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History of the Diocese of Fond du Lac and Its Several Congregations

By A. Parker Curtiss

Fond du Lac: P.B. Haber Printing Co., 1925.

Chapter I. Foundations

Asked to write a history of the Diocese of Fond du Lac, one is faced with the usual difficulties of the historian who blazes the trail. Where is the material to be found? Just how much is to be included? How candid shall the narrative be? The usual history of such an undertaking is that critics find the work insufficient and full of defects. Then comes someone who undertakes to supply what has been omitted, correct wrong conclusions, or inadvertent misstatements, and adds details and newly discovered facts.

So this work is undertaken with the assurance that it will be followed by a better history, and perhaps several others, until in time the romantic history of our diocese, and its place in the work of the Church in this country will be adequately treated.

A busy parish priest with very limited time at his disposal, starts out with the handicap that he has not the time or opportunity for seeking out his materials. And so not much more than a sketch can be attempted. This is to be regretted, as the history of the Church in Wisconsin, and in the diocese of Fond du Lac is full of picturesque incidents, and replete with life and color.

The first Christian missionaries to visit our part of the world, were Jesuits and Capuchins. As early as 1634, they had landed on the shores of Green Bay. Here too, protestantism first made itself heard in a sermon by a Presbyterian. It was in this region that our Church first made her stand.

In 1822, the Oneida Indians removing from New York state, settled on their reservation ten miles from what is now Green Bay, under the leadership of Mr. Eleazer Williams, a [3/4] picturesque person who claimed to be, and was thought by many to be, the lost Dauphin of France. That is a romantic story by itself. He had been brought up among the St. Regis Indians in New York, but was undoubtedly a white man. He had accepted Christianity as a Presbyterian, but later became attached to the Church, and had thrown in his lot with the Oneidas, many of whom had become Churchmen in New York before coming to their new home in Wisconsin.

On Dec. 2, 1822, he wrote a letter that came before the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, asking aid in the establishment of a mission of the Church here. May 22, 1823, the Rev. Norman Nash was appointed missionary to begin work at Green Bay and vicinity, but did not arrive until the summer of 1825. In the meantime Eleazer Williams had been ordained Deacon in the summer of 1824, and had undoubtedly held services at Oneida among the Indians. Mr. Nash remained but a year at his post and was succeeded in 1827 by the Rev. Richard F. Cadle.

But the first church building erected in Wisconsin, and indeed in the great Northwest Territory, a region now embraced in the Province of the Mid West, was built by the Oneidas. It had been built entirely at their own cost, was of wood in the "Gothic style" and had cost $3,800. It was also the first consecrated church in this part of the world.

In 1834, the Rev. Jackson Kemper, and Dr. James Milnor, were sent out by the Board of Missions to examine and report on the mission at Green Bay, or Navarino as it was then called. On July 16 of that year, they arrived, and thus the feet of him who was to be the first Missionary Bishop of the Church, first touched Wisconsin soil, and visited the first organized parish in Wisconsin.

"If we are disposed in mind to make pious pilgrimages to cradles and graves, we would not go amiss if some time we turn our feet towards the blue waters of Green Bay, for there is the cradle of the Church in Wisconsin."

This visit and report of Dr. Kemper stirred up the missionary spirit of the Church in the east, and in St. Peter's beautiful church, in Philadelphia, Sept. 25, 1835, the great Bishop White consecrated Jackson Kemper to the Episcopate.

The history of the Church in Wisconsin for the next thirty-six years was what this Apostle of Christ made it. The history of his life and that of many of his contemporaries, written by the Rev. Greenough White gives a graphic picture of the apostolic labors of men who full of zeal for Christ, gave themselves without reserve to a great cause. But it is to Bishop Kemper that we owe under God, the firm establishment of the Church on sound, and orthodox lines.

The problems of these days were very great. A frontier is not very fertile soil for religion. The men whose adventurous [4/5] spirits drove them into the unknown of the great forests and wide prairies of the middle west, were often the very type who sat lightly to religion and its restraints. Freed from the conventions of an older social order, they were often impatient of any attempt to rivet upon them again the restraints they had left, when they had gone from the old home, and the parish church.

Then too, the Revolution was too recent for men to have forgotten that Bishops, Prayer Book and vestment belonged in the minds of most, to a time when King, Crown and taxes bore heavily on the people.

