The missionary Jurisdiction of Florida was administered by the Bishop of New York, the Rt. Rev Henry Onderdonk. When the Diocese of Florida was organized, there were seven congregations, including St. Paul's, Key West. Shortly after the Civil War, St. Peter's was founded as a Negro Mission in Key West. It became a large and thriving congregation of 211 members by the late 1880s. In 1868, an unsuccessful revolution in Cuba brought thousands of political refugees to Florida, many of whom settled in Key West.
By 1888, the growth in population and membership resulted in a diocese made up of eighty parishes and missions — too large for one bishop to handle. A new Missionary Jurisdiction of Southern Florida began with five parishes, thirty-nine organized missions, and eleven mission stations. The growth continued under the Rt. Rev. William Crane Gray, other clergy and the people of Southern Florida. Missions reached out to Native Americans, African Americans, Cuban refugees, British immigrants (largely from the Caribbean area) and tourists. Churches established in the infancy of the new diocese that are now part of the Diocese of Southeast Florida, include: Bethesda-by-the-Sea, Palm Beach; Trinity Cathedral, Miami; Historic St. Agnes, Miami; All Saints', Jensen Beach; Holy Trinity, West Palm Beach; St. Stephen's and Christ Church, Coconut Grove (Miami); and Holy Cross, Miami.
The Rt. Rev Cameron Mann followed Bishop Gray. One of his goals was to attain independent diocesan status for South Florida. Throughout the Great Depression years, the Diocese of South Florida survived and eventually began to thrive. Bishop Mann's successor, the Rt. Rev. John D. Wing, was known for his advocacy or racial equality. During Bishop Wing's episcopate the Diocese gave more to the National Church than it received; Deaconess Harriet Bedell began ministering to the Seminoles of the Everglades; and work began on Camp Wingmann, a youth camp near Avon Park, Florida.
During the post-World War II years the church experienced a period of booming expansion. Returning GI's sought higher education, and college ministries grew. In 1950, the Rt. Rev. Henry Louttit succeeded Bishop Wing. In 1951, when white church members still had mixed feelings about integration, the largest parish in the Diocese of South Florida was St. Agnes, the first black Episcopal Church in Miami. (It continues to be the largest congregation in the diocese.)
A loan fund for expansion was started in the 1950s. This enabled the establishment of seventy-one congregations, and a movement towards establishing church schools and pre-schools accelerated at that time. By 1966 there were thirty-eight day schools.
During the 1960s Cuban refugees came to Florida in great numbers. The church in South Florida helped with aid in resettling, language instruction, emergency food, and clothing. Todos los Santos became the first mission established for the Spanish-speaking members of our diocese. In 1969, the Diocese of South Florida split into three new dioceses: Central Florida, Southwest Florida and Southeast Florida. The Rt. Rev. James L. Duncan became the first Diocesan Bishop of Southeast Florida, and Trinity Church in Miami became the diocesan cathedral. The new diocese consisted of 75 congregations and slightly more than 30,000 communicants. Bishop Duncan immediately undertook a capital funds campaign, which raised over a million dollars, to restore financial well-being.
On February 9, 1980, the Rt. Rev. Calvin Onderdonk Schofield, Jr. (a descendant of Bishop Onderdonk), succeeded Bishop Duncan and became the second bishop of Southeast Florida. Prior to this investiture, Bishop Schofield had served as Bishop Coadjutor for almost one year. Among the first crises faced by Bishop Schofield was the arrival of tens of thousands of Cubans into Southeastern Florida. Confronting institutional racism and improving race relations also consumed much of Bishop Schofield's attention. In the early 1980s many Haitian immigrants arrived in Florida, and in 1987 the diocese established a French/Creole-speaking congregation, St. Paul et Les Martyrs d'Haiti, Miami.
Full-time episcopal assistance became a priority early in the 90s, and the Rt. Rev. John Lewis Said was consecrated as bishop suffragan on February 25, 1995. He retired on August 31, 2002.
Bishop Schofield retired at the end of August 2000, and on May 6, 2000, the Rt. Rev. Leopold Frade, then bishop of Honduras, was elected the third bishop of Southeast Florida. He was enthroned on September 16 of that year. He calls himself a "missionary bishop", and is challenging the diocese to reach out to all persons in our communities and to grow God's kingdom by planting new congregations and increasing active participation in current churches and ministries.