Joseph Schereschewsky vs. Harriet Bedell

What's in a name? Fortunately for Harriet Bedell, this contest won't be decided by the number of letters in one's name. In this category Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereshewsky would not only win 30 to 13 but he'd run the entire Lent Madness table. Two fascinating stories, two amazingly saintly lives, yet only one will move on to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen.

In yesterday's Lent Madness action, despite a late charge by old man Simeon, Phillips Brooks defeated him 52% to 48% and will face Catherine of Siena in the next round.

Enjoy today's penultimate first round match-up and don't forget to watch the latest edition of Monday Madness. We guarantee it will make your Tuesday even more like a Monday (it's a Lent thing).

schereshewskySamuel Isaac Joseph Schereshewsky

Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky was born to Jewish parents in Lithuania in 1831, and his early life and studies were designed with the intention that he be ordained to the rabbinate. After studies at the Rabbinical College in Zhitomeer, Russia, he moved to Breslau, Germany for two further years of graduate study. It was there that, under the influence of missionaries, and after his own reading of a Hebrew translation of the New Testament, Schereschewsky became a Christian. In 1854, he emigrated to the United States, settling in Pittsburgh. There he entered the Western Theological Seminary, with plans to seek ordination in the Presbyterian Church. After two years in Pittsburgh, he became an Episcopalian. He enrolled at The General Theological Seminary in New York City as a candidate for Holy Orders from the Diocese of Maryland. He completed his studies there in 1859 and was ordained deacon that year, and priest the next.

In response to a great need for missionaries in China, Schereschewsky continued to wander the globe, this time boarding the ship Golden Rule and moving to China in 1859. Already very talented at learning foreign languages, he taught himself Mandarin during his voyage in order to further his missionary work. The time after he landed was extraordinarily productive–by 1865, Schereschewsky had translated the Psalms and the bulk of The Book of Common Prayer into Mandarin Chinese; from 1865 to 1873, he translated the entirety of the Old Testament.

In 1875, Channing Moore Williams, who had been the Bishop for Japan and China, was assigned to Japan alone. Schereschewsky was elected as the new Bishop of Shanghai, but he declined, not trusting himself to be fit for the office. In 1877, he was elected again, and this time he accepted and was consecrated. While bishop, he founded Saint John’s University and began yet another Bible translation, this time into Wenli, the local dialect.

After developing Parkinson’s disease, he resigned his See in 1883. He remained dedicated to his translation work, even after becoming almost fully paralyzed, and typed the last 2,000 pages with the one finger he could still move. He moved to Tokyo in 1897, where he died in 1906.

Collect for Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky
O God, in your providence you called Joseph Schereschewsky from his home in Eastern Europe to the ministry of this Church, and sent him as a missionary to China, upholding him in his infirmity, that he might translate the Holy Scriptures into languages of that land. Lead us, we pray, to commit our lives and talents to you, in the confidence that when you give your servants any work to do, you also supply the strength to do it; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- David Sibley

harrietbedell500Harriet Bedell

Born in Buffalo, New York in 1875, Harriet Bedell first trained to be a schoolteacher, but her life’s work was not to be contained in a classroom. When she was thirty years old, she attended a lecture given by a missionary to China. Soon after she attended the Episcopal Training School for Deaconesses in New York City, a one-year program where she learned about religion, teaching, mission, hygiene, and nursing. Her mother balked at an overseas posting, so in 1907 Bedell accepted an assignment to serve as a missionary-teacher among the Southern Tsitsistas/Suhtai (Cheyenne) people at the Whirlwind Mission in Oklahoma. She served in Oklahoma for nine years until the mission closed. She was then called to work with the Gwich’in people in Stevens Village, Alaska. She was finally made a deaconess there in 1922.

However, Alaska was not to be her life’s work. In the depths of the Great Depression, funds were scarce to run the boarding school she had helped to found. She returned to New York in 1931 to plead for funds, but the school was closed and she never returned to Alaska. One door was shut, but another would soon open.

On a speaking tour in Florida, Bedell visited a Seminole Indian reservation. Appalled by the living conditions, she wasted no time, moving right in to the Blade Cross Mission, where she lived for the next thirty years. She encouraged tribal members to revive many traditional crafts to sell in the mission store. Her friendship with the Seminole people won their respect, and her faithful witness contributed to the improvement in their quality of life. She continued to serve until Hurricane Donna destroyed the mission in 1960. She died in 1969.

Bedell’s ministry placed value on health, education, and spiritual comfort over religious conversion. Once, when asked to speak at a Seminole funeral, she translated Psalm 23: “The Great Spirit watches over all of us. He feeds us and leads us to the waters of comfort. When we walk in the shadow of death, we need fear no bad things. The love and mercy of the Great Spirit will be with us all our lives and we will always be welcome in the Great Chickee.”

