July 8: John William French+ (1871)

In the wall behind Epiphany’s south (back) balcony, there is a stained glass window depicting the Epiphany, the event for which the parish is named. Installed as part of the 1874 renovation of the church, the window was originally placed at the north end in a newly expanded chancel. When that same chancel was again expanded in 1890, the window was moved to its current location. Across the bottom of the window are the words, “In Memory of Rev. J.W. French D.D., First Rector of this Parish.” The fact that the window was a gift of the parish almost 15 years after the Rev. Mr. French had left says a great deal about the admiration and affection the parish had for its founding rector.

After serving parishes in Maine and Pennsylvania, John French came to Washington in the summer of 1841 to serve as chaplain to the U.S. House of Representatives. Shortly thereafter, a diocesan Domestic Committee on Church Missions hired French as a city missionary. It was in this role that he started the prayer meetings that led to the founding of the Epiphany congregation on January 6, 1842. French guided the congregation through the next 14 years. During that time, five of his children were baptized and one was buried. In 1856, parishioner and Secretary of War Jefferson Davis appointed French as Chaplain and Professor of Geography, History and Ethics at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It was here that French would spend the rest of his life. He and his wife are buried in the Post Cemetery.

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