WORSHIP - History at All Saints' Cathedral

A Brief History of All Saints' Cathedral


historic church photoThe Early Years

The history of our cathedral church begins with a small mission founded by the Right Reverend Jackson Kemper, Missionary Bishop of the Diocese of Wisconsin. “The Free Church of the Atonement” was founded in 1857 and located on Milwaukee’s eastside.

In the early 1860s, this congregation merged with “The Church of St. Paul” which had been founded as a breakaway church from “St. Paul’s Church” by the Reverend Mr. Richmond; the congregation was known as “Trinity Church.” Within the decade, the struggling congregation deeded its property and assets to the Right Reverend William Edmond Armitage, Bishop Co-Adjutor of the then Diocese of Wisconsin.

The Cathedral Idea

Both Bishop Armitage and his superior, Bishop Jackson Kemper, shared the vision of a cathedral church for the Wisconsin Diocese, which had been organized some fourteen years previously. However, the “cathedral idea” was not a popular one within the Episcopal Church at that time. Bishop Kemper’s request to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 1868 to create a canon for the establishment of diocesan cathedrals had been ignored and, although one cathedral cornerstone had been laid as early as 1862, no “canonically correct” cathedral had as yet been founded on American soil. Nashotah House Seminary’s Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin had served as a diocesan center and de facto “Pro-Cathedral” for a number of years. By the 1870s it was obvious that the seminary’s location would remain rural and unsuitable as the site for a potential cathedral.

Bishop William Armitage

The Rt. Rev. William Armitage

The vision of a “bishop’s church” persisted even though the “cathedral idea” was strongly opposed by the dominant parishes in the Milwaukee area. Trinity Church, now under the jurisdiction of Bishop Armitage, and lacking parochial status, seemed primed for such a designation. The church was temporarily closed and within a month reopened under a new name, chosen by Bishop Armitage himself, “All Saints’ Pro-Cathedral.” The little parish was on its way to becoming one of the first cathedrals of the American Church.

A New Building

A legal parish organization was formed in July of 1869 in order to accept title to a parcel of eastside property, and construction of a cathedral building was begun. On All Saints’ Day of that year Bishop Kemper, as his last official act, laid the cornerstone of what was intended to become a chapel of the cathedral on the corner of what is now East Juneau and North Prospect Avenues. But a cathedral on that site was not to be.

Since no diocesan canon had been acted upon at that time to establish a cathedral, no diocesan funds were allocated for such a purpose. Financial difficulties forced the parish to abandon the project and return to its former wooden church of Jackson Street. The property reverted to the mortgagor, Judge Jason Downer, and on the chapel foundation, he built an elegant Victorian mansion. The home with its Gothic foundation still stands today and is a city landmark.

The cathedral vision still prevailed, and in 1871, the parish purchased several lots and a house on what is now East Juneau Avenue and North Cass Street, and moved their small frame building onto that property. The same year an event occurred that made possible the purchase of a large and imposing church structure, Olivet Congregational Church, which stood only a few yards from the small Pro-Cathedral.

In 1873, the near new building was occupied by All Saints’ congregation, and the diocese now had a handsome structure well suited to potentially becoming the cathedral of the Diocese of Wisconsin. The future cathedral had the fortunate feature of being located in an area of fine homes and wealthy families known as “Yankee Hill” - close to the expanding eastside business district. The Diocesan Council voted to accept All Saints as its eventual cathedral. With the founding of the Diocese of Fond du Lac in 1875, the Diocese of Wisconsin became a misnomer and the title was changed to the Diocese of Milwaukee in 1886.

New Facilities and a New Status

In the fall of 1891, a handsome new Guild Hall/School building was completed and put to use. The Pro-Cathedral had a healthy Sunday school and maintained a day school known as the “Cathedral Institute” which had its beginnings in the 1860s. Three years later, a cathedral corporation was established distinct from the parish structure. The corporation was to hold title to all property, assets, and funds for cathedral purposes.

