THOMAS LEGATE FISHER, son of Thomas T. and Laura Ann (Legate) Fisher, was born 8 June 1855 in Hartford, Connecticut. His father was a successful merchant and stock broker. He attended public schools and was fitted for college at Hartford High School. He was graduated from Amherst College in 1878. He was a member of Delta Upsilon Fraternity. During the next year, he studied medicine and then commenced a course of study for the ministry. He was ordained deacon on 31 May 1883 in Hartford, Connecticut by the Rt. Rev. Frederick Dan Huntington, Bishop of the Diocese of Central New York. From 1883-1889, he was the first rector of St. Luke's Church in Malden, Massachusetts, where he built both the church and the rectory. Concurrently, he was appointed priest in charge of the mission in Saugus, Massachusetts that became St. John's Church. There too, he built the church, completed in 1888. He was ordained to the priesthood on 17 December 1884 by the Rt. Rev. Benjamin Henry Paddock, Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts. He was married to Elizabeth Denis Sharples, daughter of Casper W. and Elizabeth (Onerdonk) Sharples of Philadelphia, 17 November 1886 in Malden, Massachusetts. They had two daughters before his wife's death in 1891. From 1889-1896, he was minister of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Clinton, Massachusetts. He was instrumental in building the Clinton Hospital and also in enlarging the beautiful church. He was married second to Gertrude B. Vickery, daughter of Charles A. and Mary Elizabeth (Heald) Vickery of Fairfield, Maine, 5 January 1893 in Clinton, Massachusetts. They had one son.
He was always a missionary and his wider outlook led him to move to Sioux Falls, South Dakota in December 1895, where he preached his first sermon in the Cathedral on December 22. The next Easter, he became pastor of Calvary Church at the Cathedral Church of St. Augusta in Sioux Falls (known today simply as Calvary Cathedral), and remained in charge until May 1899. While a resident of Sioux Falls, he took an active part in all public matters pertaining to the moral welfare of the city. As a preacher, pastor and citizen he was highly esteemed, and his removal from the city was sincerely regretted by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance.
A new chapter opened in the history of St. Andrew's Church in Ayer, Massachusetts on 1 January 1900 with the coming of the Rev. Thomas L. Fisher to take charge of the parish. A period of rapid growth followed. He was a public-spirited leader, not only in the church, but also for the welfare of the town of Ayer.
First, the vicarage was built. It was completed 1 December 1901 and was first used and occupied on Christmas Eve. Rev. Fisher wrote later: "Originally, the property adjoining the church on the east side was covered by a large tenement house long out of repair, occupied by families in close quarters. Through the generosity of William Amory Gardner, a master at Groton School, this property was purchased, the old building sold and removed, and a new structure built on the lot, further back from the street, on a line with the church. The house was designed by Mr. Fisher to be the home of the minister and equally the parish house of the people. It has fully demonstrated the utility of the arrangement. It is a charming family house, and its double duty has brought the people and pastor in close touch. It is a mutual benefit to have the people freely and often enter the pastor's living place, and promotes the mutual relation of the parish family."
Two years later, a remarkable and surprising thing happened. St. Andrew's Church, established as a mission itself fourteen years before, started on a mission of its own. In fourteen years, it had grown from child to parent and had reached a point where it could give something of its own life to the Episcopal mission in Forge Village (now St. Mark's Church, Westford) that had been established in 1895. Under the direction of the rector, the Rev. Dr. Endicott Peabody, and the vicar, the Rev. Thomas L. Fisher, a new Mission House was designed and constructed, including a chapel, entertainment hall, and meeting rooms. It was dedicated October 3, 1903 by the Rt. Rev. William Lawrence, Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts.
During Rev. Fisher's pastorate, the church building itself underwent several changes. The little reed organ, in use since before the construction of the church in 1892, was replaced by a second-hand pipe organ. In 1907, the entrance to the church on the northwest corner was closed and a stone porch, the gift of Mrs. Fanny D. Marshall of Shirley, was erected on the northeast corner to provide a convenient entrance from the vicarage driveway. About his time at St. Andrew's, the Rev. Dr. Endicott Peabody said that he was "a most devoted pastor, both visiting his people assiduously and giving of this substance to such an extent as to deprive himself of the necessities."
After ten years of service at St. Andrew's Church, he returned for one year to South Dakota to be the General State Missionary. On 21 May 1911, he was called to St. Mark's Church in Leominster, Massachusetts, where he served as minister-in-charge until his retirement in May 1916. He then spent two years at the newly-formed All Saints' Church in Peterborough, New Hampshire while their church was being built. The last ten years of his life were spent primarily at his beautiful summer home, "Hill Top", on Legate Hill in Leominster, built on land that had had been in his mother's family for generations.
The Rev. Thomas Legate Fisher died 13 March 1929 at his home in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. After funeral services at his home, his body was taken to Hartford, Connecticut for burial in the Fisher family lot at Cedar Hill Cemetery (Section 1, Lot 65).
As his memorial, the parishioners of St. Andrew's Church donated the funds for a large brass altar cross. It is inscribed "To the Glory of God and in memory of / Thomas Legate Fisher / Beloved Minister here, 1900-1910."
1. Bailey, Dana R. History of Minnehaha County, South Dakota (Sioux Falls: Brown & Saenger, 1899), 527-528.
2. Bennett, Mrs. Frank Silas History of St. Andrew's Church: Ayer, Groton, Forge Village 1892-1942 (Ayer, Massachusetts: St. Andrew's Church, 1944), 12-17.
3. "A Faithful Soldier and Servant," The Church Militant (June 1929), 8.
4. Fisher, Thomas Legate "The Rectory as a Social Center In a Rural Parish," The Church Militant (January 1901), 8.
5. "Former Rector of St. Mark's Church is Dead," Fitchburg Sentinel, Fitchburg, 14 March 1929, 3.
6. Montague, W. L. Biographical Record of the Alumni and Non-Graduates of Amherst College, (Classes '72-'96) (Amherst, Massachusetts: Carpenter & Morehouse, Printers, 1901), 115.
7. "Retired Episcopal Minister," Boston Transcript, Boston, 14 March 1929, 28.
8. Stowe, Andrew D. Stowe's Clerical Directory of The American Church 1924 (Minneapolis: Andrew D. Stowe, 1924), 110.
9. "Twenty Fifth Anniversary," Turner's Public Spirit, Ayer, Massachusetts, 24 October 1914, 5.
Photograph courtesy of Mary DeLashmit, Plymouth, New Hampshire.