James Theodore Holy -13 March 2017

James Theodore Holly, bishop of Haiti and Dominican Republic

(13 March 1911)

James Theodore Holly was thollyhe First African American Bishop in the Episcopal Church and Bishop of Haiti.

Born in 1829 in Washington, DC, James Theodore Holly was the descendant of freed slaves. Great-great grandfather James Theodore Holly was a Scotsman in Maryland.  He was master of several Holly slaves whom he freed in 1772, including his son and namesake James Theodore Holly.  This son married the daughter of an Irish Catholic whose last name was Butler, and they were the great grandparents of Bishop James Theodore Holly.  Their son Rueben was Bishop Holly’s grandfather.[read more]

adapted from St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church, Buffalo, NY
(reprinted with permission)

Project Canterbury has a short Autobiography of Bp. Holly online.


I was born in the western part of Washington City, near Georgetown, October 3d, 1829. I spent my boyhood, until my fifteenth year, in that city. I first attended an infant school taught by my elder sister, when but five years of age. At seven I entered another school taught also by a female teacher. At nine years I entered a third school, taught by a male principal. My grandfather, Reuben Holly, came to Washington from St. Mary’s County, Maryland, in 1799, and worked on the U. S. Capitol, then building. His son, James Overton, my father, was then thirteen years old.

My parents were Roman Catholics, and I was brought up in that religion. The family attended Holy Trinity Church, Georgetown, as most conveniently situated to our residence, West 26th, Washington. I was baptized, confirmed, and made my first communion in that church. In 1844 my father removed to Brooklyn, N. Y. I still continued for several years to attend the Roman Catholic Church. The first Bible I ever possessed was a Douay Bible, given to me by a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Felix Varela, pastor of Transfiguration Roman Catholic Church, then situated in Chamber street, New York. He was said to be a relative of Queen Isabella, of Spain, and was a Spaniard by birth. He had a desire to send me to Rome to study for the priesthood, as I felt an inclination to labor in the ministry. However, the Bible he gave me, although full of explanatory notes in the Roman Catholic sense, gradually weaned me away from the unscriptural ways of that church, and when I was in my twenty-second year I withdrew from membership therein. In my twenty-fourth year I became a member of the Episcopal Church in Detroit, Michigan, and was immediately admitted a candidate for Holy Orders.

Nov. 8, the date of his consecration as bishop, is an alternate date for this Commemoration.


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