Father John Caskey
going and memberships seem to be in direct proportion to how scared and overwhelmed
War II ended and the Boys returned home, heroes every one of them, hoards
of people thought their prayers had been answered, even whether or not the answer
for them had been “yes” or “no”.
Many thought it was time to become less
serious about life, have fun and resume family life. And with that came the predicted
decline in church membership and attendance.
There was a blip of resumption
when the Korean War began in the middle of 1950, but that conflict never reached
the magnitude of World War II,
and by July of 1953 it was over. Ike was president. Everyone thought he’d protect
us. No need to pray about that.
Galveston’s Trinity Episcopal Church had
been under the leadership of its rector, Edmond H. Gibson since 1928, by then,
and not only were Trinity church goers somewhat lethargic, but honestly it didn’t
seem as though there was much rah-rah going on in any of the Galveston
Photo courtesy St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church, Lufkin, Texas
Caskey was the 25-year old son of a Wichita
Falls doctor and his wife. By the time he was 16, he was on his way to becoming
the youngest person who had, thus far, ever enrolled at the University of Texas
Medical Branch. He was going to be a physician. |
But in advance of that,
as a student at Baylor University, he began ministering to students, figuring
out ways to get them involved in the activities of the Episcopal Church. All the
while, he was working as a radio announcer and as a lab instructor for the school’s
By 1951, he had abandoned the plans to be a physician,
and had moved to Philadelphia to get his Theological degree. He hit Galveston
running and was ordained to the priesthood. He was 25-years old.
War I Victory Parade passing the Trinity Episcopal Church in 1918 - Photo
courtesy Bill Cherry|
plan was to minister to residents of the island through their children, with every
hope and expectation of converting large numbers to the Episcopal denomination,
and to get those who were too hard headed to follow his leadership, to become
seriously active in their own churches.
Children loved him, the young
priest with the deep voice, friendly smile, and who could easily call each of
them by name. He found many ways to involve them, ways that made them want to
learn to love their church. They certainly loved him.
He dreamed up Teen
Town, and it was big. Every Saturday he had sock hops for the Galveston
kids, regardless of denomination, in the big Eaton Fellowship Hall. Hundreds came.
Other mainline churches saw their own teenagers gravitating toward Trinity and
John Caskey, so they were forced to try to match his activities and influence.
He insisted that Trinity begin an elementary school, so in 1952 Trinity
Episcopal School was born.
Parents followed their children who were following
Trinity’s Pied Piper. Membership grew, attendance increased. Those from other
Christian denominations joined, and a surprising number of Jews chose to follow
Caskey as well. And most stayed.
In 1955, he left Trinity to become the
third rector of St. Cyprian’s Parish in Lufkin,
but that acceptance came with a caveat. They had to agree to build a school.
He went to the Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas
to learn how to teach children with a little known disability called dyslexia.
St. Cyprian’s Episcopal School became renowned for its special programs.
living in Galveston
today know John Caskey as the executive director of the William Temple Foundation
and vicar of St. Luke’s the Physician, the position he held from January 1, 1978
and continued to influence until he passed away in 1997 at age 70.
it was the first four years of his priesthood that did the most to influence the
direction Galveston churches
would follow. For me, that’s arguably his Island legacy.
in mainline denominations have been declining again, except for temporary blips
caused by overwhelming tragedies like 9-11. And I worry about Trinity Episcopal
Church, racked with extensive damage from Ike, and having a hard time recovering.
I’ve even expressed my concerns to the presiding bishop. But in my heart I keep
saying, “Where’s Fr. Caskey?”
It seems a shame that Fr. John Francis Caskey
didn’t leave behind a written primer of how to build and retain church membership
and loyalty. Those of us who were “his children” when he was the young associate
rector of Trinity are a great deal of what we are because of him. Our parents
and friends are, too.
Cherry's Galveston Memories
March 21, 2010 column
Copyright William S. Cherry. All rights reserved
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