Stories from the First Cathedral  - Faribault, MN 

The Rev Canon James C Zotalis

September 15th, 2020

The Whipple Children

Bishop Henry Whipple and his wife Cornelia were parents to six children. They were Sarah Elizabeth (Lizzy) (1843-1910), Cornelia Ward (1845-1884), Jane Whiting (Jennie) (1847-1932), Charles Henry (1849-1932), Francis Ranson (Fannie) (1853-1940) and John Hall (1857 - 1878). 

Their daughter Cornelia married William Davis on his deathbed in 1866. In 1875 she married Dr  Francis Rose of Faribault and died in childbirth. The Whipple's youngest son, John, wanted to leave home and find his own way. He was tragically murdered in Louisville, KY. Bishop Henry and Cornelia grieved at the death of these two children during their lifetime.

Bishop Whipple's dear wife Cornelia died in 1890 from injuries caused by a train wreck while traveling home from Florida. When Cornelia died, Bishop Whipple was in shock. His children spent much time with him and even traveled with him to Europe to give him a distraction from the death of Cornelia. They had been married 48 years.

Sarah, their eldest child, moved to Philadelphia and married Charles Farnam in 1864. They had one son Arthur who became an Episcopal priest. Jane married Henry Scandrett in 1872.They moved to Faribault where he was in real estate, insurance, and was a judge of probate for 2 terms. Their 2 sons became well-known railroad executives. Jane is buried at Maple Lawn Cemetery in Faribault, MN near her mother Cornelia. Charles became a Brigadier General and Paymaster General. He saw military action in Montana, the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico. He settled in Los Angeles, CA. He married Evelyn McLean and they had 2 sons. Francis married Frank Craw in 1873 and Freedom Ware Jackson in 1891. One husband was a wealthy merchant from Cleveland and the other was an executive with Standard Oil. Francis was the last living Whipple child.

From reading about Cornelia and Henry it seems that they were good parents who let their children find their own destiny, but still loved them and cared for them dearly.


September 8th, 2020


"On October 5, 1842 Henry Whipple married Cornelia Wright, daughter of Benjamin Wright, a prominent local lawyer and surrogate judge. Cornelia Wright possessed a serene competence that endeared her to all whose lives she touched. Known as Nell to her friends and family, she was intelligent and practical, with a great amiability. These were admirable qualities for a merchant's wife: for a clergy man's wife, they would be invaluable." ("And the Wilderness Shall Blossom" by Anne Beiser Allen)

Nell was responsible for lighting a spark in Henry Whipple who was seeking a relationship with his saviour Jesus Christ. Cornelia was a remarkable woman and a perfect companion for Bishop Whipple in the journey of life during the 19th century.

Henry and Cornelia were parents to six children, four girls and two boys. The Whipples were solid in their relationship and were married 48 years. Cornelia died in 1890 as a result of a train accident injury which she received on her way home from Florida. Both Henry and Cornelia were fragile physically. Their physicians suggested they spend time in a warm climate to preserve their health. Despite their fragility, Henry managed a large geographical diocese, campaigns to the East for fundraising and advocating for the native population in Minnesota. Cornelia cared for her beloved children, created St Mary's girls school and supported her husband the bishop. Cornelia and Henry were truly a couple who gave their life in servanthood and lived in obedience to the wishes of Christ their Lord! The next story will be about the six Whipple children and their challenging lives.


August 25th, 2020

What Makes the Bishop Gilbert Hall in the Guild House of the First Cathedral so Spectacular? 

I want to continue the story about the Bishop Gilbert Hall. It was an addition to the original Guild House structure. The hall was furnished with children in mind and focusing on their education using stories from the Bible and rich 19th century Christian Legends.

When I give tours of the Cathedral I usually end by entering Gilbert Hall. I love to see people's faces as they view very unusual images frozen from their creation in 1905. Here is a summary of images that can be viewed today in this spectacular room, which measures 20 by 40 feet: 

1) A reproduction of Della Robia's reliefs of singing and dancing children. The reliefs are all white and larger than life size.

2) Other large white relief casts of Madonna, David holding the head of Goliath and St George and the dragon.

3) A mural on wood panels that surround the room represent the legend of the Quest of the Holy Grail. This mural was taken from Sir Edwin Abbey's frieze  "The Quest and Achievement of the Holy Grail" found in the Boston Library.

Items that once resided in the room but are no longer there are:

1) A collection of shells, rocks and pictures of the Holy Land. 

2) 50 little oak chairs for Sunday School students. There are one or two left.

3) A large sandbox used for telling bible stories. 

