White was born in Cincinnati on 10 March 1849, the son of Moses Hazen White and Mary Miller (Williams). After attending public grammar schools and Woodward High School, he went to Kenyon College in 1869, completing his Bachelor's degree in 1872. He then matriculated at Berkeley Divinity School in Massachusetts, obtaining his degree in 1875. He was ordained the following year and spent the years 1876 to 1881 serving various churches in Connecticut. He married Louise Maria Holbrook in 1879, and the couple would have four children: Mary May (White) Doubleday (wife of George Doubleday); Elwood Sanger White; Walker White; and Katherine Ames (White) Marquiss (wife of Charles Marquiss).
White moved west in 1881 to become rector of Christ Church, Joliet, Illinois, a church with a declining membership. By 1889, he had turned the church around, having constructed a new edifice without debt and attracting or inspiring 300 active members. That year he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, taking charge of St. John the Evangelist Church. Two years later came a call for him to serve as warden of Seabury Divinity School in Faribault, a position that earned him national recognition in the Church and the attention of Indiana. After his election as bishop and as he departed Faribault, a local newspaper observed: "White is a man of energy and progress. He is a ripe scholar, an indefatigable worker, and a man of great force of character and pleasant address. He is a liberal Churchman, but somewhat strict as a constructionist of Church law, of which he is a recognized authority."
White was consecrated as the fourth bishop of Indiana on 1 May 1895 at St. Paul's Church in Indianapolis. The ceremony drew participants from a number of surrounding states, and seven bishops participated in the consecration. The symbolism of seven was not lost on him as he commented later that it also represented the covenant of the Holy Spirit.
The Episcopal Church in Indiana was growing steadily in the state at this time, partly because the boom in natural gas exploration in central Indiana had brought in immigrants from England, Wales, and Scotland to work on the gas wells. The church's strength remained in urban, not rural areas, however. Bishop David Knickerbacker, White's predecessor, had attempted to establish missions in a number of smaller towns, but his efforts had met with only mixed success. Diocesan archdeacon Lewis F. Cole, formerly of Gethsemane Church in Marion, lamented the depressed conditions in parts of the state and the need for missionary work. White, in his first convention address, declared that he needed the "trust, wisdom, discretion, sincerity of purpose, heroic exertion, and generous willingness" of everyone to meet the present needs.
White proposed building a new cathedral in Indianapolis as a memorial to Bishop Knickerbacker, replacing Grace Cathedral, now All Saints Church. The plan would involve selling Grace as well as Christ Church on the Circle in Indianapolis. For this plan he had the support of Christ Church's rector, the Rev. J. Hilliard Ranger, and together they shared the vision of a large, new cathedral that would serve the needs of all Episcopalians in the greater Indianapolis area. Christ Church, because of its smaller size, could not serve this function and therefore, in their eyes, had a limited future. Ranger's death soon afterward, however, cast doubt on the plan, and the new bishop faced significant opposition from supporters of Christ Church. White took personal charge of the cathedral between 1895 and 1896 and put the edifice on the market. Ranger's successor, the Rev. A. J. Graham, hired as the new dean, announced with Christ Church's vestry in 1897 that they opposed the sale, and in this position they were joined by a group at Grace Cathedral. The effect of this organized opposition was to table and ultimately derail White's plans for a new cathedral, much to his great disappointment.
The group of Christ Church and Grace Church advocates proposed instead the construction of a new church, St. David's, winning the support of other Indianapolis area parishes. White, who had been outmaneuvered, gave his consent but not his official approval. In a caustic address he denounced their actions in a manner that did not reflect much Christian spirit. The conflict, he said, "exists because its leaders have chosen to withdraw from the church as the Bishop is administering it and force my hand to make martyrs of them or force them to commit suicide. I prefer that they should commit suicide if they are determined upon that course. I simply desire that the reverend clergy and laity of the diocese will judge me by what I positively advocate and not by some ingeniously devised rumor which is put into circulation with the evident intention to mislead and embarrass. I desire that the whole faith of this Church should everywhere be clearly and lovingly taught, not as it has been interpreted by some recent convert from sectarian ideas and confused with materialistic and mercenary accretions furnished by some provincial town of our own day..."
In spite of this defeat, White took a keen interest in missionary expansion within the diocese as his predecessor had done. He expressed frustration, however, that the General Convention of the national church viewed Indiana as a strong diocese and accordingly, preferred to give its funding to missions further west. White realized there was much still be done nearby, especially in certain counties in the state that were without an Episcopal church. He encouraged rectors to stay longer in their parishes, arguing that the constant turnover of positions hampered growth and development. He pressed members of the laity to contribute money to missionary efforts with the same zeal as in political campaigns. He also used the archdeacon office to have oversight of the smallest missions, sometimes ministering only to a couple of people at a time.
