Idaho History: Idaho's first Episcopal Church originally named for its founder

IDAHO HISTORY

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANMay 19, 2013 

On Aug. 14, 1864, Episcopal priest St. Michael Fackler held divine services at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in Boise's first small adobe schoolhouse. Services were held there because there was not yet a church building in town. The Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman had reported a day earlier that "Mr. Fackler is on a tour of observation through Boise, Owyhee and Alturas counties, and is disposed to remain in Boise city during the coming winter, if sufficient interest is manifested by the citizens to assist in providing a house and sustaining stated and regular service."

In June 1866, the contract to build the Episcopal Church was let and the work began at the corner of 7th and Bannock streets. The wooden building was to be 22 by 40 feet in size, with a small vestry added. When the first services were held there on Sept. 2, 1866, the Statesman printed parts of St. Michael Fackler's sermon:

"Brethren, I congratulate you on this occasion. It is with special feelings of pleasure and with hearty and devout thankfulness to God, that I engage in the services of today, when we occupy for the first time this church, so far completed by the liberality of the people of Boise city. It is proper that I here state that the contract price for the building, as it stands, is $2,000. Some additional work will cost about $600 more. To meet this we have subscriptions in the amount of $730, and the ladies of the Aid Association, with a commendable and praiseworthy zeal, have raised nearly $1,000 - that is to say, $975. We have the promise of more subscriptions, and doubtless there are others who have not yet been asked who will subscribe to an enterprise which ought to meet the approval and receive the help of all who are interested in the growth of the place, and in laying the foundation of good society. We hope, therefore, soon to raise the balance needed, of about $355.

"It is now a little over two years since we began public religious services in Boise city, and in that time we have used seven different places, all more or less inconvenient. We began in the little adobe building opposite the Statesman office, with its dirt floor and slab seats. We think we may well report progress when we compare that building with this, and we rejoice together today in having a building so neat and comfortable, and so well adapted to public worship, and we hope that after these two years of struggling, the progress of the Episcopal Church will be even more encouraging." Fackler closed with "Here, then, may our reverence be deepened, our faith strengthened, our hope cheered, and our charity enlarged; and thus worshiping God acceptably in this his earthly temple be prepared to worship Him in that 'Temple not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.'"

St. Michael Fackler was born in Taunton, Va., where he received his education and was ordained as an Episcopal priest. He lived briefly in Missouri before deciding to move west for his health. In 1847 he joined a wagon train on the Oregon Trail, paying his way by driving the first band of sheep ever brought into Oregon. Bancroft's classic "History of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington," published in 1889, say that Fackler's health was "greatly improved by the trip, and he soon undertook such work as he could do, teaching and preaching as opportunity offered." He held services regularly in several small Oregon communities before being sent on the mission that brought him to Boise where he started his church and was soon beloved by his congregation and the community as well. He ministered to needy families passing through Boise on the Oregon Trail, and to some unable to continue the trip because of illness or other misfortune. In 1866, while on a trip to visit his family in the east, by way of San Francisco and the Isthmus of Panama, a cholera epidemic broke out on the ship. While ministering to the sick and dying he himself contracted the disease and died. He was buried at Key West, Fla.

When St. Michael's parish was formally organized in August 1867, soon after news of his death reached them, his devoted parishioners made clear that they chose to name it, not for the saint, but for their own devoted pastor. A history of the church in Oregon describes Fackler as a noble man worthy to be called "the first Episcopal saint in the West."

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

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