April 2: James Lloyd Breck, Priest, 1876

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 Lloyd Breck was one of the most important missionaries of the Episcopal Church in the nineteenth century. He was called “The Apostle of the Wilderness.”

Breck was born in Philadelphia in 1818, and like many important Churchmen of his time, was greatly influenced by the pastoral devotion, liturgical concern, and sacramental emphasis of William Augustus Muhlenberg. Breck attended Muhlenberg’s school in Flushing, New York, before entering the University of Pennsylvania. Muhlenberg inspired him, when he was sixteen years old, to dedicate himself to a missionary life. The dedication was crystallized when Breck, with three other classmates from the General Theological Seminary, founded a religious community at Nashotah, Wisconsin, which in 1844 was on the frontier.

Nashotah became a center of liturgical observance, of pastoral care, and of education. Isolated families were visited, mission stations established, and, probably for the first time since the Revolution, Episcopal missionaries were the first to reach the settlers.

Though Nashotah House flourished, and became one of the seminaries of the Episcopal Church, the “religious house” ideal did not. Breck moved on to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he began the work of the Episcopal Church. At Gull Lake, he organized St. Columba’s Mission for the Chippewa. It laid the foundation for work among the Indians by their own native priests, although the mission itself did not survive.

In 1855, Breck married, and in 1858 settled in Faribault, Minnesota, where his mission was associated with one of the first cathedrals established in the Episcopal Church in the United States. He also founded Seabury Divinity School, which later merged with Western Theological Seminary, to become Seabury-Western. In 1867, Breck went on to California, inspired principally by the opportunity of founding a new, theological school. His schools at Benicia, California, did not survive, but the five parishes which he founded did, and the Church in California was strengthened immensely through his work. He died prematurely, at the age of 55, in 1876.


I    Teach thy Church, O Lord, we beseech thee, to value and support pioneering and courageous missionaries, whom thou callest, as thou didst call thy servant James Lloyd Breck, to preach, and teach, and plant thy Church on new frontiers; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

II     Teach your Church, O Lord, we pray, to value and support pioneering and courageous missionaries, whom you call, as you called your servant James Lloyd Breck, to preach, and teach, and plant your Church on new frontiers; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Joshua 24:14-18

1 Corinthians 3:4-11

Mark 4:26-32

Psalm 145:1-7

Preface of Pentecost

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?

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15 thoughts on “April 2: James Lloyd Breck, Priest, 1876

  1. This commemoration is already included in the Calendar. The Hebrew Scripture reading is new.

    Bio: A very nice ‘who he is’ and ‘why he is important’ statement; and a ‘He died.’ Statement. Thank you.

  2. Why is “Churchmen” in the second paragraph give a cap? No Churchwomen influenced by Mulenburg? How about “Like many Christians …”?

      • According to Wikepedia:
        Born: June 27, 1818
        Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania

        Died 2 April 1876
        Benicia, California

        That would make him 57+.
        He was buried initially beneath the Chancel Window at Saint Paul’s Benicia, CA; eventually to be re-interred on the grounds of Nashotah House in Wisconsin.

      • In the Victorian tradition, it is common to find the fact that someone died in his/her ____ year. In the case of the Rev. James Lloyd Breck, he is said that he died in his 58th year even though he had not reached his 58th birthday. So the biography should be corrected to say he died at age 57 years or he died in his 58th year. In any case, I would assume that “55” was a typographical error not caught in the proof read.

      • If his years stretched to 58, but he died at 55, that would indeed be “premature”!

  3. Good catch, Dick. I checked the print edition of HWHM and it appears just that way there, too, so it’s not just a blog typo. Then I checked my 1980 LFF, and it hasn’t been corrected since then, either.

  4. “He died prematurely, at the age of 55, in 1876.” As noted, the math or the birth/death years are off.
    As life expectancy at birth for US males in 1850 (the earliest year I could find easily) was about 38 years, “prematurely” may be a bit anachronistic.
    Is there a link between the OT and Epistle readings and Breck’s life and times? If so, I missed it.

