Deaconess Anne House in Old North St. Louis
Deaconess Anne (middle back) surrounded by Settlement House children.
I am pleased to announce that the “Old North Project/Initiative/Ministry/etc,etc,etc” now has an official name. The Deaconess Anne House in Old North St. Louis (Deaconess Anne House or Deaconess Anne’s for short). And of course, a story lies behind the name.
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” This “cloud of witnesses” not only surrounds us in the present moment (I’m sure we can all think of a faithful man or woman whose life witnesses to the love of Christ), but extends into our past, a past filled with men and women of faith who ran with endurance the holy race of Christian discipleship. Deaconess Anne Pew was one such witness.
As many of you may know, our church has historical ties to the Old North neighborhood. Old North was once home to Grace Hill Church, and the Diocese of Missouri also planted a settlement house (Holy Cross Mission) in the neighborhood that eventually morphed into what is now Grace Hill House. The settlement house ministered to the area’s poor through education programs, health initiatives, and community services.
Here is where Deaconess Anne comes in. Deaconess Anne was charged with running the settlement house for six years (1906-1912). A diocesan article from 1912 stated,
“During the six years that Deaconess Anne was in charge of Holy Cross House she was everything to the people except their Bishop. Not only Deaconess, which I suppose means the feminine of ‘servant,’ but also their pastor, which must mean their shepherdess, for she watched over needs spiritual as carefully as ay commissioned paster could do …she filled all the functions of a minister if not of a priest.”
This is a pretty profound statement, especially about a woman in ministry working for the church in 1912!
On top of her duties as spiritual leader and charge of Holy Cross House, Deaconess Anne raised the money needed to provide much needed social services. The diocesan article went on to write, “For outside her (Deaconess Anne’s) salary, guaranteed to her by the Church Woman’s Club, she had not money to run the Mission which she herself did not raise.” Apparently, Deaconess Anne funded Holy Cross by setting up an early 20th century version of a boutique one might find on Cherokee Street in St. Louis.
“The store was a weekly affair. Its less successful kindred are called rummage sales. But they are sporadic and of questionable benefit to purchasers, while these (Deaconess Anne’s) were regular sales and of undoubted good to those who were fortunate enough to get excellent things at the small price at which the Deaconess, Caesar-like in her authority, sold them.”
Deaconess Anne worked tirelessly for the church and for the neighborhood which she loved, but her work took a toll on her health. In 1912, Deaconess Anne underwent an operation (the type unknown) and “her health would not permit her to live in St. Louis and be ‘our Deaconess’ any longer.” Parishioners, neighbors, and even State workers lamented the Deaconess’ resignation. One city official wrote, “ I didn’t know Deaconess Anne well, but I believed in her.” In ill health, Anne moved to California to recover. She never returned to the Gateway City.
Deaconess Anne left an invaluable mark on the church. After Anne’s departure, a member of Holy Cross wrote, “We at Holy Cross would like to see her friends and admirers erect a memorial here to her. I doubt not but one will come. When we are fitting up quarters for her successor perhaps the rooms will be furnished and called ‘The Deaconess Anne Rooms.’ Whether or not this is done, her memory will abide in our hearts.” This memorial never came to fruition.
In many respects, we (the Episcopal Service Corps in Old North) are Deaconess Anne’s successors. The word “deacon” means ministry or service, and we hope to follow Deaconess Anne’s example of ministry, service, and dedication to Jesus Christ. It might have came 100 years late, but Deaconess Anne has finally received a memorial on earth that reflects, ever so dimly, the crown she undoubtedly received in God’s eternal kingdom.
I leave you with a few words written about Deaconess Anne shortly after her move to California. “It is good to think that all the martyrs are not dead, nor all those who are ready to lose health and home for the Faith. Not that we wish others to fare ill in serving the Church. But we are apt to think ‘that there were giants in those days,’ whereas here in our midst we have had one of the great ones of the earth.”