The bishop also embraced two missionary causes, the first being St. Mary's School in Indianapolis, a girls' school that he renamed Knickerbacker Hall. The school had operated on a shoestring budget and needed extensive repair. Not enough girls in the diocese attended to make it financially viable, however. The bishop appointed Mary Helen Yerkes to head the school in 1897, and she made it successful. White also oversaw the construction of the Tuttle Home, a home for the aged and orphans. A building was constructed for $11,000, but White decided to use it instead for a bishop's residence, called Diocesan House.
Far more successful was the second missionary cause, Howe Military School in LaGrange County, given as a gift by the Howe family with the encouragement of Bishop Knickerbacker. The Howes endowed the construction of St. James Chapel on the campus, where St. Mark's parish moved its services. It grew substantially from students outside the church and from other financial donations, and White was instrumental in changing the school's focus from a Latin School to a military academy.
White's churchmanship began to change in the decade of the 1890s. Originally a Low Churchman (though he disliked labels), he visited the Fourth Lambeth Council in England in the summer of 1898 and returned with a new appreciation for the Catholic origins of Anglican rituals. He began to revise how he approached Anglican ceremony. His pronunciations of ecclesiastical terms changed, and he would eventually begin wearing the cope and mitre at some diocesan services. He also allowed candles on the altar when previously he had forbidden them.
White also returned with renewed interest in dividing the diocese. The initial plan had been for the creation of three dioceses - north, central, and south - but the General Convention only gave its approval for the northern diocese, with the southern third of the state made into a missionary district. The bishop chose to lead the new diocese, to be called the Diocese of Michigan City, in part because of remaining bad feeling in Indianapolis arrayed against him. He explained in a 1919 convention address, "Much was the surprise that I should resign the old Diocese and accept this as my future sphere of service. Why, my dear brethren, I could not do anything else. Having not only given my consent to the move, but been its strongest advocate, I was compelled to prove my faith in the enterprise by casting in my lot with you. I have never for a moment regretted it." The Diocese of Indiana, soon to be renamed Indianapolis, would have 23,225 square miles and seventy-five percent of the assets. Michigan City, its much poorer sister, would have 12,820 square miles and just a quarter of the assets.
The new bishop accepted the offer of the vestry of Trinity Church, Michigan City, to make that church the new cathedral, and White also assumed its rectorship, a common practice at the time to help offset part of the bishop's stipend. In 1900, he and his family lived in a fully-furnished two-story house attached to the church, built through the generosity of philanthropist John H. Barker. However, the vestry of Trinity had stipulated that the church property would remain under its control, to which White assented without fully considering its ramifications. On 9 December 1899, still mindful of his earlier dispute with the Rev. A. J. Graham in Indianapolis, White proposed creating the office of dean but with the caveat that he be "only auxiliary to, and not independent of, the bishop." He would represent the bishop in his absence, would be nominated by the bishop and approved by the vestry. The first dean, the Very Rev. Walter S. Howard, was a popular priest and worked well with White.
The new diocese began its work with a typical administrative structure for the time. Officers included a bishop, secretary, treasurer, and chancellor. The Standing Committee, consisting of three elected priests and three elected lay members, held its judicial function. The Trustees of the Diocese consisted of five lay members, and there were three examining chaplains that served as advisors to White. All legislative authority was held by the Council, the name given to the annual diocesan convention held each November, where all matters of business were discussed. Several standing committees, later called "departments," were formed that reported to the Council: Unfinished Business, New Parishes, Constitution and Canons, State of the Church, Finance, Sunday Schools, Audit of Accounts, and Christian Education. Many of these changed names over the next several years . By 1900 a Committee of Funds and Finance was created, consisting of the bishop, secretary, treasurer, and three lay members. The Council also created the office of Archdeacon, held initially by the Rev. George P. Torrence, to oversee the administration of all diocesan missions. All officers were men, a condition that remained in place until 1968, and women were allotted membership in the Women's Auxiliary, a precursor of Episcopal Church Women (ECW), which had both a social and missionary function.
Although the diocese began on a sound financial footing under White's leadership, it experienced philosophical differences early on with respect to the style of churchmanship it should adopt. Most parishes to that time were Low Church in style, even though the first three bishops, Kemper, Upfold, and Talbot, had all been favorably disposed toward the Oxford Movement. White continued to wear the rochet and chimere on his visitations, but he became increasingly influenced by the Catholic Revival of Anglicanism in other liturgical practices. His style vexed some of Trinity's vestry, who asked that the new dean be a Low Churchman who would conduct services in a more simplified style.