People often ask me why these 1905 items are important. Remember in 1905, children depended on their teacher's ingenuity and their own imagination to learn the Bible stories and legends.  Movie Theaters were just beginning to be built, telephones were new and not in very many homes, there were no computers, radios, television, or any other technology, but there was the purest form of communication - ART!

More about art in the First Cathedral to come!

August 18th, 2020

When I became Dean of the Cathedral in 2001, I was told I could have my office in the Guild House. I loved that idea because the Guild House seemed like a large comfortable home. The undercroft of this building had been the home of the Horstman Memorial Nursery School which had been in business since 1965. The school was closed down before I was hired as the Dean. The main level housed my office, the secretary's office, the Great Hall, the stage of the Great Hall and the kitchen and dining room. The upper level was a Sunday School room and Archive room. The stage of the Great Hall has a beautiful stained glass window of the resurrection. The window was a backdrop behind the old wooden altar. The altar was originally in the Cathedral apse before the stone altar took its place.


The Guild house (all but the kitchen and dining room) stood by itself for about 10 years and was finished in 1894 at the cost of $10,000 dollars. Ground was broken for the Gilbert Hall addition in 1903. The hall was a special room for children and housed a much needed kitchen. I will describe the special features of Gilbert Hall in future stories.


Most people don't know that Bishop Whipple had an assistant. The Rt. Rev. Mahlon Norris Gilbert was Assistant bishop from 1886 to 1900. He died in St Paul, a man loved by many and especially his family, who generated the money for the addition to the Guild House called Gilbert Hall.

August 11th, 2020

The Guild House of the First Cathedral

"Liturgy, in its literal sense, means "the work of the People."  Normally the word is used only in connection with public worship - and this may indeed be the highest form of human worship, yet the work of the people of God includes more than prayer and praise and preaching. The Guild House, like parish houses in general, grew out of at least two developments in the late 19th century; a larger awareness of the social implications of religion and the increasing role of the laity. Neither was an altogether new idea. In the late 1880's "organized work" burgeoned in the Parish requiring space and facilities for a variety of groups. Women took the lead in most of these activities." ( "The First Cathedral" book by the Venerable Ben Scott and Robert Neslund - 1987)

The Guild House on the grounds of the Cathedral city block opened in 1894. The Cathedral shared the block with the Guild House but there was a large separation between the two buildings. I believe in the 19th century this separation existed for a purpose. The Cathedral was a Gothic structure, which reflected prestige and grandeur. The Guild House was a Romanesque style of architecture reflecting the "arts and crafts"  type houses built in America during this time period. The Cathedral building was used for worship and liturgy. On Sundays the "People from the hill" congregated in the nave to gather and celebrate with the beautiful music created by the grand organ. Faculty from Shattuck MilitarySchool, St Mary's Girls School, St James School for middle school boys, Seabury Divinity School students and staff formed along with the common people, the congregants of the Cathedral. The common people centered their ministry at the Guild House. Many fun and festive community events happened at the Guild House. The Great Hall was at one time the largest public space for events in Faribault. 

The Guild House and the Cathedral lived out changes and evolutions of church life in the city of Faribault, MN, which was once called" "The Athens of the West". More to come on the buildings that housed the people of God in Southern Minnesota.


August 4th, 2020

The Mystery of the Cornerstone

"On July 16, 1862, I laid the corner-stone of the Bishop's Church in Faribault. At the suggestion of my beloved brother, the Rt Rev A.C. Coxe, I named it "The Cathedral Church of Our Merciful Saviour."  It was my hope that  we might build up schools around the Cathedral, making it a common centre.I felt our first building should be a House of Prayer in honor of the Triune God." (From "Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate" by Rt Rev Henry B Whipple) 

The cornerstone's location is a mystery. if you visit the First Cathedral the cornerstone is not visible. No one knows where it is. One of the theories of its disappearance is that it was covered up by the addition built on the Cathedral in the 1930's. The addition was important because it was a remodeling of the crypt which housed Bishop Whipple's sarcophagus. Also in the addition was the St Elizabeth Chapel, which was once in Bishop Whipple's house across the street from the Cathedral. The house was torn down about the same time as the construction of the addition. 

Other additions to the original Cathedral were the following. 1) The memorial bell tower added to the north side of the Cathedral promoted and built by Evangeline Whipple in the early 1900s before she left for Europe. 2) In 2005, the Cathedral Cloister was added to connect the Romanesque Guild House built in 1884 to the Cathedral building.The cloister is a combination of Gothic and Romanesque architecture, which creates a beautiful open room with large windows and is very inviting to host gatherings for about 75 people.

In future stories of the First Cathedral, I will describe the history and functions of the bell towers, the St Elizabeth Chapel, the Cloister and the Guild House.

