Saint Stephen’s Church in Providence: The History of a New England Tractarian Parish

By Norman Joseph Catir, Jr.

Providence, Rhode Island: St. Stephen’s Church, 1964.



The Ornamentation of the Temple



DOCTOR COLWELL left Saint Stephen’s a united parish, or as nearly so as most parishes ever become. Parochial unanimity enabled the corporation to call a new rector with all deliberate speed. On October 20, 1884, the corporation unanimously voted to ask the Reverend George McClellan Fiske of Saint Peter’s Church, Peekskill, New York, to become rector of Saint Stephen’s parish;[1] and on November 4, 1884, this thirty-four-year-old priest accepted the post in a modest and gracious letter.[2] Doctor Fiske’s salary was set at $3,000 a year,[3] the same amount as the stipend received by both Doctor Waterman at the end of his rectorate and by the Reverend Charles Ward during his two years in the parish.

George McClellan Fiske was born in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, and brought up in the small Connecticut River town of Warehouse Point. He was graduated class valedictorian from Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, at the age of nineteen, and from the Berkeley Divinity School in 1874.[4] He had served as curate of Saint Mark’s, the great Tractarian parish of Philadelphia. He traced no genealogical, educational, or clerical roots to Providence. Fiske’s lack of connection with Providence might have worked against him. Only two of his predecessors, the Reverend George Leeds and the Reverend Charles Ward, had been reared outside of Providence. Of these two, the former stayed at Saint Stephen’s less than one year and the latter resigned under a cloud after a rectorate of less than two years. It is fair to say, then, that before 1884 the significant work at Saint Stephen’s had been accomplished by Providence men who had been intimately associated for years with their parish and its neighborhood.

Doctor Fiske arrived at a time roughly coincident with a tremendous increase in wealth among American people in general. Frequently material prosperity was manifested by increased income in the parish churches of the nation. This was the era of new buildings and large church schools, with a particular emphasis upon religious education.[5] Saint Stephen’s Church was located in an area of expanding prosperity, approximately at the center of Providence’s growing East Side. A cursory glance at the architecture of the houses for a mile east of Saint Stephen’s, between Thayer Street and Wayland Square, indicates that the majority of them were built between 1875 and 1920. The old East Side, situated for the most part north, south, and west of Saint Stephen’s, continued unchanged in its colonial and federal splendor. The old and new East Side made up, then as now, the finest residential area in Providence.

One of the first practical problems which the corporation faced soon after Doctor Fiske arrived on December 1, 1884, was the purchase of living quarters for him and his family.

Saint Stephen’s had never owned a rectory; each of its incumbents had lived in a different house on the East Side. On December 5, 1884, the corporation of Saint Stephen’s Church voted to invest $14,000 of the tower trust fund money[6] in order to purchase the Thomas Pearce house, 43 George Street, later renumbered 86 George Street. The parish agreed to pay the trust fund no more than $700 a year rent on the house while it was used as a rectory.[7]

Another practical problem proceeded from the absence of a guild house for the social and educational activities of the parish. Several organizations, such as Saint Faith’s Guild and the Parish Work Association, had met in homes long before Doctor Fiske’s rectorate. The church school and the vestry had gathered in the Lady chapel both before and after its official designation as a chapel. Doctor Fiske immediately recognized the inadequacy of such arrangements. And on March 16, 1885, the vestry approved plans for a temporary guild house, drawn by the architects, William R. Walker and Sons. Messrs. Ames, Klapp, Coggeshall, and Burton became the committee for the erection of the story-and-a-half frame structure, which was built at the northeast corner of the church property, just beyond the priests’ sacristy.[8] On July 2, 1885, this modest building, erected by private donation without expense to the corporation, was formally opened with an office of Benediction led by the rector.[9] Doctor Fiske always said that Saint Stephen’s built the first parish house in the Diocese of Rhode Island.

Another important institution which Doctor Fiske launched in December, 1885, near the outset of his rectorate, was The S. Stephen, a monthly parish paper. The S. Stephen was the first parish paper in Rhode Island, the second being The Messenger of Trinity Parish, Newport, which was initiated in April or May of 1886.[10] In the first issue, Doctor Fiske stated the purpose which he hoped The S. Stephen might serve.

This little paper, with whose first issue we greet our fellow-parishioners and friends today, is intended to furnish a brief chronicle of parish history, to be a medium of communication between priest and people, to give information of the events and needs of the parish, and to arouse wider and deeper interest in Church work and life.[11]

Certainly Doctor Fiske’s purpose has been admirably fulfilled by this paper during the past three-quarters of a century.

From The S. Stephen we are able to glean a wealth of information about the spiritual life of the parish. We find that Doctor Fiske, from the start of his rectorate, used a substantially western rite calendar, the same one employed by the parish today. The Reverend George Leeds had observed Prayer Book Saints’ days by saying Matins. Doctor Waterman had instituted celebrations of the Holy Communion on Prayer Book Saints’ days. But by December, 1885, Doctor Fiske observed the ancient, enlarged western rite calendar of fasts and feasts.[12] On Saint Andrew’s Day, 1885, he instituted the daily reading of Matins and Evensong, and the Eucharistic Sacrifice was offered on that day to ask God’s blessing on the Daily Offices.[13]

Every Sunday evening Doctor Fiske conducted an Evensong at which all seats were declared free.[14] Friends and neighbors of parishioners received a cordial invitation to this service, which helped so much to enlarge the influence of Saint Stephen’s parish.

