Feast of James Theodore Holly (March 13)   2 comments

Above:  Bishop James Theodore Holly

Image in the Public Domain

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JAMES THEODORE AUGUSTUS HOLLY (OCTOBER 3, 1829-MARCH 13, 1911)

Episcopal Bishop of Haiti, and of the Dominican Republic

First African-American Bishop in The Episcopal Church

James Theodore Holly comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via The Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Church used to have one calendar of saints.  Starting in the 1960s, the guide to it was Lesser Feasts and Fasts, revised and made thicker occasionally.  From 1989 to 2007, a new edition debuted every three years.  Then, in 2009, the General Convention authorized a side calendar, Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010).  That volume’s successor debuted in late 2016.  A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  A Calendar of Commemorations has enlarged the side calendar.

Some commemorations are present in both Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018 and A Great Cloud of Witnesses; others are present only in one of them.  Some feasts new to The Episcopal Church debut on the side calendar and move into Lesser Feasts and Fasts, too.  Other feasts new to the denomination debut in Lesser Feasts and Fasts.  Bishop Holly’s feast is present in Holy Women, Holy Men (2010) and A Great Cloud of Witnesses (2016), but not in Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018Holy Women, Holy Men (2010) lists two feast days–March 13 and November 8–for Bishop Holly.  However, A Great Cloud of Witnesses (2016) lists only the March 13 feast day for him.

James Theodore Augustus Holly, born free in Washington, D.C., on October 3, 1829, became a vigorous champion for civil rights.  He, baptized and raised a Roman Catholic, eventually joined The Episcopal Church.  After moving with his family to Brooklyn, New York, in 1843, our saint trained as a shoemaker.  In 1848 he had begun to work with abolitionist Lewis Tappan.  Holly and his brother Joseph opened a boot-making shop in 1850.  By then our saint had developed strong interests in Haiti and emigration.  The Episcopal Church rejected his repeated requests to become a missionary to that country for years.

Holly became an ordained minister–a deacon in 1855 then a priest in 1856.  He, Rector of St. Luke’s Church, New Haven, Connecticut, from 1856 to 1861, traveled to Haiti before settling there in 1861.  In 1856 he also founded the Protestant Episcopal Society for Promoting the Extension of the Church among Colored People, a forerunner of the Union of Black Episcopalians.

Holly sought to build up the church in and the people of Haiti.  In 1861 he led a group of 110 African Americans and African Canadians to that country.  For a few years he received no support from The Episcopal Church for his missionary work, but it came through eventually.  Within the first year of living in Haiti, Holly’s wife and two of his children died.  He remained with his two young sons.  Holly, who doubled as the Liberian Consul to Haiti from 1864 to 1874, sought to stabilize the unstable societies on Hispaniola.  He, the founder of what he called L’Église Orthodoxe Apostolique Haitienne, became the first Bishop of Haiti and the first African-American Episcopal bishop.  The consecration occurred at Grace Episcopal Church, New York, New York, on November 8, 1874.  Although a member of the denominational House of Bishops, Holly had no vote in that body.  From 1897 to 1911 Holly doubled as the Bishop of the Dominican Republic.  In both countries he evangelized, built churches, founded schools, and started hospitals and other charitable institutions.  Holly, aged 81 years, died in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 13, 1911.

Michael Curry (an African American), the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, said of Deaconess Anna Alexander (1865?-1947), whose feast is in both Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018 and A Great Cloud of Witnesses (2016), that The Episcopal Church had to catch up to her.  The denomination had to catch up to Bishop Holly, whom it treated worse than a second-class member.

Racism is alive and well in society, unfortunately.  It also continues to exist within ecclesiastical institutions, including The Episcopal Church, my chosen denomination.  We are doing better in this regard than we did.  We need to do better than we do.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 20, 2020 COMMON ERA 

THE FEAST OF SAINT FABIAN, BISHOP OF ROME, AND MARTYR, 250

THE FEAST OF SAINTS EUTHYMIUS THE GREAT AND THEOCRISTUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF GREVILLE PHILLIMORE, ENGLISH PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF HARRIET AUBER, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF RICHARD ROLLE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC SPIRITUAL WRITER

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Most gracious God, by the calling of your servant

you gave us our first bishop of African-American heritage.

In his quest for life and freedom, he led your people from bondage

into a new land and established the Church in Haiti.

Grant that, inspired by his testimony, we may overcome our prejudice

and honor those whom you call from every family, language, people, and nation;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 6:20-25

Psalm 86:11-17

Acts 8:26-39

John 4:31-38

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 271

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2 responses to “Feast of James Theodore Holly (March 13)

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  1. What a vision he was given. So impressive that he followed the vision and the calling God gave him. I know he made a huge difference in that country. Thank you for making us aware of him and the work he did!

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