The Diocese of Kansas was founded in 1859, but it was five years before we had a bishop. A priest elected in 1860 declined the election, and it was four more years before the fledgling diocese tried again.
Bishop Thomas Hubbard Vail
First Bishop of Kansas, 1864 – 1889
The Rev. Thomas Vail became the first Bishop of Kansas on Dec. 15, 1864, as Misisonary Bishop Jackson Kemper and Iowa Bishop Henry Lee laid hands on him at Trinity Church, Muscatine, Iowa, where he had been rector. Bishop Vail began his episcopacy by traveling to the parishes now under his care. He also frequently visited Episcopal churches and other benefactors in the East to raise funds for struggling churches in Kansas. These gifts also provided ongoing support for the College of the Sisters of Bethany, the Kansas Theological School and Christ Hospital, all in Topeka. He started more than 70 churches across the state, braving hardships and hazardous traveling conditions to share the Episcopal faith with residents of the sparsely-populated pioneer state. Bishop Vail’s many journeys brought on malaria and lung inflammation, and he died on Oct. 6, 1889, in Bryn Mawr, Penn., on his way to General Convention. He had been Bishop of Kansas just shy of 25 years.
Bishop Elisha Smith Thomas
Second Bishop of Kansas, 1889 – 1895
Bishop Elisha Thomas began his ministry in Kansas as bishop coadjutor under Bishop Thomas Vail in 1887. He became the second Bishop of Kansas upon the death of Bishop Vail. While still the coadjutor, Bishop Thomas helped established St. John’s Military School in Salina in 1887. A nationwide financial depression in 1893 resulted in a large number of clergy resignations in the failing economy, and Bishop Thomas struggled to save church property from foreclosure. The state’s fortunes changed for the better in 1894 when businesses organized to develop oil and gas fields. Bishop Thomas suffered from a heart ailment that shortened his episcopacy. On March 9, 1895, he died while visiting St. John’s Military School in Salina. At just five-and-a-half years, his is the shortest episcopacy among the bishops of Kansas.
Bishop Frank Rosebrook Millspaugh
Third Bishop of Kansas, 1895 – 1916
Following the unexpected death in March 1895 of Bishop Elisha Thomas, the Diocese of Kansas in May of that year elected the dean of Grace Cathedral, Frank Millspaugh, as its next bishop. He was consecrated at Diocesan Convention on Sept. 19, 1895. Bishop Millspaugh was nicknamed “The Builder” for the 36 churches and 21 rectories built during his episcopacy, including the construction of Grace Cathedral at its present location near downtown Topeka. At the General Convention of 1901, the Diocese of Kansas was divided in two. The western two-thirds became the “Missionary District of Salina,” now known as the Diocese of Western Kansas. All his hard work took a toll on Bishop Millspaugh’s health. A bishop coadjutor finally was in place in October 1916, but Bishop Millspaugh died less than a month later. He was buried under the high altar of the cathedral he worked so hard to build.
Bishop James Wise
Fourth Bishop of Kansas, 1916 – 1939
Bishop James Wise was serving as rector of a church in St. Louis, Mo., when he was elected the fourth Bishop of Kansas. He was consecrated on Oct. 19, 1916. Bishop Wise’s episcopacy was a time of world wars and economic depression. World War I began in the spring of 1917, and by October 32 parishes and missions were without clergy leadership. That changed after the war ended and thousands of Kansans returned home. Post-war demographic changes also saw a migration from small towns to larger cities, and a number of small churches in the diocese simply dwindled away. Bishop Wise started a diocesanwide “Every Member Canvass” to raise additional funds for mission and ministry. The nationwide recession in the 1920s and 1930s took its toll. The Trustees closed the Kansas Theological Seminary and the College of the Sisters of Bethany, selling a portion of the latter’s land for a new public high school. Christ Hospital remained in debt. Many small churches could’t pay their clergy. With the bishop in declining health, the diocese elected a coadjutor in 1937. Bishop Wise died on July 8, 1939, while on a visit to St. James’, Wichita, a parish founded during his episcopacy.
Bishop Goodrich Robert Fenner
Fifth Bishop of Kansas, 1939 – 1959
Bishop Goodrich Fenner was serving as rector of St. Andrew’s, Kansas City, Mo., when he was elected bishop coadjutor in 1937. He was consecrated in September 1937, 100 years after Bishop Jackson Kemper became the first bishop to set foot in Kansas. Bishop Fenner’s episcopacy encompassed World War II, bountiful crops, tornados, two major floods, and large outputs from the oil and gas fields. Expansion occurred in Johnson County after World War II, with the start of a number of congregations. Chaplaincies at the University of Kansas and at Kansas State University were established, and Bishop Fenner started the Church Extension Fund to aid parishes with low-interest loans for the construction of church buildings. Expanding churches resulted in 1,000 confirmations a year during the 1950s. In 1959, Bishop Fenner retired at the celebration of the diocese’s 100th anniversary and Bishop Coadjutor Edward Turner succeeded him. Bishop Fenner was the first Bishop of Kansas to retire; all his predecessors had died while in office. He returned to his native Texas, where he died of a heart attack in 1966. He is buried under the high altar of Topeka’s Grace Cathedral.
