A Brief History

The History of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church

The history of St. Dunstan’s Church in Madison, WI began in 1956, before the property was purchased or its first foundation consecrated at the site south of University Ave., on the western edge of Madison. With a letter of permission issued in 1956 by the Rt. Rev. Donald Hallock, the Bishop of Milwaukee, a building commission was created, comprised of Kenneth Stevens, Chairman; Cecil Reistad, the Chairman of the Voluntary Workers; Norman Kenney, Architect; Grace A. Fraudenhaugh, the Treasurer of the Building Fund; and Norman Schoeneman, Church Warden. This group plotted a course that would lead to the creation of St. Dunstan’s Church.

Read a little about the history of this land, including the Native peoples who lived here before German settlers arrived in the mid-19th century, here. 

The proposed church was administered by a Bishop’s committee established in September, 1956, comprised of Frederick L. Brown, warden, Harold R. Noer, treasurer, and Robert T. Holland III, the clerk.  The three met next in November of that year with Milwaukee Bishop Hallock and other diocesan officials to establish a temporary quarters for the parish. The committee engaged William Horne of St. Andrew’s parish as an architectural consultant. 

In March 1957, the group met at St. Francis House to congregate the congregation, and notices were placed in local papers to advertise the meeting.  The two early families that responded were Ellouise Beatty and her husband, Soil Science Professor Marvin Beatty, and Kenneth Stevens of Waunakee. They agreed to search for temporary space and requested that the bishop find a priest to take up the charge of building a congregation.  The bishop called Father Robert S. Childs, a graduate of Nashotah House, then living in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. 

By April 8, a small group coalesced to begin meeting regularly. Lay readers were chosen to lead prayer services until Fr. Childs’ arrival, and notices were published in the Capital Times advertising the development of the new congregation. While the fledgling congregation sought many temporary venues, it was a member of Grace Church, A.F. Copland, who offered worship space at the Coca-Cola Bottling plant at 3546 University Avenue, which he owned and operated. The temporary parish used the large conference room in the modern red-brick building – now demolished – free of charge, except in the winter when a small fee was assessed for the heat. Over a span of eighteen months, a group of dedicated Episcopalians met there each week to plan the creation of a new Christian community in Madison, WI.  

The first Eucharist was held at the Coca-Cola plant on May 18, 1957 (the day before St. Dunstan’s Day, May 19), with altar linens, cruets, a chalice and prayer books borrowed from St. Andrews, and celebrated by Bishop Hallock, who was in Madison to celebrate confirmation at Grace Church. The Wisconsin State Journal ran photographs of Grace Church’s confirmation ceremony, which confused the Capital Times editor who had been promised exclusive coverage of the pioneer Eucharist. He concluded incorrectly that the new congregation had reneged on its promise of exclusivity, and as a result he failed to publish photographs of the historic first Eucharist at the newly named “St. Dunstans’s Episcopal Church”. Once informed of his error, he agreed to run the photographs on May 25, giving Madison Capital Times subscribers the first peek at the new 44-member Episcopal congregation growing in their midst. The name “St. Dunstan’s” was selected after being chosen by 16 members, with two other names vying for the title, St. Margaret’s earning 13 votes and the Church of the Resurrection also attracting 12 votes. 

Also in early 1957, the group continued to seek property to purchase for their permanent location.  They considered several parcels close to the development south of the beltline near Whitney Way, but none were satisfactory. One possible location was the Doane property, a parcel on the Madison-Middleton border that already belonged to the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee. The property was acquired by the diocese from the Rev. Gilbert Doane, a former director of the UW Library School and university archivist who later became a priest and was installed to serve at Grace Episcopal Church. Fr. Doane sold the rectory property to the Kiser Family in 1951, but deeded a portion of the former Heim farm to the Episcopal Foundation of Milwaukee on June 6, 1956. Elliot and Jennie Spears Kiser made many improvements to the former Heim home and planted many of the older shrubs, flower patches and some of the trees on the farm property. 

