BISHOP HOLLY: HAITI HOLDS THE FUTURE OF AFRICAN AMERICANS
[James Theodore Holly from an 1897 report on his work in Haiti]
James Theodore Holly was born in 1829, the son of African-American parents. They sent him to school and also taught him shoemaking. When he neared twenty, he became acquainted with many leading abolitionists and worked to end slavery.
Raised a Roman Catholic, he became dissatisfied with his church, in part because they offered him no prospect of the priesthood. He joined the Protestant Episcopal Church in Detroit, Michigan, and was immediately accepted as a candidate for holy orders. Ordained a deacon in 1855, he became a priest the following year.
Meanwhile Holly continued work on abolition, assisting the editor of Voice of the Fugitive. He also endorsed the Refugee Home Society and organized the Amherstburg Convention of free blacks in Canada. Afterward he served a parish in Connecticut.
Thrilled by the fact that Haiti’s black population had thrown off colonial oppressors, Holly wrote, “[I]t will be seen that whatsoever is to be the future destiny of the descendants of Africa, Hayti certainly holds the most important relation to that destiny. . . . Preserve the name, the fame, and the sovereign existence of Hayti, though every thing else shall perish.”
In 1861 he led 110 emigrants to Haiti, but more than one third died of yellow fever and other diseases. The deaths included his wife, his mother, and two of his children. This did not diminish his ardor for Haiti. He sought federal assistance for emigration to the island country but did not get it. He tried to convince the Episcopal Church to take up the Haiti mission cause, but not until 1865 was he successful in persuading its mission board.
Eventually on this day, 8 November 1874, Protestant Episcopal Church leaders ordained Holly as the first bishop of Haiti at Grace Church, New York City. This made him the first African American raised to the office of missionary bishop in the Episcopal Church. He served in that capacity until his death in Port-au-Prince in 1911.
By then the Episcopal Church in Haiti had grown to over 2,000 members in fifteen parishes, with fifteen national clergy, and seven missions. Believing that Christ by taking a body had shown that people’s bodies as well as their souls needed care, Holly established social services such as schools, medical clinics, and a mutual fund society. His work won the respect of the Haitian people who have continued to honor his memory, including with a centenary celebration.
Holly published numerous articles and was knowledgeable in many fields, including languages. Much of his learning was acquired by personal study outside of schools. In 1878 Bishop Holly was a delegate to the Anglican Church’s Lambeth conference in England. He was also active in international diplomacy.
For more on Christianity in the southern hemisphere, read Latin American Christianity.
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Other Notable Events
[probable date] Emperor Constantine proclaims his mother Helena “Augusta” (the most prestigious honorary title available). Thereafter her image will often appear on imperial coins.
Death at Cologne of John Duns Scotus, Scottish-born philosopher who tangled with the great thinkers of his day and advocated the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. His philosophy was so difficult to understand that he was called the “subtle doctor.”
Missionary Marie Gobat describes this as the hardest day of her life. Forced to cross the Egyptian desert with a sick child, she will speak of the journey with tears to the end of her life.
Mary Lyons opens Mount Holyoke Seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts, the first US college established especially for women.
Orange Scott and two other ministers withdraw from the Methodist Episcopal Church, repudiating its compromises on slavery and other issues, and begin publication of The True Wesleyan. Their action will lead the following year to formation of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection.
English archaeologist Austen Henry Layard begins digging at Tigris where he will find the palace of Assurnsirpal II. He will later excavate Nineveh, shedding light and confirmation on disputed biblical accounts.
Huang Guagcai becomes the first Chinese clergyman of the Protestant Episcopal Church in China.
James Theodore Holly is ordained the first bishop of Haiti at Grace Church, New York City. This makes him the first African American raised to the office of missionary bishop in the Episcopal Church.
Soviets arrest Michael Alexeyevich Golikov, rector of the Resurrection cathedral in Tutayev, Yaroslavl province. They will sentence him to three years imprisonment for “anti-Soviet agitation.” Later, he will receive an even longer sentence for attempting to communicate to the West the terrible conditions of the prison camps and will die in a camp before completing that sentence.
The Grand Mufti of Kashmir, India, has the police arrest Anglican pastor Chandra Manni Khana on various vague religious charges. He had recently baptized seven Muslim converts.