Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.
James Theodore Augustus Holly was born a free African American in Washington, D.C., on October 3, 1829. Baptized and conﬁrmed in the Roman Catholic Church, he later became an Episcopalian. Holly was ordained deacon at St. Matthew’s Church in Detroit, on June 17, 1855, and ordained a priest by the bishop of Connecticut on January 2, 1856. He was appointed rector of St. Luke’s, New Haven. In the same year he founded the Protestant Episcopal Society for Promoting the Extension of the Church among Colored People, an antecedent of the Union of Black Episcopalians. He became a friend of Frederick Douglass, and the two men worked together on many programs.
In 1861, Holly resigned as rector of St. Luke’s to lead a group of African Americans settling in Haiti. Although his wife, his mother, and two of his children died during the ﬁrst year, along with other settlers, Holly stayed on with two small sons, proclaiming that just “as the last surviving apostle of Jesus was in tribulation … on the forlorn isle of Patmos, so, by His Divine Providence, [Christ] had brought this tribulation upon me for a similar end in this isle in the Caribbean sea.” He welcomed the opportunity to speak of God’s love to a people who needed to hear it.
On November 8, 1874, James Theodore Holly was ordained the ﬁrst bishop of Haiti at Grace Church, New York City. This made him the ﬁrst Black man to be raised to the ofﬁce of bishop in the Episcopal Church, and only the second Black bishop of any major denomination. In 1878, Bishop Holly attended the Lambeth Conference, the ﬁrst Black to do so, and he preached at Westminster Abbey on St. James’ Day of that year. In the course of his ministry, he doubled the size of his diocese, and established medical clinics where none had been before.
Bishop Holly served the Diocese of Haiti until his death on March 13, 1911. He had charge of the Diocese of the Dominican Republic as well, from 1897 until he died. He is buried on the grounds of St. Vincent’s School for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince.
I Most gracious God, by the calling of thy servant James Theodore Holly thou gavest us our ﬁrst bishop of African American heritage. In his quest for life and freedom, he led thy people from bondage into a new land and established the Church in Haiti. Grant that, inspired by his testimony, we may overcome our prejudice and honor those whom thou callest from every family, language, people, and nation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
II Most gracious God, by the calling of your servant James Theodore Holly thou gave us our ﬁrst bishop of African American heritage. In his quest for life and freedom, he led your people from bondage into a new land and established the Church in Haiti. Grant that, inspired by his testimony, we may overcome our prejudice and honor those whom you call from every family, language, people, and nation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Deuteronomy 6: 20-25
Acts 8: 26-39
John 4: 31-38
Psalm 86: 11-17
Preface of Apostles and Ordinations
From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
* * *
We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?
To post a comment, your first and last name and email address are required. Your name will be published; your email address will not. The first time you post, a moderator will need to approve your submission; after that, your comments will appear instantly.