Religion: Father Oliver Passes

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Saturday afternoons saw the greatest transformation. Donning his black clerical suit and round collar, Anglo-Catholic Father Oliver went off to Mount Calvary Episcopal Church. There he got into cassock and biretta, attended vespers, heard confessions, dined, had a cigaret, went to bed at 10 in a cell-like room on the top floor of the clergy house. Sunday morning he sang High Mass at 11, but seldom preached.

In his dozen books he preached well. Victim & Victor lacked only one vote to make it the 1928 Pulitzer Prize novel. Other books: Fear (a novel), Foursquare (an autobiography). Most of his writing was done during summer holidays in Quebec. He never kept a cent of royalties. They went to help educate men for the ministry and medicine.

Oliver always regarded his priesthood as the center of his fourfold life. His father was General Robert Shaw Oliver, Assistant Secretary of War under President Taft and President Theodore Roosevelt. After leaving Harvard summa cum laude (1894), Oliver spent two years teaching at St. Paul's School, Concord, N.H. Then he entered the Episcopal priesthood, but after three years' ministry he lost his faith and asked to be deposed. He went to Europe, joined the Roman Catholic Church, started studies for the priesthood only to find his faith gone a second time. He turned to medicine, got his degree from Austria's Innsbruck University (1910), became a lieutenant in the Austrian Army's medical corps and served in 1914-15. A heart attack forced him to return to the U.S. He recuperated but failed to get into the U.S. Army medical corps in 1917. His court and private practice and university work in Baltimore took his mind off his disappointment.

One afternoon in 1917, 14 years after he had been deposed from the priesthood, 45-year-old Dr. Oliver entered an Episcopal church in Baltimore, saw people entering and leaving the confessional. He entered himself and knelt down by the grating to whisper the form for confession. He could only say: "I want to come home. ... I want to come home."

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