Excerpt from Bishop Murray’s journal, May 20, 1911
Because all of Bishop John Gardner Murray’s correspondence was destroyed in 1936, there are many details about him which remain unknown. The titillating phrase in Bishop Helfenstein’s letter asking permission of the Chancellor to destroy Murray’s papers, “many things would be unearthed which had just as well be forgotten” does make us wonder what ideas or actions were thought best hidden from view. The Archives does have printed Journals of Convention for the years of Murray’s episcopate, and some, but not all, of Murray’s handwritten official journals, newspaper clippings, and a few letters which give us glimpses of the kind of man and bishop Murray was. But much remains open for conjecture.
John Gardner Murray was born in Lonaconing, Maryland, on August 31, 1857, to James and Ann Kirkwood Murray, both of whom had been born in Scotland and were members of the Presbyterian Church. John attended public schools in Lonaconing, and from the age of eleven worked in his father’s mining business. Inspired by the Methodist revival, the young Murray attended the Wyoming Seminary (College) in Kingston, PA., and Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, NJ., where he was licensed as a lay preacher in the Methodist Church. He had to leave seminary just before graduation in 1879 when his father died, returning to work in his father’s company to help support his younger brothers. He became an accountant in the family cattle-raising, coal mining and manufacturing businesses in Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and Alabama until 1892.
In 1881 John Murray married Harriet Sprague of Osage City, Kansas, and they set up housekeeping in Brierfield, Alabama, where their daughter Emeline was born. In 1884, mother and daughter travelled to Kansas to visit relatives, and were returning home by the steamboat Belmont down the Ohio River, when between Evansville, Indiana, and Henderson, Kentucky, a cyclone capsized the boat. Both were drowned. John Murray learned of their deaths as he waited for their arrival in Nashville.
Bishop Murray Coadjutor-Elect, The Maryland Churchman, 1909
No one knows the particular reasons John Murray turned to the Episcopal Church. Perhaps sadness at the death of his little family redirected his spiritual searching; but we do know that on July 4, 1886, he was confirmed by the Bishop of Alabama, and received a Lay Reader’s license. Two years later he moved to Selma, Alabama, where he added real estate and banking to his manufacturing business, also serving as vestryman, Sunday School superintendent and Lay Reader in his local parish, St. Paul’s, Selma.
Clara Hunsicker, also of Osage City, Kansas, married John G. Murray in December of 1889, and they had six children. But sadness and heartache revisited the Murray household, when their daughter Barbara died in 1895, at only 4 months of age.
It was not until he was 35 years of age that Murray again considered the ministry as a vocation, instead of a sideline. He had made a very comfortable living in business, but chose to leave that world, and devote his future to the Episcopal priesthood. The Bishop of Alabama ordained him a deacon on April 3, 1893, and priest on April 16, 1894. For the four succeeding years he organized and ran eight mission congregations between Montgomery and Mobile, known as the Alabama River Missions; then in 1896, he became rector of Church of the Advent, Birmingham, a congregation of nearly 700 persons. While at Advent, he was elected deputy to General Convention, and served as president of the Standing Committee. In 1903 he was called as rector for St. Michael and All Angels’ Church in Baltimore, at that time the largest parish in the diocese, boasting a membership of over 1,100.
Before he was elected Bishop Coadjutor of Maryland in 1909, Murray had been elected Bishop of Mississippi in 1903 and Kentucky in 1904 but had declined both elections. Bishop Paret appointed him Archdeacon of Baltimore, and he was elected to the Standing Committee in 1905, and a member of the Ecclesiastical Court in 1904. The major business for the 1909 Diocesan Convention, which met at Emmanuel Church, Baltimore, on May 26, was the election of a Bishop Coadjutor, the nominations being made on the day of the election. John G. Murray was nominated by the Rev. Edward T. Helfenstein (who would succeed Murray as bishop), and when the clerical votes were counted after the first ballot, Murray had received 80 of the 87 votes cast, and 73 out of the 78 lay votes. Bishop Paret declared that Murray had been elected Coadjutor, and the assembly sang the Doxology in response. Testimonials were signed, Murray was officially notified of his election, and “he was then seated at the right hand of the Bishop, where he remained during the rest of the session.”
