A correspondent writes:
BR ELDRIDGE PENDLETON SSJE died on 26 August, aged 75. He was a historian of the Episcopal Church in the United States, and an authority on the founding members of his own order — whose enthusiasm for the religious life he loved to recount, in the hope of inspiring vocations.
In particular, he was an expert on the life and work of Charles Grafton, the pioneering second bishop of the diocese of Fond du Lac in north-east Wisconsin, whose biography he published last year. Pendleton was archivist for his province of the Society of St John the Evangelist for many years, and for a period oversaw its daughter house in Durham, NC.
As director of the Fellowship of St John, SSJE’s third-order community, he also exercised a prodigious ministry of preaching, spiritual direction, and pastoral guidance, which extended far beyond the walls of his monastery on the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Raised a Southern Baptist in Farmersville, Texas, Pendleton first encountered the members of the Society of St John the Evangelist at their mission church on Bowdoin Street, in Boston. “I looked around,” he recalled, “and noticed that everybody was there. There were rich people sitting next to people who looked like they had slept on the street; there were white people and black people (and this was in 1961, before civil rights); gay people and straight people; just a whole mix of everybody.
“Through the music and the clouds of incense, I thought: ‘Wow, this is the closest thing I’m going to get to the celestial banquet.’” He became an Episcopalian shortly afterwards, but remained forever a Texan: even as a monk, he sometimes wore cowboy boots under his habit.
Pendleton took a Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia, and, after graduation, embarked on a career in academia. He taught at Princeton, and later curated a museum in Maine, before being professed, in 1984, as a member of the American province of Richard Meux Benson’s Society of St John the Evangelist.
Ill-health had cast a shadow over his early middle-age, with a serious congenital heart condition. He attributed its disappearance to the healing ministry of a priest who visited the monastery during his postulancy. In 1990, he celebrated his 50th birthday by swimming 25 laps in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. After studies at Duke Divinity School, he was made deacon in April 1993, and ordained to the priesthood six months later.
He described his own prayer-life, on entering SSJE, as having been at “Grade Level 1”, and knew that his deepest learning about prayer and spirituality had been acquired since his profession. He had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart, and was a member of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament.
Many people who encountered him were drawn nearer by his gentleness, wisdom, and humour. He was in huge demand as a spiritual director, work that he himself found immensely satisfying; and he was a regular contributor to Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Living, SSJE’s online offering of reflection, prayer, and meditation.
Physically debilitating illness returned to dog him towards the end of his life, but his mind remained as sharp as ever. His complicated medical needs eventually necessitated a move to a nursing home. Although this saddened his brethren, he himself offered it to God with thanksgiving: “The people here are so wonderful to me.”