Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Honoring Bishop Whipple’s “unfailing love & hope for humanity” on a mural in Faribault June 29, 2020

The Central Park Bandshell mural on the left honors Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple. The one to the right features the Faribault Pet Parade and was placed there several years ago.

 

THE RECENT INSTALLATION of an historic-themed mural on the west side of the Central Park Bandshell in Faribault prompted me to look more closely at the man featured thereon—Bishop Henry Whipple.

 

The middle mural panel features a portrait of Bishop Whipple and a summary of information about him.

 

Just across the street from Central Park, the stunning Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour.

 

The historic marker posted on the Cathedral bell tower.

 

He is a prominent figure in the history of my community and the history of Minnesota. Explore Faribault, and you will find Whipple’s name on numerous plaques, including across the street from the park at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour, the cathedral he helped build as Minnesota’s first Episcopal bishop. He’s buried in a crypt beneath the chancel there. The bell tower was dedicated in his honor by his second wife, Evangeline, as “a monument of love and Christian unity.”

 

Posted outside the front door of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

On the east side of town, Whipple’s name graces an historical marker at The Chapel of the Good Shepherd on the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. He helped found the school, separately first as Shattuck School for boys and St. Mary’s Hall for girls, along with St. James and Seabury Divinity schools, all in Faribault.

 

The soaring tower landmarks the Cathedral. Ralph Adams Cram, architect of St. John the Divine in New York City, designed the Cathedral tower. The tower was added as a memorial to Whipple after his death in 1901.

 

The inscription, in stone, on the bell tower.

 

An historic marker on the Cathedral grounds.

 

As admirable as Whipple’s role in founding educational institutions, it is another facet of this man—his humanitarian efforts—which are often cited in history. The inscription on the Cathedral bell tower states that Whipple’s “unfailing love and hope for humanity have made his life an inspiration far and near.”

 

This panel depicts the relationship between Native peoples and Bishop Whipple.

 

Bishop Whipple’s portrait, up close.

 

Details on a sign outside the Cathedral reference Whipple as “Straight Tongue.”

 

What, exactly, does that mean? To understand, one must consider the time period in which Whipple arrived in Minnesota, just years before the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. He was a missionary and, as such, worked to educate and convert the Native peoples to Christianity and agrarian ways. (Not necessarily the adaptive approach one would take today toward other cultures, but the mindset then.) In his work, Whipple observed poverty among the Dakota and Ojibwe and mistreatment by the government and began to advocate for their rights. The Native peoples called the bishop “Straight Tongue.” That title speaks to their trust and respect for him.

 

The mural, in full, including the right panel recognizing Whipple and his first wife, Cornelia, and his second wife, Evangeline.

 

Whipple was among the few leaders who publicly pressed for sparing the lives of 303 Dakota warriors sentenced to death following the war. President Abraham Lincoln spared or pardoned most, but 38 were still hung during a mass execution in Mankato.

Whipple’s strong public stances on behalf of Native peoples were not necessarily widely-embraced. Rice County Historical Society Executive Director Susan Garwood shared at a presentation I attended several years ago that several assassination attempts were made on the bishop’s life. Following the U.S.-Dakota War, about 80 Native people, under Whipple’s protection, moved to Faribault. Some helped build the Cathedral, a construction process which took from 1862-1869. Additionally, several Dakota and African Americans attended Seabury Divinity School, Garwood noted. That, too, caused concern.

 

The Whipples.

 

But through it all, from the information I’ve read, Whipple remained steadfast, unwavering in his compassion toward Native peoples, advocating for them, loving humanity.

 

FYI: The Mural Society of Faribault actively promotes Faribault history through public murals posted throughout the downtown area, this one the latest. Dave Correll of Brushwork Signs crafted, painted and installed the Whipple mural with help from his team.

For more information about Bishop Whipple, click here to reach MNOpedia.

Or read this post I wrote about a Rice County Historical Society event in 2018. The RCHS features a museum exhibit on Bishop Whipple.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

13 Responses to “Honoring Bishop Whipple’s “unfailing love & hope for humanity” on a mural in Faribault”

  1. Almost Iowa Says:

    several assassination attempts were made on the bishop’s life.

    I wish we had leaders with that kind of courage today.

  2. Very interesting and what beautiful buildings. Thanks for sharing!

  3. That is really an interesting story about a man who had some vision and a lot of courage during difficult times. The building is really striking, isn’t it?

  4. Sandra Van Erp Says:

    Yes, I agree. When I look at Shattuck, even Johnston Hall, I get the same thought. Those stone masons of the era knew what they were doing. This is wonderful educational coverage, just what the Mural Society had in mind. MHS did an exhibit on the War of 1862 a few years ago, I made a point of r-e-a-l-l-y reading to understand the Bishop’s role in saving lives and just the War conclusively. Imagine, it all happened on the real estate we call home. I hope destroying public property during this latest unrest doesn’t come to Faribault. I’m “uncomfortable” about some things, no one asked my opinion about removing them. History, with all its good and bad, can’t be erased. Changing symbolism doesn’t make life better. What a strange, somewhat scary time, we’re in.

    • I grew up in the epicenter of the US-Dakota War of 1862 (Redwood County), thus have always known a lot about the war. However, I was unaware of Bishop Whipple’s role until moving to Faribault. I love how much Faribault residents appreciate, value and share history through public art and preservation of historic buildings.

  5. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    Sounds like quite the advocate for the Native Americans, I love reading about these important people in our Minnesota History.


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