John G. Murray was consecrated Bishop Coadjutor of Maryland at St. Michael & All Angels’ Church in Baltimore, on St. Michael & All Angels’ Day, September 29, 1909. Bishop Murray assisted Bishop William Paret until January 18, 1911, when Bishop Paret died, just three days after his wife. John Gardner Murray then became Diocesan Bishop.
As Bishop of Maryland, Murray took special interest in the work of the Woman’s Auxiliary, of which his wife was the energetic president. He supported the Church’s mission work in Japan, Alaska and the Philippines and promoted church schools in the diocese. During World War I he spearheaded efforts to minister to the troops, especially at Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore and Camp Meade, where he was instrumental in building Epiphany Chapel, the only still-surviving World War I chapel in the United States. Bishop Murray also traveled to camps across the east coast visiting Maryland soldiers. The influenza epidemic swept the diocese in 1918, and the bishop was busy with the ill, as well as the funerals of many – including clergy, and children. He also supported and pushed for the building of the Cathedral in Baltimore “for the service of the Church, Community, State and Nation, and supremely for the glory of our God.” New congregations were formed during his episcopate, among them St. Matthew’s, Sparrow’s Point, St. James, Parkton, St. Matthias’, Baltimore, and Trinity Chapel, Ten Hills. The Church Pension Fund had just been organized, and he covered the diocese speaking to clergy and vestries about implementing it.
On May 30, 1914, Bishop and Mrs. Murray left Baltimore for a month-long visit to Europe – just two months shy of the outbreak of World War I. They sailed on the H.M.S. Olympic, thanks to the generosity of Mr. Arthur W. Robson, who had made sure “every provision had been made for our comfort and luxurious enjoyment.” On the voyage to England, there were among the passengers 700 members of the Salvation Army which was meeting for the International Convention in London. They also met a former President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. “Colonel Roosevelt, made it pleasant for all aboard and returns to America today, after having attended the wedding of Madrid of his son Kermit, delivered a lecture on his recent travels in Brazil to a large audience.” The bishop added, “Almost the first day after our arrival in London, within one-half block of our hotel, we were seized from behind by two of our dear church girls from Cumberland, who are here having a jolly good time and contributing by their own enjoyment to the happiness of others.” “To us every door is open. While nearly all places of interest are closed to the public for fear of suffragette militancy, kind friends have made it possible for us to secure admission everywhere – cathedrals, churches, Houses of parliament, Lambeth and Fulham Palaces…”
Work among the diocese’s African Americans was important to Bishop Murray. His diary shows his ongoing attention to the Johns Hopkins Colored Orphanage Asylum, where he appointed the Rev. George Kromer, vicar of the Church of the Guardian Angel, as their confirmation instructor. He visited and confirmed there regularly, as well as at Melvale Industrial School. Murray met with city officials about “colored” schools and joined community meetings agitating to close saloons near the Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin, an African American congregation. He was on the Board of the Maryland Home for Friendless Colored Children, under the supervision of the Rev. George Bragg, rector of St. James; Church, Baltimore, the first African American parish in the city. A sampling of his efforts on behalf of African Americans, taken from his journals is added at the end of this article.
In 1925 John Gardner Murray was elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the first election for the position. (Previously, the bishop who had been consecrated longest acceded to that office upon the death of his predecessor.) But he also remained Bishop of Maryland, splitting his time between New York and Maryland, although the Bishop Suffragan, Edward T. Helfenstein, remained in Maryland and carried on many day-to-day tasks. Murray’s intention as Presiding Bishop was to visit every diocese and missionary district in the American church, and he did travel thousands of miles from Haiti to Oregon. He had planned a trip to the Far East when he died suddenly. While presiding over a special meeting of the House of Bishops held at St. James’ Church, Atlantic City, on October 3, 1929, Bishop Murray suddenly dropped to the floor, dead of a cerebral hemorrhage. The Rev. Samuel Shoemaker, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, had been ordained by Bishop Murray in Maryland, and was rector of Calvary Church, New York City, where the Murray family attended when they were in town. Four days after Bishop Murray’s death, Mr. Shoemaker preached at a memorial service for the late Presiding Bishop, recounting personal anecdotes and memories. In summing up the personhood of Bishop Murray, Shoemaker said, “There were no barriers in his mind. He did not see class or money or color. Bishop Murray entirely escaped the prevalent modern executive habit of making things of people. We were all part of his family. Let us give thanks to God for this great, simple, useful self-giving life.”
