Friday, November 9, 2012

James Theodore Holly and the first Episcopal parish in Leogane

Yesterday was one of the two possible days the Episcopal Church remembers James Theodore Holly, the first bishop of the Diocese of Haiti and the first African-American bishop in the Episcopal Church.  He gets little attention, but he was a remarkable man with an inspiring life.  In Haiti we see his name on the sign for the seminary, but even here there are few who know his story. 

Bishop James Theodore Holly,  1900

About Bishop Holly:

Both before and after his ordination to the diaconate in Detroit in 1855 (a challenge in those years, needless to say), James Theodore Holly asked to be sent to Haiti to establish the Episcopal Church there. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1856 and came down here to scout out the situation and to make contacts. After returning and continuing to lobby for Haiti to become a mission priority, he finally managed to get a minimal sponsorship for this new mission field.

In 1861 he returned with his family and a group of African-American emigrants, many of whom died that first year; life here was difficult then, too. Holly stuck it out despite the loss of his wife and four of his six children, making a living in secular work making shoes alongside his mission work, founded Holy Trinity Church (now Cathedral), and was eventually ordained as bishop in 1874.

He spent the rest of his life here establishing this church and eventually also serving as bishop of the Diocese of the Dominican Republic, delegate to Lambeth, and even consul for Liberia in Port-au-Prince. Along the way he earned a doctorate from Howard University and was awarded an honorarylaw degree by Liberia College in Monrovia.

He died in 1911, and his grave is now on the grounds of St. Vincent’s School for the Disabled with a statue nearby. I really must visit it.

In 1897, Bishop Holly's ABOUT THE CHURCH'S MISSION IN HAITI: A CONCISE STATEMENT was published in New York. It's a short document and an interesting read.  I found the part about the first parish outside Port-au-Prince particularly interesting, in part, of course, because of my time in Darbonne.  I would love to know which of the current set of parishes and missions are among those early ones.     

WHILE our mission work, like that of the first apostles, must have a foothold in the towns and cities, as the base of its operations, it is nevertheless true that the great work that needs to be accomplished in Haiti is in the rural districts, among the country people, who are, as a general thing, but one remove above African paganism.

It is, therefore, a matter of satisfaction to me to record the fact that the banner parish of the church in Haiti is situated in the mountains of Léogane. This station was created by Bishop Burgess in 1866, when he ordained a deacon for its ministerial oversight. Thirty-five memorialists had asked the Bishop to establish that mission station. When that missionary closed his earthly labors in 1880, three chapels had sprung up in [17/18] those mountains. In this present year (1896) there are two more chapels there, making five in all; and the city of Léogane has been invaded by those mountaineers, and a missionary station established there since March last, with an ordained missionary at its head.

There are two lay Readers, with permission to exhort in each of the five rural chapels. They also make missionary visits from house to house, and like St. Andrew, they return, bringing their brethren to the Lord Jesus.

These lay-helpers cultivate the soil to gain their livelihood, and they further take time to do this spiritual work without the hope of fee or other earthly reward.

The rural parishioners in general are not behind them in the work of self-sacrifice. By their own contributions, the land whereon to build those chapels was obtained, as well as the materials for the edifices; and with their own hands they have built those chapels without any pay being given them for their labor. The chapels are scattered over a district about twenty miles in length. Nearly 200 communicants are registered, and about 500 adherents in all are thereto attached.

Facts about the Church's Mission in Haiti
by Bishop James Theodore Holly 1897
 a few links for more information:  
He is in Holy Women, Holy Men, of course, but there is also a biography, rather dated,  I would love to see someone write a new one, but this is worth a read if you can find a copy.

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