When a caller on the first Bishop of Indiana asked if "Mr. Upfold" were at home, and the bishop answered, "You see the Bishop of Indiana before you", the caller turning his back and walking away, replied: "And now he is behind me". Rev. William Adams, one of the missionaries drawn by Bishop Kemper to the west, remarks with some surprise that the fact of the Bishop having officiated in his vestments for "the first time in these parts", created no disturbance.

And the men of those days liked to live well and had plenty to gratify the appetite when they dined. Dr. Kemper records that at a dinner at Navarino in 1834, given in his honor, there was plenty to eat and drink. "Pitcher full of lemonade and port, Maderia and champagne wines, roast pig, veal, ham, venison and veal pie, salad, cranberry tarts and floating island, cheese, raisins, almonds, English walnuts, filberts."

It was a time of rude plenty, rude habits, rude modes of life, bad roads, few schools or churches, unsettled conditions, roving adventurers, lax morals and hard and absorbing labor. To this new world, to present the Church, in her age old dress of archaic language, decorus customs, restrained habits, and her round of fast and feast, was no easy task in that day. But to this task Bishop Kemper addressed himself, and with the aid of his devoted band of clergy made what we have today possible.

In addition to the parish in Green Bay 1829, Parishes in our Diocese were organized under his direction in order given.

Hobart Church of the Holy Apostles, Oneida, 1838. Grace, Sheboygan, 1847. St. James, Manitowoc, 1848. St. Paul's, Fond du Lac, 1849. Trinity, Marquette, 1851. Intercession, Stevens Point, 1852. Trinity, Oshkosh, 1854. Trinity, Berlin, 1855. St. Paul's Plymouth; St. Mark's, Waupaca; St. John's Wausau, 1858. St. Stephen's, Menasha, 1859. St. Peter's, Ripon, 1860. St Mark's' Rosendale, 1861. Grace, Appleton, 1864.

After Bishop Kemper's death in 1870, up to the time of the organization of the Diocese of Fond du Lac, the following parishes and missions were organized: Trinity, Waupun, 1871. [5/6] St. James', Green Bay; Grace, Oshkosh, 1872. St. Paul's, Marinette; Messiah, DePere; St. Mark's, Oconto, 1873.

There were unorganized missions: Kemper, Fort Howard, St. Peter's, Sheboygan Falls, Kingston, and Taycheedah. Services are apparently held in various other places: Omro, Weyauwega, Peshtigo and Green Lake.

The country was new. It could not be known what towns were likely to grow and support a parish. Centers of population changed, the "old American stock" moved on, and foreigners came in. Towns did not grow as expected. All these causes worked to effect the discontinuance of services here and there. The parishes in DePere, Marquette, Rosendale, Ft. Howard are extinct. Grace, Oshkosh, and St. James', Green Bay are extinct, and the churches demolished. The history of St. James' parish in Green Bay is obscure. Bishop Brown speaks of it as having been organized in anticipation of a larger growth of Green Bay than materialized. It was a beautiful building of red brick, and Bishop Brown speaks of it as the most "correctly appointed" in the Diocese.

Grace Church, Sheboygan is the only one now in the diocese bearing that name. Grace, Oakfield, became St. Mary's. Grace, Ripon, St. Peter's. Grace, Ahnapee, is now St. Agnes-by-the-Lake, Algoma. Grace, Appleton is now All Saints.

St. John's, Wausau, was formerly St. John's-in-the-Wilderness.

Just why there should have ever been three parishes in Oshkosh is probably now lost in the remote vistas of time. But besides Trinity and Grace, St. Paul's was later organized, and all three had Church buildings. Grace was later consolidated with St. Paul's, and this later became extinct, after having been reorganized as Christ Church.

The tale of deserted churches is a sad one. Beautiful St. James' at Green Bay, stood for some years, a melancholy sight. Under mighty pines, a quaint little Gothic church of wood at Duck Creek, mouldered until it was torn down for a summer cottage. St. Mark's at Rosendale, a very well designed little building was disused for many years. The congregation for years consisted of three most devout and faithful communicants, who were regularly communicated in their homes by the priest from Ripon. The names of Mr. and Mrs. Hill, and Miss Norah Skinner smell sweet to those who knew these dear saints of God. The little church had done its work perhaps in developing these saintly souls.

The old church at Marquette fell into ruin and the one at Green Lake in some way, became a farm house. Information is not at hand as to the fate of the church at Butte des Mortes.

[7] On the other hand new parishes have been organized where none in the early days were thought possible, and the Diocese grows.

