Last Saturday, The Rt. Rev. Kirk Stevan Smith, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, instituted the first ever Lesser Feast of Endicott Peabody, Apostle to Arizona and Educator of Presidents. Peabody was born of blue blood stock in New England, and educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, England. While there, apparently he felt a call to Holy Orders, and enrolled in the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, MA. After his first semester, Peabody responded to a call to assist in the start-up of a struggling church in the god-forsaken edge of the country: Tombstone, AZ. He left his comfortable life and environs, and headed west.
It was a long journey, and even longer when he got there. His diary and letters are filled with self-doubt, as well as his keen sense of God’s call for him to be there. He embraced Tombstone. Before he left at the end of six months time Peabody had raised up a congregation of 200 members, mainly by knocking on every door in Tombstone, introducing himself and explaining what he was up to, and then inviting that person to church on Sunday. He also started a men’s baseball team to play the other mining village teams in the area; this, no doubt, made him respectable among the men of Tombstone and endearing to the women. He also raised the money among the residents of the town to build a wood-frame Episcopal church that stands to this day: St. Paul’s, named by Peabody after his favorite apostle, and in many respects, his inspiration for his life and ministry.
Peabody—or “Cotti,” as his family called him—was athletic, handsome, and probably spoke with somewhat of a British accent. In many respects, he was a cross-cultural missionary. He exemplified a brand of “muscular Christianity” popular at that time in America. (My hometown of Winona Lake, IN, nineteenth-century baseball-player-turned-evangelist, Billy Sunday, probably served as another example of a member of the school of “muscular Christianity.”) At any rate Peabody’s success for God came from his fostering relationships with the people of Tombstone, including its famous sheriff, Wyatt Earp, whose family donated the funds for the altar rail at St. Paul’s.
After leaving St. Paul’s, Peabody returned to the east coast, finished seminary, and decided to start a school in 1884 in Groton, Massachusetts for young men of families of means, to instill in them the virtues of character and faith. He was founding Headmaster and chaplain to the Groton School for its first 56 years. His most famous student was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who called Peabody the most influential person in his life, after his parents. Peabody also founded the Brooks school in Andover, named after the famous preacher and Episcopal bishop, Philips Brooks, who wrote the Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
The inaugural Feast of Endicott Peabody was celebrated at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Phoenix, at 11:00 AM, Saturday, November 17, the day that Peabody died; this year also marks the 150th anniversary of the year of his birth. There to help celebrate this historic day was the great-grandson of Endicott Peabody, Endicott “Cotti” Peabody, and great-great-grandson, Endicott “Kit” Peabody. Great-grandson Cotti spoke fondly of his ancestor, whom he never met, but whose life played heavily in his own formation as a man and Christian—how could it not? It probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that both Cotti and Kit are graduates of the Groton School, and delightful men, very proud of their forebear and his impact on Arizona’s Episcopal heritage and history, and in their own lives.
Bishop Smith preached a wonderful sermon on the life of Peabody, quoting extensively from his letters and diary (the Bishop has a doctorate in Medieval Church history, and his notable skills of scholarship easily made it interesting and engaging). Great-grandson Cotti took some time as well to share some wonderful stories of his great-grandfather from the Peabody family’s recollections and legacy.
One of my favorite stories involved the first-time visit by great-grand Cotti to Tombstone and St. Paul’s Church about ten years ago. He said he was absolutely overcome with awe upon entering the church, seeing with his own eyes the wonderful (and little!) church that seemed so large in the stories of his childhood. As he stood there on that Sunday morning before the service began, the priest in charge of the parish came up and seeing that he was a visitor the clergyman introduced himself. Cotti, who was speechless to this point, and whose face showed obvious emotion at being in this holy place of childhood legacy, composed himself and said in return, “Hello, I’m Endicott Peabody,” to which the priest replied, “The hell you are!” Eventually the clergyman believed him, and welcomed him to his forebear’s church.
In addition to the members of the Peabody family present there also was a former Headmaster of Groton School now living in Fort Worth, TX, and the current Dean of Students at Groton School, plus Arizona friends of the family and other friends. The Peabody men were wonderful, gracious and so appreciative as well as completely awed at the idea that the church wishes now to honor his ancestor, with the ultimate goal of having Endicott Peabody added to the Lesser Feast and Fasts of the whole Episcopal Church, thereby becoming the first American Episcopal educator in our church’s calendar of saints.
Having been involved with Episcopal Schools in one way or another for the first fourteen and a half of my almost fifteen years of ordained ministry, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole affair, its celebratory feel, and its sincere gratitude for the life, witness and ministry of this remarkable man. If you don’t know about Endicott Peabody, I hope that this brief article will inspire you to go deeper and learn more, for his method and courage still serves as an example of relational ministry and its effectiveness for us all.