When the Heim/Doane property was first considered as the site for the new church, there was some concern that this location would mean the the new parish was being sited too far north of Madison’s west side, where growth was spreading from an axis several miles south centered between Whitney Way and Segoe Road.  A meeting in December 1956 that included a tour of the Doane property put all concerns aside, and the agreement was reached that Madison and Middleton were growing communities sufficient to populate this new mission parish. When the new St. Dunstan’s parish decided to use the diocesan parcel for their new church, the Kisers sold the property to the Episcopal Foundation in May 1958, allowing the entire seven-acre parcel between Old Middleton Road and University Avenue to eventually become St. Dunstan’s property.

The diocese intended St. Dunstan’s to serve as a mission church for the western Madison area, a mission which the dedicated Episcopal group fulfilled. Beginning in the spring of 1957, the group volunteered their time and donated funds to begin building the parish center that stands at the south end of the parking lot, completed in fall 1958. Many hands were required to complete the task and those early members contributed many hours of sweat equity to build the parish center, most likely on the site of a former agricultural barn. Volunteers from St. Francis House, Grace Church, and the other Madison parishes helped out as well. The building was based on a design by parish members Norman Kenney and Ken Stevens, who worked for the architectural firm of Charles Woerhl. St. Andrew’s Vestry donated an oil burning furnace, an altar, and chairs. St. Mark’s, Milwaukee, provided the font and carpeting. The vestments were gifts of Christ Church, Whitefish Bay and the Sisters of the Holy Nativity.  Fish Lumber Supply made the altar, designed by Conrad Schmitt Studios of New Berlin, Wisconsin, which also designed the tabernacle, candelabra, sanctuary lamp and the cross.

The consecration of St. Dunstan’s Parish Center took place during the Evensong ceremony on the Third Sunday of Advent, 1958. Edith and George Webber lit the candles. Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Leonard lit the Sanctuary Lamp. Buzz and Katherine Nordeen carried the crucifix, Aldyth Lange presented the vessels for the credence table, Irene Dunn carried the Altar Missal, Grace Fradenhaugh and Ina Maynard brought forward the Chalice and Paten, and Mrs. Bratt and Mrs. Vliet pass the alms basins. Fond du Lac Diocese Bishop William Hampton Brady D.D. celebrated Holy Communion with Fr. Childs, because Bishop Hallock was scheduled for another event. The Parish Center served for worship and church school from late 1958 until the Church was constructed in 1963-64.

Father Childs was a man of deep spirituality who set great store by formal liturgy, informal fun, and the nurture of evergreen trees. Thus, when St. Dunstan’s took possession of the spacious grounds and Civil-War –era house which are still our heritage, Father Childs began with volunteer help to plant exotic and native evergreen trees and shrubs that became the Arboretum.

Construction of the Church began in 1963, using funds pledged by members. The new building of the worship space with balcony, and a partial basement below. The interior finishing of the Church, including staining of the walls and coating of the concrete floor, were accomplished by crews of volunteers. Church school continued to meet in the Parish Center. Thomas Leonard, M.D., a devoted longtime member of St. Dunstan’s, created the “Marriage at Cana of Galilee” bas-relief over the fireplace and the plaques adorning the tabernacle, designed by Betty Childs, at the base of the crucifix. Dr. Leonard also made silhouette Stations of the Cross in copper tape, that were applied to the original sliding window-walls in the Church. Glacial boulders forming the base of the altar and the baptismal font came from the Lake Monona shore property of Henry Turville, an early leader in the parish. The pews, of natural oak, were donated by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Bloomfield.

Among traditions of the parish from its early years were seasonal work bees; a spring picnic; a late-summer weekend at Camp Webb on its previous property near Wautoma; roller skating; and gym-swim evenings at the “Y”. Members of the parish sold popcorn to aid medical missions, volunteered at the County Hospital in Verona, and adopted refugee families from Cuba, South Africa, and Laos. St. Dunstan’s has been home to many retired and non-stipendiary clergy, and has also welcomed persons in transition to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church.

