Source File: cat.bohlke.l.08.xml

from Willa Cather in Person: Interviews, Speeches, and Letters

Selected and edited by L. Brent Bohlke

Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1986

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Cover of L. Brent Bohlke's Willa Cather in Person

1935: HASTINGS

One of the Cather family's oldest and dearest friends was the Right Reverend George Allen Beecher (1868-1951), the second (and last) Bishop of Western Nebraska from 1910 to 1943. He had met and become friends with the family shortly after his consecration and confirmed Cather's brother, James, and his wife, Ethel, in 1920. In December 1922, Bishop Beecher served as master of ceremonies at the celebration of her parents' Golden Wedding Anniversary, and on December 27 of that year he confirmed Cather and her parents into the Episcopal Church. She corresponded with him regularly and always invited him to dine with her when he was in New York City (see George Allen Beecher Collection, Nebraska State Historical Society).

When Beecher observed the Silver Anniversary of his consecration, Carrie Miner Sherwood wrote Cather asking her to send a letter of congratulations, since she could not be present. The letter that follows was the formal response to that request, sent to the Dean of St. Mark's Pro-Cathedral, the Very Reverend Francis R. Lee, and later printed in the Hastings Daily Tribune. Cather also wrote a personal letter to Carrie telling her that the formal letter did not say it all. She wished to be able to write the bishop a personal note to express her admiration. She knew that Carrie and Elsie both knew how much she loved him and how proud she was of him. She said she had met a great many bishops in her day, but none of them looked the part and filled the part as her own Bishop Beecher. She wished that Carrie or Elsie would tell him exactly how she felt, for she was always rather shy about communicating her admiration to those people she admired (ALS to Carrie Miner Sherwood, 25 November 1935, Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial).

Six years later, when Bishop Beecher's new cathedral was consecrated in Hastings, Cather was again unable to be present. She wrote the bishop of her extreme regret. She said that she wished she could be in Hastings in the lovely new cathedral on St. Andrew's Day to join in the service and to kneel in joyful thanksgiving to heaven for her own bishop. She would give thanks for all that the bishop meant to her and both her parents and so many of her friends (ALS to George A. Beecher, 25 November 1941, Nebraska State Historical Society).

Until her death Cather was to remain a loyal friend and regular correspondent with Bishop Beecher. The last letter she wrote to him was less than five weeks before her death. On All Soul's Day, 2 November 1947, Bishop Beecher conducted the memorial service for Willa Cather at Grace Church in Red Cloud.

MISS CATHER WRITES

Among the many messages received by the committee in charge of the observance of Bishop George Allen Beecher's twenty-fifth year in the Episcopate was one from Miss Willa Cather, the author.

Miss Cather and Bishop Beecher have been friends for many years. Her letter in full:

In response to your kind invitation, may I send through you my greetings and grateful remembrances to the bishop and Mrs. Beecher on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his consecration as bishop? I wish with all my heart that I could be in Hastings on the thirtieth of November.

I know that some of my friends from Red Cloud will be there on that day, for our bishop is greatly beloved in my home town. He has shared so many joys and sorrows with us there that he has become a part of the life of the town, quite as if he lived there always.

When I reflect that he certainly means as much to all the congregations in his diocese, then I think what a glorious thing it is to touch the lives of so many people. I can remember many scenes at which Bishop Beecher was present, and to every one of them, ecclesiastical or social, he added vitality and warmth and distinction.

He has the power of making one feel that the present service, the present moment, is rich and precious; that life is full of splendid realizations which have nothing to do with material gains or losses. I have never spent an hour in his company without feeling the happier for it, and these meetings, sometimes years apart, have left such vivid pictures in my memory that I often turn to them.

Again and again I have seen Bishop Beecher make the simplest church service a memorable occasion. That is why I am so sorry to miss the anniversary services in Hastings on the thirtieth; I know that I am missing a ceremony which would give me deep satisfaction. On that day my thoughts will be with the Bishop and Mrs. Beecher and with the friends from Red Cloud who will be enjoying the anniversary services in my stead.

Willa Cather

Hastings Daily Tribune, 2 December 1935.