Home > Worship Resources > Festivals & Commemorations > Phillips Brooks, Bishop of Massachusetts, 1893 (January 23)

About the Commemoration

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Continues

One of the great preachers of the nineteenth century, Phillips Brooks was born in Boston December 13, 1835, descended from a number of Pilgrim families of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He grew up in a musical home, where singing and reciting hymns was such a regular part of devotion that by the time he went to Harvard, he is said to have memorized some two hundred hymns. After graduation in 1854, he taught briefly at Boston Latin School, from which he had graduated but was said to be “a conspicuous failure.” After graduating from Virginia Seminary, he served as rector of the Church of the Advent in Philadelphia (1859-1862) and as rector of Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, from 1862 to 1869. When Abraham Lincoln’s coffin lay in state in Independence Hall on its way to Springfield for burial, Phillips Brooks delivered the eulogy for the martyred president. Later that year he was given a leave of absence from the Church of the Holy Trinity to tour Europe and the Middle East. He timed his tour so that he would be in Bethlehem for Christmas, 1865. He wrote home, “Before dark we rode out of town to the field where they say the shepherds saw the star. Somewhere in those fields we rode through, the shepherds must have been. As we passed, the shepherds were still ‘keeping watch over their flocks’ or ‘leading them home to fold.’” Back home he wrote the lovely carol, “O little town of Bethlehem” for the children of the parish to sing at the Christmas service in 1868; the tune, St. Louis, was composed by the organist and superintendent of the church school, Lewis H. Redner (1831-1908).

In 1869 Brooks returned to Boston as rector of Trinity Church, which three years before had been destroyed in the Boston fire. Despite worshiping in temporary quarters, the congregation under Brooks’s leadership grew and flourished and four years later was able to dedicate a magnificent architectural achievement, Henry Hobson Richardson’s Trinity Church, which continues to grace Copley Square. At Trinity Church Brooks gave the evangelical faith a new standing in cultured, increasingly Unitarian Boston. Beside the splendid church stands a celebrated statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens of the six-foot four-inch preacher behind whom stands Christ with his cross, Brooks’s constant theme, with his hand resting on the preacher’s shoulder.

Phillips Brooks was a kind and caring pastor, an inspiring leader, a careful teacher of preaching. In 1891 he was elected Bishop of Massachusetts. He owed his influence to his impressive stature and personality, his wide sympathies, and his passionate sincerity. As a humanitarian and as a preacher he was famous throughout the land and abroad.

Brooks never married, but he had a special affection for children and wrote many delightful letters to his brother’s children and to the children of his parish. When he died at the age of fifty-seven (January 23, 1893), the mother of a girl of five, who had been one of his special favorites, entered the room where her daughter was playing and announced through her tears, “Bishop Brooks has gone to heaven.” “O Mamma,” the child replied, “how happy the angels will be!” Phillips Brooks House at Harvard was built by his alma mater as a memorial to him.

Phillips Brooks was added to the Episcopal calendar in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

Excerpts from New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints by Philip H. Pfatteicher, copyright, 2008 by Fortress Press, an imprint of Augsburg Fortress.

See also: Phillips Brooks; Week of Prayer for Christian Unity


From a sermon for Palm Sunday by Phillips Brooks

So Jesus came into Jerusalem. He came at once as an Intruder and a King. There were men along the streets who owed to Him the straightness of their limbs, the sight of their eyes, the clear, sane reason of their brains. They made the old streets ring with shouts of welcome. There were other men whom he had disappointed and defeated. He had trampled on their traditions, contradicted their doctrines, spoiled their trade. With muttered curses they saw him go by in His triumph. What a confusion! The city was divided against itself. But through it all Jesus held on His way, claiming the town for His town because it was HIs Father’s. Whether it owned His claim or spurned it, whether it welcomed Him or cursed Him, through the mixed tumult of its welcome and its curses He went on His way, claiming it all for His own. And so He claims our hearts. An Intruder and a King at once He seems to those hearts as He stands there on their threshold. There is something in every one of them that says to Him, “Come in, come in!” There is something, too, in every one of them that rises up at His coming and says, “Begone, begone! We will not have this Man to rule over us.” But through their tumult, their struggle, Christ, whether He be King or Intruder, whether He be welcomed or rejected, goes on His way, pressing on into each heart’s most secret places, claiming always that He and He alone is the heart’s King. And the struggle in any heart cannot keep on evenly balanced forever. Every heart has to decide. Jerusalem had to decide. Before the week was over she had decided. On Friday she crucified Christ. Still even round the cross there was love and faith and lamentation. But they were crushed and only heard in sobs. The hatred had triumphed, and Jerusalem had crucified her King. And so must every Jerusalem decide. So must your heart say finally to Jesus, “Come” or “Go.” He never will go until you obstinately bid Him. He cannot come into the inmost temple until you welcome Him.

Phillips Brooks, Sermons for the Principal Festivals and Fasts of the Church Year, 1895.


O everlasting God, you revealed your truth to your servant Phillips Brooks and so formed and molded his mind and heart that he was able to mediate that truth with grace and power: Grant, we pray, that all whom you call to preach the gospel may steep themselves in your Word, and conform their lives to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.


Readings: Psalm 84:7-12 or 33:1-5, 20-21; Ephesians 3:14-21; Matthew 24:24-27

Hymn of the Day:O little town of Bethlehem” (H82 78, 79 [note especially the frequently-omitted Stanza 4], LBW 41, LSB 361, ELW 279)

Prayers: For all who preach the gospel; For a lively sense of social justice; For a burning desire to bring the world to Christ; For the unity of the church; For Baptist, Amish, Mennonite, Hutterite, and Christian (Disciples of Christ) Churches.

Preface: A Saint (1)

Color: White