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Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Wayne
For photographs, see:
Trinity Episcopal Church Archives website
For parish registers, see the following links from Familysearch. A free registration and login is required for access.
Parish Register, Christ Church (1839), Trinity, 1844-1853
Parish Register, 1839-1888
Parish Register, 1889-1923
Parish Register, 1923-1947
Marriage Register, 1924-1941
Marriage Register, 1941-1961
Register of Communicants, 1948-1964
Baptismal Register, 1948-1974
Vestry Minutes, 1839 (Christ Church); 1844-1878
Vestry Minutes, 1879-1912
Vestry Minutes, 1913-1931
Vestry Minutes, 1932-1947
Vestry Minutes, 1947-1952
Vestry Minutes, 1953-1959
Vestry Minutes, 1960-1970
The Episcopal Church in Fort Wayne can trace its origin to the tireless efforts of Rt. Rev. Jackson Kemper, Missionary Bishop of the Northwest, who arrived in town in 1837 to assess the feasibility of establishing a church. Fort Wayne was then a remote frontier outpost, and the Episcopal Church found itself a weak competitor at that time in the mission field. Two years later Kemper sent a missionary, the Rev. Benjamin Hutchins of Philadelphia, and established Christ Church, but the parish folded in less than a year for lack of support. Most parishes in the new Diocese of Indiana were located in central and southern part of the state.
A few years passed until the spark for a establishing a church reignited. Peter P. Bailey, a merchant from New York City, settled in town and missed the services of his former church. Together with several other lay leaders, he persuaded Kemper to send another missionary, the Rev. Benjamin Halsted of New York and previously of New Harmony, Indiana. Together they organized Trinity Episcopal Church on May 25, 1844. The church faced many initial financial and recruiting challenges and met initially in the county courthouse until it could raise funds for building a small, wood-frame chapel at the corner of Berry and Harrison streets. They bought an organ with four stops – the first documented church organ in town.
Trinity’s earliest members came from several groups, including area residents who had been Episcopalians in the East, English and Canadian immigrants, and newcomers to the faith, many of them community leaders, who found the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer intriguing, its sermons intellectual, and the atmosphere of the church not overly judgmental.
During the Civil War under the second rectorate of the Rev. Joseph Large, who returned at the vestry's request, the vestry and lay women together raised funds to construct a new Gothic Revival edifice in an acclaimed design by Charles Crosby Miller of Toledo, Ohio. The building included split-faced sandstone walls with limestone trim and painted glass windows of English design, most of which still survive in the church. The edifice was completed in 1866 and consecrated two years later by Bishop Joseph Cruikshank Talbot after the parish had raised additional funds for a new organ. The church was nestled in what came to be known at the West Central Neighborhood and was surrounded by large Victorian-style houses.
The parish grew steadily through the late nineteenth century. Several rectors, including the Rev. Colin Campbell Tate, William Naylor Webbe, and Alexander Seabrease, preached a strong Social Gospel message, advocating for outreach to the poor, temperance, and women’s suffrage. Many members of the congregation were well-educated and supported a variety of reform efforts, including advocacy for a city parks and boulevard system. In 1892 Seabrease and the vestry redecorated the church with a new pulpit (intricately inlaid with brass cartouches), a marble baptismal font with a brass eagle cover, an eagle-shaped lectern, marble altar, and a silver communion service, all of which are still in use. A vested choir of men and boys made its first appearance and became popular.
The Diocese of Michigan City was created in 1898 in the top third of Indiana. Trinity, as the largest parish, exercised much influence. The Rev. Edward Wilson Averill, the first to be called “Father,” arrived in 1904 and built the church into a program-sized parish. His successor, the Rev. Louis Rocca, redecorated the nave in the 1920s with a décor that many considered ornate and garish with deep reds, blues, and gold. He also added a rood screen. During the Great Depression of the 1930s the Rev. James McNeal Wheatley, the most Anglo-Catholic rector in the church's history, led the parish successfully in paying off its mortgage through a period of austerity and brought the congregation through World War II.
