FAITH IN ACTION FOR 250 YEARS

High Church, Low Church
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which, as the English theologian Frederick Denison Maurice wrote, were “at the same time contrary and complementary, both maintaining elements of the true church, but incomplete without the other.”

FOR SOME ADHERENTS, it also meant re-creation of monastic orders, the use of vestments and ritual in worship, and, most important, replacing preaching with the Eucharist as the central aspect of worship. Odenheimer, rector of St. Peter’s from 1839 to 1859 and later Bishop of New Jersey, manifested his Tractarian beliefs in a number of important ways for St. Peter’s, besides casting the deciding vote to put the cross atop the spire of the tower. Before 1842, communion at St. Peter’s was rare—starting that year, the Eucharist was celebrated not only on Sundays but during the week. Daily Morning and Evening Prayer also began at this time. Instead of alienating believers, these changes attracted them. Membership at St. Peter’s doubled, from 226 communicants to 488 in 1861, two years after Odenheimer left. (As bishop of New Jersey, Odenheimer confirmed 20,000, according to St. Peter’s 1911 yearbook reports.)

ODENHEIMER was shifting to a more catholic approach among the city’s Episcopalians just as Philadelphia was having to accommodate waves of Irish Catholic immigrants, who would soon change the demography of what had been a Protestant and English/German city. The deep-seated hatred of anything Roman Catholic, primarily by Scots-Irish Presbyterians and other Protestants, resulted in tensions among the working classes. Furthermore, the Irish and free blacks competed for the same lowest-paying jobs, which kept them at one another's throats.  Pitched battles frequently broke out between the groups, including the 1842 Lombard Street Riot, when 1,000 members of the black Young Men’s Vigilant Association were attacked by an Irish mob. Three days of violence followed, ending when the mayor finally called in the militia.

AS THE FLOW of Irish Catholics increased, Protestant leaders, including Stephen Tyng, the rector of St. Paul’s Church at Third near Walnut Street, and the Rev. Samuel B. Wylie, vice provost of the University of Pennsylvania, vowed “a war against Popery.”

WHEN THE CATHOLIC BISHOP, Francis Kendrick, asked that the public schools let Catholic students use their own Bible and be excused from religious instruction in school, Protestants saw it as an affront. The result was the civil strife known as the Nativist Riots of 1844. They began in Kensington, a neighborhood that Alexander McClure, the newspaper editor and a Protestant, called the least religious section of the city, saying most of the rioters “would not have known the difference between a Catholic and Protestant Bible if they held them in their hands.” But the worst and last rioting occurred in Southwark, at St. Philip Neri Church between July 4 and 8, 1844. A force of 5,000 militia was attacked by both Catholics and Protestants when it arrived to quell the disturbance.

IN THIS CLIMATE,  Odenheimer's “catholic” leanings were suspect. His insistence on regular communion and weekday services and his deciding vote on the cross could have ended his career, had it not been for his theological prowess, intellect and forceful personality. His apologia for his viewpoint, True Catholic, No Romanist—published in1843, in the midst of the anti-Roman furor—satisfied his detractors, resulting in his eventual election as a bishop.

ST. PETER'S 19th- and early-20th-century rectors, including Odenheimer, George Leeds (ousted from his Rhode Island church for his Tractarian leanings), Thomas Davies, Richard Nelson (quoted in a 1897 newspaper interview about the working classes’ enjoyment  of candles and processions in their Sunday night services), and Edward M. Jefferys all put an Anglo-Catholic stamp on the parish.

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  George Leeds (1816-85), rector 1860-69.  Born in Boston, he received his bachelor’s degree from Amherst College in 1835. He was ordained a deacon in 1839 and a priest in 1841, and served as rector of St. Stephen’s Church in Providence, R.I., in 1840-41. St. Stephen’s became identified with the movement later known as Anglo-Catholicism. Leeds began to hold services on holy days as well as Sundays, and to read prayers sideways, facing the Communion Table, rather than facing the people from behind the reading desk. This practice incurred the wrath of Bishop Alexander Griswold, who denounced it as sanctioning “the abominable doctrine of Transubstantiation.” Leeds resigned shortly afterward. In 1843, he became rector of Grace Church, Utica, N.Y., for 10 years, in the Diocese of Western New York, led by Bishop DeLancey. During his rectorship of St. Peter’s, he presided at the 100th anniversary in 1861, at which DeLancey preached the sermon. After leaving St. Peter’s, Leeds became rector of Grace Church, Baltimore, until his death in 1885. Burial: Grace Church, Utica.

  Thomas F. Davies (1831-1905), rector 1868-89. Born in Green’s Farms, Conn., the son a Congregational minister, Davies graduated from Yale in 1853 (he received an honorary doctorate from the university in 1891) and was a roommate of Andrew Dickson White, a co-founder of Cornell University. While at Yale, he received the Berkeley Scholarship and entered Berkeley Divinity School in Middletown. He was ordained a deacon in 1856 and a priest in 1857. For two years, he held the chair of Hebrew and Cognate Languages at Berkeley, and from 1857 to 1863 he taught at the school. In 1863, he became rector of St. John’s Church, Portsmouth, N.H., where he remained until being called to St. Peter’s in 1868. During his 21 years at St. Peter’s, 3,000 were baptized, 1,000 were confirmed, the Endowment Fund was established, St. Peter’s House was opened, three mission churches opened, and $700,000 was contributed by the parish for church purposes. He was venerated for his service to the sick and dying during the 1871 smallpox epidemic that killed 8,000 in Philadelphia. In 1889, Davies was consecrated bishop of Michigan in St. Peter’s Church.  He served 16 years as bishop, dying in 1905. Burial: Detroit. His son, Thomas F. Davies Jr., was the second bishop of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts.

