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Father Stephen Grimaldi, OHC



The front page of yesterday’s local newspaper carried an above-the-fold (i.e. “this is goddam important, so listen up!”) story about a cleric—I like that word, for the time being; it crosses both party and gender lines—who happens to have burned out. That occurs more often than we suspect. But many of us who’ve been in the same saddle for twenty years or more, teachers included, have hit that same wall. Perhaps it takes a larger toll at one end of the salary spectrum.

During the research for my long-term study of Episcopal church architecture in Dakota Territory—the ten years or so prior to statehood in 1889—one thing crept slowly between the lines of accumulating research material: “burn out” took a high toll among Episcopal clergy. Father B.F. Cooley, for example, who served Christ Church parish in Fargo during 1881-1885 burned out several times and was hospitalized for his labors in the Fields of the Lord. I even managed to wangle a copy of his patient file at the Institute for Living, a private mental hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, where he was treated in the 1890s.

Valley City had its own share of parochial woes. Herbert Root—a cleric-turned-banker largely because he disagreed with implementation of the “parish system” where the resident priest transferred administrative responsibility to a vestry of lay people—made the lives of several priests called there a living Hell. Root, it seems, gave the land that All Saints was built upon, which enabled him to write into the deed a provision that he and he alone held control of parish life. Root and his hired malefactors harassed the feckless priests to such an extent that most left after only a few months and one of them endured a sanity hearing demanded by the county court.

Reverend John Keble Karcher’s is another story told here before, in brief. It is one thing for a cleric to be itinerant in their parish assignments; quite another in their denominational affiliation. Ordained into the Lutheran or Reformed tradition only to become a Unitarian, then an Episcopalian, then a defector to Rome, and ultimately an Episcopalian once again, the spiritual home where he remained until his death in 1901. At some point I tried to locate information—statistics, even—about the mental health of clergy. I’m laughing out loud as I write this, because what sect or denomination is about to reveal such information about the men (and women) put in charge of the spiritual care of its members? Fat chance.

All of which brings me (you knew it would) to the story of Father Stephen Grimaldi, OHC, rector at St. Joseph-the-Carpenter some time during the first decade of the 20th century. Howard’s great-grandmother Martha Tennant would have known him. Indeed she and her husband would have played a role in his calling and the support he ought to have enjoyed during his rectorate. Seems time for me to sit down and outline the parish history. I’ve designed its buildings and described their spiritual comfort in some detail. Looking back (while the soundtrack of “Shawshank Redemption” plays in the background as I type), St Joe’s is as much a part of my spiritual point of view as anything else — perhaps more so..

I wonder even if Father Grimaldi might encompass the better qualities of clerics in my acquaintance. Perhaps he’ll become a Ghost of Christmas Past.

Incidentally, that’s him in the postcard above, standing beside the rear service door of Kemper Hall, former chapel at the old Kemper Academy which now serves the social requirements of St. Joe’s. Where would I be without eBay!

PS: At dinner Sunday night I found out about the minister suffering from burn-out. He’d been with a north Fargo congregation and took them out of the ELCA because of its denominational liberalism. Guess I won’t be going to hear his sermons at Scheel’s. But for that matter I refuse to shop at Scheel’s on principle.


  1. […] 1910s—Father Stephen Grimaldi, OHC, served as rector. It was he who painted the elaborate interior color scheme and suggested a chapel addition. […]

  2. […] easily have made a pit stop in Iowa on his return to the East—and a couple of invented priests: Fr Stephen Grimaldi, OHC, and Fr Chilton Fanning Dowd, rector during the 1920s and 1930s. My gravitation toward […]

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