Archive for the ‘Annie Besant Cassey’ Tag

Feast of Peter Williams Cassey and Annie Besant Cassey (April 16)   Leave a comment

Above:  The Flag of The Episcopal Church

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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PETER WILLIAMS CASSEY (OCTOBER 13, 1831-APRIL 16, 1917)

African-American Episcopal Deacon

First African-American ordained in The Episcopal Church in the western United States, 1866

Husband of

ANNIE BESANT CASSEY (DIED SEPTEMBER 5, 1875)

African-American Episcopal Educator

The Episcopal Church added the Casseys to Lesser Feasts and Fasts in 2018.

That source lists Peter Williams Cassey as a priest.  This contradicts other sources, which insist that he was a perpetual deacon.  To confuse the point, some of my sources contradict themselves, claiming that Cassey never became a priest then referring to him as a priest.  I feel confident in writing of him as a deacon, for the website of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, St. Augustine, Florida, refers to Cassey as “Father” (a title usually reserved for a male priest) and as “deacon-in-charge.”  My critique of the profile of the Casseys in Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018 is that it is misleading in referring to Peter Williams Cassey as a priest and that the wording in other places is inexact and confusing.

Peter Williams Cassey, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 13, 1831, came from a family of abolitionists.  His grandfather was the Reverend Peter Williams, Jr., an abolitionist, the first African-American Episcopal priest in New York, and the first Rector (1826-1840) of St. Philip’s Church, Harlem, New York, New York.  Our saint’s parents were Joseph and Amy Cassey, prominent and wealthy members of their community, as well as abolitionists.  They gave their son opportunities for a fine, classical education.  He accepted those opportunities and made the most of them; he became fluent in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin.

Cassey spent 1853-1881 in California.  After he arrived in San Francisco, he chose to work as a barber.  Our saint was also active in civil life; he helped to organize an association to protect African Americans and other people of color in that racist society.  He moved to San Jose in the late 1850s.  There he helped to free slaves and taught African-American children, excluded from public schools.

Peter Williams Cassey was half of a team; the other half was Annie Besant (Cassey), his wife.  She also came from a prominent African-American family.  The couple had a daughter, Amy (baptized on April 12, 1863).  They adopted another daughter, Emma Louise (baptized on November 26, 1864).  The couple became charter members of Trinity Episcopal Church, San Jose, in 1862.  Trinity Church had an African-American mission, St. Philip’s Church, with St. Philip’s Academy attached to it.  St. Philip’s Academy operated for a decade, from the early 1860s to the early 1870s.  It educated children of color (African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American), excluded from public schools.  The Casseys lived on the grounds and kept the Academy running.

William Ingram Kip, the first Episcopal Bishop of California, ordained Peter to the diaconate on August 13, 1866.  This was the first ordination of an African American in The Episcopal Church in the western United States.

While Annie kept St. Phiip’s Academy, San Jose, running, into the early 1870s, Bishop Kip assigned Peter to found and lead Christ Mission, for people of color, in San Francisco, at the beginning of the decade.  Peter divided his time between San Francisco and San Jose until 1875.  Financial difficulties and a relatively transient congregation forced St. Philip’s Academy to close in the early 1870s.  Annie died on November 5, 1875.  Afterward, Peter, Amy (14), Emma, and Henrietta Lockwood (Annie’s grandmother) moved to Alumeda.

Christ Mission, San Francisco, was the forerunner of the present Christ Episcopal Church Sei Ko Kai (Japanese-American) and the present St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church (African-American).

Cassey left California in 1881.  Although he never became a priest, he held the title of rector in four churches and two dioceses.  Our saint was the Rector of St. Cyprian’s Church, New Bern,  North Carolina, from 1881 to 1884.  He was also the first African-American rector in the state.  Then he served in the Diocese of Florida.  Cassey was the Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Fernandina (1884-1897); St. Philip’s Church, Jacksonville (1897-1900); and St. Cyprian’s Church, St. Augustine (1900-1917).

Cassey, aged 85 years, died on April 16, 1917.  Edwin Gardner Weed, the Bishop of Florida, eulogized him:

…no other clergyman in the diocese came close to the theological maturity and scholarship that Peter Williams Cassey exhibited in his ministry and teachings.  We should be proud of these great souls that helped lay the foundations of this diocese.

Think, O reader, about how many lives Peter Williams Cassey and Annie Besant Cassey improved.  Then think about how many lives those people improved, and how many lives those people improved, et cetera.  The Casseys’ legacy continues.

I also approve of The Episcopal Church formally recognizing both Casseys.  I think of what Father Joseph Warrilow, the subject of Father Joe:  The Man Who Saved My Soul (2004) told Tony Hendra:  the Roman Catholic Church should canonize more married couples.  The Episcopal Church does not canonize people, in the sense of formally attaching “St.” to front of their names.  It does, however, add them to one calendar or another, or perhaps to both.  (I admit that my denomination having two calendars of saints–Lesser Feasts and Fasts and A Great Cloud of Witnesses–confuses me.  I recall when we had just one, Lesser Feasts and Fasts.)  I find that, when I write posts for this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, plans for a post frequently expand by following relationships.  Why not?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 1, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANNA OF OXENHALL AND HER FAITHFUL DESCENDANTS, SAINTS WENNA THE QUEEN, NON, SAMSON OF DOL, CYBI, AND DAVID OF WALES

THE FEAST OF EDWIN HODDER, ENGLISH BIOGRAPHER, DEVOTIONAL WRITER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORGE WISHART, SCOTTISH CALVINIST REFORMER AND MARTYR, 1546; AND WALTER MILNE, SCOTTISH PROTESTANT MARTYR, 1558

THE FEAST OF JEAN-PIERRE DE CAUSSADE, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROGER LEFORT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF BOURGES

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God of justice and mercy, who sent your Son to preach, to teach, and to give hope to those in need:

We remember before you this day your servants Peter Williams Cassey and Annie Besant Cassey,

who, in the face of slavery and discrimination,

sought to give the blessings of education and a spiritual haven for those pushed to the margins.

May we strive in our own lives to be fearless in the face of injustice

and to work for blessings that will touch those whom the world does not count of value;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives forever and ever.  Amen.

Proverbs 22:1-12

Psalm 112

Matthew 5:13-16

Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018, 236

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