By 1898 the thriving congregation was no longer in debt and the Pro-Cathedral was consecrated to full cathedral status on All Saints’ Day of that year. A provisional canon had been passed at the Diocesan Council of 1877 and permanently acted upon in 1883, providing for the proper organization of a diocesan cathedral.

An elegant bishop’s manse known as “Nicholson House” was constructed in 1902 on the site of the old clergy house that had been moved to the rear of the cathedral and named Armitage House in honor of the diocese’ second bishop. “Armitage House” served for almost seventy years as the dean’s residence.

The Oxford Movement and the Cambridge Camden Society

In 1833, the fairly apathetic Church of England was called to rediscover its catholic heritage by an Oxford University professor, John Henry Newman, thus heralding the beginning of The Oxford Movement. Collaborating with several of his peers, he began publishing a series of “Tracts” concerning the observance and understanding of historic “catholic” theology as embodied in the established Church’s Book of Common Prayer.

Concurrently, a number of Cambridge University faculty and students interested in the study of medieval architecture organized the Cambridge Camden Society. Membership increased to include bishops, cathedral deans, parish clergy, prominent architects, and wealthy patrons. As the Oxford Movement gained momentum, the Cambridge Camden Society established guidelines for the proper arrangement of church interiors and their furnishings in sympathy with “catholic” theology and worship. Eventually the Society initiated an interest in church music of the pre-reformation era, subsequently helping to raise musical standards in choral foundations throughout the Anglican Communion.

As the fascination for medieval architecture and “catholic” order continued, a growing interest in the liturgical ceremonial of the pre-reformation Church emerged. Candles, incense, liturgical vesture, medieval rituals, and Marian devotions, increasingly appeared in American and English parishes affiliated with the Oxford Movement. Such innovations were not widely accepted by the “Evangelical” segment of the Anglican Church; they coined the term “Ritualists” when referring to parishes and clergy who advocated these practices.

The English Influence

Prior to 1891, worship in the Pro-Cathedral was conducted from The Book of Common Prayer according to the established customs of the time. With the consecration of Isaac Lea Nicholson as fifth bishop of what by now had become the Diocese of Milwaukee, the influence of the English Oxford Movement began to take root. The Reverend James Lloyd Breck, one of the founders of Nashotah House Theological Seminary, and the Reverend James DeKoven, Warden of the church-related Racine College, were both strong adherents of the Oxford Movement’s emphasis regarding the “catholic” heritage of the Anglican Church. These highly intellectual and devout men along with Bishop Nicholson, established the continuing “catholic” witness of the Anglican Church in one of America’s first Episcopal cathedrals.

The reconfiguration of Milwaukee’s Olivet Congregational Church into the Cathedral Church of All Saints undoubtedly reflected the Cambridge Camden Society’s guidelines for a theologically correct church building. The interior was divided into a nave and chancel with an impressive high altar and reredos positioned at the “east end” of the sanctuary. Beautifully carved stalls for the clergy and vested choir of men and boys included a sedilia and a cathedra (bishop’s chair); carved screens enclosing the entire chancel featured a prominent “Rood” above its entrance. Eventually stained glass windows depicting many saints of the Anglican Church were installed throughout the cathedral.

old rood screenBishop Franklin Price Ivins and Cathedral Dean, Malcom Du Pui Maynard, continued to introduce ecclesiastical furnishings and ritualist practices into the Cathedral Church’s liturgical life. From the late 1930s through the 1950s, the cathedral was known for its “Anglo-Catholic” presence in the diocese. All major Holy days and minor saints days were observed. A daily celebration of the Mass was instituted along with a Solemn High Mass on Sundays. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was appended to the Sunday Evensong, and a shrine to Our Lady was installed in the cathedral nave.

We are indebted to the late Fred Weinman, for many years our Cathedral Historian,
for his invaluable contribution to this project.



The Cathedral Church of All Saints, Milwaukee, WI © 2012