Celebrating 175

May 14: Opening of Church Doors During Week (1877)

When William Paret became Epiphany’s fifth rector in the fall of 1876, he quickly began to live up to his promise of shaking things up. It will be recalled that when Paret was interviewing with the vestry for the job and was told the parish had no poor, his response was “a church without any poor was too spiritually poor to be useful.” Later, Paret would write that he came to Epiphany with the avowed purpose “to break loose from the old traditions and customs which had made so many of our parish churches only places for Sunday preaching and occasional administration of sacraments, which practically shut out of them all but those who were able to rent pews, and offered no real opportunity to the poor and uninstructed who most needed their blessings.”

In addition to creating a chapel in SW Washington for the poor of the parish, Paret wanted to use the main church on G Street to its maximum, by increasing the number of services and making more of them free to everyone. Epiphany would be an open church, not just on Sundays, but always. Beginning on this day, May 14, in 1877, Paret announced the doors of the church “would stand open every day from 8:00am to 6:00pm so that any that desired might freely enter to find retirement, quiet, and a holy place for prayer and meditation.” And so it has been for the past 140 years.

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May 13: William Burnham Woods (1887)

William Burnham Woods was the 45th justice of the United States Supreme Court. He was the first Southerner to join the court after the Civil War. Woods was originally from Ohio. He started his education at Western Reserve College (now Case Western Reserve University), but later moved on to Yale, where he took his degree with honors. After learning law by clerking, he entered politics and was elected a mayor and then a member of the state legislature. Woods volunteered for military service during the Civil War and saw combat around the Gulf Coast. He was promoted to colonel and served with such distinction that General U.S. Grant and others recommended him for promotion to brigadier general. In 1869, President Grant appointed Woods to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. It was from this post that President Hayes nominated Woods to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Woods wrote 218 opinions during his brief six years on the bench. Many of them dealt with patent and equity cases that revealed his ability to analyze intricate records. Morrison Waite was the chief justice the entire time Woods was on the court. Woods and Waite were fellow Epiphany parishioners. The funeral service of William Burnham Woods took place at Epiphany on May 16, 1887. Less than a year later the funeral of Chief Justice Waite took place at Epiphany as well. Chief Justice Waite described Woods as “an upright man and a just judge.”

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May 12: George Truesdell (1921)

A large plaque commemorating Colonel George Truesdell is one of only two such memorials in the nave of Epiphany Church. Colonel Truesdell served on Epiphany’s vestry for 28 years, concluding with six years as senior warden before his death in 1921.  In a tribute to their colleague, the vestry remembered Truesdell with the following, “That in the departure of our beloved brother and coworker, this Vestry and Parish have suffered a serious loss, beyond the power of words to adequately express. His service has been marked by eminent ability and efficiency, and the gift of his best in efforts for, and devotion to, the highest interest of the Parish. He was a wise counselor, a faithful guide, and a true friend.”

Born in Epiphany’s founding year (1842), George Truesdell was a native of Central New York. He served in the Union Army during the Civil War, advancing from Private to Lt. Colonel. He later received his engineering degree from the University of Michigan and practiced civil engineering in New Jersey until his relocation to Washington. In 1887, Truesdell purchased an 87-acre estate on the east side of N. Capitol Street named Eckington which he developed into lots. Truesdell served as a member of the D.C. Board of Commissioners. An elementary school in the city bears his name. In addition to his service on the vestry, George Truesdell was baptized, confirmed and finally buried from Epiphany before his interment at Arlington National Cemetery.

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May 11: Maria Williams Sheerin Minor (1983)

Maria Sheerin moved to Washington in 1942 when her husband, the Rev. Charles W. Sheerin, became Epiphany’s tenth rector. It would be the fifth home of their 17-year marriage. Maria was born in Richmond, VA . Her schooling began at a small private school “with a strong Confederate slant” and then finished at the National Cathedral School for Girls in Washington. After her coming out in Richmond, Maria married a brilliant, young Episcopal priest, Charles Sheerin. Some of Maria’s relatives took a dim view of her marriage to a Yankee, but Charles took it all in stride. Maria followed her husband to his diverse assignments, ranging from Waco, TX to New York City. Wherever they went, she witnessed the important work her husband did to better social conditions and make people’s lives better.