Great feasts such as Christmas, the Circumcision, and the Epiphany were normally marked by two celebrations of the Holy Eucharist, the earlier being a low celebration and the later designated high with sermon and procession.[15] During January, 1886, Doctor Fiske instituted two weekday celebrations; in Lent of the same year he added a third; and during Holy Week he celebrated a daily Mass.[16] Finally, in December, 1886, the daily Mass at 7:00 A.M. was instituted at Saint Stephen’s; it continues at varying hours to this day.[17] The Sunday schedule maintained the weekly Mass at an early hour and the monthly first Sunday Mass at the later time; Matins, Litany, and Sermon were performed on the succeeding Sundays of each month at the midday service.

As early as 1872 we find a record of the celebration of a Nuptial Mass at Saint Stephen’s; however, not until August 22, 1886, do we note the first record of a Requiem Mass which was offered for the repose of the soul of Miss Elizabeth B. C. Brown.[18] On January 3, 1888, the Reverend Morgan Dix, rector of Trinity Church, New York, celebrated a Requiem for Mary Griffitts Parker.[19] And by 1897 the rector of Saint Stephen’s could note that in less than one year five Requiem Masses had been celebrated for deceased parishioners.[20]

Doctor Fiske presented his people with the full-fledged Anglo-Catholic doctrine and practice which came to flower in the United States during the last three decades of the nineteenth century. His traditions fitted naturally upon the Tractarian-Ritualistic foundation laid by Doctor Waterman and Doctor Colwell. Nevertheless, a great deal of teaching necessarily accompanied all of Doctor Fiske’s rather rapid changes. The S. Stephen paper included a wealth of teaching by presenting the writings of local, national, and international churchmen. In January, 1886, the Guild of Saint Augustine for men started a parish library to help “members to a wider knowledge of the Church’s devotional life and her doctrines, history, and ritual.”[21] Later the Guild of Saint Augustine took a room at 242 Wickenden Street, opened it as a free reading and recreation room, and held services there every Sunday for some years after February 5, 1888.[22]

Other guilds also became effective media for education. To the already established Saint Faith’s and the Parish Work Association, Doctor Fiske added Saint Vincent’s Guild for acolytes, the Altar Society, a Sewing and Industrial School for young girls sponsored by Saint Faith’s, Saint Barbara’s Guild, and a Mother’s Association, later called Saint Martha’s.[23] Saint Faith’s, the major women’s guild, starting from this time, supplied a breakfast for communicants after the early Mass each Sunday.[24] Through work, worship, and study, these parochial organizations helped to promote a deeper understanding of the Catholic Faith.

Along with the churchly standards introduced by Doctor Fiske came improved financial arrangements. Few people today realize that our contemporary understanding of stewardship stems from two issues emphasized by the nineteenth-century Catholic Movement, free pews and church support by voluntary offerings at Mass. From the beginning, the Church of the Advent, Boston, had included both free pews and the voluntary offering in its scheme. Saint Stephen’s, Providence, with earlier and less specifically Tractarian roots, introduced free pews and the voluntary offering in the best East Side tradition, gradually, over a period of ninety-two years. On January 17, 1886, the vestry approved a weekly-envelope offering scheme.[25] And by February, 1886, the pew rental on both the north and the south aisles had been reduced to nominal fees. After this action no one had a reasonable economic excuse for staying away from church.[26]

Very few of the original members of Saint Stephen’s who had worshipped in the Benefit Street church, were still alive in 1885. Resolved Waterman, the generous benefactor, father of a former rector, and senior warden from 1843, remained, but was confined to his home from 1872 on. For many years the leadership of the parish had been in the hands of General William Ames, the junior warden, and son of Judge Samuel Ames, one of the founders. On Easter Monday, 1885, Colonel Robert H. I. Goddard was made deputy senior warden, to fill the gap created by the incapacity of the aged Resolved Waterman.[27] During the following year on July 8, 1886, Mr. Waterman died at the age of ninety-eight years and eight months.[28] The death of the venerable senior warden marked the end of another era. He had seen the parish struggle, grow, waver, then prosper. The ecclesiastical experience of Resolved Waterman’s successors did not stretch far beyond the construction of the George Street church. On October 12, 1886, General William Ames was elected senior warden and Colonel Robert H. I. Goddard was elected junior warden.[29]

After a year and a half of incessant work, Doctor Fiske could report substantial gains to the parish in September 1886: baptisms 53, confirmations 41, transferred in 18, communicants 385, church school 195 teachers and scholars. The total annual giving amounted to $12,907.23, a gain of more than $2,000 over the previous year.[30]

Such rapid growth soon necessitated additional clerical help. On October 12, 1886, the vestry authorized Doctor Fiske to employ an assistant, the Reverend Evelyn P. Bartow, for $1,000 a year, commencing January 1, 1887.[31] Later, on April 11, 1887, the husband of a stepsister of the Reverend Henry Waterman, the Reverend W. F. B. Jackson, was elected to the position of priest assistant by the corporation of the parish. Mr. Jackson, who served without stipend, was an elderly priest much appreciated for his superb sermons.[32]

By July, 1887, Doctor Fiske could report another striking increase in the parish. Saint Stephen’s then claimed 420 communicants, 233 scholars and teachers in the church school, and an increase in giving over the previous year of nearly $4,000.[33]

Ceremonial progress went on apace with statistical and financial growth. The standard vestments for the celebration of the Holy Communion before Doctor Fiske’s rectorate had been the surplice and colored stole. In Doctor Waterman’s time even this austere clothing would have made a Protestant bull see red. Doctor Fiske, however, desired to introduce the more complete eucharistic vestments: chasuble, stole, alb, amice, and maniple. Apparently he owned some eucharistic vestments, just how many sets we do not know.[34] His ownership, however, could not possibly substitute for parochial possession of the magnificent clothing of the sanctuary. So Doctor Fiske started a campaign of teaching about vestments.[35] By December, 1888, the Altar Society of Saint Stephen’s had made a set of eucharistic vestments, probably red.[36] On Christmas of 1890 a white cope was given to the parish, and for Easter, 1891, Mr. Stuart A. Coates presented Saint Stephen’s with a white chasuble made by Sisters in Brighton, England.[37] In October and in December of 1892 Mr. Coates gave the parish green and purple eucharistic sets, thus supplying the church with vestments of the four major liturgical colors.[38]

At the same time that Saint Stephen’s parish was gaining a deeper appreciation of the heritage of the church, her parochial horizons were constantly being enlarged through contact with other Christians.

