LETTER FROM THE AMERICAN PROVINCAL MASTER
In the difficulties of last spring, between COVID and the internal difficulties, I just saw that notice had not been given to the rest of the Society of the death of our first Provincial Master, Father Gus Franklin SSC, who died on 3 May 2020 - the Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross (old calendar) which was for many years the main feast day of the Society.
Father Franklin was the last Vicar Provincial, I believe, and also the first Provincial Master. He was admitted to the Society in 1983, was an almost constant fixture at Synod even well into his battle with lung cancer. He had been Chapter Vicar of Sacred Heart on and off for many years, and I believe appointed Vicar Provincial, and then elected Master, after the changes in the Statutes regarding the Province of the Americas. Father Franklin was also a full-time mathematics professor in university, as well as being at St Andrew’s, Peoria, Illinois, for some time. Though he was among the most personable of men with a winning and winsome personality, he was alas for a time the brunt of a great deal of opprobrium. The Master of the Society, Father Christopher Bedford (a friend of mine, so no offence is intended!), issued an edict which seemed to make sense to him, that all Masses of the Society be alike and take as their model the then Roman Sacramentary. As a result of the great diversity of liturgical use in this Province (the modern rites of the American 1979 Prayer Book, the traditional-based rites of the same, the 1928 Prayer Book as printed, and users of the Anglican and English (Knott) Missals - I think I am alone in that last category), this edict was reacted to with violent intensity, and the burden of this fell on Father Franklin, who had neither conceived of it nor argued for it. It was widely assumed by the detractors of the change that Father Franklin (who was known for being among the most advanced of the Vatican II set throughout the 1960s and 1970s), had brought this about, to suit his own preferences. Though that was incorrect, frequently, as we know, the facts of the matter often make little difference. Our Synod in Palm Beach, his first, in 1993, was therefore enormously divisive and at times personally abusive to him, and was followed by resignations and recrimination. It is much to Father Franklin’s credit that he presented these difficulties to Father Bedford, and we arrived at a situation where the various liturgical usages were all in evidence depending on the circumstances. If a Synod or Chapter was taking place in a parish church, their rite was used exclusively, and if at a retreat house, then a service of each of these usages was normally prescribed. Father Franklin was given too little credit for his sensitivity to a problem, and the solution of it, for which he had been reviled and was in no way responsible. His lengthy personal “summit” with Father Bedford in early 1994 which sorted this out at St Matthew’s Vicarage in Bethnal Green, where I had often been a dinner guest, was undoubtedly accompanied by a great many cigarettes, quantities of spirits, and a great deal of good will and Christian charity.
Happily, in later years, his happy and sunny personality, even in much adversity and ill health, his Christian hope even in the most trying circumstances (he kept many brethren in the Society and the Church after both the Gene Robinson affair and the election of KJS as primate), erased all the earlier bitterness, and earned him the honour and respect that being a Provincial Master and his long service to the Society rightly brought him.
I am not acquainted with the Welsh or Australian Masters, but perhaps this might be shared with them for their prayers for Father Franklin, and because many of their brethren would have met him at the 1989 or 2005 International Synods, both of which he attended. He was certainly a fixture of the pub at the hotel at the latter, standing rounds for all those present to toast the Pope’s health and then subsequently to toast his memory, a typically Franklinian response of drawing together in community in the face of whatever befell. Requiescat in pace.
Fr B Swain SSC