How I became a St. James altar boy: Father Bothe and the magnitudes of religion and war

How I became a St. James altar boyHow I became a St. James altar boy

In his series “How I became a St. James altar boy,” Ralph Horner writes about growing up next to St. James Anglican Catholic Church in Goodrich-Kirtland Park and how he got drawn into being an altar boy and, eventually, “a high Anglo Catholic, but not under the Pope Pius XII.” In his final series installment, Horner introduces Father Bothe and compares the magnitudes or religion and war.

Father Bothe was the assistant pastor to Father Peterson. He was the opposite in appearance to Father Peterson: He was tall and thin and had a more serious demeanor; he was not as gregarious as Father Pete, but he was also kind and gentle.

He had an interesting past. Father Bothe was a first cousin to Czar Nicholas of Russia and had a photo on his office wall of them standing together. He was also a good friend of Henry Ford.

Father Bothe told me that Ford had a custom automobile made for his son, Edsel Ford, in 1943, but Edsel died before the car was finished. So Henry Ford gave it to Father Bothe.

Father Bothe got posted to a church in South America and took the car with him. Unfortunately, as they were lifting the car off of the boat the hoist broke. and the car fell into the ocean—never to be seen again.

Father Bothe was in poor health. He suffered from emphysema and chain smoked Camel cigarettes. His doctor prescribed him to have a small glass of whiskey a day.

Instead of  discretely having the whiskey in his apartment in the church hall, Father Bothe would walk to the notorious Lexington Tavern on East 55th Street and drank it with the miscreants and ne’er-do-wells who frequented that den of iniquity.

Once, when Father Bothe was giving mass, and I was his only server, he became very ill. He told me to get him to the bench on the side of the altar. He finished the mass while sitting there. When the mass was over, I got him to his apartment in the church hall and he told me that he was okay.

Days later I asked him why he didn't just stop the mass. He told me that once a priest starts a mass the only reason it can be stopped is death.

It was incongruous that I was a semi-juvenile delinquent and a faithful church goer at the same time, but there was something about that place that I loved. I always had kind of a sense of history and what is more historically conscious than the Bible, the church, or the mysteries of the religious experience?

But my experience as an altar boy was more than that. It was comforting to be there. Of course of was comforting to be there—that is what the church, the ceremony, and the praise of the higher power is all about.

I always thought my participation in the Vietnam War was profound because it was bigger than my simple existence. Church and Religion held the same magnitude in a different way.

Both were laden with history. St. James Anglican Catholic Church, religion, and war have the same magnitude, but in a different way.

Ralph Horner
Ralph Horner

About the Author: Ralph Horner

Ralph Horner grew up in the 1950s and 1960s on Whittier Avenue in the Central and Hough neighborhoods. In the 1960s and 1970s, at the age of 19, he managed a French Shriner shoe store on Euclid Avenue, where he got to know many of the people who hung out on Short Vincent.  A self-proclaimed juvenile delinquent living in the inner city, Horner observed the characters who were regulars in the neighborhoods he lived and worked in. Now in his 70s, Horner shares the stories of some of his more memorable experiences on Short Vincent with the FreshWater series, Rascals and Rogues I Have Known.