The Bishop's Daughter
Honor Moore first delved into her family history when she published the well-received The White Blackbird in 1996, the story of her mercurial maternal grandmother, painter Margarett Sargent. In The Bishop’s Daughter, she ranges closer to home as she probes the private and public life of her famous father, Bishop Paul Moore, Jr. In recounting her often difficult relationship with him, she comes to terms with a distant, sometimes cruel parent, who was a beloved and respected church leader but who also harbored a secret so painful that it indelibly scarred his relationships with those who loved him most.
In her “Prologue,” Moore opens with an image that haunts the book’s pages from beginning to end. It is Easter morning in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. The choir has finished singing, when three knocks sound in the silence. Thenthe massive doors swing open, an ethereal shaft of sunlight floods the dark, the roar of the city breaks the gigantic quiet, and there at the far end of the aisle, in a blaze of morning light, stands the tall figure of a man. My flesh-and-blood father, the bishop.
The contrast between the phrases “my flesh-and-blood father” and “the bishop” captures the tension between the human and the holy that characterized Paul Moore throughout his life. Cloaked in his rich vestments and surrounded by glowing light, the bishop seems godlike and inapproachable. Yet as Honor Moore draws on her own reminiscences, as well as on letters, diaries, and interviews with family and friends, she divests her father of his episcopal accoutrements, demythologizing him in order to discover the man’s true self and the reasons for their often contentious relationship. As she does so, it becomes clear that his bishop’s crook and miter are not the only things that set Paul Moore apart.
In “Father,” the first section of her book, Moore offers an overview of the future bishop’s family pedigree and education. Grandson of William Moore, one of the founders of the Bankers Trust Co. and contemporary of such notables as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, Paul Moore was born to a life of wealth and privilege. His family had residences in New York City, New Jersey, Florida, and Prides Crossing, Massachusetts, where he met his first wife and the mother of his nine children, the beautiful socialite Jenny McKean. From an early age, he was sensitive about his family’s favored status. He once dove to the floor of a chauffeured limousine as it drove through a blighted neighborhood because he was ashamed to be seen riding in luxury while others were living hand to mouth. His pang of conscience would blossom into full-blown social activism early in his ministry.
While attending the exclusive St. Paul’s School, an Episcopal-run boarding school in New Hampshire, Paul underwent a conversion. After his graduation from Yale, he entered the Marine Corps in 1941 and survived a gunshot wound that just missed his heart. His narrow escape from death further cemented his religious sensibilities, and he came to believe that his life was spared for a higher purpose.
After he was ordained to the priesthood in 1949, Reverend Moore became the rector of a parish in Jersey City, New Jersey. His experience in the inner city gave birth to the social activism that would be the hallmark of his ministry. When he was named Dean of Christ Church Cathedral located in conservative Indianapolis, Indiana, he continued to speak out in favor of liberal causes. In 1964, after he was appointed Suffragan Bishop of Washington, D.C., he marched for civil rights with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma, Alabama; protested the Vietnam War; and berated presidents and other government officials for their lack of concern for the poor. In the last sermon he preached before his death in 2003, he strongly criticized President George W. Bush for initiating the war in Iraq.
Moore’s brief biography of her father lays the foundation for part two of her book, titled “Daughter.” With her declaration, “And so I have come into the story,” the genre changes from biography to memoir. She writes movingly and with obvious pain about her struggle to understand why her father was often distant, aloof, and sometimes indifferent to his wife and family. Honor recalls a time when Paul, then a student at General Theological Seminary in New York, brought her to a service of evensong:Once after supper, my father swept me up into his black seminarian’s cape . . . we climbed the stairs to the seminary and stepped along the grassy path to the chapel. I could already hear it,...
(The entire section is 1896 words.)