Memorials come in all sizes: whole buildings, altars and stained glass windows … plaques … hymnals and prayer-books … chalices, patens, collection plates, linens and vestments … Sometimes, memorials figure in our daily church lives, and we don’t even know it.
One such easy-to-overlook memorial at St. Michael’s Church is for a little boy named Frederick Ralph Gleason.
Located in the Chapel of the Angels, this prie-dieu lectern, sometimes called a prayer and litany desk, is used every single day for morning prayer and other services. It is an integral piece of the furniture of our liturgy.
The memorial notice itself is located on a brass plate in the front of the litany desk above the metalwork of leaf motifs and a circle-encased cross. The memorial text, in a restrained Spencerian script, is a little hard to see, but once people have noticed it, they never forget it.
To the glory of God and in Loving Memory of
Frederick Ralph Gleason
Aged four years 1896
Suffer the little children to come unto Me
There is almost no information about Frederick in the Archives. He wasn’t baptized at St. Michael’s. He appears in the sacramental registers only once, in Burials, in April, 1896. St. Michael’s rector, the Rev. John Punnett Peters conducted the service; Frederick was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. That particular spring must have been a tough one. There were seven funerals at St. Michael’s within the first two and a half weeks of April; of these, five were services for children under the age of fourteen.
Whoever gave the memorial litany desk – Frederick’s parents? his grandparents? we don’t know – must have loved both St. Michael’s Church and the little boy very much. Ecclesiastical furniture like this was not inexpensive. The litany desk seems to have been custom-made by the J. & R. Lamb Firm: the Lambs were a St. Michael’s family and many of the memorials at St. Michael’s were made by Lamb. The Gleason Memorial litany desk is an adaptation of one of the standard Lamb models as displayed in their 1887 Ecclesiastical Metalwork trade catalog.
The Frederick Ralph Gleason Memorial litany desk has been in continuous use here at St. Michael’s since Frederick’s death. Love for one little boy has enriched our daily life of worship and prayer for more than one hundred and twenty years.