In March, 1887, the Reverend Father Vilatte, an old Catholic priest from Wisconsin, visited the parish.[39] During the years 1887 and 1888 a number of Saint Stephen’s parishioners toured Europe and wrote home colorful descriptions of Anglican and continental churches, which Doctor Fiske published in The S. Stephen. The Reverend W. F. B. Jackson, Charles Sumner Harris, Benjamin W. Wells, Colonel Robert H. I. Goddard, and later Doctor Fiske himself traveled extensively in Europe and took particular notice of the church in each land.[40] Invariably, these Providence voyagers paid special attention to the Anglo-Catholic parishes of England; not a few Old World touches in the present Saint Stephen’s owe their genesis to our ecclesiastically observant visitors abroad.

At the same time that Saint Stephen’s was taking notice of the world, the world began to pay more marked attention to Saint Stephen’s and especially to her dynamic rector. In June, 1888, the Diocese of Fond-du-Lac in Wisconsin elected the Reverend George McClellan Fiske its bishop.[41] The parish pleaded with him to stay. Evidently Doctor Fiske realized that his vocation lay at Saint Stephen’s, for he declined the Fond-du-Lac election. Shortly after Fiske’s refusal of this honor, he was given an honorary doctorate in Sacred Theology by his alma mater, Trinity College, Hartford. And in 1892 he was elected to the board of trustees of Nashotah House, thus further cementing Saint Stephen’s long relationship with and support of that seminary.[42]

Doctor Fiske’s refusal of the Fond-du-Lac episcopate did not close the chapter on Saint Stephen’s connection with that election. A short time later, Fond-du-Lac elected as its bishop the Reverend Charles Chapman Grafton, rector of the Church of the Advent, Boston. In 1882 Father Grafton had founded the Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity with some Sisters who had come out of the Sisterhood of Saint Margaret. Immediately before his election to the episcopate, Father Grafton had determined to resign from the Advent rectorate and devote his time to retreats and writing. About the same time Doctor Fiske had urgently requested that the convent be removed to Providence. In 1888 Fond-du-Lac could not receive the Order. So Doctor Fiske’s urgent need and Father Grafton’s changed circumstances led the Bishop-elect to decide to place the Sisters in Providence at 385 Benefit Street.

During the autumn of 1888 the Sisters of the Holy Nativity moved to Providence and have occupied a most important place in the life of Saint Stephen’s parish and of the Diocese of Rhode Island ever since.[43]

In scarcely four years Doctor Fiske had completely won the hearts of his people. A touching proof of their love was shown on Christmas Eve, 1888. Two parcels were left mysteriously at the rectory door that evening. On one was inscribed:

The members of Saint Stephen’s parish, deeply thankful that they have not been called upon to part with their beloved Rector, beg him to accept the accompanying gift, for his personal use, as a slight token of their esteem and affection, Christmas 1888.

Upon the other parcel the following message was inscribed: A Christmas greeting to Mrs. Fiske from members of Saint Stephen’s Parish as a slight expression of their affectionate regard, Christmas Eve, 1888.

The parcels contained $500 in gold for Doctor Fiske and $200 in gold for Mrs. Fiske.[44]

Several years later, in 1891, the vestry heard again that Doctor Fiske had been offered a large parish. As before, they implored him to stay, attributing the parochial strength to his ministry. Such wholehearted support could not fail to convince Doctor Fiske that his work lay at Saint Stephen’s.[45] Once again the vestry reinforced its verbal expressions by raising the rector’s salary to $3,600 a year,[46] the highest stipend to that date which any rector of Saint Stephen’s had received.

The successes, both material and spiritual, of the Fiske rector ate continued year after year. On Good Friday, 1889, Doctor Fiske instituted the service of Stations of the Cross for the children of the parish. At this time no permanent stations had been placed in the church, so the resourceful rector placed station cards on the walls in order to mark each stopping place along the way.[47] Children, especially, responded to Doctor Fiske’s ministry. Once a child who was particularly fond of festival processions asked him why they could not have processions every Sunday. He replied, “My dear, you cannot eat roast beef every day.”

Through all of these liturgical and ceremonial innovations, the parish remained calm and also grew. By September, 1889, Saint Stephen’s led the Diocese of Rhode Island in number of baptisms and confirmations and stood third in amount of contributions.[48] Indeed, the proportion of the budget used for purposes outside the parish, as compared with that used for parochial matters, was striking. In 1890 the report shows that of the $20,696.87 contributed during the previous year, $10,784.21 went to missions and charities and only $9,912.66 was spent for parish purposes. Few parishes in this day of Gargantuan budgets can equal such a record.[49]

Around 1890, the parish fell heir to several gifts and bequests. The new church had ceased to be new after twenty-eight years, and the economic pressure necessitated by the erection of the George Street structure had long since ceased. Many of the leaders who had been instrumental in building the church were dying, and they often included Saint Stephen’s in their bequests. In June, 1889, John Spurr Ormsbee died; in September Lyman Klapp passed to his reward; and in October of the same year Henry J. Steere also died. Mr. Steere, who had helped found the Providence Home for Aged Men, also left Saint Stephen’s a legacy of $25,000.[50] During the same year Mrs. Robert H. I. Goddard gave the six handsome high altar candles in memory of her mother, Elizabeth Burnett Groesbeck.[51]

