Mary Hannah Packer Cummings

No discussion of Mary Packer Cummings can be complete without discussing her family.

Mary Hannah Packer was the third of seven children born to Asa Packer and his wife Sarah Minerva Blakslee Packer.  She was born on January 20, 1839.  Three of the Packer’s seven children died before their second birthdays.  Mary’s adopted sister, Marian Blakslee Packer, Sarah’s half sister, was the oldest child to live to adulthood.  She married Charles O. Skeer, but died in 1878 without children.  Charles remarried and remained on good terms with the Packers.  His second wife was Ellen Skeer who paid $1,000 toward the purchase of the land where All Saints was built.  The oldest Packer child was Lucy Eveline Packer Linderman, born March 13, 1832.  She grew to adulthood and married Garrett B. Linderman, a noted doctor at the time, and had five children with him.  Three of their children grew to be adults – Garrett Jr., Robert, and Sallie.  Lucy died on July 22, 1873 at the age of 41.  The next oldest Packer child was Robert Asa Packer, born November 19, 1842.  He was a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute and worked for the Lehigh Valley Railroad in Sayre, Pennsylvania.  He was married to Emilie Piollet, but they also had no children.  He died at the family home, Keystone Bluff in Florida, on February 20, 1883 at the age of 41.  With Mary’s consent, Robert’s home in Sayre was converted into a hospital and the Robert Packer Hospital officially opened on July 5, 1885.  The youngest child was Harry Eldred Packer, born June 4, 1850.  He attended school in New York and was an 1870 graduate of Lehigh University with a degree in engineering.  Harry married Mary Augusta Lockhart in 1872, but they too did not have children.  Harry died at the age of 33 on February 4, 1884.  Asa Packer died May 17, 1879.  Sarah died on November 17, 1882.

It had been Asa Packer’s contention throughout his lifetime that he had been richly blessed and needed to share his wealth with others.  He passed this philosophy on to his children.  Mary never married while her parents were alive, but circumstances following Asa’s death left her with no family by 1884. In a period of 5 years, her father (1897), her mother (1892), her brother Robert (1883), and her brother Harry (1884) died.  She was the sole survivor to a fortune, 54.5 million dollars in 1884 (value in current dollars is approximately 3.2 billion).  However, at the time she was not married and could not legally inherit the money, since only married women could inherit property.  Mary Hannah was a very intelligent woman and knew the rules would not change just for her.  Charles Cummings had been a family friend and worked for the Lehigh Valley Railroad.  Mary Hannah was clear about the relationship and made a pre-nuptial agreement with Charles.  When they divorced, he would receive $100,000 in railroad stock.  Charles agreed and they were married on April 7, 1885 and divorced in 1893.  Charles remarried and Mary, Charles, and Charles second wife Sarah all remained friends.  Charles and Sarah lived at Keystone Bluff in Florida for many years. Mary remembered them in her will.

When Mary inherited her father’s estate, she continued her support of the arts and education in Mauch Chunk and the surrounding area, but most importantly to us; she continued to support the growth of the Episcopal Church in the area.  She encouraged the Rev. Leighton Coleman to take services to Packerton and Lehighton when he was the rector of St. Mark’s.  She continued to support these efforts with each succeeding rector.  In 1901, the Rev. J. M. Hayman, then rector of St. Mark’s Mauch Chunk, through the beneficence of Mrs. Mary Packer Cummings, fitted up a Mission on North First Street, in the Graver Building, where services were held until April 1907.

A lot was purchased in February 1905, on North Second Street, and plans were being prepared for a church.  Mrs. Cummings offered to assume payment for the lot, and in October 1905, a deed was secured for the present location; Mrs. Cummings paying $3,000.00 and Mrs. Ellen B. Skeer of South Bethlehem, donating her interest in the property, which was $1,000.00.  In November 1905, it was announced that Mrs. Cummings would also build on the new lot both a church and a house for the minister.

On May 1, 1906, at 3:00 o’clock P.M., the first ground was broken on the site where was to be erected All Saints Protestant Episcopal Church at 2nd and Coal Streets, the gift of Mrs. Mary Packer Cummings. 

Mrs. Mary Packer Cummings, All Saints benefactress, also attended the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone on October 10, 1906.  Bishop Coleman said on this occasion: “It is the desire of the donor that the services of the Episcopal Church which she loves should be maintained in Lehighton in order that all who love that church may have the privileges of its services.”

On November 9,1906, Mary Packer Cummings wrote to the Rev. A. B. Putnam, Rector, St. Mark’s: “Herewith is a check to be placed to credit of Lehighton Building Fund Account, for use in completing that property and in furnishing the Church and Sunday School Building.  Should there be any balance when work is completed, I desire it be invested for the benefit of the “Lehighton Work.”  Yours very truly,“ signed Mary Packer Cummings.