Adjustments were made, but frictions over liturgical style and other matters became worse over time. White convinced his dean, the Very Rev. Walter Howard, to become rector of St. Thomas, Plymouth, and at the time of the move the bishop touched on the growing disagreement with the cathedral's vestry over whether it could be administered independently of the bishop. He wrote, "Whether it can be done as a work entirely independent of the Bishop is a serious question. How far authority can be retained and yet committed to another is a question which varies with men, with parishes, and with the conditions which surround them."
During this period some parts of the national church were becoming increasingly Anglo-Catholic, much to the dismay of some parishioners grounded in more traditional, Low Church forms of the faith. A few priests in some dioceses left the church for Roman Catholicism. They were inspired, in part, by the Open Pulpit Canon of 1907, which allowed ministers of other Christian denominations to deliver special addresses to Episcopal Churches. The movement culminated in 1908 with the so-called McGarvey Secession, when 20 priests in the national church left for Rome. The situation led many more traditional Episcopalians in Northern Indiana to distrust not only their clergy but also their bishop, whom they perceived was becoming increasingly Anglo-Catholic. White responded by defending his own clergy and challenging the right of laity to question their authority. "Prove your own loyalty before you question that of God's parish priest," he wrote. "Prove your own loyalty by faithful, constant submission to God's requirements ... So long as absenteeism is the most conspicuous characteristic of your religious life ... the charge of disloyalty comes with poor grace from such a one against the priest who is unwearying in his efforts to build up and to bless."
White continued to look outward in an effort to expand the church, even as he felt embattled from within it. He had struggled from the start to insure that offerings received for the work of domestic and foreign missions were not diverted to the use of individual parishes, many of which suffered financially. In an effort to promote missionary giving, he had mailed a diocesan leaflet to 1,500 families explaining domestic missions and appointed the Rev. Leigh W. Applegate to coordinate the effort. With funds in many parishes always tight, the effort failed to raise much revenue.
Meanwhile, the work of the diocesan archdeacon, George Torrence, had proved equally frustrating. Torrence attempted to organize missions at Van Buren, Whiting, Indiana Harbor, Gary, and Wawasee. He also traveled across the diocese from his base in Marion to such towns as Montpelier, Bluffton, Red Key, Portland, LaFontaine, and Fairmont, but his efforts generated only disappointing results. Several older missions would close, including those at Warsaw, Huntington, New Carlisle, and LaGrange, but the best opportunity for growth was afforded by Gary, a new city built almost entirely under the auspices of U.S. Steel. White dispatched Applegate to the new city, and the missionary succeeded in building the first church building in the city in 1910. He started a mission called Christ Church, much to White's satisfaction. In 1909, at the tenth anniversary of the diocese, a Missionary Committee was created to assist the archdeacon in channeling resources to these fledgling churches and to encourage new development.
Conditions at the Cathedral between the bishop and vestry had worsened during this period, however, and in 1906, White decided to leave Michigan City for what would turn out to be for good. He announced to the convention that "for reasons that seemed to me of sufficient weight to justify my action, I spent the winter months with the Rector of Howe School, and since the first of May, I have been in residence at Vawter Park, Lake Wawasee." He enjoyed the lake, conducting open-air services for summer lake goers and eventually building All Saints Chapel on the south shore next to his home.
Relations with Michigan City reached a breaking point by 1911, when White completely severed his ties with the cathedral and decided to split his time between Bishopcroft, his home at Lake Wawasee, and South Bend. The vestry of Trinity resolved to end its cathedral status, keep the bishop's residence as its own rectory, and return all of the bishop's furnishings to him. White, in return, took a silver communion service from Michigan City's sacristy without permission and used it in All Saints Chapel, claiming it as his personal property. In 1912, White began spending increasing amounts of time in South Bend, purchasing a house and assuming the rectorship of St. James as a way to supplement his salary. On 20 May 1919, with the old cathedral relationship now severed, the Diocesan Council formally changed the diocesan name to the Diocese to Northern Indiana. White did not mince words about his opinion of Trinity: "A Cathedral that is such merely in name only is an empty illusion ...A Cathedral which serves not as the center and stimulus to all Diocesan enterprise but as a millstone about the neck of both Bishop and Diocese is an incubus rather than an inspiration."
In his personal style, Bishop White could be affable enough when making parish visitations. He had a warm way of speaking and a sense of humor, but he was also prone to irritation and explosive, ill-considered remarks from the pulpit. When administering communion, he forbade anyone from touching the chalice, even when guiding it to their lips. Once, when a congregation consumed the Host too soon before he had finished speaking the words of institution, he upbraided it and called attention to those who had transgressed. One member recalled that when he preached, he would pound the pulpit and when angry, shake his fist, letting his voice rise and fall. If a member of the congregation was seen talking, he would stop and point out the transgressor. One time he expressed his displeasure at having to listen to a Sanctus lasting twenty minutes, which had forced him to lean against an altar.
For all of his personal failings, White remained committed to missionary expansion and looked at ways to spread the faith to non-traditional groups. In South Bend, White encouraged the temperamental Hungarian-born priest, Victor von Kubinyi, to organize a Hungarian-language parish, Holy Trinity, in 1913. Kubinyi, a nephew of the Austrian emperor, had been a Roman Catholic but had grown disillusioned with the Catholic priesthood and sought membership in a new tradition. After receiving Kubinyi, relations got off to a good start, but White's friendship with the eccentric priest broke down by 1919, with Kubinyi renouncing in writing the ministry of the Episcopal Church. White acted quickly to find a replacement, and the congregation remained intact.
In Gary, White also urged the formation of an Italian mission, San Antonio's, under the care of Nicolo Accomando, a former Methodist whom he confirmed and later ordained to the diaconate. The mission began with much fanfare as a means of reaching out to the large Italian community working in Gary's factories, many of whom had no church affiliation. White confirmed seventy-five in the mission's first few years. The members constructed a wood-frame church in 1921, but further improvements caused it to run into debt with the contractor placing a mechanic's lien on the property with the threat to seize the buildings if expenses were not paid. While White initially expressed little hope that the mission could be saved, he managed to raise enough for the lien to be paid off. By 1927, however, interest in the church among Gary's Italians waned and the building became St. Augustine's, a predominantly African American parish.
In 1921, the administration of the diocese underwent a major reorganization that followed closely the canons of the National Church. The new structure included a new legislative body called "Bishop and Council," consisting of the bishop, secretary, treasurer, nine elected priests, and nine elected laity from throughout the diocese. The new body oversaw extension work, missions, religious education, social services, and took charge of all other work assumed by the Diocesan Council or convention when not in session. Another new body, known as the Trustees of the Diocese, included the bishop, treasurer, chancellor, and three elected laity. The standing committees remained in place, and six new departments were formed: missions and church extension, religious education, social service, finance, publicity, and Nation-wide Campaign. Many diocesan leaders believed that this larger, more cumbersome bureaucratic structure made the diocese better equipped to administer to the needs of the post-war world of the 1920s. It would remain intact until 1969, when it was revamped.
White had become worn out by this date and died in Seabreeze, Florida, on 16 March 1925, where he had gone to convalesce after a series of illnesses. Two months before, the diocese had elected Campbell Gray as his Bishop Coadjutor and successor after an earlier elected candidate, the Rev. Frederick Fleming of the Church of the Atonement in Chicago, declined the offer. Historian Robert Center assessed White this way: "Bishop White was a man of many parts: scholar, raconteur, preacher, educator. He was a gifted speaker, though affecting the rather heavy prose style of his times. If he can be faulted, it must be in the areas of administration and personal petulance. His tendency to sulk certainly contributed to the fractured relationship with Trinity Cathedral. Although much of the blame for the debacle can be assigned to the vestry, Bishop White failed to clarify certain arrangements from the outset. This omission resulted in an impasse that reflected credit on neither party to the dispute."
Jack Nicholson, "Bishop John Hazen White, 1895-1899," in Joyce Marks Booth, ed., Sesquicentennial History of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis, 1838-1988 (Dallas, Texas: Taylor Publishing Co., 1988), 57-72.
Robert J. Center, Our Heritage: The First Seventy-five Years of the Diocese of Northern Indiana (South Bend: Diocese of Northern Indiana, 1973).
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- Bishop John Hazen White about 1910
- Bishop John Hazen White letter to Rev. Edwin Smith, 1918
- Bishop John Hazen White detail, 1910, Ancient and Accepted Masons, Fort Wayne
- Bishop John Hazen White 1
- Bishop John Hazen White in profile with book
- Bishop John Hazen White, lithograhic portrait, ca 1895
- Bishop John Hazen White 2
- Bishop John Hazen White, circa 1895 as Bishop of Indiana
- Bishop John Hazen White 3
- Bishop John Hazen White in old age
- Bishop John Hazen White 4
- Bishop John Hazen White about 1910, detail
- Bishop John Hazen White about 1912
- Bishop John Hazen White funeral with Masonic guard, South Bend 1925 photo 1
- Bishop John Hazen White in old age, ca 1920
- Bishop John Hazen White funeral with Masonic guard, South Bend 1925 photo 2
- Bishop John Hazen White funeral with Masonic guard, South Bend 1925 photo 3