Cover of The Church at Work, Bishop Murray, September-October, 1929
Excerpts from the printed Journals of Convention
May 16, 1910: Conference with the Rev. J.J. Clopton regarding the establishment of the Colored Mission at Sparrow’s Point.
Mary 24, 1910: Received check from Mrs. Frederick von Kapff, treasurer of the Women’s’ Auxiliary for $315.50. $300 for Parish House Fund and $15.50 for Colored Work in Maryland.
January 29, 1911: Conference with the Rev. J. George Carl concerning his leaving St. Philip’s church, Annapolis. Arranged with the Rev. Alexander Galt to take charge of St. Philip’s in the event of Mr. Carl’s surrendering it.
February 26, 1911 – 4 P.M. Confirmed seven persons (colored) and made address at St. Katharine’s Chapel. 8 P.M. confirmed 16 persons (colored) made address to candidates and preached at the Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin, Baltimore. At the close of the service was presented with a handsome gold-mounted umbrella and cane.
April 3, 1911 – Confirmed 26 colored girls presented by the Rev. George J.G. Kromer, at the Melvale Industrial Home, and made address; the Board of Managers of the Home being present.
April 13, 1911 – Confirmed 1 person (colored) at St. Philip’s Chapel, Cumberland, and made address. The offering made was in full payment of the mortgage debt upon the whole property of the congregation.
May 22, 1911 – Conference with two good churchwomen regarding the colored work in Southwest Baltimore. (Bishop Murray’s handwritten journal names these two women as Mrs. Bruce and Miss Gilman. He added, “I agree to support the work by salary of overruns beginning October 1, 1911.”)
June 14, 1911 – Conference with the Rev. Arnold H. Maloney, deacon, regarding work at St. Philip’s, Annapolis, and placing him in charge of the same.
May 29, 1912 – With the assistance of the woman’s Auxiliary and individual friends, I have met the demands of the Colored Work during the past year. In accordance with the action of the Convention, this work is now classed with all the other diocesan missionary enterprises and appropriations for it will be paid by the treasurer of the Committee of Missions.
February 16, 1913 – Confirmed 6 persons (one of whom was a white man) at the Johns Hopkins Colored Orphan Asylum and made address.
February 23, 1913 – Made address in the Sunday School room of St. Mary the Virgin at a community civic meeting held for the purpose of taking action to abolish the saloons in the vicinity of the church and the public schools in that section of the city. (St. Mary’s was located at Orchard Street near Madison Avenue.)
May 21, 1913 – Important conference with Mayor & Rhodes of school board concerning location of certain colored schools in Baltimore City.
December 30, 1913 -Together with the Rev. Dr. G. F. Bragg and a good churchwoman, visited the Maryland Home for Friendless Colored children, making short address.
January 9, 1914 – 9-11 A.M. spent at the Baltimore Colored High School making address to teachers and pupils and visiting every department at the school, very much both to my pleasure and profit.
March 31, 1914 – confirmed 18 girls at the Johns Hopkins Colored Orphan Asylum presented by the Rev. George J.G. Kromer, the Bishop’s representative at this institution.
April 3, 1914 – interview with the Rev. George A. Griffiths concerning the purchase of a farm for the summer use of colored mothers and their children. Gave my hearty approval of the plan. (Griffiths was on the staff of Mt. Calvary Church and the vicar in charge of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin.)
January 7, 1915 – Important conferences; one of special interest regarding the colored work of the Diocese.
March 19, 1917– was present at conference concerning the welfare of colored people in the city.
April 5, 1917 -attended meeting of the Managers of the Maryland Home for Friendless Colored Children