In February, 1974, St. Dunstan’s became a parish (meaning it was financially independent) and Father Childs was named the Rector. Another notable occasion came in 1978, when retired Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey preached at St. Dunstan’s. On this occasion, a bit of stonework from the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, a site where Saint Dunstan once served, was cemented into the wall near the entrance to the nave and marked with a plaque. In 1979, thanks to a bequest from Mary Botham, the parish bought an Allen electric organ to accompany worship and replace an aging rebuilt pipe organ. thanks to a bequest. The Allen organ is still in use. 

In May 1982, St. Dunstan’s celebrated 25 years of mutual ministry and love, with worship and fellowship typical of this close-knit Christian Community. A booklet about St. Dunstan’s was printed to honor the occasion. Good-humored resourcefulness rescued the evening when a catered dinner was delivered to the wrong church, and had to be replaced with orders from all the fried chicken restaurants in the area.

Due to ill health, Father Childs was forced to retire in 1985.  A year’s interim was headed by The Revs. James DeGolier, Arthur Lloyd, and Edwin “Mike” Rooney, all clergy who were members of the parish. They placed emphasis on increased lay participation in guiding the life of the parish, and treated the congregation to exceptionally fine and varied preaching. A newsletter was produced and a committee helped plan worship.

After an extensive search process, the Vestry called The Rev. Duff Green to be the second Rector of St. Dunstan’s. He served here from 1987 until 1995. The Rev. Susan R. Mueller was Deacon assigned to St. Dunstan’s for many years. The Rev. Laura Norby and The Rev. Harriet Shands also spent several months with us as Deacons. During Father Green’s tenure, changes were made in the schedule of services, in parish governance, and in the church school, youth, and adult formation programs, including Education for Ministry and the “Walking Along The Emmaus Road” program developed by parishioners.  A parish office was set up and a secretary employed.  A professional pay scale of the organist and choir director was adopted, and the choir sang regularly throughout the school year.  There was major effort to welcome visitors and incorporate new members. 

Groups established during this time included St. Fiacre’s Guild for support of the Arboretum; Anam Chara gatherings for mutual spiritual growth; and Foyer groups for supper and conversation in small groups. A Men’s Reading Group, Quilters, Episcopal Church Women, and the Pastoral Care Committee were among new organizations. The Advent Festival of Lessons and Music continued; a Shrove Tuesday pancake supper and summer talent show took place; and the congregation attended golf outings, baseball games, and American Player Theater. The Greens hosted Christmas parties and newcomer socials at the Rectory. Members of St. Dunstan’s staffed and cooked for the Grace Church Shelter monthly, gave food and funds to Middleton Outreach Ministry, participated in the CROP Walk against hunger, collected winter wear for a Mitten Tree, contributed blood through the One-A-Week Club, and budgeted generously for other outreach. 

The millennium of the death of Saint Dunstan was celebrated on May 15, 1988, with the customary blessing of trees and plantings at the family service, and an afternoon Eucharist with special instrumental and choral music and an original pageant depicting events in the life of St. Dunstan, written by Jane Maher. 

The space needs of an active and growing parish called for solutions.  After much study and a capital campaign with the theme “Growing to Serve”, a major addition to the Church building was designed and constructed. Garage sales, a raffle, and other events involved many in fund-raising.  A major gift from the Paul family allowed the parish to pay off its mortgage and construction debt and establish a modest endowment, a portion of which was assigned to outreach. With its peaked roofs and large windows that echo the form of the original Church, the new wing included a gathering space, coat room, chapel, kitchen, offices, Sunday school classrooms, library, meeting rooms and rest rooms. The parking lot was reconstructed and utilities extensively updated. Bishop White presided at the blessing of the new construction on February 11, 1995. 

Some of the changes at St. Dunstan’s during this time were controversial.  Changes were made in the Nave to reflect the rector’s liturgical theology, most notably replacing the original pews with chairs intended to create more flexibility in arranging the space.  A movable altar and ambo were created and used at times, on a modular platform covered with an oriental carpet. New energy-saving sliding windows were installed and the panels depicting Stations of the Cross were placed in storage. 

