By Richard J. Mammana, Jr.
In a series of heavily contested online auctions during February and March, S. Stephen’s Church in Providence, Rhode Island, acquired a major manuscript collection of material by an early rector, the Rev. Henry Waterman (1813-76). The parish, which uses the older abbreviation S. in its name, was founded in 1839, and in 2012 the parish has celebrated the 150th anniversary of its current location on George Street in the midst of Brown University.
Henry Waterman served as third and fifth rector of this important center of New England Tractarianism, with tenures from 1841 to 1845 and 1850 to 1874 — a total of 28 years. Norman J. Catir’s 1964 volume Saint Stephen’s Church in Providence: The History of a New England Tractarian Parish 1839-1964 identifies the Rev. George Leeds (1816-85, rector 1840-41) as the first Catholic-minded priest to serve the parish, but notes that Waterman “was an early Tractarian of the school of Keble and Pusey” who “built the complete foundation upon which the contemporary characteristic [Anglo-Catholic] life of the parish now rests” (p. 18).
A Rhode Island native, Waterman was born into a prosperous manufacturing family and educated at Brown University. He was prepared for ordination by two leading exponents of the indigenous American High Church tradition, John Henry Hopkins and George Washington Doane, and he studied at the General Theological Seminary in New York. Under Waterman’s care, S. Stephen’s became one of the first racially integrated parishes in the Episcopal Church. He oversaw the construction of the parish’s Gothic Revival building, designed by Richard Upjohn. In 1866, he began a weekly celebration of Holy Communion, and he later made special provision for free (rather than rented) pews. Waterman set the parish squarely in an advanced contemporary place on the High Church-Tractarian-Ritualist-Anglo-Catholic continuum outside more familiar strongholds of these forms of churchmanship in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and the Upper Midwest.
Despite Waterman’s significance in the life of S. Stephen’s Church and the Diocese of Rhode Island, as well as in the wider trajectories of regional and international ecclesiastical changes during his three decades of service, no biographer has yet written about him at length. The immediate provenance of the previously undiscovered cache of Waterman’s manuscripts is unknown, but they will allow a serious re-evaluation of his thought and activities. The sermons touch on a wide variety of major themes in the 19th-century Episcopal Church, including worship changes, slavery, the duties of Christians in government and society, and the Civil War. The nearly 500 manuscript sermons span the entirety of Waterman’s career, and include meticulous notes about the dates and places of their delivery in a large number of churches throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Richard Noble, the parish’s senior warden, is a rare-book librarian at Brown University, and he has already undertaken the significant tasks of cataloguing this material with a finding aide and stabilizing it in archival folders. It will eventually be deposited in the existing S. Stephen’s Church Archive in the University of Rhode Island at Kingston.
In order to secure the return of this substantial collection to its parish of origin, and to ensure that it was not dispersed further on the commercial market, S. Stephen’s rector, the Rev. John D. Alexander, worked very quickly with lay leaders to meet the seller’s asking price of more than $6,000. “I did not have any doubts about the necessity of keeping them all together in the right place,” Noble said on learning that the sermons had surfaced in Herkimer County, New York.
Contributions from interested individuals to help defray the cost of this manuscript rescue effort may be made by check to S. Stephen’s Church with Waterman sermons in the memo line. For more information, visit sstephens.org.
Richard J. Mammana, Jr., of New Haven, Connecticut, serves as archivist for the Living Church Foundation. This piece first appeared in The Historiographer, Summer 2012, Vol. L., No. 3, pp. 9, 11. Reprinted by permission of National Episcopal Historians and Archivists.