“The church, together with the vicarage, cost $50,000.00.  Both are constructed of graystone, quarried at Bowmanstown, while the trimmings are of Wyoming Blue Stone.”

The consecration of All Saints Chapel took place on Monday, September 30, 1907, at 10:30 A.M., conducted by the Rt. Rev. Ethelbert Talbot, D.D., Bishop of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. Mary Packer Cummings and many, many friends and members of All Saints were present.

On January 24, 1910, the Rev. Bresee wrote to Mrs. Cummings in St. Augustine, Florida, thanking her for the Deed of Trust she had just made for the benefit of All Saints Chapel, stating: “for it is a great and generous thing you have done, thereby placing the work of the church here upon a secure foundation for all time to come so far as human eye can see.”

He further stated that the Lord had abundantly blessed this work from the beginning, asked God’s blessing on Mrs. Cummings, and assured her that we recognized our added responsibilities and desired to do what we could to prove faithful stewards.  Further, that we hoped for her continued interest, and would not announce the gift in any public way, according to her request.  This endowment was for $50,000, dated January 8, 1910.

Mary died October 29, 1912, at the age of 73.  In 1912, a resolution was passed on the death of Mrs. Mary Packer Cummings, with a copy sent to the family and published in the “Chimes” of St. Mark’s and entered on the records of All Saints Chapel.

This resolution stated that “in the death of Mrs. Mary Packer Cummings, founder, builder, and benefactress of All Saints Chapel, we have lost a most interested and generous friend.

When a few Episcopalians were struggling to build a church in Lehighton, she, having already provided for services here, took upon herself the task of securing a suitable location for building a church and vicarage.  She saw that the church was completely fitted for its work, and most generously endowed it so the work should be permanent.

We expressed our gratitude to her in life, and now desire to make public expression of the feeling she would not allow us to make heretofore.

We cannot give too strong an expression of our appreciation of her thoughtfulness, of her desire that it should be thoroughly fitted for its field, and her generous provision for its future.

Such interest and generosity is unique, and we humbly pray we may prove worthy administrators of her gifts, that the greatest benefits may be derived from them by all those for whom they were intended.

In putting this on our records, we express our hope that the congregation of All Saints Chapel will ever more and more respond to the helpful influence of the church which she so wisely and firmly established for it.”

On Sunday, November 2, 1919, a memorial service was held in memory of Mrs. Mary Packer Cumming.  Mr. David J. Pearsall, for many years private secretary and friend of Mrs. Cummings, made an address.  A resolution was passed at this time that “not only in the future shall we as a congregation assemble ourselves together in God’s House to honor Mrs. Cummings’ memory, but that every effort be put forth to bring about a realization of what she dreamed for All Saints.”

On January 19, 1920, the Secretary of the Chapel Committee presented a letter from St. Mark’s Vestry, suggesting the funds available for All Saints be transferred to the Treasurer of All Saints, and that all bills be paid by said Treasurer, and a quarterly statement covering the same be sent to St. Mark’s Vestry.

On March 8, 1920, the Secretary of the Chapel Committee was instructed to write St. Mark’s Vestry, formally accepting the proposition of having All Saints take charge of its own work.

On Trinity Sunday, in 1920, a special service was held in the All Saints Chapel at 10:30 A.M. to make known to the people the new status upon which the affairs of the Chapel had been placed.

The congregation was informed that at the beginning of the year, the Vestry of the Mother Church, St. Mark’s, had made a generous offer to place in our hands for one year, and for subsequent years if satisfactory, the entire management of all things pertaining to the Chapel.

By unanimous vote, the Chapel Committee had accepted the offer, and wished to take the opportunity to inform the congregation the reasons of acceptance.

“[1] That what is true of an individual, on whom rests no responsibility and no problems to be solved, is largely true of a corporate body; namely, a corresponding lack of growth and development.”

“[2] That when a period of dependence is protracted too long, an almost, if not altogether helpless state is bound to follow.”

“[3] That it is the firm belief of the Chapel Committee that such a state of helplessness is anything but what the congregation desires; rather that we, as a people, should function as a healthy organization.”

“[4] That inasmuch as opportunity has been given to us to acquire independence, an effort greater than ever should now be put forth to make All Saints not a Chapel as it has been for so long a time, but an independent Church of the Diocese.”

“[5] In conclusion, the Chapel Committee earnestly asks that each and every one cooperate in bringing about a realization of the goal which has been set, by taking an active part in the work and by contributing to the financial support of the Church to the utmost of their ability.”

Even after her death, Mary Packer Cummings contributed to the success of All Saints by requiring that the church become independent to gain the funds that she had allotted to them without having to ask St. Mark’s to grant them the funds.  This forward-thinking woman wanted us to be a strong, independent church.  May we continue to follow her wishes as we serve the community, the church, and the world in her honor.