs,
which he said amounted to this, "The fellow is alright."
Like all clergy, Father Gordon constantly encountered problems,
but his sense off humor helped to carry him through many of his
trials. In his History of St. Pat's he mentioned 'two remarkable
letters, but not unusual. It would be rich reading if these letters
could be submitted, but they deal more or less with private, almost
confidential matters. I mention them, however, because it is indicative
of the fact that the priest is sometimes bombarded with propaganda
and subjected to quite a bit of pressure if someone's feelings have
been hurt by enforcement of Church rules and regulations."
of the above letters was in response to a statement sent out by
the then secretary of the parish, William Cosgrove. He was dunning
members. One such member (it happened to be a woman) wrote a long
and involved statement full of dates and figures and additions and
subtractions with considerable sarcasm and even bitterness
The letter was so long and hefty that it took 4 cents postage. The
woman subsequently died and I often prayed that I hope St. Peter
was a good mathematician to figure out if the family in questions
had all the pew rent paid up."
second letter was an involved marriage case. It was written by an
irate Irishman who talked plenty tough. However, the eventual outcome
of this matter was that the state law in Minnesota intervened and
the marriage was dissolved when one of the parties landed in the
state 'pen,' and thereafter the pastor could sleep without wild
might be interesting to note that an average of about three or four
goody letters reach a priest each month from all sorts of odd characters.
While I love to receive friendly and good letters, I also get a
kick out of reading some of the effusions of people who may disagree
with me. At the worst, it can be said that most correspondence is
meant to be sincere."
Some of the members of Father Gordon's perish felt there was discrimination
against Catholics in the public schools. Now and then it was brought
to his attentions that applicants for a position were asked what
religious denomination he or she belonged to and the applicant failed
to land the job.
had this particular complaint with reference to the St. Croix Falls
College and High School. We never entered into the allegations against
this school but there was this bald fact that often caused me to
wonder. In all the eighteen years of pastorate of this writer in
Polk County, there has been but one Catholic, to our knowledge,
reaching in St. Croix Falls, although all neighboring schools -
Luck, Milltown, Balsam Lake, Centuria, Frederic, Amery, Osceola,
Webster, Cumberland, etc. - are seldom without teachers and instructors
and even principles who practice the Catholic religion. Not that
the school boards are respectively Catholic or anti-Catholic."
it might be put down as a most remarkable coincidence that the pastor
(of St. Patrick's Church, which includes St. Croix Falls) has not
once been invited to offer and invocation, give a benediction, recite
a baccalaureate, offer a commencement address (our charge have only
bee for gas and oil instead of the $25.00 given to out-of-town speakers)
in that school in his parish."
fact has never been interpreted as meant to be a deliberate slight
but matched with the other happenings might give rise to suspicions
in sensitive minds, particularly to the Catholics patronizing a
particular school, inasmuch as the writer has often been called
upon to help with his poor talents in Public Schools of various
kinds in the high school located in the parish, as well as elsewhere
In an answer to a letter, State Superintendent John Callahan explained
that "the question of religious denomination is never considered
in applications for positions as teachers in the public schools
department is, however, well aware that in some sections of the
state applications for positions are rejected on account of religious
preference, and the selection is probably decided to a greater or
less extent by community disposition
Often unhappy events caused the priest sorrow, but they never made
him submissive. As a "sample of the 'doings' in some parts of the
Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave." He entered the following
in his reminiscences:
"From the Polk County Ledger, Balsam Lake, Wisconsin - OPEN FORUM
(Opinions expressed and statements made are those of the writers
and do not necessarily reflect the view of the paper.)"
"NO INDIANS WANTED"
"We, the people of Georgetown and Johnsonville, living near Big
Round Lake, are very bitter against having an Indian Reserve put
in up here. We have no canned heat factory up here to keep them
much better place is at Balsam Lake, if they must be kept in the
county. There they could have the benefit of good schools, county
nurse, everlasting job for the relief department which is so well
established in the county garage, and by putting in floor on the
beams of the supports of the roof in the county garage, they could
house the whole tribe and keep them warm and save canned heat. We
have too many Indians here now such as they are. It will only mean
a long war to the bitter end. Not only with the Indians, but with
the people who are trying to put them on us."
have a wonderful place for a game refuge and intend to establish
one here. Already we have plenty of deer, a start of beavers, muskrat,
ring necks, and grouse. We are about the center of a large deer
territory. We have a fish reserve in Big Round Lake and everybody
respects it, and thinks it is a good thing. - A Subscriber."
The Game preserve was established near Big Round Lake.
Note: WE can well leave it to the prowess of Father Gordon to take
car of 'Subscriber' when the time comes to talk about the matter."