July 28th, 2020

Early Years of Bishop Whipple's Ministry in Faribault

"The Bishop's first service in Faribault, MN was on February 19, 1860 in the "rude chapel" of the Parish of the Good Shepherd. During the visit a committee of 40 citizens met with him to make Faribault his home. They pledged $1,168 and several lots of land as a site. Alexander Faribault, a Roman Catholic part-Indian offered 5 additional acres. Early in May of 1860, the Whipples established their household in Faribault." (Information taken from "The First Cathedral" book written by Robert Neslund and the Venerable Benjamin Ives Scott.)

After one year and a year away from laying the cornerstone of the First Cathedral, the Bishop set out across the large geographical area of Minnesota! Whipple reported that his missionary stations had doubled in one year. Also in one year he traveled over 3,000 miles holding services in taverns, school houses and outside areas. He did the basics of preaching, baptizing, confirming and celebrating the Eucharist.

As the Bishop, with his trusty companion Bashaw (the large black horse), traveled around MInnesota, he sensed the underlying conflicts between native people and white settlers. The Dakota and  Anishinaabe  where living with broken promises from treaties, which had promised retribution for lands vacated by the native people. The year 1860 was only 2 years from the Dakota conflict when blood was spilled by both native and white lives in Southwestern Minnesota. The war began in August of 1862 at the same time that construction started on the First Cathedral in Faribault. 

In future stories, I will share Bishop Whipple's role in the conflict and how he earned his name from the native people, who called him "Straight Tongue".


July 21, 2020

Church of the Good Shepherd

As I promised, I will end the Bashaw story from Bishop Whipple's words found in his autobiography: "Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate."

"Bashaw was one cousin to the celebrated Patchin. He was a kingly fellow and had every sign of noble birth, --a slim, delicate head, prominent eyes, small, active ears, large nostrils, full chest, thin gambrels, heavy cords, neat fetlocks, and was black as a coal. He was my friend and companion for over fifty thousand miles, always full of spirit and gentle as a girl. The only time I ever touched him with a whip was on the brink of a precipice where the path was a sheet of glare ice and as the wagon began to slide I saved us both by a lash, but the blow hurt me more than it did Bashaw. He saved my life when lost on the prairies many times. In summer heat and winter storm he kept every appointment often by heroic effort."

When Bishop Whipple was making his trips around the state, there was a church building that served Faribault, MN called the Church of the Good Shepherd. The church was built and raised up by pre-Whipple clergy such as James Lloyd Breck, Timothy Wilcoxen, Solon Manney, David Sanford and George Dubois. The Church of the Good Shepherd was a 21 by 50 ft building, constructed a few blocks West of the First Cathedral (A picture of the structure is in "The First Cathedral " book page 22 and was written by the Venerable Benjamin Scott and Mr Robert Neslund.) As Bishop Whipple cared for his flock with the help of Bashaw, people worshipped at the Church of the Good Shepherd while the First Cathedral was being built from 1862-1869. When I was Dean of the First Cathedral we always started our Annual Meeting by opening with the Church of the Good Shepherd, closing that meeting and then beginning the meeting for the First Cathedral!

July 14, 2020

A Bashaw Story

Last time I ended with the promise to share a story about Bishop Whipple's famous horse Bashaw. This story is told by Bishop Whipple in his autobiography "Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate" 1899.

"A starless night came on and with the howling wind sweeping the snow first into almost impassable drifts and then leveling them to the bare ground, I had to confess myself lost.

Until one has encountered a western blizzard the word has little meaning. The Indians have always paid me their highest compliment when they have declared that I could follow a trail and find the points of the compass as well as any Indian.

I now kept my horses headed in the direction which I thought to be that of the Agency. I said my prayers, threw the reins over the dash-board, let the horses walk as they would, and curling myself up under the buffaloes, hoped I might weather the night.

Suddenly Bahsaw stopped. I was confident that the wise fellow had struck a landmark, for he knew as well as I did that we were lost. I jumped from the sleigh and could just distinguish in the darkness something under the snow that looked like a huge snake. It proved to be an Indian trail. The Indians always walked single file to avoid an ambush, and in the loam of the prairie these trails are several inches deep. Bashaw followed it, and when his mate was inclined to turn out he put his teeth into his neck and forced him into the path.

Mr Hinman was so sure that I had started that he had kept a light in the window of the Agency, and when Bashaw saw it he leaped like a hound from his kennel. When we reached the mission and Bashaw, comfortably stalled, turned his great eyes upon me, his whinny said as plainly as words,"We are all right now, master."" 

This is my favorite Bahaw story because it shows Bishop Whipple's relationship with his beloved horse, companion and friend. More on Bashaw next week.