During Wood’s tenure the neighborhood around the church began to evolve. Though the owners of some of the old houses, especially to the west of the church, restored them to their original finery, they divided others into apartments for lower-income housing or converted them to offices. Many others were demolished to make room to parking lots. Since then, a strong preservation movement has involved in the city to protect the remaining historic homes, and Trinity stands inside a local historic district with covenants surrounding the protection of its external appearance.
Trinity’s strong Anglo-Catholic liturgical model began to evolve in the 1970s during the rectorate of Wood’s successor, the Rev. Dr. C. Corydon Randall. A Broad Church model with strong lay leadership and a new sense of openness replaced the older style. Randall instituted the commission system of parish administration, increasing both lay participation and outreach. He also opened the communion rail to all baptized Christians and invited women to preach, serve on the vestry, and brought girls into the acolyte corps. Together with several church leaders in 1977, he helped found Canterbury School, a private, independent school for grades kindergarten through six that used the church classrooms for several years until moving to its own quarters in 1980. It has become an acclaimed educational institution in the state. Randall also spent much of his rectorate renovating the parish buildings, spearheading a capital campaign, creating endowments, and having the church entered on the National Register of Historic Places. After leaving Trinity in 1988, he served parishes in San Diego, California, and Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Now retired as Rector Emeritus, he and his wife returned to Fort Wayne and are members of the congregation. He often leads the Friday Morning Study Group and occasionally the Adult Forum, teaching on Old Testament topics.
Randall’s successor, the Rev. Frank H. Moss III, built upon Randall’s legacy of reform and openness. In 1992, he brought the first woman priest to the diocese, the Rev. Robin Thomas, to serve as Trinity’s curate. He also continued to build the endowments. Under the leadership of its precentor, Wayne Peterson, the church’s musical offerings continued to enjoy local acclaim. Trinity became with the Royal School of Church Music that has as its motto, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” Many in the congregation recognize and appreciate Peterson’s spiritual, as well as musical, gifts. Moss left in 1999 and later served churches in Massachusetts and Oregon before eventually retiring to Oregon.
Trinity’s eighteenth rector, the Rev. Dr. Thomas P. Hansen, arrived in 2006 from Nebraska. Hansen inaugurated a labyrinth ministry, initially using a canvas inside the Great Hall and later constructing a permanent labyrinth of stone on the western side of the parish grounds. Through local press coverage it has sparked interest from Christians of other denominations. In 2010 the parish led a successful capital campaign to replace its aging boiler and heating system. It later received several large bequests to refurbish and replace its organ and build a new handicap-accessible entrance and carport on its western side. As a downtown parish the church has become involved in a variety of outreach ministries, including Wellspring Social Services, the Associated Churches Food Bank, the West Central Neighborhood Ministry (led by five parishes including Trinity), and Habitat for Humanity. Its clergy participate regularly in an annual interfaith Thanksgiving service. Traditional liturgical music and hymns, expertly presented by its choir, remain a strong part of the parish DNA, and Peterson, who has served more than 30 years as precentor, regularly leads the parish in a variety of special concerts and events in addition to Sunday morning worship. As retired Bishop Edward S. Little has commented, “Trinity is very Cathedralesque.” Hansen announced that he would retire at the end of 2016, though he plans to remain in Fort Wayne and stay active in the diocese. He has said that leaves the parish in a strong position for new growth and vision. In 2017, the parish called the Rev. T. J. Freeman to be its 19th rector.
Benjamin Hutchins, 1839
Benjamin Halsted, 1844-1846
Joseph S. Large, 1848-1854
Caleb Alexander Bruce, 1854-1855
Eugene Charles Pattison, 1856-1858
Stephen Henry Battin, 1858-1863
Joseph S. Large, 1863-1872
Colin Campbell Tate, 1872-1879
William Naylor Webbe, 1879-1888
Alexander Washington Seabrease, 1888-1904
John Newton Rippey, (interim) 1904
Edward Wilson Averill, 1904-1923
Louis Niccola Rocca, 1923-1930
Joseph William Gubbins (interim), 1931
Charles Noyes Tyndell, 1931-1932
James McNeal Wheatley, 1932-1947
Peter Langendorff (interim), 1947
George Bartlett Wood, 1947-1971
Chandler Corydon Randall, 1971-1988
David Gurniak (interim), 1988-1990
Frank Hazlett Moss III, 1990-1999
Henrietta Brandt Lavengood (interim), 2000
Rebecca Ferrell Nickel, 2001-2004
Robert Askren (interim), 2004-2006
Thomas Parker Hansen, 2006-2016
T. J. Freeman, 2017-
John D. Beatty, Beyond These Stones: A History of Trinity Episcopal Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Fort Wayne: Trinity Episcopal Church, 1994.