In April, 1890, Mrs. Lyman Klapp offered to have the blank panels in the reredos polychromed and a tabernacle placed on the high altar in memory of her husband. John Hardman Company of London, under the direction of Roger Watts, executed this work.[52] The exact year that Doctor Fiske began to reserve the sacrament is uncertain; however, by July, 1896, the Bishop of Rhode Island had bestowed his blessing upon both perpetual reservation of the sacrament at Saint Stephen’s and upon the auricular confessions heard increasingly, since Doctor Waterman’s day, by the clergy of the parish.[53]

Stuart A. Coates offered to complete the rood screen in 1893 by donating the calvary figures over the gate. Messrs. John Evans of Boston executed these figures which today keep watch over the spacious nave of Saint Stephen’s.[54] In July of the same year Samuel Foster gave the rood screen wrought iron gates, designed by Henry Vaughn, in memory of his wife. These gates were blessed by Bishop Neely of the Diocese of Maine.[55] By the close of the year 1894 the choir and sanctuary redecoration, commenced eleven years earlier, was complete.[56]

On All Saints’ Day, 1894, Mr. A. McC. Warren gave a delicately executed silver-plated thurible, designed by Roger Watts, in memory of his mother. Incense was used in Saint Stephen’s for the first time on that day, and for some years its use was confined to the major festivals. Doctor Fiske pointed out that by 1894 Saint Stephen’s ritual was complete, embracing the six points of Catholic worship: altar lights, eucharistic vestments, wafer bread, the mixed chalice, the eastward position, and the use of incense.[57]

The extent of the Catholic Movement’s liturgical and ceremonial triumph in the American Episcopal Church may be measured by the general contemporary acceptance of most of these six points which caused such consternation seventy years ago. As early as 1891, many parishioners of Saint Stephen’s observed the devout custom of a genuflection at the Incarnatus in the Creed,[58] another fairly common practice among perhaps half of the Church today.

Saint Stephen’s enviable musical tradition continued to grow along with its theological and ceremonial development. In October, 1886, the rector, who may be pardoned for a certain parochial bias, declared that the Saint Stephen’s choir of men and boys excelled the choirs of the Church of the Advent, Boston, and of Saint Mark’s and Saint Clement’s, Philadelphia.[59] At the High Celebration on Easter Day, 1887, the choir performed the Haydn Imperial Mass with orchestral accompaniment, an undoubted manifestation of its musical facility.[60]

For more than forty years, Saint Stephen’s had made do with an ancient organ of unknown make. Probably this small organ which had been used in both the Benefit Street and the George Street buildings was a good instrument. Most organs built before 1850 were voiced reasonably well. A number of changes had been made in the old instrument over the years, but by 1891 the need for a new one had become obvious. In May of that year the vestry appointed a committee, made up of Joseph Dews and William Conrad Rhodes, to contract for a new organ. Mr. Rhodes was a particularly good choice for this committee because of his strong churchmanship and abiding love of music. He had been one of the founders of the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, New York; and after moving to Providence, he served as vestryman and music director of Saint Stephen’s for many years. The Roosevelt Organ Company was selected to build the new instrument which was installed on January 26, 1893, at a cost of $7,000.[61] This organ contained a choir as well as great, swell, and pedal divisions.[62]

One of the most accurate barometers by which to measure the spiritual life of any parish is the number of men which it sends into the sacred priesthood. Throughout the late 1880s several candidates for holy orders came from Saint Stephen’s. In 1891 Doctor Fiske make a survey to determine the number and names of the men from the parish who had become priests since its foundation. He established the fact that eighteen men had been ordained during the fifty-two years of Saint Stephen’s parish life.[63] The number of men nurtured in Saint Stephen’s who offered themselves for the ministry continued to grow and has never really declined even up to the present day.

Perhaps the first ordination in the Diocese of Rhode Island in which the ordinand was vested in eucharistic vestments took place at Saint Stephen’s on May 24, 1895, when Harry Howe Bogert received this sacrament. Immediately after the service the new priest gave his blessing to members of the congregation who wished it.[64] Both the eucharistic vestments at ordination and the blessings must have seemed very advanced sixty-nine years ago.

Equally advanced were the vocations to the religious life which several parishioners answered in the 1890s. On July 25, 1895, Nathaniel Wheaton was admitted as a novice into the Order of the Holy Cross, then located in Westminster, Maryland.[65] Two years later Miss Agnes Lydia Gifford was clothed as a novice in the Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity, Providence.[66] Without a doubt, the presence of the Sisters of the Holy Nativity in the parish served to inspire and foster a number of vocations to the religious life.

Many fruitful works as well as good vocations proceeded from the life of these Sisters in Providence. On the first Sunday after Epiphany, 1891, some Sisters of the Holy Nativity and John Birch, a recent English immigrant, founded and held the first service of the church in Thornton, Rhode Island, in a barn.[67] The coincidence between the name of the Sisterhood and the location and liturgical date of the first service led to the bestowal of the title, Church of the Holy Nativity, upon the new parish. For many years this parish operated as a mission of Saint Stephen’s and was supplied by parochial clergy.

