Excerpts taken from A History of Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church Sanibel, Florida 1958-2008 written by Dory Rooker and Alex Flesh.
Organizing Saint Michael and All Angels Mission
The building of Saint Michaels 1962
In December of 1957, a small group of Episcopalians began meeting informally to discuss the possibility of organizing a mission church on the islands. After several sessions, Cecil and Emmy Lu Read contacted the Rector of Saint Luke's Church in Fort Myers asking for help in providing an Episcopal service for the winter visitors of Sanibel and Captiva. Fr. Smith was sympathetic to the idea. During the time a letter was sent to post office box holders on both islands to determine interests. These letters went to ninety-six box holders on Sanibel, and eighty on Captiva. Fr. Madden, in his notes, mentioned that there was "some bitter reaction" to the proposal, much of it from Episcopalians living on Captiva, and worshipping at Chapel by the Sea.
On January 17, 1958, a meeting was held at The Gables, home of Mr. and Mrs. Read, with twenty-six people in attendance. Fr. Smith of Saint Luke's in Fort Myers had been asked for help. Fr. Thomas Madden, on leave from the Diocese of Milwaukee, "came along for the ride," and soon became priest-in-charge for in what was thought to be temporary services for the winter season. Fr. Madden was associated with Saint Luke's and lived in East Fort Myers. A committee was appointed to approach the Community Church for permission to use their building.
The first service was held on Wednesday, February 6, 1958 at 9 a.m. Fr. Thomas Madden celebrated Holy Communion with thirty-seven worshippers present. The offertory totaled $41.25. Services continued in the Community Church on Wednesday mornings at nine, offering a "full service, with music and sermon."
In late March the small congregation moved into the Casa Marina, an abandoned building near the ferry landing, which some said was a former soda fountain, and others said was a beer parlor. It was owned by Ernest Kinsie, who operated the ferry company and "graciously gave permission to use the building."
Furnishings for the chapel were gathered from Fr. Madden's friends in Fort Myers, and soon a small folding field organ was purchased for fifteen dollars. A few folding chairs were begged or borrowed. The Women's Guild raised money for hymnals and prayer books.
In a letter to the Reads, founding members of the mission, Fr. Madden described the first service in Casa Marina: "What an auspicious occasion! Had twenty-six our for service yesterday despite the intense heat and without too much publicity. The chapel would have surprised you as it did those who attended. It was really beautiful! The altar, we think, was a masterpiece...
"Had many, many calls for cold beer from the passer by so we might go into the business as a sideline. We sure did laugh about our first 'customers'! Even had an acolyte! A young boy from Tampa offered to serve so we put him to use. On track of a small organ which I am sure we can have; the next problem will be an organist!" A later comment from Fr. Madden said the new organ "was played with dedication and enthusiasm by Ralph Pierce."
Construction continues 1962
It appears that without the energy and enthusiasm of Fr. Madden, the process of organizing a mission might have taken much longer. In one letter the Bishop warned that the work should be spearheaded by the local folk and Fr. Madden should not attempt to do it for them.
From Fr. Madden's comments at the time of the church's twenty-fifth anniversary it appears that the earliest services were held without official permission from the Bishop. "Bishop Loutitt was not contacted for many months after our commencement of services. At the time there was no definite idea of a permanent church. I guess we must have been on a trial run. After all I was a priest on leave from the Diocese of Milwaukee and was not licensed to work in this diocese."
Effective September 1, 1958, Saint Michael and All Angels became a legally constituted mission of the Diocese of South Florida, with Fr. Madden as Vicar. In the Bishop's letter, accepting Saint Michael and All Angels as a mission, he denied the request for naming the new church Saint Michael on the Islands. He felt Florida had so many islands it was not sensible to pinpoint just a couple.
