Feast of James Mills Thoburn, Isabella Thoburn, and Clara Swain (November 27)   2 comments

Above:  India Prior to Partition

Map scanned from Hammond’s New Era Atlas of the World (1945) and cropped by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Pay close attention to Lucknow and Bareilly, close to Nepal.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

JAMES MILLS THOBURN (MARCH 7, 1836-NOVEMBER 28, 1922)

U.S. Methodist Missionary and Bishop in Asia

brother of

ISABELLA THOBURN (MARCH 29, 1840-SEPTEMBER 1, 1901)

U.S. Methodist Educator, Deaconess, and Missionary to India

traveled with

CLARA A. SWAIN (JULY 18, 1834-DECEMBER 25, 1910)

U.S. Methodist Medical Missionary to India

These three saints come to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006).  In that volume each person has a separate date.  One of the purposes of my renovation of my Ecumenical Calendar, however, is to emphasize relationships and influences.  The three saints, therefore, share a feast day here.

James Mills Thoburn and Isabella Thoburn, born in Saint Clairsville, Ohio, were children of Irish immigrants.  James debuted on March 7, 1836.  Isabella followed on March 29, 1840.  James, an 1857 graduate of Allegheny College, became a minister in the Pittsburgh Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church the following year.  After serving as a pastor, he became a missionary to India in 1859.

Thoburn spent most of 1859-1908 (except for furloughs, mainly) in Asia.  At first he worked with William Butler (1818-1899) and Clementine Rowe Butler (1820-1913) in North India.  The Butlers were the first U.S. Methodist missionaries to India; they had arrived in 1856.  Thoburn found the slow pace of missionary work with them frustrating, though.  Later our saint worked with William Taylor (1821-1902), a Methodist evangelist.  In 1874-1887 Thoburn served as pastor of a church Taylor had planted in Calcutta.

Thoburn, briefly (1861-1862) married to Sarah Minerva Rockwell, who died in childbirth in 1862, was working out of Lucknow in 1866.  That year he wrote to Isabella, his sister, a teacher in the United States.  He asked her to come to Lucknow, to operate a then-hypothetical school for girls.  Isabella accepted the offer, but her denomination did not dispatch unmarried women overseas as missionaries until 1869, when the newly-founded Women’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church sent her to India.  On November 3, 1869, Isabella Thoburn and Clara A. Swain, M.D., sailed from Boston, Massachusetts.  They arrived at Bombay on January 7, 1870.  Isabella went to Lucknow.  Swain headed for Bareilly.

Clara A. Swain, born in Elmira, New York, on July 18, 1834, became the first U.S. medical missionary overseas.  The youngest daughter of John Swain and Clarissa Seavey Swain joined the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1842.  She became a teacher then attended the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, from which she graduated in 1869, shortly before she sailed for India.  Swain, in India, initially worked out of an orphanage.  She identified women’s medical needs, met them, and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Swain founded the Women’s Hospital and Medical School, an institution unique in Asia, in 1870.

Isabella Thoburn, at Lucknow, started the new girls’ school with six pupils in 1870.  The school grew into a boarding school then a high school then, in 1886, Lucknow Woman’s College, the first Christian college for women in Asia.  In 1903, after Isabella’s death, the name of the institution became Isabella Thoburn College.

James Mills Thoburn, founder (in 1871) of the periodical the Lucknow Witness (later the Indian Witness), expanded Methodist missionary work in Asia for decades.  He began work in Rangoon in 1879.  In 1880, while on furlough in the United States, he met and married Anna Jones (d. 1902), a candidate to be a medical missionary.  He sailed for India two days after the wedding.  Anna spent the next two years completing her medical studies before sailing to India, where she served for decades.  In 1885 James started Methodist work in Singapore.  Three years later, he became the Bishop of India and Malaysia.  In that capacity he supervised much missionary work in Asia.  In 1898 he dispatched missionaries to the Philippines.

The Thoburns and Swain, on furlough in the United States in 1888, helped to revive the ancient order of deaconesses in the Methodist Episcopal Church.  Isabella became one of the earliest Methodist deaconesses.  While still in the United States, she helped to found both Christ Hospital and the Deaconess Home and Training School, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Isabella and James spoke separately at the Ecumenical Missionary Conference, New York City, in 1900.  Then Isabella returned to India, where she died of cholera the following year.

James and Clara retired in 1908.  She settled in Castille, New York, where she wrote A Glimpse of India (1909).  She died in Castille the  following year.  Bishop Thoburn retired to Meadville, Pennsylvania.  In 1910 he, at the invitation of John Raleigh Mott (1865-1955), attended the World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh, Scotland.  Thoburn died in Meadville in 1922.

The legacies of these three saints continue, fortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 7, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMITIAN OF HUY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP

THE FEAST OF HARRIET STARR CANNON, FOUNDRESS OF THE COMMUNITY OF SAINT MARY

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH ARMITAGE ROBINSON, ANGLICAN DEAN, SCHOLAR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROSA VENERINI, FOUNDRESS OF THE VENERINI SISTERS; MENTOR OF SAINT LUCIA FILIPPINI, FOUNDRESS OF THE RELIGIOUS TEACHERS FILIPPINI

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

God of grace and glory, we praise you for your servants

James Mills Thoburn, Isabella Thoburn, and Clara Swain,

who made the good news known in Asia.

Raise up, we pray, in every country, heralds of the gospel,

so that the world may know the immeasurable riches of your love,

and be drawn to worship you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Isaiah 62:1-7

Psalm 48

Romans 10:11-17

Luke 24:44-53

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 59

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Advertisements

2 responses to “Feast of James Mills Thoburn, Isabella Thoburn, and Clara Swain (November 27)

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Thank you for bringing these people to our attention. There are so many faithful saints of God who have gone before us and given their lives for the gospel and to help others. What a witness they are to all of us!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: