Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana Archives

Joseph Cruikshank Talbot, Second Bishop, 1872-1883

The Diocese of Indiana's second bishop, the Rt. Rev. Joseph Cruikshank Talbot, oversaw the period of its greatest growth. A portly outdoorsman who enjoyed horseback riding and fishing, he had far more stamina than his predecessor, George Upfold, and he proved himself the right man for his times to lead the Church.

Talbot was born in Alexandria, Virginia, on 5 September 1816, one of ten children born to Quaker parents, Elisha and Sarah (Saunders) Talbot. He attended the Pierpont Academy in Alexandria, and then moved to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1835, where he went into business and banking. While there, he determined to leave his Quaker background and became baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church two years later. He married Anna Matilda Wares in Louisville on 23 February 1838. In the 1840s he began reading for orders under Bishop Benjamin B. Smith of Kentucky, who ordained him to the diaconate in 1846. During that time he founded St. John's Church in Louisville, and when he was ordained by Smith in 1848, he became St. John's rector. He remained there until 1853, when he received a call to the rectorship of Christ Church in Indianapolis. There he began construction of its present Gothic Revival church on the Circle in 1857. He had received an honorary doctorate from Western University of Pennsylvania in 1854. Serving at Christ Church until 1859, his efforts proved so successful that they garnered the attention of the General Convention, which consecrated him in 1860 as Missionary Bishop of the Northwest and Kemper's successor.

In this new role, Talbot was given charge of planting the Episcopal Church in 900,000 square miles that included the territories of New Mexico, Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Montana, and Idaho. In 1862, he made a 7,000 mile cross-country journey through the territory using wagons, stagecoaches, horses, as well as travel on foot, winding up his journey in California. His efforts proved so successful that he was nicknamed the "Bishop of All Outdoors."

In 1865, Talbot returned to Indiana after his election as Bishop Coadjutor and assistant to Bishop Upfold. He was consecrated on 23 August, just after the Civil War had ended. By this time the elderly Upfold had grown so infirm from arthritis that Talbot became the de facto bishop upon his consecration. Talbot had a great deal of energy coupled with a charismatic personality. One clergy colleague called him "a man of vigorous mental and physical force, strong convictions, possessed of a genial, lovable personality, he was a strong preacher, the ideal bishop." Sarah Pratt, an active churchwoman, described him as a "portly, impressive personage, emanating well-being and enthusiasm; very agreeable, and reflecting in his manner his southern birth and training." 

At the first Annual Council after his election, Talbot laid out the five themes that he wished the diocese to follow under his leadership. First, parishes should seek committed clergy who had the leadership skills to remain long enough for their churches to get firmly established. Second, the diocese needed to be placed on a sound financial footing. Third, the diocese should support educational efforts throughout the diocese, especially through the establishment of subscription schools for the laity. Fourth, the clergy and laity should follow the canons of the Church and the Book of Common Prayer, and five, everyone, both clerical and lay, needed to become imbued with a sense of mission. 

Even though the Diocese of Indiana was firmly established, much work remained to be done. In 1868, the state had 32 parishes, a growing number of clergy, and a three-fold increase in confirmations. However, 67 counties still had no Episcopal church with a total population in those counties of more than 1.2 million souls. By encouraging missionary outreach, he hoped to whittle down that number. He promoted the construction of St. Agnes' Hall, a boarding school for girls, in Terre Haute, as well as St. Alban's Hall in Rome, Indiana, but both later closed for lack of funds. He also founded a diocesan library with many of his own books.

Talbot remained an advocate of the Oxford Movement as had his predecessors, but he was a stickler for orthodoxy. Sarah Pratt recalled that learning the catechism in all of its archaic dignity was required for anyone wishing confirmation. He forbid parishioners from attending dances and theatricals, a provision that was later relaxed by his successor. Divorced parishioners, without exception, could not remarry in the Church. He demanded that parishes refrain from conducting fairs and bazaars for raising money for church projects, a time-honored custom that had been used successfully in Fort Wayne and elsewhere for building funds. He railed, too, against the practice of pew renting, and though he did not enforce it, he hoped most parishes and missions would make their seats free. Most missions did, but many larger churches did not. For the Eucharist, which was now celebrated monthly in some parishes, he asked that only pure wine be used and that priests record in their registers the full names of those being baptized (not nicknames or initials). Many parishes began using pre-printed registers to collect uniform information. He disliked the fashion of liberal religion that questioned the authority of the priesthood, the historicity of Christianity, or asserted that the Church was not divinely constituted. 

Building new churches as missions and giving established priests extra duties became the norm of Talbot's episcopate. Many such ventures failed, but the bishop should receive credit for the attempt. He oversaw personally many building projects, and he requested that priests remain in place long enough to allow them to grow. Too many priests did not place down roots, and that trend continued throughout his episcopate. He called a priest who moved about from church to church "a sort of clerical tramp, wanted, at last, nowhere, and only fit to be the hireling of the lay church tramps who delight to get their religion as other tramps do their bread without work or cost to themselves."

Talbot faced perennial challenges with attracting priests to the diocese, and as it was in Upfold's time, many arrived in Indiana fresh out of seminary looking for experience. Still, he worked closely with seminaries, especially Nashotah and Seabury, to recruit clergy for the diocese. He demanded that parishes provide respectable rectories for all of their clergy as a way of keeping them comfortable and committed. He urged participation, too, in obtaining life insurance so that widows could receive adequate benefits. Bishop Upfold's wife Sarah had been left in destitute condition at the bishop's death in 1872, and Talbot begged the diocese to provide help to her. He often had to deal with parishes in arrears for the payment of diocesan assessments, making his own back salary in jeopardy. However, the Standing Committee advised him that such payments would improve if the bishop would "work in the Diocese as long every year as the parochial clergy generally continue at their posts."

Talbot advocated dividing the diocese, but the Annual Council took no action, in part because of rivalries among clergy who might have succeeded him. In 1882, he suffered a stroke that affected his speech and left him unable to preside at the convention. He later died, partly from exhaustion, on 15 January 1883 in Indianapolis. He had accomplished much during his episcopate with the construction of 22 new churches, 15 of which were parishes. Nine new parishes were admitted, and some 5,323 persons were confirmed. Even if the Diocese of Indiana remained poor, Talbot left it on a stronger footing.

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