Now the working of the fledging vestry and Fr. Madden, Vicar, began in earnest. The commute from Fort Myers to Sanibel was not an easy one. Fr. Madden drove eighteen miles from his home, then boarded the ferry for a half hour ride. The return trip was not easy, either. In an undated letter, from the summer of 1958, he wrote: "Last Sunday I was the twenty ninth car in line at three in the afternoon! There has not been on Saturday or Sunday that I have been able to get a ferry without waiting an hour or more! Most of the time I leave the car at Punta Rassa and walk on ... What would it be like with a bridge!" The ferry trip cost $1.00 each way, plus forty-seven cents per passenger. With two services per week, this cost Fr. Madden $305.76 a year. Since the diocese allowed $300 per year car expenses, the mission vestry had to discuss how to make up the difference.
One of the tasks for the appointed vestry at that time as to find a suitable site for a new church building. They first considered a tract on the Casa Ybel road, owned by the Diocese and offered to the mission. But because of its location off "the main highway", in the "boon docks," and the expense of loads of fill to bring it up to proper building level, the vestry contacted the bishop and received permission to use the proceeds of the land sale in order to purchase land that would be more suitable. This land parcel and attempts to sell it was discussed many times over the following years. In 1958 a buyer offered $8,000, but problems with the title prevented completion of the transaction. Meanwhile property on Periwinkle was found, comprising "100 feet already paid for and 100 feet to the west under option of purchase." In another vestry report a "heavily wooded piece of property, almost opposite the island laundry" was described. The price on it was $35 per frontage foot, and the Simmond's would give that church their commission. This lot was owned by the Jeffcott real estate family who were wiling to trade for part of the triangular piece owned by the diocese, eight and 2/3 of which could be used by Saint Michael's. These acres were mostly swamp. This was another deal that could not go through because of problems with the title. At one time a piece of property on Captiva was also considered. As the search for a site continued, life went on.
We might think summers were pretty quiet on Sanibel, but Fr. Madden said "The island has been a bee hive all summer. Most motels have been full." But even in the heat "the doors of the mission were always open and services were continued without fail: the mission was the only place open for public worship."
In November 1958, another letter was sent out to interested persons describing the need for money to build a church, as the congregation would soon have to move out of Casa Marina. The islands' population was very small so help was needed from winter visitors. "Our goal is $10,000, and we have over one quarter now. Please help. When we have half, we'll commence to build and leave the rest in God's hands."
In April, 1958, Fr. Madden started services for the islands' black residents. The services and classes were held at the abandoned schoolhouse for black children on Tarpon Bay Road. Fr. Madden said they often met outdoors, as it was more comfortable than inside the old building. At a later time, the inside of the building was cleaned up for use in inclement weather. From all accounts these were the first church services offered to the black community on Sanibel and Captiva.
A Sunday school was started in June of 1958 at the same time that Fr. Madden added Sunday services to accommodate island residents. He was also serving as priest-in-charge at Saint Hilary's Mission, that was meeting in Marion Bail's Ballet School in Fort Myers. While Fr. Madden continued working with both new missions, the vestry kept working on locating a site for a building. But a design for the building was decided upon, provided at no cost by architect Gustel Kiewitt, who wintered here. Although the design was unusual, most of the congregation approved of it. The year end report for 1959 listed total receipts as $8,017, disbursements of $4,607, with $1,800 for the organ fund and $4,808 in the building fund.
Saint Michael's completed.
In a document from the year 2000, written by Jennifer Workman, the design is described thus: "The church plans contained a Gothic style design by Gustel Kiewitt, an architect who wintered on Sanibel. Kiewitt's unique style and design that included arches and a wood frame...The unique building was constructed with interior tracery and a lack of central pillar support. Gothic-style calls for wall and ceiling arches to carry the weight of the structure." In August 1960 a bid for construction was accepted from Stevens, for a bid of $15,000 plus an additional $1,400. The mission was hoping for $8,000 for the sale of the land on Casa Ybel Road.
The original building had seating for about seventy and the entry doors (not yet red), faced Periwinkle Drive. There was space for parking in front of the church.