YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


John C. Harper, 78; Preached to 8 Presidents

September 17, 2002|From the Washington Post

John Carsten Harper, who preached to eight presidents during 30 years as rector of St. John's Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square in Washington, died Friday at Sibley Memorial Hospital after a heart attack. He was 78.

Harper led services at the church, which calls itself the "Church of Presidents," until his retirement in 1993.

During those years, every president from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton came to hear at least one of his sermons, which were often punctuated with literary and historical references.

Harper was known to share the struggles of his own faith and his concerns for the social needs of the church's immediate community. He directed the church's outreach to more than 20 community service organizations and wrote two books: "Sunday: A Minister's Story," a nonfiction account of a minister's life, published in 1974; and "Years of Change: Reflections on St. John's Church," published in 1990.

Harper was born in Winthrop, Mass., the son of an Episcopal minister who served as rector of his own parish for 40 years. The younger Harper served in the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II.

He graduated from Harvard University in 1946 and from what is now Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., in 1953. He later received honorary degrees from George Washington University and Nashotah House Episcopal seminary in Wisconsin. As a young man, he taught at the Taft School, then a private boys school in Watertown, Conn. Upon ordination to the Episcopal ministry in 1953, he served parishes in Providence, R.I.; Foxboro, Mass.; and Bedford, N.Y. He developed a reputation as an engaging speaker and disciplined administrator.

Kennedy attended Harper's installation service at the St. John's parish in 1963. The two had been classmates at Harvard. Clinton attended the service celebrating his 30th anniversary there.

Survivors include his wife of 49 years, Barbara Quarles Harper of Washington; three children; and 10 grandchildren.

Los Angeles Times Articles