In the fall of 1892 Doctor Fiske and Judge John H. Stiness represented the Diocese of Rhode Island at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, held in Baltimore.[68] For the rest of their lives these two men served the diocesan and national Church both in the General Convention and on the Standing Committee of Rhode Island. At one time Doctor Fiske was president, and Judge Stiness was secretary of the Standing Committee. Judge Stiness devoted a large part of his extremely busy life to church work. For years he served on the vestry of Saint Stephen’s and taught a church school class. At the same time he sat as a Republican member in the state House of Representatives and was elected to the Rhode Island Supreme Court in 1875. He remained in the court as associate justice for twenty-nine years and as chief justice, the position held by Samuel Ames, one of the parish founders, for four years. Judge Stiness became an authority on canon law and acted as counsel for the Church in the trial for heresy of Algernon Sidney Crapsey.[69]

During the General Convention of 1898 both Doctor Fiske and Judge Stiness occupied positions on important committees. The rector sat on the committee to revise the Constitution, while Judge Stiness held a place on the House Standing Committee on Amendments to the Constitution. Such a strategic placement of two Catholics, in close touch with one another, must have worked effectively. At any rate the 1898 convention gave approval to the revision.[70] In 1901 Judge Stiness was asked to preside over the House of Deputies of the General Convention at a very difficult time during the proceedings.[71] Through the hard work of an outstanding priest and a brilliant layman, Saint Stephen’s contribution to the legal life of the American Church went hand in hand with its doctrinal and liturgical gifts.

We must never forget the constant awareness on the part of the parish of its location, adjacent to a fine university. Doctor Fiske, like Doctor Waterman and Doctor Colwell, never neglected his responsibility to Brown University. Priest-professors such as the Reverend Lorenzo Sears, Litt. D., were included as part of the parish family and called upon to function at various times.[72] In 1894 a parish library book purchase endowment was given in memory of James Hayden Coggeshall[73] Brown students as well as parishioners were welcome to use the extensive theological collection which Doctor Fiske spent his entire ministry at Saint Stephen’s bringing together. During this same year the parish instituted a Mass with the intention for Brown University on the last Saturday of every month. Students, in particular, were invited to attend this Mass.[74]

During the previous year the vestry had voted to allow the church to be left open every day from the time of the early celebration until after the close of Evensong.[75] An open church could serve as a resort for both students and parishioners. Certainly, both groups over the years have used the church frequently on weekdays. Here another influence of the Catholic Movement in favor of unlocked churches has triumphed in the Anglican Communion, and seems today to be spreading to most of our brethren of other disciplines.

For nearly nine years, until 1893, Doctor Fiske did not attempt to change the Waterman schedule of a late Sunday Mass on the first Sunday of the month only. But in May of that year he scheduled a choral celebration for every Sunday of the month at 10:45 A.M.[76] He did not maintain this schedule during subsequent months, but rather scheduled Mass for two Sundays at the late hour and Matins and Litany for the remaining two Sundays. Sometimes Doctor Fiske had celebrations on as many as three Sundays of each month at the late hour; however, he never ventured to do away with Matins entirely at this time.

To imagine the manifold and perpetual liturgical changes of Doctor Fiske’s rectorate without also envisioning his constant teaching and pastoral care would be to see only half the picture. Those whose memories stretch back to his time emphasize constantly his love of souls. All say with one voice, “He was a pastor first.” A story which is told frequently by parishioners relates the answer which Doctor Fiske gave to Mrs. Anne Ives Carrington Dwight Ames, the wife of General Ames, the senior warden, when she complained about the new ritual at Saint Stephen’s. “Doctor Fiske,” she said, “Why must you constantly introduce all this new ritual? We never used to do it that way before.” “My dear Mrs. Ames,” he answered, “Don’t you know that I can’t preach and must do something?”[77] It is said that Mrs. Ames never complained about the ritual again and became one of Doctor Fiske’s most staunch supporters. This light touch at a moment of potential pastoral crisis, combined with bold teaching such as that on confession, contained in the May and June 1893 issues of The S. Stephen, show us most vividly the key to Doctor Fiske’s ability to maintain peace in the midst of change and progress.[78]

Nor did Doctor Fiske depend entirely upon his own abilities and those of his staff to teach his people. Starting February 16, 1894, and continuing for two weeks, Father Huntington, the founder of the Order of the Holy Cross, gave a successful mission which stirred many members of Saint Stephen’s parish. The Holy Cross Fathers and other missioners returned to Saint Stephen’s on several occasions and achieved notable successes upon each visit.[79]

One of the fruits of the deepened spiritual life, which the teaching and practice of Saint Stephen’s inculcated in its people, was displayed by Mr. Stuart A. Coates of the parish when he compiled a book of thanksgivings after communion taken from ancient and modern sources.[80] Such lay interest and devotion strengthened both the clergy and the entire parish in their ministry to the people of Providence.

By 1897 the number and importance of Saint Stephen’s men in the community had become very great. General Elisha Dyer was the Governor. Colonel Robert H. I. Goddard was a state Senator. Charles Nichols served on the Board of Aldermen, and Judge S. A. Cooke was a councilman. Charles Sisson was on the Common Council, while Colonel H. Anthony Dyer acted as Chief of Aides on the Governor’s Staff. John O. Ames had been appointed colonel on the Governor’s Staff but had declined. Colonel Van Slyck was made Grand Master of the Rhode Island Masons.[81] Such a large group of laymen in public office, many of them staunchly devoted to the church, could not fail to mark Saint Stephen’s impress upon the community which they served.

The Diocese now began to look to Saint Stephen’s for special gifts as well as for generous missionary support and vigorous leadership. In 1897 Mrs. Henry G. Russell, a parishioner, gave her property and residence at 10 Brown Street to the Diocese for the episcopal residence. At this time Mrs. Russell provided an endowment which would pay all taxes on the property.[82]

To imagine that all of Saint Stephen’s parishioners at the turn of the century were people of extensive means, however, would be a gross distortion of the truth. The economic, social, and racial mixture of the congregation during Doctor Fiske’s time was probably more catholic than it had ever been before. It has been estimated that during Doctor Fiske’s rectorate the parish claimed between eighty and a hundred Negro communicants.[83] In 1898 some Negro communicants petitioned the vestry requesting permission to form their own mission. Although Doctor Fiske appointed the recently ordained deacon, Walter Gardner Webster, and Judge Stiness a committee to assist in this undertaking, nothing ever came of it.[84] We know that since 1856 Negroes have been communicants of Saint Stephen’s.[85] At least one Negro priest in the past had officiated at the parish altar.[86] Clearly, there was no need for a separate parish in 1898. Colored people had been accepted in Saint Stephen’s. Few parishes in Rhode Island can claim the almost continuous racial integration record of which Saint Stephen’s is so justly proud. Once again the parish reaped a fruit of the Catholic Movement, for certainly catholicity of membership is one result of practice of the Catholic Faith.

