Boone, Father Charles
1924, February 4
Date of Birth: 1845, December 31
May 1, 1924
Fathers and Very Dear in Our Lord:
We have received from Baltimore a biographical notice on our Sulpician confrere, Father Boone. I regard it as a duty to pass this on to you, therein finding opportunity of paying respect to the good servant in our work and of emphasizing once more the unity that exists in the three provincial families of St. Sulpice. This obituary notice will claim your attention by its tragic character and by its unveiling of a very beautiful soul.
Father Boone, former Professor of Moral in the Baltimore seminary, not actually teaching because of illness, was, at the age of forty-eight, killed instantly at nine o’clock on the morning of February 4th by a train in the Washington station. He was on his way back from Florida, where he had spent some months in a sanatorium. There is no doubt that he wished to take advantage of the stop to get a breath of air; then seeing the train pulling out, he tried to climb back into the vestibule. But his great weakness and the partial paralysis of his lower limbs made him miss the steps and he fell on the tracks where he was found dead a few moments later.
Father Fenlon, Superior of the University seminary in Washington, summoned in haste, made the necessary arrangements for paying last respects to our confrere. Brought to Baltimore and laid out in priestly vestments, the body had a viewing in the seminary community room until the funeral, which took place on the 6th. Those who came to pray after reading in the papers the account of the terrible accident were surprised at not seeing in his face or hands any trace of his violent death.
Charles Edward Boone was born on August 29, 1876, at Plainfield, New Jersey. His mother, Anne Marie Hering, was originally from New York. His father, William Constantine Boone, belonged to one of the oldest and most respected Catholic families of Maryland. He had been a soldier in the confederate army during the Civil War; then he settled at Plainfield where for a long time he was a doctor. A paternal uncle of our confrere, after serving the Church in the Jesuits for half a century, died some years ago at Baltimore, revered by his fellow-Jesuits, by the diocesan clergy, and by the faithful. The Boone family was also related to Father Dyer, Superior of the Baltimore seminary and Provincial of St. Sulpice in the United States.
Our future confrere, after attending elementary and high school in Plainfield, went on to complete his classical education (from 1894 to 1898) at our minor seminary of St. Charles. He there attained a good rank among the best students of his class. Intelligent, hard-working, with very pronounced literary skills, a bit shy and reserved, but at times lively, well-behaved and conscientious, he had the esteem of his teachers and fellow-students among whom, up to his death, he counted some devoted friends.
Having entered the Baltimore seminary in 1898, he had to interrupt his studies after the first year of Philosophy because of a strange accident. During a vacation at the seashore he was attacked and severely wounded by a shark. At that time there showed up a general weakness and some health worries which did not allow our confrere’s achieving all that might have been expected of him. Nevertheless, he did well at his seminary studies. He was found to have maturity of judgement, an interest in the various subjects he was being taught, the desire of getting to the bottom of questions at the risk of not taking in all the subject. At the same time, he was actively involved in the work of the St. Camillus Association, founded some years before by a group of seminarians for the purpose of visiting on free time the hospitals and other charitable institutions of Baltimore and its suburbs. Father Boone regularly visited the home for the indigent which counted more than a thousand ill, aged, and poor. Up to the end of his life he maintained interest in that work. Some weeks before his death, he wrote to the Secretary of the St. Camillus Association a letter expressing his support and encouragement.
The exalted idea he had of the priesthood from his days in the minor seminary aroused in him the desire of dedicating his life to the formation of priests. After acceptance as an aspirant to the Society, he spent the year after his priestly ordination (1904-1905) at the Catholic University in Washington. At the time of the next vacation he asked to do parish work for a while either on account of his health or in order to gain the experience he regarded as very important for a seminary director. Firmly convinced that his spiritual outlook was more academic than pastoral, he deeply felt the need of being knowledgeable about the spiritual state of the faithful and about the conditions under which were exercised the ministry for which we prepare our seminarians. A young Washington priest, the founder of the St. Camillus Association, was at that time organizing a new parish while continuing his connection with several public institutions and various charitable works in the city. He needed an assistant and wanted to have Father Boone who shared his ideas and his zeal. Cardinal Gibbons gave him Father Boone. For five years these two priests worked together to form a parish (doing very well today) while making themselves available to give the help of religion to the faithful in a good number of institutions and in allotting a part of their time to social works.
After the premature death of his pastor in 1909, Father Boone came as an auxiliary to the Baltimore seminary where he taught Moral to the Newcomers. In 1911 he was a member of the first group of young priests who made their Solitude in America. After that he returned to Baltimore as Professor of Second Year Moral. His studies at the University, his experience in parochial ministry, and his interest in social questions made that teaching attractive. He saw in it the opportunity of giving tomorrow’s priests the true outlook on questions which – in the United States as in Europe – were rightly engaging the minds of the clergy. His ideal was certainly that of Leo XIII, that of our Catholic universities. “Not Socialism, but important social reforms.” He would have liked to share with his students his idealism, and his enthusiasm for the improvement of the workman’s lot. The seminarians readily recognized that he had his matter down well, that in conversation he was a master of his subject, responded to questions in a satisfactory way. In class his poor health and perhaps a certain intellectual slowness kept him from making his teaching lively enough to hold a listening audience.