The history of the Northwest Territory from the standpoint of the Church, was the gradual growth of influence, increase in the numbers of communicants, the erection of dioceses, and the election of Bishops to fill them.

The time came when Bishop Kemper from having a diocese as large as an empire, was only the bishop of Wisconsin. But there gradually formed in his mind the theory that there ought to be a return to a more primitive state of things. In every principal city, there ought to be, he thought, a Bishop creating many centres of Church life and zeal. As an outcome of his teaching a document known as the "Wisconsin Memorial" was widely circulated and discussed, and bore fruit. It advocated the division of the state into four dioceses, and insisted that the time was come for an immediate division.

In 1866, during the Annual Convention, on motion of Mr. Winfield Smith, it was unanimously

Resolved, That this Convention is unanimously in favor of the division of this Diocese, and that therefore the Bishop of the Diocese be respectfully requested to give his consent to the division of the same, and to place his consent upon the records of this Convention.

Bishop Kemper gave his consent, declaring it to be in accord "with my own convictions, repeatedly expressed."

At the Convention of 1868, the Bishop thus presses his ideal:

"At the Convocation which has Fond du Lac for its center, I perceive strong intimations of organizing a separate Diocese. This would be a noble act, and it shall meet with my hearty approbation. I would not willingly separate myself from many, both of the clergy and laity, with whom I have been from the beginning; but the example of zeal and true Christian faith would be so beneficial, and so encouraging to the whole of the Reformed Catholic Church, through the world, that I here pledge my cordial support.

Such an act would prove that we are truly returning to primitive times, and that the Church of the Living God, which is indeed the pillar and ground of the Truth, can extend her boundaries and multiply her dioceses, without endowments, or the approbation of the mighty ones of the earth. Let the act be done in love and hope, and I pledge myself to raise five hundred dollars, ($500) per annum while I live, towards the necessary expenses of the new bishop."

[8] At the Annual Council of 1870, Bishop Armitage, the successor of the great Missionary Bishop makes this reference to the matter of division in his address:

"Our Convocations, brethren, are absolutely essential to proper oversight and thorough work, in a field so vast as ours. With the division of the Diocese in prospect, within four years at the latest, we can hardly spare the advantages of the Convocation in accustoming our different sections to working together on common plans."

On motion it was Resolved: That a committee of seven, four clergymen and three laymen be appointed by the Chair, to take into consideration that part of the Bishop's address relating to the division of the Diocese.

Resolved: That this Committee is not prepared to report lines of division, or definitely to indicate the measures necessary, therefore

Resolved: That a Committee on division be appointed to report to the next Annual Council.

During the Council of 1871, this Committee which had held over, met in the vestry of St. Paul's, Milwaukee, and met a Committee from the Convocation of Fond du Lac, which laid before it "a memorial, and certain papers and statements" on the subject of a new Diocese within the limits of that Convocation. A personal plea from the chairman of that committee, the Rev. R. W. Blow, set forth the urgent necessity of the division.

After deliberation, the Committee Resolved: That this Committee accept the report of the Committee appointed by the Fond du Lac Convocation, and adopt it as part of their report to the Council; and the Committee further recommend the passage of the following resolution:

Resolved: That the canonical consent of this Council be given to the erection of a new Diocese within the limits of the Fond du Lac Convocation, (as represented in the map accompanying the statements and papers of their Committee) as soon as the action of General Convention will allow.

Reports of Committees, resolutions and such like matters were accepted and passed at the Councils of 1871, '72 and '73 in preparation for the division and at the General Convention held in the city of New York, October 7, 1874, the Rev. Franklin R. Haff, on behalf of the Deputies from the Diocese of Wisconsin, presented the necessary documents concerning the division of the Diocese. On October 27, the House of Deputies gave consent to the division, and October 29, the House of Bishops sent to the House of Deputies the following resolution:

[9] Resolved: That this House concurs with the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies in their message, No. 40, giving the consent of the General Convention to the erection of a new Diocese within the limits of the present Diocese of Wisconsin.

For some years the Convocation of Fond du Lac, had been collecting a fund for the endowment of the new diocese, and in 1872 reported that they had $5,000 on hand and pledged themselves to make it $15,000 before the General Convention of 1874. This they had apparently been able to do.

On December 10, 1874, the Bishop of Wisconsin, the Right Reverend Edward R. Welles, D. D., issued a call for the Primary Council of the new Diocese, to be held in St. Paul's Church, Fond du Lac, Thursday, Jauary 7, 1875, at 11 o'clock a. m.

