1995 Sermons and Reflections: Biography

Sermons and Reflections

The Rev. Ralph Miller Carmichael



Father Ralph Carmichael was born November 15, 1912, in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, in the manse of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. His father, the Reverend Harvey Carmichael, was the minister. His mother, Adele Lilian Miller Carmichael, was a schoolteacher and painter.

His family lived in Cromwell, Connecticut, from 1919 until 1929, where his father was minister of the First Congregational Church of Cromwell. While there, his father also received his Doctorate in Religious Education in 1921 from the Hartford School of Pedagogy, which is now the Hartford Seminary. Father Ralph attended Middleton High School.

As a boy he studied piano and he took singing lessons as an adult. More than one important singer thought Ralph should be in professional opera. While at seminary, a New York City voice teacher recommended he pursue voice exclusively as a basso cantante, for he had such great promise. [Ralph greatly admired the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938).]

From 1931 until 1935, he studied Chemical Engineering at McGill University, in which he received his bachelor’s degree. But he became disillusioned with the ability of the physical sciences to answer the ultimate questions of life. At McGill he met Jean Dunlop, who later became his wife and who was active in the Student Christian Movement. The SCM and the Oxford Group movement were influential in his decision to enter the Christian ministry.

Father Carmichael attended Union Theological Seminary in New York City, receiving the Master of Theology degree in 1938. He felt very privileged to have studied under Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr.

On October 11, 1938, he was ordained a Presbyterian minister by the Presbytery of Buffalo-Niagara, New York, his father preaching the sermon. He became minister of the Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Buffalo that September.
Father Carmichael and Jean Dunlop were married on November 5, 1938. Four children were born in Buffalo: Fay, John, Paul and Andrew.

From 1945 to 1951 he served on the staff of the Council of Churches of Buffalo and Erie County. Always active ecumenically, he later served as President of the New York Capital Area Council of Churches in Albany.

On May 18, 1951, he was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church by Lauriston Scaife, Bishop of Western New York. In September he became Canon of Education at the Cathedral Church of Saint John in Wilmington, Delaware, where he remained until March 1955, when he became rector of Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Albany, New York.

Father Carmichael was awarded a grant from the Episcopal Church’s Department of College Work for sabbatical study at Oxford University in England during 1964-65.

He retired from Saint Andrew’s in 1975 as “Rector Emeritus.”

In 1957 Father Carmichael became minister of the summer chapel of the Church of the Transfiguration at Blue Mountain Lake, New York, and was named Priest-in-Charge in 1959. He remained there for thirty-nine summers. After his retirement from St. Andrew’s Albany in 1975, while traveling with Mrs. Carmichael in Mexico, he was asked by the Episcopal Bishop of Guadalajara to be Priest-in-Charge of St. Andrew’s by the Lake, in Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico, during the winter. He accepted and held that position until 1989. He and Mrs. Carmichael continued to winter there through 1994-95.

The Carmichaels made their New York home on St. Hubert’s Isle in Raquette Lake, the site of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, founded in 1880. Father Carmichael conducted a special Vespers service at the Island Church on the first Sunday afternoon in August each year beginning in 1959.

Father Ralph died on his Island on August 26, 1995.

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