The Reverend Walter Gardner Webster, during 1897 and 1898, took art increasingly important part in parish life. The son of a Methodist merchant, he, together with his brother, Josiah L. Webster, Jr., served on the vestry for a number of years. At the General Seminary, which Webster entered at the age of thirty-nine, he had the highest standing ever attained. Even after his ordination to the diaconate in June, 1897, and to the priesthood in June, 1898, Father Webster continued to serve Saint Stephen’s.[87] On the morning of July 4, 1898, on a journey to Europe, Walter Gardner Webster lost his life as a result of the sinking of the liner “La Bourgogne” off Sable Island.[88] In his will Father Webster left $10,000 to Saint Stephen’s Church and $5,000 through the parish as an endowment for a Rhode Island scholarship to the General Seminary.[89]

More, even than these generous gifts, fell to Saint Stephen’s as a result of the death of this brilliant, devoted priest. Doctor Fiske had long hoped to build a complete and permanent guild house. Indeed from the time of the construction of the temporary wooden building the rector had pushed for a new structure. The $1,600 Easter offering of 1893 had been used to start a guild house fund.[90] In June of 1893, when Saint Stephen’s entertained the Diocesan Convention, the erection of a large tent to house the convention members during lunch fully dramatized the inadequacies of the plant.[91] On November 21, 1898, Josiah Locke Webster, the Methodist father of Walter Gardner Webster, wrote the vestry of Saint Stephen’s Church offering to build a guild house in memory of his son for $25,000. The vestry accepted this timely and bountiful gift, and purchased the land immediately west of the church for $10,000 as a site for the proposed guild house.[92] Martin and Hall were made the architects for the new building; Mr. Martin was a member of the parish.[93] The building committee included Josiah L. Webster, Jr., General William Ames, and Norman M. Isham.[94] Although the Saint Stephen statue on the south front of the Walter Gardner Webster Memorial Guild House, designed by Roger Watts and executed by the firm of John Hardman Co., London, was not put in place until April, 1903,[95] the large, brick, four-floored structure was completed and blessed on January 1, 1901. On this occasion a touching letter from the aged Bishop Clark, Presiding Bishop and Bishop of Rhode Island, was read.[96] In June, 1901, the old guild house was removed to another part of Providence to be used as a dwelling house.[97]

A second important building program executed at the turn of the century involved the completion of the tower. In 1862 the tower at the southeast corner of the structure had been left incomplete; however, a tower fund was soon initiated. By 1897 the value of the fund totaled $21,760.19. This included the value of the rectory in which the fund had invested the largest portion of its assets.[98]

On April 3, 1899, the vestry appointed a committee with Judge Stiness in charge to procure designs for a tower.[99] Three well-known Providence architectural firms were represented within the parish: Hoppin and Ely; Martin and Hall, the guild house designers; and Norman M. Isham. Each of these firms submitted plans for a completed tower. The vestry chose the plans of Hoppin and Ely which eventually cost $9,800, exclusive of architects’ fees.[100] Because by 1900 stone from the Smithfield quarry had run out, the completed tower was much shorter than the original 180-foot tower and spire planned by Richard Upjohn. It consisted of two long stages, capped by four pinnacles and a short icecream-cone-shaped spire executed in copper. The total height from the sidewalk to the top of the spire is only ninety-three feet. On Tuesday, February 6, 1900, the tower stood complete.[101] At the service of thanksgiving for the erection of the tower, Bishop Clark gave a memorable historical address.[102]

In June, 1902, Mrs. Frank A. Sayles offered to place a set of tubular chimes in the tower in memory of both her father, Captain Sullivan Dorr Ames, and her mother, Mary Townsend (Bullock).[103] The vestry accepted this gift; and on September 29, 1902, the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, the chimes were blessed.[104]

One of three well-known architects in the parish, Norman Isham, had not yet designed a building for it. In 1902, after Brown University had purchased the Saint Stephen’s Rectory at 86 George Street, the vestry commissioned Mr. Isham to build a new rectory, to cost $6,000, at the northwest corner of George and Brook Streets.[105] On June 15, 1903, the large gambrel-roofed house was blessed and occupied by Doctor Fiske.[106]

The first half of Doctor Fiske’s rectorate may be considered primarily a period of building, not only of material structures, but also of doctrinal and spiritual mansions. By the turn of the century Saint Stephen’s had 800 communicants, more than twice as many as at the time of Doctor Fiske’s arrival in 1884. In the year 1898 alone, 104 baptisms and seventy confirmations were performed in the parish church.[107] Doctor Fiske had received calls to several important posts. Perhaps most attractive of all was the invitation in 1899 to become rector of the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, New York.[108] He had resolutely refused preferment, after receiving encouragement from all sides to bolster his personal conviction that his vocation lay in Providence.

