Madeleine Albright, Episcopalian

Madeleine K. Albright negotiated in 1998 with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat | State Department photo

By Kirk Petersen

For the second time in five months, America has lost an Episcopalian former Secretary of State born in 1937.

Madeleine K. Albright, the first female Secretary of State in American history, died March 23 at the age of 84 while surrounded by family and friends. She succumbed to cancer.

Her faith journey was far more complicated than most. She was born Marie Jana Korbelová on May 15, 1937, in Czechoslovakia, and her Jewish parents converted to Roman Catholicism after being driven into exile by Adolph Hitler. They hid her Jewish heritage from her and her siblings — she was surprised to learn of it in a newspaper article after she became Secretary of State.

In 1959 she married newspaper scion Joseph Medill Patterson Albright, and converted to his Episcopal faith. He survives her, although they were divorced in 1982, and she did not remarry. They had three daughters, twins Alice and Anne, and later Katherine, all of whom survive her.

She was known for her sense of humor and her concise, evocative statements. Her Twitter account included a tweet, retweeted 31,000 times, reading “I was raised Catholic, became Episcopalian & found out later my family was Jewish. I stand ready to register as Muslim in #solidarity.”

Albright was born 40 days after Colin Powell, a cradle Episcopalian from the South Bronx, who succeeded her as Secretary of State and was the first Black person to hold the job. Powell died from COVID on October 18, 2021, and Albright eulogized him in a service at Washington National Cathedral on November 5. She did not refer to their common faith, but spoke instead of their close friendship across party lines.

“On policy, the general and I didn’t always reach the same conclusions,” she said wryly. “Within the State Department, he was far more popular than his predecessor.”

Albright served as the 64th Secretary of State for President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001, after serving in Clinton’s first term as the 20th U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

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