An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Muhlenberg, William Augustus

(Sept. 16, 1796-Apr. 8, 1877). A leading Episcopal priest of the nineteenth century. He was born in Philadelphia and baptized in the Lutheran Church. When the vestry of St. James' Episcopal Church gave his widowed mother a free pew, she attended that church and William grew up an Episcopalian. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1815 and then studied theology with Bishop William White and Jackson Kemper. Muhlenberg was ordained deacon on Sept. 21, 1817, and served as Bishop White's assistant at St. Peter's and Christ Church in Philadelphia. He was ordained priest on Oct. 22, 1820. He went to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he served as co-rector with Joseph Clarkson of St. James' Church. Muhlenberg's chief early interest was education, and in 1828 he founded and served as headmaster of Flushing Institute, a boys' school in Flushing, New York. In 1838 he established St. Paul's College on Long Island Sound. Although neither institution survived very long, they were both influential models of Christian schools which others copied. The Church of the Holy Communion was built at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 20th Street, New York, by his sister, Mrs. Mary A. Rogers. Muhlenberg became the rector of this church in 1846. In 1851 he founded a monthly church journal, The Evangelical Catholic, which reflected his desire for ecumenical union with the Protestant bodies of Christendom. The Evangelical Catholic was published for two years. In 1852 Muhlenberg and Anne Ayres founded the Sisterhood of the Holy Communion. The greatest of his philanthropies was the founding of St. Luke's Hospital in New York City, which opened in 1858. In 1853 he was the leader in presenting a memorial to the House of Bishops asking for certain reforms in the liturgy and for extension of episcopal ordination. He sought to relax the liturgical rigidity of Episcopal services and to provide the apostolic succession through the Episcopal Church for a comprehensive Protestant church. The document became known as the Muhlenberg Memorial. In 1870 Muhlenberg incorporated St. Johnsland on Long Island, which was an experiment in Christian communal living. He died at St. Johnsland. His ministry is commemorated in the Episcopal calendar of the church year on Apr. 8. See Muhlenberg Memorial.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.