While the couple was at Epiphany, Maria began to collect the notes she had written about her adventures and began work on an autobiography, The Parson Takes a Wife, which was published by Macmillan in 1948. Shortly before the book appeared, Charles Sheerin died suddenly at age 50. Maria’s book breaks off abruptly with this final epilogue: “Do not look for the Parson in his pulpit. He has now gone gloriously ahead into eternal life, and Heaven seems a fairer place than Earth.” Four years later, Maria married Dr. John Minor, Epiphany’s senior warden. Maria Minor’s appointment as an alternate delegate to a special diocesan convention was the first time a woman held an official position at Epiphany.

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May 10: ZeBarney Thorne Phillips+ (1942)

Following his death on May 10, 1942, the funeral of the Very Rev. Dr. ZeBarney Phillips was conducted by the bishop of Washington at Washington Cathedral. During his 18 years in Washington, Dr. Phillips had served as rector of Epiphany Church, chaplain of the U.S. Senate, President of the House of Deputies and Dean of Washington Cathedral. It was in the latter role that he died. The Cathedral Choral Society, which he had helped to found, had been rehearsing for their inaugural performance. Their presentation of Verdi’s Requiem on the day of Dr. Phillip’s funeral was dedicated to him.

Dr. Phillips was a native of Ohio. He was educated at Wittenberg College and the General Theological Seminary. He also studied for two years at Oxford. Phillips was called as Epiphany’s ninth rector after serving parishes in Cincinnati, Chicago, and Philadelphia. His predecessor at Epiphany had been elected bishop of Washington. Phillips served as rector for 17 years. He was known as a compelling preacher, but also a loving friend and a wise and sympathetic counselor. A chapel in Epiphany’s west transept was created as a memorial. The only remnants of the chapel today are a wall plaque and the stained glass windows in that area. ZeBarney Phillips is buried in the crypt of Washington Cathedral. A memorial plaque in the adjoining  hallway concludes with the words, “An Inspired Voice in the Church of God, and a Leader in the Walks of Men.”

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May 9: Edward Davis Townsend (1893)

In his role as Adjutant General of the Army, Edward Townsend was the principal executive officer of the War Department. During the Civil War, he was in close contact with President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. It was Townsend who suggested a battlefield decoration for valor, which would eventually come to be the Congressional Medal of Honor. After Lincoln’s assassination, Townsend was chosen to represent the army at the slain president’s various funerals. After the war, Townsend supervised the compilation of the documents published as the War of the Rebellion: Official Records. Townsend was responsible for developing the plan for a United States military prison, resulting in the establishment of the prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.

Edward Townsend was born in Boston. His maternal grandfather was Vice President Elbridge Gerry. After graduating from Boston Latin School, Townsend went on to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1837, ranking 16th in a class of 50. General Townsend spent most of the Civil War years stationed in Washington. The first record of him at Epiphany is the confirmation of his son in 1864. In total, three of his five children were confirmed, one was married, and two were buried from Epiphany. During the rectorship of William Paret, Townsend served on Epiphany’s vestry and was a sponsor at the baptisms of 24 non-family members, one of which was Surgeon General of the Army Joseph K. Barnes. The funerals of General Townsend as well as his wife, Anne, took place from Epiphany.

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May 8: Julius Erasmus Hilgard (1891)

Born in Germany, Julius E. Hilgard immigrated to America with his family when he was ten years old. His father had been Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals in Bavaria, but had become dissatisfied with political conditions in his native country. The family settled in Illinois where the father had purchased a farm. In addition to their farm chores, the children were home schooled in music, chemistry, ancient and modern languages and mathematics. Hilgard went to Philadelphia to study engineering and to obtain employment. At age 19, he sent a letter to the director of the U.S. Coast Survey, pointing out errors in the formulas used by the Survey to determine geographical positions, and attached his own corrected formulas. The impressed director responded with a job offer for Hilgard in Washington, D.C.

With only short interruptions, Hilgard continued in the service of the Coast Survey until his death. Throughout the Civil War, Hilgard served the Union army and navy with the construction of maps and charts. In 1878, Hilgard became superintendent of what had become known as the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. In his personal and social relations, Hilgard was noted for his geniality, an intense appreciation of art and literature and a sense of humor. Perhaps none of his personal traits were more pronounced than his generosity toward those in need, whether of substantial aid or advice and moral support. Hilgard and his wife were both confirmed, two of his children were buried and following his death on May 8, 1891, Julius Hilgard was buried from the Church of the Epiphany.

