100 years ago today (as I write this, yesterday, as you read this), Sister Elisabeth Fedde, Lutheran Deaconess and founder of Deaconess homes and hospitals in the US, died in her native Norway, on February 25, 1921. Elisabeth was born on Christmas day, December 25, 1850 and began her training as a deaconess in 1873. She must have been a highly capable nurse and quickly developed as an administrator as she was invited to New York in 1883 to take up the challenge of establishing the Norwegian Relief Society and opening a hospital for Norwegian seamen.
The ministry Sister Elisabeth founded soon came to include a house to train other young women as deaconesses and to work as nurses. This growth allowed the hospital to expand from 9 to 30 beds. That hospital became known as the Lutheran Medical Center and is now known as New York University’s Langone Hospital in Brooklyn. “NYU Lutheran,” as it’s commonly referred to, has over 450 beds and treats over 80,000 patients each year.
Following on her achievements in New York, Sister Elisabeth was invited by midwestern Lutherans to expand the ministry reach of the Relief Society by establishing a Deaconess House and Hospital in Minneapolis in 1888. She went on to establish similar ministries in Chicago, IL and Grand Forks, ND before returning to Norway after just 13 years in the US. She married an old suitor, Ole Slettebo, left the diaconate and lived out her days on a farm close to Stavanger, Norway.
But Sister Elisabeth’s legacy carried on. In 1959, after graduating high school in western MN, a granddaughter of Norwegian immigrants, enrolled in the Lutheran Deaconess Nursing School in Minneapolis where she was trained by the Deaconess community founded 70 years prior. Ann Henningsgaard completed her training and received her nursing certificate which launched a career in healthcare that included being a campus nurse at Luther College, the founding CEO of UCare Minnesota and countless remarkable callings in between.
Most importantly (to me anyways) on February 25, 1970, young nurse Ann, now wife and mother too, returned to the Lutheran Deaconess Hospital where she had been trained in south Minneapolis, so that she could give birth to her second child. He was named Peter and 51 years later, he’s now serving the Lutheran church in Minnesota as your pastor.
Some time ago, the predecessor bodies of the ELCA decided to honor the life and ministry of Sister Elisabeth Fedde and her countless contributions to the caring and teaching work of the church. They chose the date of her death, February 25, to annually commemorate the rich legacy of her faithfulness to God’s call to work in and through her. As this date happens to also commemorate my birthday, I have no doubt the deciders of such things were also planning to honor my mom, as a similarly faithful child of God, living out a calling that shared God’s love through her life’s work.
May peace find you this day. – Pastor Peter
Let us pray… (Prayer for commendation from the ELW)
O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served, and to give his life for the life of the world. Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help. As you have with Sister Elizabeth Fedde and now through us, give hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, peace to the troubled, and rest to the weary, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.