  William H. Vibbert (1839-1918), rector 1890-91. The son of a Connecticut rector, Vibbert graduated from Trinity College before attending Berkeley Divinity School. He was ordained a deacon in 1862 and a priest in 1863. He remained at Berkeley until 1873 as professor of Hebrew; his Guide to Reading the Hebrew Text was published in 1872. Vibbert married Julia Welsh of Philadelphia in 1866.  Her uncle, John Welsh, was ambassador to the Court of St. James’s and longtime warden of St. Peter’s Church. Leaving Connecticut, Vibbert was rector of St. Luke’s in Germantown and then St. James Church, Chicago, where he assisted James L. Houghteling in founding the lay service organization the Brotherhood of St. Andrew. St. Peter’s vestry called Vibbert as rector in February 1890, and he stayed a year. An item in the New York Times from Oct. 11, 1890, said Vibbert “has probably tired of St. Peter’s — it is in a declining section of the city — and will likely accept the pulpit of one of Trinity Church’s parishes.” He resigned in May 1891 (effective Aug. 1) to become vicar of Trinity Chapel, Wall Street, citing the “great responsibility and influence” that the position offered. Vibbert remained at Trinity Chapel until his death. Burial: New York.

  James Lewis Parks (1848-1912), rector 1891-96. Born in New York City, he was the son of an assistant rector of Trinity Church and vicar of St. Paul’s Chapel. At 14, he entered the Navy. He was educated at St. James College, Maryland, and Trinity College, receiving a degree in 1866, and graduated from General Theological Seminary in New York in 1871. He was ordained a deacon and a priest in 1872.  His first work was as a missionary at a struggling church in Winchester, Tenn. He then became rector of churches in Oakland, Calif., Schenectady, N.Y., and Middletown, Conn. Parks served less than five years at St. Peter’s before accepting a call to be rector of Calvary Church, now Calvary-St. George’s, at Park Avenue and 21st Street in New York.  He resigned in 1910 amid vestry complaints about his ministering to immigrants, became rector emeritus, and moved to Brooklyn Heights, where he died in 1912. Burial: New York City.

  Richard H. Nelson (1859-1929) rector, 1897-1904. Born in New York City, he was descended from founding Dutch and English families. (The Nelson family estate was near the Heathcote estate in Mamaroneck, N.Y., which was William DeLancey’s birthplace.) Nelson received his A.B. in 1880 and M.A. in 1883 from Trinity College; graduated from Berkeley Divinity School in 1883; and was ordained a deacon in 1883 and a priest in 1884.  From 1887 to 1896, he was rector of Christ Church, Norwich, Conn. Ernest Felix Potter, that church’s choir director, was later choirmaster at St. Peter’s and choir director of St. Peter’s Choir School. Nelson became rector of St. Peter’s in 1897. During his rectorship, the parish building was begun and completed; St. Peter’s Guild for Men, the Women’s Auxiliary and the Girls’ Friendly Society were founded; the parish day school developed into a choir school; the work at St. Peter’s House was expanded; and the endowment fund increased. He also was a trustee of Berkeley Divinity School and the General Theological Seminary. In 1904, he was called to be bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Albany. In 1913, he became the second bishop of Albany. He died in 1929. Burial: Albany.

  Edward Miller Jefferys (1865-1947) rector, 1906-37. Jefferys was the first rector born in Philadelphia since Odenheimer. His father had come to America from the British West Indies, the son of a planter, and his mother was  descended from a commissioner of revenue under John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferys graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1886, studied for the ministry at Berkeley Divinity School, and was ordained a deacon in 1889 and priest in 1890. He came to St. Peter’s as a deacon under Davies. He then went to Detroit and later served as rector in churches in Bucks County (St. Paul’s, Doylestown) and Cumberland, Md.  He returned to St. Peter’s as rector in 1906, but hadn’t been the vestry’s first choice. An Army chaplain in World War I, he also was president of the standing committee of the diocese, chaplain of the Church Training and Deaconess House, and a trustee of Berkeley Divinity School. After retiring as rector, he and his wife moved to Chestnut Hill, where he died in August 1946. Burial: St. Peter’s Churchyard.

  Frederick William Blatz (1910-62) rector, 1938-46. Born in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., he moved with his family to Philadelphia in 1916, where his father was a real estate broker. A 1927 graduate of Episcopal Academy, he received a scholarship from the Episcopal church’s Yarnall Fund and studied at the University of Pennsylvania, being elected to Phi Beta Kappa.  He attended General Theological Seminary and graduated from the Philadelphia Divinity School (which awarded him a doctor of divinity degree in 1957). He was ordained a deacon in 1935 and a priest in 1936, when he became curate at Holy Trinity in Rittenhouse Square. That same year, he became curate at St. Peter’s Church, and then minister in charge after Jefferys retired. He became rector on Jan. 1, 1938. He resigned from St. Peter’s in 1946 and was then rector at St. Paul’s Church, Westfield, N.J., later at Trinity Church, Washington. A classics scholar, he was examiner in New Testament Greek for the Diocese of Washington, as well as a trustee for the Philadelphia Divinity School. It was Blatz who began preserving documents from St. Peter’s history while rector, and he contributed to a book about Philadelphia’s historic sites published by the Works Progress Administration in 1936. He died of leukemia in 1962. Burial: Pottstown, Pa.

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The 18th Century

The 19th Century

The 20th Century

The People of St. Peter's

The Choir

Mission and Outreach

Did You Know?

The Next 250

The Hero of Tripoli

The Book