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May 7: John D. McCarty+ (1881)

The Rev. John D. McCarty was an Episcopal priest, military chaplain, missionary and church builder. A native of Rhinebeck, New York, McCarty served a brief stint in the U.S. Navy as a chaplain aboard the U.S.S. Constitution. After his priestly ordination, he began missionary work in western New York, founding and building a number of Episcopal churches. When the Mexican War broke out, McCarty enlisted in the U.S. Army as a brigade chaplain and was the only official chaplain at the front. He was deeply involved with the troops and did not hesitate to go into battle with them. McCarty didn’t agree with war, but as a chaplain he insisted that “when duty called, personal earnestness and bravery should be manifested in the chaplain as well as in the officers of the line.” General Winfield Scott called McCarty one of the bravest men in the Army.

McCarty was sent to the Pacific Northwest as a missionary. He served churches from Portland, Oregon to Vancouver, Washington. To make the trip each week, he had to use three ferries and walk over twenty miles through the wilderness. Sometimes the ferries that crossed smaller waterways didn’t run, so McCarty would have to wade through the cold waters to continue his journey. He was in his mid-fifties at the time. In late 1855, McCarty took an extended leave to travel back East. On March 4, 1856, the Rev. John McCarty D.D. and Lusanna Williams Stetson were married at the Church of the Epiphany in Washington. A month later, the couple headed to the Pacific Northwest for a new shared ministry.

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May 6: Edward Maynard (1891)

Edward Maynard was considered one of the leading scientists in the world during his lifetime. Many of his innovations in dentistry and firearms are still in use today. A native of Madison, New York, Maynard entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point but resigned due to ill health. He began studying dentistry and went on to become one of the most prominent dentists in the United States. Practicing in Washington, D.C., his clientele included the country’s political elite, including members of Congress, presidents, and foreign diplomats. Dr. Maynard declined an offer to serve as imperial dentist to Tsar Nicholas I. In 1857, he became professor of theory and practice in the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery and subsequently filled a like role at the National University (later part of GWU) in Washington.

Edward Maynard was awarded 23 firearms-related patents during his life. In 1845, he invented a percussion priming system, which was later used to convert flintlock firearms. The U.S. government bought Maynard’s patent, called the Maynard tape primer, and equipped the military with new percussion priming pistols and rifles. Maynard invented a percussion breech-loading rifle, the Maynard rifle, in which the ammunition was loaded at the rear rather than from the muzzle. Maynard was married twice. Three of his daughters by his first wife were baptized at Epiphany on Christmas Day 1862. His second wife was baptized on Christmas Eve the following year. His 19-year old son and namesake was buried from Epiphany just after the Civil War ended.

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May 5: Bernard Francis Shinkman, III (2008)

From his time as a student at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, Massachusetts, Bernard Francis Shinkman, III took the nickname “Buck” and that’s how he was known the rest of his life. The youngest child of Paul and Elizabeth Shinkman, Buck was a native Washingtonian. Following St. Mark’s, Buck went on to earn a B.A. at Dartmouth College. Often, a person’s tombstone can summarize their life’s accomplishments. The three things inscribed on Buck’s stone at Rock Creek Cemetery are: Diplomat – Veteran – Editor. As a diplomat, he was a press and cultural affairs officer with the U.S. State Department with assignments in Ghana, Serbia, London, Philippines, and Canada. As a veteran, he served in the Vietnam War, gaining the rank of lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. As an editor, Buck performed that role in London for Benn Brothers, his family’s publishing company.

Buck’s deep and abiding faith was exemplified in his connections with church activities wherever he was stationed, from the Episcopal Youth Group at Dartmouth to his ministries at Epiphany whenever he was in Washington. One additional inscription on Buck’s tombstone is the phrase, “Live to Ride.” Buck was a Harley-Davidson enthusiast for decades and raised thousands of dollars for the Muscular Dystrophy Association by asking colleagues to place bets on the last day of winter he would brave the cold to ride his cycle to work. After Buck’s passing on May 5, 2008, a memorial service was held at Epiphany at which time family, friends and colleagues gathered to remember a life well lived.

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