Rev. Louis Nicola Rocca
One of the most unusual priests in the history of Trinity Church was the Rev. Louis Nicola Rocca. During the 1920s, he brought growth with an extraordinary outreach program to youth, but his fiery temperament and questionable decision-making left the parish in a precarious state by the time of his departure.
Born in Naples, Italy, on 11 July 1892, Rocca immigrated to New York with his parents, Domenico Antonio Rocca and Marietta (Saporito), in 1894. His father had studied for the Catholic priesthood at a seminary in Crotone, but after ordination became disillusioned and left the church to marry. Domenico was received into the Anglican Church in Canada and subsequently into the Episcopal Church in New York in 1907. He began an energetic ministry to Italian Americans in Pennsylvania and Long Island.
Rocca, as his parents' only child, followed his father into the priesthood, attending Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, with ordination from General Theological Seminary in 1922. He became curate of the Chapel of the Intercession in New York City and married Dorothy Beach there in 1923. Fort Wayne would be his first opportunity to serve as a rector. Upon receiving a telegram from the vestry in October, he preached a trial sermon and was immediately hired, accepting a salary of $250 a month. He arrived in Fort Wayne in November with his wife and widowed mother.
At a time when sharp theological disputes over evolution, the virgin birth, and creationism were dividing the Episcopal Church nationally, Rocca declared his neutrality, asserting his belief in evolution and modern science but also his acceptance of the virgin birth of Jesus, a position that likely made him appear modern and appealing to Trinity's vestry.
The new rector got off on a shaky start in the parish, however, when he ran into conflict with his organist, Fred Church. The organist, who had been accustomed to Father Averill's non-interference in matters of music, found himself at odds with Rocca, who demanded that Church play a more operatic style of music that Church believed his choir boys could not properly sing. On Rocca's first Sunday, Church got up from his organ in the middle of a service and walked out of the building, disgusted with this music Rocca had ordered him to play. At a vestry meeting afterward, Rocca insisted that Church be fired, to which the vestry reluctantly assented. The controversy placed Rocca immediately at odds with Church's many admirers.
Rocca also faced prejudice and ethnic stereotyping of his time. As an Italian American, he felt he had to prove his patriotism by having the hymn "America" played frequently at the services, together with the regular display of the American flag. Three organists were hired in succession, Warren Galbraith, Philip Schick, and in 1925, Joseph Schilling, nicknamed "Prof." All three tried to fill Church's sizable legacy with the boys' choir while accommodating the rector's musical preferences. Rocca used this period to promote the church to young people, speaking at local schools and sending cars around the city to bring them to church on Sunday morning. The missionary focus of the church continued through the 1920s, and many social clubs for men and women continued to meet.
The most significant event of Rocca's rectorate was the redecoration of the nave in 1924. The church interior had grown deteriorated from many years of neglect, but instead of merely refurbishing it, Rocca persuaded the vestry to fund a major redecoration by the New York architectural firm of Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates. The intent was to turn the interior into a replica of a fifteenth-century English oratory. The result was a radical new color scheme that featured dramatic new designs and bold colors of red, blue, gold, and white. The rafters were now painted, as were the pews and most of the other woodwork. The brass was "antiqued" with applique. Some parishioners welcomed the changes, but others were aghast. The cost for the project, $10,000, was added to the existing mortgage of $25,000. By 1926, the total debt of the church had spiraled $40,000, and three years later the stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression brought a real threat that the bank might foreclose on the church.
In 1931, Rocca decided to obtain a divorce from his estranged wife, which required that he leave the priesthood. In 1932, he married Nellie Wood, the widow of James J. Wood, a wealthy inventor and church member. They were married little more than a year before they, too, divorced. Rocca moved with his mother to Florida and later to Georgia, where he sold insurance. After suffering many financial reversals, he took his own life by hanging himself in 1955.