By Neva Rae Fox
The Rev. Deacon Sister Priscilla Jean Wright, the last living deaconess of the Episcopal Church, died September 11 at the Community of the Transfiguration in Glendale, Ohio. She was 88.
Sister Priscilla said in a March TLC article that being called the last deaconess “always makes me laugh,” adding, “Phoebe and Lydia were in the class before me.” (Saint Phoebe and Saint Lydia were contemporaries of the Apostle Paul.)
In her 58 years of ministry, she served in the Dominican Republic, Navajoland, Puerto Rico, Virginia, Texas, and Ohio. She loved working with children: “Just be around a 4- or 5-year-old and they will ask you anything.”
After joining a Canterbury Fellowship while studying anthropology as an undergraduate, she trained as a deaconess. In 1962 she completed a master’s degree in Christian education from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary.
She was set apart as a deaconess in 1964. Six years later, General Convention authorized ordaining women alongside men as deacons, and recognized previously ordained deaconesses as deacons. Sister Priscilla made her life vows on January 25, 1971.
She said the two greatest changes she witnessed firsthand were deaconesses entering the full diaconate “and not just glorified ministry,” and women’s ordination to the priesthood, which General Convention approved in 1976.
Sister Diana Doncaster of the Community of the Transfiguration praised Sister Priscilla’s “faithfulness to her vocation, to her community, both of which she knew were ways of loving God. How she loved serving as a deacon. She embodied what it is to be a deacon.”