Francis P. Church Biography

Editor, Journalist (1839–1906)
Journalist and editor Francis P. Church is remembered best for his 1897 editorial reply to Virginia O'Hanlon, in which he declares Santa Claus is real.


Born in New York in 1839, Francis P. Church spent much of his life working on newspapers and other publications. He graduated from Columbia College (now Columbia University) in 1859. During the Civil War, Church served as a war correspondent. He and his brother, William Conant Church, worked together on The Army and Navy Journal. In 1869, the brothers created a literary publication called Galaxy Magazine. In 1897, Church wrote his most famous work. His reply to Virginia O'Hanlon's query about Santa Claus quickly became a holiday classic. Church died in New York City in 1906.

Early Life

Born on February 22, 1839, in Rochester, New York, newspaper editor and writer Francis Pharcellus Church wrote one of the most famous newspaper editorials of all time. He penned a response to a young girl's query about the existence of Santa Claus in 1897 that remains popular to this day.

Francis P. Church was the son of a reverend and the grandson of a Revolutionary War soldier. He graduated from Columbia College (now known as Columbia University) in 1859. For a time, Church considered a career in law, but soon abandoned that idea for a life in media.

During the Civil War, Church worked as a war correspondent. He also worked with his brother, William Conant Church, on The Army and Navy Journal. The pair also established a literary publication called Galaxy Magazine in 1869. Contributors to Galaxy included Mark Twain and Henry James.

Famous Santa Claus Editorial

By 1897, Francis P. Church was working for the New York Sun. That year he was asked to reply to a letter from an 8-year-old girl named Virginia O'Hanlon asking about Santa Claus. She wrote that "Some of my little friends there is no Santa Claus ... Papa says 'If you see it in The Sun it's so ... please tell me the truth." Church's now famous reply touched the hearts of Sun readers and later many others.

Church wrote: "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy." He attributed her friends' disbelief to being "affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age."

While he wrote many articles and editorials during his lifetime, Church will always be remembered best for his moving commentary on Santa Claus. He died on April 11, 1906, in his New York City home.

A Christmas Classic

Over the years, Church's defense of Santa Claus has been reprinted numerous times in magazines and newspapers. It has also inspired several books, including the 2001 children's illustrated tale Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus. The story of O'Hanlon's letter and Church's reply have formed the narrative for a number of films, most recently the 2009 television special, Yes, Virginia.

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