St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church was formed the same year that President Andrew Jackson converted the Territory of Michigan into the State of Michigan, 1837. That was only eight years after Titus Bronson first set foot in the area that was to become Kalamazoo.

Early Members

Among the more notable early fathers of the church were: Charles E. Stuart, a lawyer who later became a United States Senator and for whom Stuart Avenue was named; “General” Justus Burdick, who founded Kalamazoo’s first hotel, the Kalamazoo House; and Epaphroditus Ransom, who practiced law with fellow churchman, Charles E. Stuart, and went on to become associate justice of the state supreme court, then chief justice and, in 1848, to be elected Governor of the State of Michigan.

First Building

The first St. Luke’s church, a little wooden building erected on  Park Street just south of Michigan Avenue, was dedicated on 13 September 1837. It was a frame building, one story high, and rested on wooden posts. Apparently livestock still had free run of the village as there were several stories of “the gentle face of a cow” looking in on the congregation during services.

Creation of St. John’s Episcopal Church

St. John
Left: St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lovell Street, c1861-1884 Right: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, corner Main and Park Streets, c1848-1885 Left: Kalamazoo Public Library Photograph P-230 Right: Kalamazoo Public Library Photograph P-827

In 1859 the congregation split, and St. John’s Episcopal Church was established. The new congregation met in Firemen’s Hall for worship until its brick church arose on Lovell Street at the head of Church Street.

Challenge of Finding Rectors

Early rectors of St. Luke’s were hard to come by in the beginning. Two factors explain this. First of all, the small salary that the church could offer wasn’t sufficient for the rector to eke out a living. Secondly, the malaria epidemic of 1838 affected so many residents that there were few to take care of the ill or to properly bury them. People in southern Michigan died in astounding numbers from the disease.

A Second Church for St. Luke’s

In 1848 St. Luke’s erected a new brick building on the southeast corner of Michigan (then Main) and Park Streets. It  was designed by New York architect Richard Upjohn. While the new church was being built, the congregation held services in the courthouse. Shortly after it was completed, sidewalks  made their first appearance in Kalamazoo. With a gift from Mr. Alexander J. Sheldon, plank walks were installed in front of the church.

The Two Congregations Unite

St. Luke
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, interior, c1890 Kalamazoo Public Library Photograph P-261

An attempt was made to reunite St. Luke’s and St. John’s churches in 1872. The proposal was tendered by St. Luke’s, but rejected by St. John’s. In 1884, another attempt was made. This time, St. John’s made the initial step for reunification. St. Luke’s accepted, with the proviso that the new church be erected on the site that St. John’s occupied on Lovell Street.

The new building, the fourth Episcopal church building to be built in Kalamazoo, was designed by architect Gordon W. Lloyd of Detroit. It remains essentially the same today, in spite of many renovations, English Gothic in form and  cruciform in shape. Money to build the first parish house was given to St. Luke’s by Dr. and Mrs. Edwin  Van Duesen, the same philanthropists who erected the Kalamazoo Public Library.

New Congregations

St. Luke’s always reached out to the community with new mission services. Chapel services on a monthly basis were established for Episcopalian patients at the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital. A ministry to deaf-mutes was known as St. Simon’s. St. Timothy’s, Gull Lake, Richland was begun as a parochial mission in 1956.  In 1959 land was purchased for an Episcopal chapel to serve the students of Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University. This became known as Canterbury Center.  In 1960, a survey of the Portage area created St. Barnabas’ mission. Several years later St. Martin of Tours was founded in the Westwood area on the corner of Grand Prairie and Nichols Road. Fifty-five families from St. Luke’s were transferred to this church.

Women’s Christmas Program, Parish House, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Kalamazoo, c1890 Kalamazoo Valley Museum Photograph 59.142

Community Outreach

St. Luke’s became the umbrella organization for many non-profit community groups. The church was especially involved with Hospice from its beginnings. It also founded Gryphon Place, a crisis center for people with drug and alcohol problems. Autos House was a home for runaways and youngsters who had problems living with their families.

A popular service for the community was created with the establishment of St. Luke’s Thrift Shop, which is now located on Burdick Street, just south of the State Theatre. It was founded  to serve people in the community who had little to spend on clothing and other necessities, and to make a steady financial contribution to the church.

St. Luke’s Boys Choir

Mention must also be made of the legendary St. Luke’s Boys Choir. The choir celebrated its 100th anniversary year in 1984. By that time, current members and some 600 living alumni had sung stately hymns and anthems in the choir. The choir formed when St. Luke’s and St. John’s merged in 1884, but it wasn’t formally introduced until 1885. A small stipend for each rehearsal and performance helped pull children in off the streets, especially during the Depression years. The boys were subjected to intense rehearsals twice a week and again on Sunday mornings before a service. James R. Powell, Jr., the choir historian, was quoted as saying ‘What they do is something very complex. They all have to sing on the correct pitch, with clear words, pure vowels. They can’t do this with mamby-pamby type singing.”

Highlights of the choir’s history include a 1934 appearance at the Century of Progress for the Swift Company exhibition in Chicago, and concerts at the Washington National Cathedral in 1952 and again in 1968. Among the more notable former members of the choir was Thomas Schippers, who conducted the New York Metropolitan Opera, the Cincinnati Symphony, and the RAI Orchestra in Rome, Italy.

A Kalamazoo First

Approval to admit women to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church came at the September 1976 General Convention in Minneapolis. St. Luke’s soon joined this forward-looking movement with the ordination to the deaconate of their own candidate, Margaret Duncan Holt, daughter of the Rev. Canon James C. Holt, in June of 1977. She became the first woman to be ordained to Holy Orders in the Diocese of Western Michigan. Her subsequent ordination to the priesthood took place in St. Luke’s, Worchester, Massachusetts.


“Alleluia: St. Luke’s Boys Choir Marks 100 Years…”

  • Kalamazoo Gazette, 11 March 1984, page C1, col. 1

“Choristers Mark Half-Century”

  • Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 May 1971, page C12, col. 1

History of Kalamazoo County Michigan….

  • Durant, Samuel
  • Originally published in 1880 by Everts & Abbott.  Reprinted in 1976 by Unigraphic.
  • H 977.417 H67u

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 1837-1987

  • Copy in History Room Subject File: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church


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