“When Eugene Skinner, stiff and mute,
Surveyed Eugene from Skinner’s Butte,
He scarcely thought this site, so alien,
A fit place for an Episcopalian.
But Bishop Morris in his chair,
Thought he would plant a parish there,
And all the people thought it great,
The year was 1858.”
~ Ode for St. Mary’s Parish Banquet
Fr. Lawrence Crumb
In St. Mary’s 159-year-old history we can boast of two things: we’re one of if not the oldest congregations in Eugene, Oregon; and we share something in common with the city of Eugene- the founders.
St. Mary’s celebrated its first Eucharist not in a church, but in a secular building- the courthouse on October 8, 1854. Among those in attendance was pioneer Eugene F. Skinner and his wife Mary Cook Skinner. Seeing the need for a proper house of worship, records show that Mr. Skinner presented Bishop Scott with an acre of land for the building of a simple church. On January 23, 1859, the first St. Mary’s Episcopal Church was completed and consecrated with a building designed to seat 125-150 parishioners.
While the earliest history of St. Mary’s is full of exciting details of church origins, the miracle of gathering the funds for the first church building, and the dramatic increase of parishioners over the first twenty or so years. However, a letter discovered in a scrapbook in St. Mary’s archives shed light on a detail that has gone unsung and unrecognized- who really was responsible for the creation of this beloved parish. When writing her friend Blanche on April 16, 1938, Mary Kinsey Krause, granddaughter of the Skinner family spoke on those first years of St. Mary’s. She wrote, “My Grandmother Mary Skinner Packard gave the land to the Church where it is now standing- I do wish she could be given some recognition”. This was touching and heartbreaking because Mary Kinsey was right, all records public and in St. Mary’s archives credit Eugene Skinner as the donor.
Mary Skinner was a devout Episcopalian that had a deep love for St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. While her husband’s name is the signature on the Deed of Gift granting that acre of 7th Ave and Olive St to the church, it was done at the suggestion and encouragement of his wife who has otherwise been kept anonymous.
After Eugene F. Skinner’s unexpected death in 1864, Mary Skinner was awarded the honor of naming the town and community she grew to love so much. This town became Eugene City, named after her late husband. A few short years later, Mary married her second husband, Captain N.L. Packard on February 7, 1867. The city of Eugene mourned the loss of Mary Skinner Packard when she died June 4, 1881.
While Mary did not always get the applause or credit that she richly deserved, she still gave so much of herself not only for her family, but her brothers and sisters in Christ and the community that came to love her as much as she loved them. The hope of the one writing this entry is that now Mary and all her descendants will see that Mary’s act of great generosity has not gone unheeded or unappreciated. So, if one were to think about it, this parish really has two patron saints that we praise God for- the Blessed Mother of Christ and our own Mary Skinner.