July 7, 2020

Special Gift for Bishop Whipple

Two years before the construction of the First Cathedral in 1860, Bishop Whipple received a very special gift from his father-in-law, Mr Wright of Waterloo, NY. The gift was a beautiful black horse, who was 8 years old and named Bashaw. Bashaw was a second cousin of the celebrated horse George M Patchen (Dan Patch). Bashaw was widely known throughout the state of MN having carried Bishop Whipple over 50,000 miles over prairies and wilderness in the course of his pastoral calls. Bishop Whipple would take a carriage pulled by two horses. Bashaw had 6  partners in the course of his career for the Bishop. The carriage used by Bishop Whipple is a treasure of Blue Earth County Museum in Mankato, MN. Bashaw loved Bishop Whipple and Bishop Whipple loved Bashaw. Basha';s sensitivity, intellect and faithfullness were qualities which saved the Bishop's life several times. Next week I will tell such a story from Bishop Whipple's autobiography called "The Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate".

June 30, 2020

Whose idea was it to build the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour? Let's turn to the book the "First Cathedral", which I mentioned in my article last week, for the answer to this question.

"On April 18, 1862, Mrs Breck died. Though Whipple does not explain exactly why, this was the specific occasion for his decision to build the Cathedral. In his funeral sermon for Mrs. Breck, he refers to this idea and quotes the verse, "Work while the day lasts, for the night cometh in which no man can work." Both the funeral sermon and his address at the laying of the cornerstone would be printed and circulated widely. On Easter Day, the congregation of the Good Shepherd contributed over $600 to the cause, and eventually Dr Breck would raise over $11,000 for the building fund. As the Bishop said, "It was while my heart was sad for my brother's [Breck's] loss...that the thought came to build the [Cathedral] even in troublesome times. I believe God put that thought there...and it grew to be a plan..."

July 16, 1862, must have been a poignant day for Dr Breck. Bishop Whipple laid the cornerstone of the Bishop's Church, but as he himself said, "This world did not take much notice." Even the Central Republican thought it was nothing more than the Coxe of Western New York -- "The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour." The building was designed in a rather plain Gothic style, apparently by Renwick & Co. of New York City. Stephen Congdon was the chief supervising architect, and Robert C Wiley of St Paul was the local supervising architect. C.N. Daniels of Faribault was the supervisor of the exterior stone work. The stone for the Cathedral was native blue limestone from Milan Ponds' Fall Creek quarry east of Faribault. Edward Goodman, the chief stonecutter, had recently come to Faribault from Yarmouth, England."

We need to give credit to the strong and faithful women, who gave leadership and support to their husbands in the early history of the Episcopal Church of Minnesota. Marie Breck and Cornelia Whipple were the wives that sparked the evangelical zeal in their husbands! If Marie Breck had lived longer she most likely would have done many important tasks to help her husband James Lloyd Beck. Cornelia Whipple was probably responsible for Henry B whipple coming to Christianity and pushed him to study for the priesthood. Cornelia died in 1890. Before her death she created St Mary's School for young women and many more monumental ministries in Faribault, MN. St Mary's is still in operation on the Shattuck-St Mary's campus. One can take a tour of the Maple Lawn Cemetery in Faribault, MN and view Cornelia's grave which reads: "She did what she could."

Cornelia did what she could and made many more contributions to the beginning of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. Dr Breck and Bishop Whipple were very blessed to have wives who were true saints!


June 20, 2020

Starting next week, I will be submitting a weekly story about the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour for the ECMN news. I have gotten permission from the ECMN office and the Chapter of the Cathedral to share these weekly stories about the place, the people and the events from the past and present. The Cathedral is truly a treasure of the ECMN.

Let me take a minute to introduce myself to those who don't know me. I am the priest-in-charge at St Peter's Episcopal Church in Kasson. I am also the archivist at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour where I was the Dean from 2001 - 2013. My ordination to the priesthood by Bishop Anderson took place at this cathedral in 1988. The Cathedral is a significant place for me because my children were married there, my grandchildren were baptised there and my wife Paula's funeral was held there in 2012.

And now a little background on the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour. It was our First Bishop Henry B Whipple who had the idea to start the building of the Cathedral in 1862 and it was finished in 1869. This is the first church built as a Cathedral of any denomination in the United States. A book titled "The First Cathedral" was written in 1987 and revised in 2003 by the Venerable Ben Scott and Robert Neslund. A copy of the revision was sent to every faith community in Minnesota. Check your library for a copy of " The First Cathedral".

I believe it is time to share stories and history about this treasure called The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour as we begin a new Episcopate with Bishop Craig Loya. Hopefully you will find my weekly stories enjoyable and informative.