A Short History of Saint Wilfrid’s Parish
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The following is reprinted verbatim from a pamphlet issued by Saint Wilfrid’s:
The Episcopal Church in Marion was established in 1838, the same year in which Judson College was founded. First entry in the parish register tells that the new church was organized at Eastertide by the Rev. John R. Goodman, then residing at Greensboro, under the name of St. Michael’s Parish. St. Michael’s was admitted to the Seventh Annual Convention on May 5, 1838, and was assessed $10.00 for contingent expenses.
First rector of the parish was the Rev. Andrew Matthews, who served Cahaba as well as Marion. Since there was no church building, Mr. Matthews held services in the courthouse. To the Diocesan Convention of May, 1839, he reported: “Baptisms 4; Marriages 0; Funerals 0; Communicants 3.”
Mr. Matthews remained for only a matter of months, however, and from the time he left there was no Episcopal service in Marion until December, 1847, when the Rev. W. A. Stickney arrived and services were resumed in the courthouse.
To Mr. Stickney’s clerical duties were soon added those of schoolteacher, as a parish school was established in 1849. Regarding the school, the name of which became “St. Wilfrid’s School,” Walter C. Whitaker in his book The Church in Alabama, published in 1898, wrote, “The times were especially propitious for such schools, as no scheme of common-school education at public expense had yet been broached, and the schools were long in a flourishing condition in many places, notably in Mobile, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, and Marion. In the last-named place the Rev. W. A. Stickney’s School was especially successful, numbering more than 80 pupils and having a standing list of applicants for vacancies year after year.” The school was primarily for boys, though an occasional pupil is also mentioned from the “Parish Female School.”
In 1853, after the first church building was erected (believed to be 1849), it was decided that the school and church should bear the same name. Consequently, on Thursday, May 5, 1853, at a meeting of the male members of St. Michael’s Parish, held in the church, the name of the church was officially changed to “St. Wilfrid’s Church, Marion.” During the previous month, on April 4, the vestry had voted to abandon the prevailing system of pew rent in favor of weekly collections, so that St. Wilfrid’s was, from the beginning, a “free church.”
St. Wilfrid’s School existed through 1860, the names of many pupils appearing on the list of communicants. After the War Between the States it received no further mention.
The Church Register tells its own, brief, eclectic story of the war years. In 1859 the name Nicola Marschall, to be designer of the Confederate Flag, is listed as a communicant. Besides (sic) his name is written, “From Prussia. Noted portrait painter,” and later, “In Confederate Service.” In 1860 the Rev. Mr. Stickney baptized 23 slaves whose masters were members of St. Wilfrid’s Church. Example from the register:
Date, Jan 29, 1860;
Parents, Charles & Sylvy, svt’s of Ed. S. Stickney;
Birth, June, 1859.
On August 29, 1863, under “Burials” appears the name “Mr. ——— Newman, Confederate Soldier, age 30 years.” In 1864 St. Wilfrid’s sent more than $6,000 towards the building of a $50,000 home for destitute Confederate orphans in Tuscaloosa.
The parish survived its first war well, however, and on May 10, 1870, Mr. Stickney reported a total of 74 communicants to the Thirty-ninth Annual Convention in Montgomery.
In 1896 St. Wilfrid’s Church was partially burned. The amount of $669.00 from an insurance policy “providentially taken a week before,” restored the church, built two chimneys, repaired the cemetary fence, re-insured the church for five years, and bought a horse for the rector. A painting of this church, which boasted a pipe organ, hangs in the vestibule of the present church.
Just after Christmas, 1907, both church and rectory (a large three-story structure which appears in the same painting) were totally destroyed in a night blaze so large that sparks fell on roofs as far as away as Fikes Ferry Road. Again the church seemed providentially insured. There had been no regular rector since 1898, the parish being held together by a few communicants who held regular Sunday School, kept up diocesan obligations, and, year after year, sent a small contribution to the Church Building Fund in New York City. When informed of St. Wilfrid’s fire, the Building fund in turn contributed what amounted to one-third of the rebuilding cost.
The present church was built within the year, its builder a white carpenter, R. E. Lee of Marion. Tin shingles now on the roof were put there at that time and have never leaked.
The church was consecrated on December 20, 1908. Nearly all appointments of the chancel, including altar, lectern, prayer desk, communion rail, and chairs are memorials given by or for parishoners. The stained glass windows behind the altar were also a gift.
The present rectory was begun in 1923 with the letting of a contract for cutting pine timber from church property north of the cemetary, for use in the building. Again the Church Building Fund contributed. The rectory was completed and final payment made in August, 1926. Total cost, $5555.55.
While both church and rectory are therefore relatively recent, St. Wilfrid’s cemetery goes back to the origins of the parish. It is a part of the original 13 acres, more or less, bought on September 20, 1849, for $1,004.00. It is said to have been laid out by a famous British landscape architect.
When the oldest surviving parish register was begun in 1849, some Episcopalians were buried in “St. Wilfrid’s” and others in the “town grave yard.” After 1864, nearly all are buried in the “parish church yard.” Their slaves, in large numbers, are buried down the hill near the bounds of the property.
After the Battle of Selma, in 1865, the South Barracks of Marion [Military] Institute (then Howard College) was used as a hospital for the wounded. Soldiers on both sides who died there were buried near by. In 1872 the Ladies’ Memorial Association of Marion was organized, and some of its first work was to move 77 of the dead, both Confederate and Union, to the Episcopal cemetery and to mark the graves with identical marble headstones bearing names of the identified, and marking as unknown the unidentified. A prominent Marion resident of the day brought back from California several redwood burls, one of which she planted among the graves. The tree grew and stood as a living memorial until February 1, 1987, when it was uprooted by a tornado.