Born in Philadelphia in 1818, James Lloyd Breck, was greatly influenced by the pastoral devotion, liturgical care, and sacramental emphasis of William Augustus Muhlenberg, an Episcopal priest of German Lutheran extraction who, as a young clergyman, became deeply involved in the Sunday School movement. Breck attended Muhlenberg’s Flushing Institute for boys in Flushing, New York, before entering the University of Pennsylvania. He went on to theological studies at the General Theological Seminary in New York City. At sixteen, Breck was inspired by Muhlenberg to dedicate himself to a missionary life. The dedication crystallized when Breck, with three other seminary classmates, founded a religious community at Nashotah, Wisconsin, which at its founding in 1844 was on the western frontier of the United States.
Nashotah became a center of liturgical observance, pastoral care, and education. The Nashotah brethren visited isolated families and established mission stations. For the first time in the United States since the Revolution, Anglican missionaries were the first to reach settlers on the frontier. Though Nashotah House flourished and became one of the seminaries of the Protestant Episcopal Church, the religious house ideal did not. Breck moved to St Paul, Minnesota, where he began the work of the Episcopal Church. At Gull Lake, he organized St Columba’s Mission for the Chippewa. The mission laid the foundation for work among the Native Indians by priests chosen from their own people, although the mission itself did not survive.
In 1855, Breck married, and in 1858 he settled in Faribault, Minnesota, where his mission was associated with one of the first cathedrals established in the Protestant Episcopal Church. He also founded Seabury Divinity School, which merged in 1933 with Western Theological Seminary to become Seabury-Western. In 1867, Breck went on to California, inspired principally by the opportunity of founding a new theological school. His schools at Benicia did not survive, but the five parishes which he founded did, and the Church in California was greatly strengthened through his work.
Breck died on April 2, 1876, and was buried beneath of the altar of the church where he served as rector. He was later reinterred on the grounds of Nashotah House. The importance to the Church of his missionary labors for the Gospel is recognized in the title by which he became known: “The Apostle of the Wilderness”.
adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)
Teach your Church, O Lord, we pray, to value and support pioneering and courageous missionaries, whom you call, as you called your servant James Lloyd Breck, to preach, and teach, and plant your Church on new frontiers; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
James Lloyd Breck is commemorated on this date in the Calendar of the Book of Common Prayer (1979).