Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana Archives

Grace Episcopal Church, Fort Wayne (formerly St. Philip and St. James Episcopal Church)

St. Philip and St. James began as a mission of Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Wayne, in 1969. The Rev. George B. Wood, rector of Trinity Church in downtown Fort Wayne, joined a group of vestry in seeking a mission in the southern side of the city. In 1966, Nellie B. Wood Hillsmier donated seven acres at the corner of Tillman and Hessen Cassel roads with the stipulation that the church be named for her late husband, James J. Wood, a prominent local inventor for General Electric. She had also stipulated that if a church was not constructed within a proscribed period of time, the land would revert to her and she would sell it to another developer. Father Wood negotiated an agreement that the church be named St. Philip and St. James, incorporating the names of two of her husbands. "She was a character," Wood later recalled, "sharp as a tack, rough as a cob, and I treated her the same way."

The Rev. Geoffrey Ashworth, was hired to be its first vicar and began holding services for 35 families in a barn on the property and later in a gymnasium at Village Woods Elementary School. The congregation searched for money to fund the building. Early architectural plans proved too expensive for the parish, but two parishioners, Tony Bada and Don Stinson, devised a plan to construct a utility building at a cost of about $63,000 in 1970. Wood called them a "godsend." The first service was held on November 1, 1970, at which time the church was officially incorporated.

After a series of vicars that included George Davis, William Gibson, and Ronald Poston, the church became an independent parish in 1988, receiving parish status at the diocesan convention. The Rev. Robert Fitzpatrick became rector in 1990, and three years later the vestry made the decision to sell the Tillman property and make plans for a new building in Aboite Township. Several years followed with the congregation meeting in local schools. In 1996 the congregation decided to change the parish name to Grace Episcopal Church in order to reflect the low liturgical style of services the parish had adapted. Local architect John Shoaff devised plans in 1998 for a modernistic frame church at 10010 Aurora Place, located on a hill off Liberty Mills Road. Funding challenges continued, and despite a substantial gift from the architect's mother, Agnes Shoaff, the building was not constructed because of insufficient funds. A different, more traditionally-styled church in an adapted design  by a different architect was approved, and it was consecrated on 10 September 1999 by Bishop Edward Jones of Indianapolis. Fitzpatrick left the parish to become Bishop of Hawaii in 2000.

After Fitzpatrick's departure and a year of interim ministry by the Rev. Theron Lansford, the parish called the Rev. Isaac Ihiasota, a former African priest, in 2001. Divisions arose within the congregation over his leadership style, and he left in April 2003. From 2003 to 2007, Grace was led under the interim pastorate of the Rev. Barbara Schmitz while the congregation underwent a period of self-discernment and healing. In September 2008, the vestry called the Rev. Kathy Thomas, who was installed in November. She remained rector until her retirement at the end of 2017. Thomas P. Hansen, the recently-retired rector of Trinity Fort Wayne, became Grace's supply priest as the congregation began a lengthy search for a new rector. Plans were made in 2019 for a shared position with St. Alban's, which did not transpire. Hansen retired in 2024.


Geoffrey Ward Ashworth, 1969-1972
George Miller Davis, 1972-1973
John Wesley Inman Jr., 1973-1974
William Gibson, 1974-1986
Ronald G. Poston, 1987-1989
Robert Fitzpatrick, 1990-2000
Theron Lansford (interim supply), 2000-2001
Isaac Ihiasota, 2001-2003
Barbara G. Schmitz, 2003-2007
Kathryn Pauline Thomas, 2008-2017
Thomas Parker Hansen (interim supply), 2017-2024


Phyllis Markoetter, Grace Episcopal Church: A People's Story of Faith. Fort Wayne: Grace Episcopal Church, 2002.

Kathy Thomas, "Top 30 Events in the 20 Years of Grace Episcopal Church 'on the Hill.'" Information sheet.

Interview with Rev. George B. Wood, 1989, on Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Wayne, and the Founding of St Philip and St. James


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