Bishop Edward Clark Turner
Sixth Bishop of Kansas, 1959 – 1981
Bishop Edward Turner was rector of the Church of the Ascension and Holy Trinity in Pueblo, Colo., when he was elected bishop coadjutor in 1956. He served under Bishop Fenner for three years, assuming many of the normal duties of a diocesan bishop. To enhance the administration of the diocese, Bishop Turner oversaw an extensive revision of the constitution and diocesan canons. He also expanded ministry on college campuses. A major initiative to serve children in inner city Kansas City, Kan., started during this time, and was named Turner House in the bishop’s honor. During his tenure 11 new churches were started, but memberships started to decline in the 1960s and 1970s. The see city of Topeka suffered two major blows during this period – a massive tornado that struck the city in June 1966, and an arson fire that destroyed Grace Cathedral in November 1975. It was rebuilt, with an opening just three years later. Preparing for retirement, Bishop Turner called for an election of a new bishop. He ended his episcopacy on the 25th anniversary of his consecration when his successor, Bishop Richard Grein, was consecrated on May 22, 1981. Bishop Turner and his wife, Virginia, retired to Colorado, where he died in 1997.
Bishop Richard Frank Grein
Seventh Bishop of Kansas, 1981 – 1988
Bishop Richard Grein was rector of St. Michael and All Angels, Mission, when he was elected the seventh Bishop of Kansas in February 1981. He was the first person since Frank Millspaugh in 1895 to be elected bishop from within the ranks of Diocese of Kansas clergy. During his episcopacy he created the convocation board structure that still exists. He also organized the Diocesan Council, which oversaw diocesan programs until it later was integrated into the Council of Trustees. He instituted the Gathering of Presbyters to form a more collegial association for the priests of the diocese, and he offered the first annual Chrism Mass. He ordained the first woman in the diocese in 1982 and oversaw a revitalization of the diaconate in Kansas. He also supported the merger or change in location of several churches. Bishop Grein’s episcopacy saw the diocese’s successful participation in the national Venture in Mission fundraising campaign, resulting in the creation of Episcopal Social Services (now Breakthrough/ESS) in Wichita, then located in a building named Venture House. Bishop Grein left the Diocese of Kansas in 1988 to become the 14th Bishop of New York. He retired in 2001.
Bishop William E. Smalley
Eighth Bishop of Kansas, 1989 – 2003
The Diocese of Kansas was without a bishop for a year when William Smalley was elected the eighth bishop of Kansas in 1989. He was rector of a parish in Gaithersburg, Md., in the Diocese of Washington at the time of his election. During his tenure he oversaw the creation of the Kansas School of Ministry, which helped educate a number of deacons and those called to serve as “local priests” in rural congregations, as well as lay people wanting to expand their theological education. He also reorganized the governing structure of the diocese, and during his tenure the diocese undertook a theological study of human sexuality. Bishop Smalley also was active on the national level, serving seven years as president of Province 7 and a member of the Presiding Bishop’s Council of Advice. He retired on Dec. 31, 2003, but then served for six months at St. Philip’s, Topeka, after the death of that parish’s rector. He and his wife, Carole, now live in Indiana.
Bishop Dean E. Wolfe
Ninth Bishop of Kansas, 2004 – 2017
Bishop Dean Wolfe was vice rector of St. Michael and All Angels, Dallas, Texas, when he was elected bishop coadjutor in July 2003. He became the ninth bishop of Kansas on Jan. 1, 2004. During his episcopacy he revised the campus ministry program to provide an opportunity for an Episcopal presence on a larger number of campuses across the diocese. He also was committed to a robust diocesan youth ministry. He helped strengthen the Kansas School for Ministry and later helped create it successor, the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry. Located in Topeka, BKSM provides local education for lay leaders and those preparing for ordination from the Dioceses of Kansas, Western Kansas, West Missouri and Nebraska. He oversaw the Crossroads capital campaign, which provided for a remodeled Upton Hall Conference Center as lodging for BKSM students, as well as funds for outreach and BKSM support. It also provided for construction of new classroom space for BKSM, as well as offices for the diocese. Bishop Wolfe was a leader in the Episcopal Church and three times was elected as vice president of the House of Bishops, including representing the Presiding Bishop in countries from England to South Korea. He resigned as bishop on Jan. 31, 2017, and now serves as rector of St. Bartholomew’s in New York City, where he and his wife, Ellen, live.