Doctor Fiske always seemed able to attract hard-working and devoted curates, such as the Reverend Francis M. Banfil, who arrived in October, 1895, and the Reverend Simon Blynn Blunt, who came to Saint Stephen’s in March, 1899.[109] The clerical staff not only took care of pastoral and sacramental work at the parish church, but also spared one of its number to minister to the congregation of the Church of the Holy Nativity, Thornton. A parish pressed for seating space on Sunday[110] might easily refuse to send one of its valuable assistants to an outlying mission, but Saint Stephen’s missionary zeal reached that far.

In 1903, only a few years after the death of Queen Victoria and the assassination of President McKinley, Saint Stephen’s parish closed its third great era of building—the ornamentation of the temple. As with previous periods of physical construction, the parish had experienced growth both numerically and spiritually. An enriched spiritual life accompanied the enriched church fabric. Perhaps an ordinary man at this point might have said to himself, “Job well done, mission accomplished,” and might then have proceeded to sit on his hands. Doctor Fiske did not do this.

[1] Corporation Minutes, October 20, 1884, Record Book 2, p. 238.

[2] George McC. Fiske, to General William Ames and Colonel R. H. I. Goddard, November 4, 1884, in Vestry Minutes, October 20, 1884, Record Book 2, pp. 240-241.

[3] Vestry Minutes, October 20, 1884, Record Book 2, p. 239.

[4] Mary G. Wells, granddaughter of Doctor Fiske, personal interview, February 19, 1962.

[5] William W. Sweet, The Story of Religion in America (New York and London: Harper Brothers, 1939), p. 495.

[6] Records of the Thomas Pearce House, Providence Preservation Society.

[7] Corporation Minutes, December 5, 1884, Record Book 2, p. 243.

[8] Vestry Minutes, March 16, 1885, Record Book 2, p. 224.

[9] The S. Stephen, Vol. i No. 10, September 1886, p. 4.

[10] Ibid., Vol. 4 No. 9, August 1889, p. 4.

[11] Ibid., Vol. i No. i, December 1885, p. 2.

[12] Ibid., Vol. No. i, December 1885, ff.

[13] Ibid., Vol. i No. 9, August 1886, p. 3.

[14] Ibid., Vol. i No. i, December 1885, p. 3.

[15] Ibid., p. 2.

[16] Ibid., Vol. i No. 2, January 1886, p. 1, Vol. 1 No. 4, March 1886, p. 1, and Vol. 1 No. 5, April 1886, p. 2.

[17] Ibid., Vol. 2 No. 2, January 1887, p. 1.

[18] Ibid., Vol. i No. 10, September 1886, p. 2.

[19] Ibid., Vol. 3 No. 2, January 1888, p. 1.

[20] Ibid., Vol. 12 No. 7, June 1897, p. 3.

[21] Ibid., Vol. 1 No. 2, January 1886, p. 1.

[22] Ibid., Vol. 3 No. 3, February 1888, p. 3.

[23] Ibid., Vol. 1 No. 1, December 1885, p. 1.

[24] Ibid., Vol. 3 No. 2, January 1888, p. 2.

[25] Vestry Minutes, January 17, 1886, Record Book 2, p. 250.

[26] The S. Stephen, Vol. 1 No. 3, February 1886, p. 4.

[27] Vestry Minutes, Easter Monday 1885, Record Book 2, p. 248.

[28] The S. Stephen, Vol. i No. 9, August 1886, p. i.

[29] Vestry Minutes, October 12, 1886, Record Book 3, p. 257.

[30] The S. Stephen, Vol. 1 No. 10, September 1886, pp. 2-3.

[31] Vestry Minutes, October 12, 1886, Record Book 2, p. 258.

[32] Corporation Minutes, April n, 1887, Record Book 2, p. 261 and Louise E. Chandler, personal interview, October 4, 1961.

[33] The S. Stephen, Vol. 2 No. 8, July 1887, p. 2.

[34] Ibid., Vol. 3 No. 12, November 1888, p. 3.

[35] Ibid., Vol. 2 No. 9, August 1887, pp. 3-4 and Vol. 3 No. 12, November 1888, pp. 3-4.

[36] Ibid., Vol. 4 No. 1, December 1888, p. 2.

[37] List of Gifts, Record Book 2, p. 320.

[38] The S. Stephen, Vol. 7 No. 11, October 1892, p. 3 and Vol. 8 No. 1, December 1892, p. 4.

[39] Ibid., Vol. 2 No. 4, March 1887, p. 2.

[40] Ibid., Vol. 2 No. 10, September 1887, p. 2, Vol. 3 No. 2, January 1888, pp. 3-4, Vol. 3 No. 4, March 1888, p. 3, and Vestry Minutes, April 7, 1890, Record Book 2, p. 285.

[41] Ibid., Vol. 3 No. 7, June 1888, p. 4.

[42] Ibid., Vol. 3 No. 10, September 1888, p. 2 and Vol. 7 No. 8, July 1892, p. 3.

[43] Corporation Minutes, April 22, 1889, Record Book 2, p. 272 and The Sisters of the Holy Nativity (n.p., privately printed, 1936), pp. 3-5.

[44] The S. Stephen, Vol. 4 No. 2, January 1889, p. 3.

[45] Vestry Minutes, January 13, 1891, Record Book 2, p. 290 and January 28, 1891, Record Book 2, p. 291.

[46] Ibid., March 30, 1891, Record Book 2, p. 296.

[47] The S. Stephen, Vol. 4 No. 5, April 1889, p. 2 and Louise E. Chandler, personal interview, October 4, 1961.

[48] The S. Stephen, Vol. 4 No. 10, September 1889, p. 2.

[49] Ibid., Vol. 5 No. 8, July 1890, p. 2.

[50] Vestry Minutes, October 31, 1890, Record Book 2, p. 288.

[51] List of Gifts, Record Book 2, p. 319.

[52] Vestry Minutes, April 7, 1890, Record Book 2, p. 285 and October 31, 1890, Record Book 2, p. 287.