The Holy Eucharist was celebrated at that hour by Bishop Welles, assisted by the Rev. Drs. W. B. Ashley, Robert N. Parke, and Rev. William Dafter, the rector of St. Paul's. The sermon was preached by the Rev. William E. Wright from St. Matt. XXVIII, 18-20.

At the conclusion of this service, the Bishop called the Council to order, and the roll of the parishes was called. Of the clergy entitled to seats, sixteen out of nineteen answered to thir names. These were: Revs. W. C. Armstrong, M. V. Averill, G. R. Bartlett, R. W. Blow, J. Blyman, W. Dafter, J. DeForest, F. Durlin, F. R. Haff, P. McKim, F. Moore, R. N. Parke, E. H. Rudd, H. H. Ten Broeck, G. Vernor, W. E. Wright.

The Lay delegates present represented the following parishes:

Appleton, Evan Edwards. Berlin, T. T. Kissam. DePere, Joseph G. Lawton. Fond du Lac, E. H. Burnton, E. C. French, J. F. Aldrich, E. Colman. Green Bay, Christ Church, John V. Suydam. St. James, M. L. Martin, Henry Pierce, Edson Sherwood. Oakfield, Nath. Filbey, Robt. Kinninment, Arthur Steen, Allen Filbey. Oshkosh, Chas. Wolcott, Jas. Lankton, Geo. Gary, W. B. Stickney. Oshkosh, Grace Church, S. J. Osborn, M. C. Wilson, R. W. Ryckman, T. F. Woodworth. Plymouth, J. W. Dow. Ripon, Geo. L. Field, John Corbett, Robt. Allen, J. P. Taggart. Rosendale, Chas Pinkney, H. H. Bush. Sheboygan, Jas. Bell, Wm. C. Tillson. Waupun, R. W. Wells, Zach. Taylor.

After the roll call, the Rev. Martin V. Averill was elected secretary, and the Council was duly organized.

The Committee on Constitution and Canons presented their report, and Article I was adopted, with Fond du Lac inserted as the name of the Diocese.

Articles II, III and IV were adopted, and the Council [9/10] adjourned to the evening, when the entire Constitution and Canons were adopted.

Bishop Welles then declared the new Diocese to be duly organized, and announced that as he had chosen the older part as his see, recommended that the new Diocese place itself under some Bishop until one could be chosen and consecrated for the Diocese. On motion it was resolved that Bishop Welles be asked to take charge of the Diocese until the new Bishop was elected and consecrated. Bishop Welles consented, and resumed the chair. On motion it was resolved that the election of a Bishop be made the business of the following day at ten o'clock.

Friday, January 8, after Holy Communion at nine o'clock, prayers, the Veni Creator and silent prayer; nominations for the Bishop were made. Chas. Wolcott of Oshkosh, nominated the rector of Trinity Church, the Rev. F. R. Haff. John V. Suydam of Green Bay nominated Dr. James DeKoven of Racine College. No other nominations were made, and the Council proceeded to election.

There was no election on the first three ballots. On the fourth, the Rev. W. P. Ten Broeck was elected by the laity, and on the fifth and sixth. On the seventh ballot Dr. DeKoven was elected by the clergy, and Mr. Ten Broeck by the laity. On the eighth the clergy did not elect, and the laity were steadfast to thir choice and the council adjourned to the afternoon.

On the ninth and tenth ballots the clergy did not elect, and the laity elected Dr. Chas. H. Hall. On the eleventh ballot the clergy elected Rev. Leighton Coleman, and the laity elected Dr. Hall. On the twelfth ballot all of the clergy but two voted for Dr. Coleman and the laity did not elect. On the thirteenth ballot the Rev. Leighton Coleman was unanimously elected by both orders.

It is of interest to note that Dr. DeKoven was elected by ten clerical votes out of sixteen, and that until the twelfth and thirteenth ballot, five laity steadily voted for him.

Mr. James B. Perry was elected treasurer of the diocese, and Mr. Geo. L. Field, Registrar. The first standing committee consisted of Rev. Wm. Dafter. Rev. F. R. Haff, Rev. Dr. Parke, Geo. Gary, Henry Pierce, J. B. Perry.

The salary of the Bishop was fixed at $2,500.

At the evening session Fond du Lac was chosen as the place of the First Annual Council, and after other miscellaneous business, the Gloria in Excelsis was sung, and the Council adjourned sine die.

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