Episcopalian Clergyman and Educator. Founder of the Episcopal Church School Movement, founder of St. Lukes Hospital in New York City, and of the Society of Saint Johnland, a utopian home for elderly and needy children, overlooking Long Island Sound near Kings Park, New York.
He was son of Mary (Sheafe) and Henry William Muhlenberg, and grandson of Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, who was the first Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and first signer of the Bill of Rights. His great grandfather was Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, a prominent Lutheran clergyman, and several other members of the family are of note in early U.S. history.
William's father died when he was nine. Although the family were Lutherans his mother allowed him as a child to attend services in the Episcopal Church, setting the path for him to later pursue theological studies in the Episcopal Church. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1815, and turned almost directly to theological studies, resulting in being ordained a Deacon in the church in 1817. He was admitted to the priesthood in 1820, and removed to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he had invited to serve as Rector.
In 1826 on a visit to Flushing, New York, he was invited to serve as Rector there, and soon began to put into effect some of his ideas about Christian education. He became the Headmaster of the Flushing Institute, which began the Episcopal Church School Movement in the United States. That program and the subsequent St. Paul's College were his life work for the next fifteen years.
Later in life Muhlenberg founded the Sisterhood of the Church of the Holy Communion, a first of its kind Episcopalian Sisterhood, which then led to the founding of St. Luke's Hospital in New York.
In the 1860s, in his seventies, he began work on St. Johnland, his vision of a utopic church community for self-supporting elderly and needy children, on the north shore of Long Island, near Kings Park, New York. It is in the cemetery on the property of this the St. Johnland home, which later became a nursing facility, that he was buried.
Muhlenberg is honored with a feast day, April 8, in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church.
Further reading: an extensive biography _The Life and Work of William Augustus Muhlenberg_ written by his associate Sister Anne Ayers.
News article in the LNP (Lancaster, PA), 4 Mar 2016, pg. A17. The following is the portion that pertains to William Augustus Muhlenberg:
"...The Rev. William Augustus Muhlenberg an important minister and educator, fancied Ann Coleman's younger sister, Sarah. Muhlenberg was co-rector of Lancaster’s St. James Episcopal Church from 1820-1826. Near the end of that period, he wooed Sarah.
[Her father] Robert Coleman may have liked Muhlenberg even less than he liked [future President James] Buchanan [a suitor of his other daughter]. Coleman was a vestryman of St. James’ congregation — and a Lancaster County judge — and he opposed Muhlenberg’s decision to hold an evening church service. A minor matter, you might think; but the two men had clashed for years and the evening service made Coleman furious. He prohibited Muhlenberg from entering his house.
By refusing to yield to one of the most important men in Pennsylvania, Muhlenberg surely knew he might lose Coleman’s daughter. He had a more important concern, however. He wrote in his diary: “But for no earthly consideration whatever, not even the attainment of the dear object of my heart will I sacrifice what I believe to be the interests of my church. O lord, help me!'”
In the fall of 1825, nearly six years after her sister, Ann, died, Sarah also traveled to Philadelphia and died [Wikipedia reports it was a suicide] there at the age of 23.
The sisters are buried side-by-side in the Coleman plot in the southwestern corner of St. James Cemetery.
In his 1944 history of the church, Franklin & Marshall College historian H.M.J. Klein said Muhlenberg repeatedly visited Sarah’s grave and “always took away with him a spray of the sweetbrier that grew there.'”
Muhlenberg did not remain in Lancaster long after Sarah’s death. Robert Coleman had died several months before his daughter, but his son, Edward, continued his father’s cause. He said the family would give the church $5,000 if Muhlenberg resigned. Muhlenberg left the church in the summer of 1826... [and] moved to the Big Apple. He established St. Paul’s College at Flushing, New York, and the Church of the Holy Communion and St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City. He also founded St. Johnland to care for homeless children and the elderly in Long Island, New York. St. Johnland Nursing Center still serves senior citizens.
In addition to being a church founder and social innovator, Muhlenberg started model schools. (While in Pennsylvania, he had directed schools in Philadelphia and Lancaster.) The committed bachelor was one of the 19th century’s foremost educators.
He also authored the first Thanksgiving hymn. After Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Nov. 26, 1863, as the first official Thanksgiving, Muhlenberg turned the proclamation into poetry and set it to music... Muhlenberg wrote and published many hymns throughout his life.
The master minister, educator, caretaker of the elderly and destitute youth, hymn writer and bachelor died in 1877. He was 80."
"Here sleeps The Earthly Part of William Augustus Muhlenberg Doctor in Divinity. He was born September 16th, 1796. Ended his work April 8th, 1877."
A drawing of his gravestone is contained in his biography.
An old photo of it may be found at http://kingsparkmuseum.info/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=376
St. Johnland cemetery is private property. The grave location is 40 54' 14.77" N 73 14' 31.77" W. On Google Earth you can see the top of the stone with cross-topped shadow to the west.
Henry William Muhlenberg