[53] The S. Stephen, Vol. II No. 8, July 1896, p. 2.

[54] Vestry Minutes, June 5, 1893, Record Book 2, p. 311.

[55] Ibid., July 28, 1893, Record Book 2, p. 312 and The S. Stephen, Vol. 9 No. i, December 1894, p. 4.

[56] Ibid., Vol. 9 No. 8, July 1894, p. 2.

[57] Ibid., Vol. 10 No. 1, December 1894, pp. 3-4.

[58] Ibid., Vol. 7 No. 1, December 1891, p. 5.

[59] Ibid., Vol. 1 No. II, October 1886, p. 2.

[60] Ibid., Vol. 2 No. 6, May 1887, p. 2.

[61] Vestry Minutes, May 20, 1891, Record Book 2, p. 298.

[62] The S. Stephen, Vol. 8 No. 3, February 1893, p. 4.

[63] Ibid., Vol. 6 No. 5, April 1891, p. 4. The names of these priests are Edward Power Gray, Eton W. Maxy, Jr., McWalter Bernard Noyes, Edward M. Gushee, Freeborn Coggeshall, Jr., William D. U. Shearman, Walter H. Moore, James Winsor Colwell, Lucius Waterman, Alfred Evan Johnson, George Albert Coggeshall, Amos Turner Ashton, Walter Russell Gardner, George E. Cranston, Charles Sylvester Starkweather, Arthur Rogers, Frederick William Davis, Richard Mitchell Sherman, Jr.

[64] Ibid., Vol. 10 No. 7, June 1895, p. 3.

[65] Ibid., Vol. 10 No. 9, August 1895, p. 3.

[66] Ibid., Vol. 12 No. 9, August 1897, p. 3.

[67] Ibid., Vol. 6 No. 12, November 1891, p. 3.

[68] Ibid., Vol. 7 No. II, October 1892, p. 2.

[69] Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. 18 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936), p. 34.

[70] The S. Stephen, Vol. 13 No. 12, November 1898, p. 4.

[71] Ibid., Vol. 16 No. 12, November 1901, p. 4.

[72] Ibid., Vol. 8 No. 2, January 1893, p. 1.

[73] Ibid., Vol. 9 No. 1, December 1894, p. 4.

[74] Ibid., Vol. 9 No. 2, January 1894, pp. 3-4.

[75] Vestry Minutes, April 3, 1893, Record Book 2, p. 311.

[76] The S. Stephen, Vol. 8 No. 6, May 1893, p. 1.

[77] The Reverend John R. Gardner, former communicant and retired priest of the Diocese of Rhode Island, personal interview, December 11, 1961.

[78] The S. Stephen, Vol. 8 Nos. 6 and 7, May and June 1893, p. 4.

[79] Ibid., Vol. 9 No. 4, March 1894, p. 3 and Louise E. Chandler, personal interview, October 4, 1961.

[80] The S. Stephen, Vol. 12 No. 6, May 1897, pp. 3-4.

[81] Ibid., Vol. 12 No. 9, August 1897, p. 2.

[82] Ibid., Vol. 12 No. 10, September 1897, p. 2.

[83] George F. Bragg, History of the Afro-American Group of the Episcopal Church (Baltimore, Maryland: Church Advocate Press, 1922), p. 105.

[84] Vestry Minutes, April 11, 1898, Record Book 3, p. 20.

[85] Parish Register, Book 1, pp. 152, 155, and 156.

[86] The S. Stephen, Vol. 3 No. 12, November 1888, p. 2.

[87] Ibid., Vol. 12 No. 8, July 1897, p. 3 and Vol. 13 No. 7. June 1898, pp 3-4.

[88] Ibid., Vol. 13 No. 9, August 1898, pp. 2-8.

[89] Ibid., Vol. 13 No. 12, November 1898, p. 3.

[90] Ibid., Vol. 8 No. 5, April 1893, p. 3.

[91] Vestry Minutes, June 5, 1893, Record Book 2, p. 311.

[92] Josiah L. Webster, to the Rector, Wardens, and Vestry of Saint Stephen’s, November 21, 1898, in Vestry Minutes, November 23, 1898, Record Book 3, p. 23.

[93] Vestry Minutes, December 13, 1898, Record Book 3, p. 25.

[94] The S. Stephen, Vol. 14 No. 3, February 1899, p. 4.

[95] Ibid., Vol. 18 No. 6, April 1903, pp. 3-4.

[96] Ibid., Vol. 16 No. 2, January 1901, p. 4.

[97] Ibid., Vol. 16 No. 7, June 1901, p. 3.

[98] Corporation Minutes, April 19, 1897, Record Book 3, p. 8.

[99] Vestry Minutes, April 3, 1899, Record Book 3, p. 28.

[100] Ibid., April 27, 1899, Record Book 3, p. 29 and May 7, 1899, Record Book 3, p. 29.

[101] The S. Stephen, Vol. 15 No. 4, March 1900, p. 3.

[102] Ibid., p. 4.

[103] Ibid., Vol. 17 No. 7, June 1902, p. 3.

[104] Ibid., Vol. 17 No. 10, September 1902, p. 2.

[105] Ibid., Vol. 17 No. 6, May 1902, p. 3.

[106] Ibid., Vol. 18 No. 8, July 1903, p. 3.

[107] Ibid., Vol. 13 No. 8, July 1898, p. 3.

[108] Ibid., Vol. 14 No. 3, February 1899, p. 4.

[109] Ibid., Vol. 14 No. 4, March 1899, p. 3.

[110] The Corporation Minutes for April 8, 1901, Record Book 3, p. 4, show that the Corporation considered taking down the glass screen between the south aisle of the church and the Lady chapel in order to enlarge the seating capacity.