    • I think the OT and Gospel both express a necessary sense that putting forth the message of God is worth doing, whether in terms of words (more so the OT’s mode of expression) or in terms of sheer experience (the Gospels metaphors of seed planted and growing by God’s grace, or mustard seed size concealing its surprising result). The Psalm selection seems an apt response, with its praise of YHWH.

      The epistle, on the other hand, throws me off, a little, with the spotlight it throws on factions and “favorites” (which might conceivable invoke high/low issues in Breck’s time) but doesn’t reflect anything in the write-up. More weighty, I feel, is the inappropriateness of this selection because of the next four verses (12-15) which proceed to measure the “worker’s” worth by whether it survives or not. In the write-up some of Breck’s initiatives are noted as having done the opposite. I’m not suggesting this casts aspersions on him, but I do think it suggests his is not a wise selection for the epistle. I deem it most unwise to cherrypick verses that have to be brought to a screeching termination just before they go on to say the opposite of what we want to say. (For reference, verses 12-15 follow:)

      12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw–
      13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.
      14 If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward.
      15 If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

      Two minor points in the write-up:
      Where it says, “founding a new, theological school” please omit the comma. “theological school” functions as a single noun, so there is no need to separate its adjective (new) with a comma.

      Where it says “the ‘religious house’ ideal did not [flourish]” that part of the sentence seems too sweeping. Nashota’s “religious house” component may not have flourished, but others developed, flourished, and some continue to the present day.

      • “Conceivably,” not “conceivable.” (My mistakes, however, are entirely conceivable.)

    • Just a comment on life expectancy at birth during the 19th century. Life expectancy in the 19th century America was influenced by high infant mortality. For men and women who survived the childhood illnesses, then life expectancy becomes of funcation of social class (which is confounded with race), and gender. For a white male who survived until age 30 years by mid-19th century, he would be expected to live to age 64 on average. So, for the time period of the Rev. James Lloyd Breck’s death, dying in one’s 58th years was relatively young.

  5. I like the write-up about Breck. I do agree, however, that the reason for his inclusion is not just that he was a priest, and the core reason should be reflected in his title.

    The collect is essentially a petition — viz., to teach the church to value and support missionaries. Although not without precedent (“Lighten our darkness, O Lord…”) this format foregoes most features of traditional collects, one of which I may have mentioned previously (ahem, ahem). Also of major concern, it assumes the view that missionary ministry is something “missionaries” do — and, the rest of us members don’t do. Of course, “missionaries” do, but it doesn’t end there. The phrasing withholds any suggestion that the baptismal covenant entails an evangelistic/mission element in everyone’s Christian calling. So the question seems to be, does SCLM want to maintain a model of “church” in this petition/collect in which the church is a “them” (or an “it” — but somehow distinctly not an “us”) that supports “those missionary people” (again, “not us”). Lack of a “so that” clause is no surprise in this construct.

    Teach your Church, O Lord, we pray, to value and support pioneering and courageous missionaries, whom you call, as you called your servant James Lloyd Breck, to preach, and teach, and plant your Church on new frontiers; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

  6. I suggest a subtitle “Missionary and Educator”. We don’t need to be told that he was a priest.

    Line 1, first paragraph: delete the the first sentence–another unhelpful summary. Move the second sentence to the end of the second paragraph.

    Line 1, second paragraph: substitute “on June 27,” for “in”.

    Line 3, third paragraph: substitute a semicolon for the clumsy “,and,” construction.

    Line 5, fourth paragraph: substitute “Native American” for “the Indians”.

    Line 7, fifth paragraph: after “school.”, add “He founded a school for boys and one for girls in Benicia, neither of which survived,” continuing with “but the five parishes…”, etc.

    Line 10, fifth paragraph: substitute “of exhaustion, at the age of 58, on April 2, 1876.” for “prematurely, at the age of 55”. Since he was born in 1818 he could not have been 55 in 1876.

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