Feast of Mother Edith (May 24)   Leave a comment

Above:  Flag of New Zealand 

Image in the Public Domain


EDITH MARY MELLISH (MARCH 10, 1861-MAY 25, 1922)

Foundress of the Community of the Sacred Name

Mother Edith comes to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days from the calendar of saints according to The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia, which commemorates her life on May 24.

One of the best developments in the corporate lives of Anglican and Lutheran churches in the nineteenth century was the revival of the female diaconate, the order of deaconesses.  That order, merged with the previously solely male diaconate in the Anglican tradition since the late twentieth century, did much to create opportunities for women in Christian service in places from parishes to hospitals.

Edith Mary Mellish, a daughter of English banker-businessman Edward Mellish and his wife Ellen, grew up in a variety of places.  She, born in Mauritius, spent some of her early years in China before moving to England.  There she studied at a boarding school.  Edith’s mother died when she was two years old.  Edward married two more times.  Our saint’s first stepmother was Sarah Waterworth, late of the Church Missionary Society.  She took great interest in our saint’s spiritual development.  That growth led to Edith becoming a deaconess in London in 1891.

Also in 1891, Churchill Julius (1847-1938), then the Bishop of Christchurch, New Zealand (and later the Archbishop of New Zealand), wrote Frederick Temple (1821-1902), then the Bishop of London (and later the Archbishop of Canterbury), requesting a deaconess for the Diocese of Christchurch.   Temple agreed, with one condition–that he deaconess build up a community of such women in the diocese.  Certain women in the Diocese of Christchurch were already intent on forming a community of deaconesses.  Bishop Julius admitted the first deaconesses in his diocese in January 1892.  Our saint arrived in August of the following year.  The deaconesses visited prisoners and hospital patients, taught, ministered to orphans, embroidered for churches, and helped unmarried women.  Our saint, dubbed Sister Edith, called the community “The Sisters of Bethany.”  That community became “The Community of the Sacred Name” in 1911, and Sister Edith became Mother Edith.

Despite the deaconesses’ many good works, some opposition to the sisters existed.  Certain Anglicans considered them “popish,” for example.  The transition of the deaconeses’ Sisters of Bethany into a religious order, the Community of the Sacred Name, certainly seemed “popish.”  The nuns grounded their lives in prayer, meditation, and quiet retreats and quiet days.  That was “popish,” yes, but laudable.

Mother Edith, aged 61 years, died on May 25, 1922, after an extended illness.

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia’s official biography of Mother Edith lists her “outstanding characteristics” as

compassion, humility, fearlessness, and a loving concern for all.

Those are virtues all of us should nurture in ourselves and encourage in others, n’est-ce pas?

The Community of the Sacred Name still exists.





Everliving God, we thank you for Mother Edith and the community she founded;

give us grace to love you above all things and each other in you,

that we may care for those in need and faithfully sing your praise;

this we ask in the sacred name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.


Jesus, you promise that when two or three of us are gathered together in your name, you will be there;

we praise you for Edith, who left behind all that she loved to found a community in your name;

you have blessed her sisters greatly, bless them now, and into the time ahead.  Amen.

1 Samuel 1:21-28

Psalm 20 or 96

Philippians 3:7-11

Mark 9:33-41

–The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia


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