In August of 1995 the congregation was troubled to learn, in August of 1995, that charges of sexual misconduct had been brought against Father Green. Acknowledging the misconduct, he left the ordained ministry in September, 1995. This was a difficult season for St. Dunstan’s.  The Rev. Patrick Raymond came to St. Dunstan’s in December, 1995, to serve as Interim Rector during a process of healing, self-study, and search for a new Rector.  An interim organizational structure for the parish was established.  The former Parish Center was leased to Middleton Preschool, Inc., and the Rectory was also rented out. Pending further study of the design of the worship space, the stone altar, baptismal font, and communion rails were returned to their traditional use and the movable platform, altar and ambo were taken out.  A variety of opportunities were offered for those who wanted to know more about the Episcopal Church and St. Dunstan’s.

The Rev.  Maureen (Mo) Lewis was called to St. Dunstan’s in 1997, and served here until late 2008. During her tenure, the parish stabilized and some new approaches to Christian formation were tried.  (We hope people who were here during Mo’s tenure will help us fill out this paragraph of our history!) After Mo retired, St. Dunstan’s called the Rev. Miranda Hassett to become its fourth rector, beginning in January of 2011. 

History: The Heim Farm

The Doane property was a former farm on the edge of Madison with the original homestead, the red-brick Heim farmhouse, a wing-and-gable structure with a half-round oriel window. It sat at the highest point of the surrounding property west of the old farm road which provided access to Old Sauk Road to the south and University Avenue to the North. This farm road became known as St. Dunstan’s Drive over the years, and had a remarkable civic history. At one point in the 1960’s, Dane County planned to extend County Trunk Highway Q south to attach to Mineral Point Road, but parish members and neighborhood residents fought off the plan out of concern about additional traffic. Other plans to enlarge St. Dunstan’s Drive to make it a two-way city street also failed during the 1990s. The single lane St. Dunstan’s Drive remains a one-way street pointed north. 

The brick house on the property was the homestead of the Heim farm, owned by an early Bavarian settler in the town of Middleton. Susan Haswell’s research in an unpublished manuscript, recounted the early history of the region and the role played by the Heim brothers in the settlement of the parcel that eventually because St. Dunstan’s.

The original surveyor of the Town of Madison, Lucius Lyon, conducted his survey of the region in 1832 during the months before and after the Blackhawk War. He recognized its potential value as the site for a city, and purchased land around Pheasant Branch and west of Lake Mendota in hopes his speculative “Paper City” would win the territorial sweepstakes that pitted well-heeled speculators against one another in the famous territorial legislative session at Belmont, Wisconsin, in the fall of 1836. Lyon’s bid to site the capital at Pheasant Branch lost, but James Doty’s plat on Madison’s isthmus won, and a likely relieved Lyons sold portions of his speculative parcel to John Falls O’Neill who arrived in 1836 to help build the Territorial Capitol in the heart of the isthmus. 

Anticipated development failed to occur and the indigenous Ho-Chunk continued to return, despite their “official removal” in 1832, to hunt, fish, and grow corn at traditional camps on the north shore of Lake Mendota and Pheasant Branch. Speculators lost interest in and money on the surrounding property, and eventually Wisconsin Governor William Farwell purchased O’Neill’s parcel. 

A failed revolt in the Germanic states in 1848 brought an influx of refugees to Wisconsin, among them Joseph and Anton Heim. The Heims purchased land, including the present site of St. Dunstan’s, from Farwell in 1849. Over the next decade the Heims improved their property and eventually built the red-brick house now known as St. Dunstan’s rectory (leased to non-church tenants beginning in 2015). Its red-brick, gabled “ell” design with its distinctive half-round oriel window in the gable pediment, reminiscent of the Greek Revival style popular at the time, roughly date the house’s construction between 1858 and 1860. Susan Haswell’s research found that the Heim’s property increased in value during that decade. As Madison expanded in the 1850s and grew quickly in the years preceding the Civil War, the Heims farmed the parcel and became involved in Madison politics. Haswell’s research charted the transfer of property through its purchase by Rev. Doane and its sale to the Milwaukee Diocese.

6205 University Ave., Madison WI