Named Moderator of the St. Camillus Association in 1909, he exerted on an important group of seminarians an influence always cautious but sure and, in certain cases, deep and lasting. Up to that time the members of the Association had not been able to obtain permission to teach catechism at the Baltimore jail. Father Boone arranged their acceptance. A good number of prisoners thereby owed to him their return to the practice of their religion, and, for some, their conversion to the Catholic faith. The seminarians, who under his direction learned to involve themselves with prisoners, the poor, and the sick, keep a grateful memory of him which several of them, after his death, spoke of with true emotion.
Another work dear to our confrere’s heart was the founding of “Camp St. Mary” in the Adirondacks. While he was a student and in the first year of his teaching, he noticed that a certain number of students, whose families lived in the city, needed, at the end of the school year, some country air. For some with weak lungs, a stay in the mountains seemed a necessity. At that time Father Boone was dreaming of a vacation home where seminarians might find complete rest and clear mountain air while living in a truly priestly and Sulpician setting. About ten years ago, he purchased a piece of property of more than a hundred hectares [c. 250 acres] at thirty kilometers [c. 16 or 17 miles] from a railroad and near a beautiful lake with a splendid view of the highest peaks of the Adirondacks. Little by little he constructed there the necessary buildings to hold about fifty priests or seminarians. Last year he had the happiness of seeing a group of priests undertake the building of a chapel. For other expenses – operation and maintenance – Father Boone appealed to friends in the clergy and also to some laymen. He assured the success of the project by spending himself. Those who have spent even a few days at Camp St. Mary will never forget his gracious hospitality, his attentiveness, his looking out for things, his efforts for making their stay agreeable, even when he himself was eaten up with sickness. If he was not always successful in perfectly realizing his ideal – to unite the complete freedom that the young men would have in their families with exemplary faithfulness to exercises of piety and even a bit of the intellectual life – it can at least be said that by his example, his tact, and his goodness, along with some elevated and practical advice at Sunday Mass (and now and then some application of firmness), he did obtain the results that could reasonably be expected. Beyond that, he made St. Sulpice known and loved by a certain number of priests and seminarians who, in spite of not attending any of our seminaries, learned in that vacation spot something of Sulpician dedication to the service of the clergy.
Father Boone’s health, which was always delicate – especially since the accident [the shark attack] mentioned above – gradually weakened in these last years. In 1918 he had to give up all teaching. He was still able to give some help as assistant treasurer, and then as chaplain of a little community. Up to 1922 he held on to the running of Camp St. Mary. In the fall of that year he went to be taken care of in a Brooklyn hospital. Then in the following spring, to a New Jersey sanatorium, and finally, at the approach of the winter of 1923, to Florida. Although confreres and friends had little by little lost all hope of his recovery, he remained optimistic. At the beginning of the year he seemed to come to the conclusion that, instead of regaining his health in Florida, he was gradually declining. Apart from that, he was unhappy at finding himself so far away from the confreres and deprived of the religious help which he could have in a hospital run by nuns in Baltimore. He thereupon resolved to leave. Three days before leaving Florida he wrote to a friend who had made several novenas for his recovery: “Keep on praying for me. Today is the last day of the novena, and I have to tell you that I have received a spiritual favor, the most extraordinary of my life. Whether or not I am cured, what is more important is that my spiritual life be enhanced by the help of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
It was his last letter, and the favor he spoke of was undoubtedly his preparation for death. Three days later he appeared before God well prepared by his truly priestly life, by his devotion to the service of the clergy, by his years of suffering accepted without complaint, and with true Christian resignation.
The funeral took place in the chapel of the major seminary of Baltimore. The students being away, the choir of the minor seminary of St. Charles sang the Mass celebrated by Father Dyer. A hundred or so priests attended. Many others who could not attend sent expressions of sympathy and promises of prayers. After the absolution, Doctor Kirby, Professor of Sociology at the Catholic University of Washington, spoke a few words in a moving tribute to him who for several years was a coworker in social projects and who had remained a friend. In a striking manner he pointed out the lessons that priests and seminarians might find in the life and death of Father Boone. His words made a deep impression on the clergy and were a great consolation for the members of the family so severely tested. His Grace, the Archbishop, being away on the day of the funeral, agreed to attend the Month’s Mind Mass to be celebrated on the return of the students and so to give to St. Sulpice a new evidence of his fatherly kindness.
I recommend Father Boone to your prayers, and I renew to you the expression of my very devoted sentiments in Our Lord.
Superior of St. Sulpice