Tag Archives: nineteenth century

Two Men and a House They Built

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On a lake in southeastern Wisconsin, is a house, Nashotah House, a traditional and theologically conservative seminary in the Episcopal Church. It is also officially recognized by the Anglican Church of North America. Here is the story of two of the men who founded the school. 

Bishop Jackson Kemper (1789-1870) was the first missionary bishop of the Episcopal Church. He was born in the Hudson River Valley of New York, where his parents had taken temporary refuge during a smallpox outbreak in New York City. Baptized David Jackson Kemper by Dr. Benjamin Moore, the assistant rector of Trinity Church, NYC. He eventually dropped the name “David.” His father was Colonel Daniel Kemper, a former aide-to-camp to General George Washington at the battles of Germantown and Monmouth during the American Revolution. His mother, Elizabeth (Marius) Kemper, descended from well-known families of the Dutch New Amsterdam era.

At Columbia College, he studied theology under Dr. Henry Hobart and graduated in 1809 as valedictorian of his class. Having moved to Philadelphia, he was ordained a  deacon in 1811 and priest in 1814. In 1835, the Episcopal Church decided to consecrate missionary bishops to preach the gospel west of the settled areas. Kemper was chosen and he promptly headed west. He found that clergy who had lived all their lives in the East were slow to respond to the call to join him on the frontier. So he recruited priests from among men already in the West and established a college in St. Louis for that very purpose. He went on to found Nashotah House and Racine College in Wisconsin and founded the mission parish that became the Cathedral Church of All Saints in Milwaukee. 

Kemper constantly urged a more extensive outreach to the Native American peoples and the translations of the Bible and services of the Church into their languages. His first official act as Missionary Bishop, in what would become Wisconsin, was laying the cornerstone for a new frame building for Hobart Church, Duck Creek, which served the Oneida Indian Mission. But more importantly, it was at that church that he ordained William Adams and James Lloyd Breck, two of the men who would assist him in establishing Nashotah House on October 9, 1842. He also ordained a member of the Ottawa tribe, Emmagahbowh, as deacon in 1859. These were the first ordinations in what would become Wisconsin. 

Kemper supported the Oxford Movement, although he maintained the importance of separation from the Catholic Church. In 1846, he purchased a property adjacent to Nashotah House and spent the rest of his life there. From 1847 to 1854, he served as provisional bishop of the newly formed Diocese of Wisconsin, and then served as its diocesan bishop from 1854 until his death in 1870. He also supported the creation of a new diocese, though he did not live to see the formation of the Diocese of Fond du Lac come to fruition. Kemper is honored on May 24th in the Episcopal Church.

James Lloyd Breck (1818-1876) was a priest, educator and missionary of the Episcopal Church. Born in Philadelphia County, he went to high school at the Flushing Institute, founded by William Augustus Muhlenberg, who inspired him to resolve at the age of sixteen to devote himself to missionary activity. He received his bachelors from the University of Pennsylvania in 1838 and a B.D. from the General Theological Seminary in 1841.

In 1842, now a deacon, he went to the Wisconsin frontier, with two of his classmates under the direction of Bishop Kemper, to found Nashotah House as a monastic community, seminary and center for theological work. It continues today as a seminary. Breck was ordained into the priesthood by Kemper later that year. 

In 1850, he moved to Minnesota, where he founded a school for boys and girls such as Breck School in Golden Valley, MN and the Seabury Divinity School at Fairbault, MN. He also started missionary work among the Ojiibwa. On June 23, 1850, on top of Grandad Bluff, Breck celebrated the first Episcopal eucharist in the La Crosse area. 

In 1867, he moved to Benicia, California to build another two institutions. Breck was known as “The Apostle of the Wilderness.”

Breck died in Benecia in 1876. He was buried beneath the altar of the church he served as rector but later his body was removed and reinterred on the grounds of Nashotah House in Wisconsin. The recommittal service there had 14 bishops, around 100 priests and numerous lay people in attendance. As legacy, Breck School was established in 1886 in Wilder, Minnesota. 

Nashotah House considers itself to be within the orthodox Anglo-Catholic tradition. Overall, the faculty support traditional theology and conceptions of Christian doctrine in opposition to liberal theologies. Graduates themselves come from a variety of jurisdictions both inside and outside of the Episcopal Church. Nashotah House sees its mission to form priests and church leaders from all over the Anglican Communion, including several international students.

Nashotah began as a community inspired by traditional monastic life of prayer, work and study. James Lloyd Breck‘s vision was to create a center for Christian formation in the (then) wilderness that would also be movement to propagate other communities for the purpose of evangelizing the frontier. Today, much of this vision remains intact and students still live a Benedictine cycle of prayer,work and study. The life of the Seminary seeks to form the character of priests and leaders into the image of Christ. Various students have been involved in mission work around the Anglican Communion as well.

“Seminarians are invited to participate in an ascetic, disciplined, prayerful season of spiritual growth in Christ” in which they “practice the Benedictine Rule of daily prayer, labor, and study.” Daily routine includes Morning Prayer, Mass, breakfast, classes, lunch, and Solemn Evensong.

172 years later, the mission founded Kemper and Breck continues today and the impact of the House continues to impact the world for Christ. These two men would be pleased to see that.