For All the Saints
St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church
by James E. Frazier
Dimensions: 10.75 " x 9.75", 312 pages, 200+ photographs, notes, index
ST. PAUL IN THE 1880s was a burgeoning city, and many of its residents began moving to the bluff northwest of downtown, where they built stylish mansions overlooking the Mississippi River and along Summit Avenue. The Episcopalians among them wished to have a church in their own neighborhood. St. John’s held its first service on the hill, in the Dayton Avenue Presbyterian Church, on January 9, 1881.
Six months later, with the help of the prominent Kittson family in St. Paul, St. John’s had its own church, a wood frame building on the corner of Ashland and Mackubin. The present St. John’s church at Portland and Kent was designed by architects Cass Gilbert and Clarence Johnston and completed in 1903. St. John’s early parishioners included pioneer St. Paul businessmen, industrialists, railroad builders, and legislators, including U.S. Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg. Entrepreneur and philanthropist Amherst H. Wilder is remembered at St. John’s by a marble baptismal font sculpted as an angel.
History of St. Paul Church, its Prominent Parishioners Gets Picture Book Treatment
By Mary Ann Grossman, Saint Paul Pioneer Press
It isn’t unusual for someone to write the history of a long-established church, and in most cases nobody much cares, except current and past parishioners or people who live in the neighborhood. But “For All the Saints: St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, a History” is a compelling read because it is as much a history of St. Paul as it is of a congregation.
Author James Frazier, who served as organist and director of music at the church from 2004 to 2013, does a masterful job of weaving the church’s history into the larger history of what was going on in St. Paul at any given time.
The congregation held its first worship service in the chapel of the wood Dayton Avenue Presbyterian Church at the corner of Mackubin Street in 1881. Two months later, the Rt. Rev. Henry Benjamin Whipple, (the first famous name in this book), Minnesota’s first Episcopal bishop, gave consent for formation of the Parish of St. John the Evangelist. Eventually the church would sit on three different sites, all within the Ramsey Hill area.
The book is arranged chronologically, divided by tenures of the church’s rectors. The first was the Rev. Henry W. Kittson, son of Norman Kittson, partner of James J. Hill for whom a Minnesota county is named. Among photos in this lavishly-illustrated book is one of the Kittson mansion at the top of Selby Avenue, which has been razed.
Paging through the church’s history is like reading the old St. Paul Blue Book of society families, well-known businessmen and architects.In the late 19th century, the church was part of Guild House, at Portland and Kent, designed by Cass Gilbert who partnered with Clarence Johnson to design the current building there. The reader meets such parishioners as Thomas Irvine and philanthropist Amherst H. Wilder, honored by a marble baptismal font sculpted in Italy.
At the turn of the century and later, the church’s men’s Informal Club included James J. Hill, C.M. Griggs, C.W. Gordon, Edward H. Murphy and James H. Skinner, as well as Roman Catholic Archbishop John Ireland. Other parishioners at the turn of the century included writer Grace Hodgson and her husband, Blair Flandrau, who were married at the church, as well as Thomas H. Irvine, whose mansion is now the Minnesota governor’s home. Anna Rice Dawson, daughter of former St. Paul mayor William Dawson Jr., was married to George C. Power at the church in 1912. Maud Borup, whose candy shop was a fixture in downtown St. Paul for decades, served on a church committee that raised money that year. Rufus Harris was a larger-than-life figure active at the church, which also counted as a parishioner U.S. secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg, whose residence at 633 Fairmount Ave. is on the National Register of Historic Places. The 1930s and ’40s brought the names of Betty and Bob Binger and Benjamin Griggs. Artist Clara Mairs, who lived with artist Clem Haupers in a home on Ramsey Hill, was buried from St. John’s in 1963. John and Betty Musser were prominent in church activities; Betty was credited with saving St. Paul’s Landmark Center.
Today the congregation includes author and radio host Garrison Keillor.
The book gives due credit to women, who were as active as the men beginning early in the 20th century when they got the vote on parish matters. A photo from the chapter 2000-10 shows the Rev. Frank Wilson with five clergy he mentored, four of them women. The text also discusses financing buildings, the church’s relationship to Roman Catholics, the boys and girls choirs and outstanding organists. Church features, including stained glass windows, are explored. “For All the Saints” is filled with pictures of weddings, church events, sidebars about prominent families and private residences and public buildings, such as the State Capitol, that have connections to the church.