Such was her verve and passion for life and work, the Rev. Howard V. Harper wrote in his essay, “Always Welcome in the Great Chickee” that Bedell “played all of life in the Key of C Major.”

Collect for Harriet Bedell
Holy God, you chose your faithful servant Harriet Bedell to exercise the ministry of deaconess and to be a missionary among indigenous peoples: Fill us with compassion and respect for all people, and empower us for the work of ministry throughout the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-- Heidi Shott


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143 comments on “Joseph Schereschewsky vs. Harriet Bedell”

  1. This was very difficult. Both of these people underwent some mind boggling changes for their faith!! Once again, I flipped a coin and voted for Harriet.

    1. I agree. I ended up voting for Harriet because of her translation of Psalm 23. I also want to be one with the Great Chickee.

    2. Most difficult choice yet...I had to flip a coin too, and came up with the lady, just because!

  2. Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky is an inspiration as well a shining example of service through incredible difficulties. I don't know whether you caught that last section of the bio above, but the man spent the last years of his life typing Chinese characters with the only finger he could move, one stroke at a time. It was a partnership in some ways...his wife was the person who advanced the paper on the typewriter roller and changed those pages as necessary. She ministered to him during that time.
    Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky is worthy of several golden halos for the work he did producing the Bible in Mandarin and, I think, in one other dialect of Chinese.
    He has my vote.

    1. . . . and good thing he became an Episcopalian rather than a Presbyterian -- since the Presbyterians have no calendar for holy people -- he would have missed Lent Madness altogether!

    2. And have you ever seen a Chinese typewriter? Years ago a typewriter store on E. 23rd St (near Madison) had one in its window display --- it was a marvel of complexity!

  3. I was struggling to decide until I read in Bedell's biography that her ministry "placed value on health, education, and spiritual comfort over religious conversion." Health, education, and spiritual comfort are all important, however Jesus also sent his disciples out to create new believers.

      1. That was my thought also. Doesn't say it wasn't important, just that it wasn't the first thing she did.

    1. I'm with Grace. Education, health, and spiritual comfort are important, but salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ is not only important but vital. I do wish she had preached the Gospel more clearly. Perhaps she did, but the bio doesn't indicate that. My vote is for Schereschewsky. What an indomitable spirit the man had! Thanks to Lent Madness for introducing us to two inspiring evangelists.

    2. True.
      Still, over in the Bedell corner of the Great Chickee, St. James is murmuring "Yes, but if a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food..." as he re-laces Harriet's gloves and sends her back into the fray...

  4. This is another tough one. I voted for Schereschewsky because he is one of the saints depicted in a large stained glass window over the red doors entering into All a Saints, Omaha. So I look at the window every time I enter and leave the church. Thus he has held a place in my heart for years. I admire his story of translating the Bible even though he was paralyzed and could use only one finger!

  5. This sealed my vote for Bedell...."Bedell's ministry placed value on health, education and spiritual comfort over religious conversion."

    1. We sometimes forget the ministries for our own. Befell served the challenged here at home!

  6. AAUGH how do I decide this one? Each person a formidable, challenging example of saintly life...self-sacrficing, losing oneself in the Divine. I think the coin toss is the only way today.

  7. I voted for Schereschewsky. It took great courage to convert as a son of a religious family. I have a strong feeling that although his biography made his conversion seem facile, there was a lot of inner turmoil. Then to translate the scriptures in Manderin and Wendi while ministering to his flock is no mean feat.

  8. Why SEC must you make the pairings so hard! Both Schereschewsky and Bedell are worthy of the Golden Halo!!! But I ended up going with Schereschewsky for his endurance. To translate when one can only move one finger.... That I might have such endurance for the Lord.

    1. You think they're hard choices today? Wait until tomorrow--the brothers Wesley!

  9. Another tough one. I had to go with Schereschewsky, one of my favorite saints. His life and witness reminds me that the journey of faith in Christ is often a circuitous path with many unexpected twists and turns but that always and at every point, God has a plan and purpose.

  10. WOW - what a mind-blowing match-up! Why do you guys at LM have to have such an evil streak in your choices?!?!? Ah, such is the "madness" during Lent!

  11. My vote is for Harriet because she "placed value on health, education, and spiritual comfort over religious conversion."
    I don't feel converting someone to a new faith is the answer, but that by promoting these things you are showing the world what a true christian is rather than telling them what a true christian is.
    We have to remember that Christ was Jewish until his death, and he didn't mean to create a new religion but to show people that through their lives and actions they can promote good in the people they find. Christianity happened because of the people following Christ, not because of Christ himself.

    1. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus tells his disciples "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
      and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you."
      These are not the words of the people following Christ, but of Christ himself. Yes, Christians should serve all the needs of humanity: physical, emotional, educational,
      spiritual. And meeting these needs can be a powerful means of bringing people to Christ. Even if people don't come to Christ, if we serve them in whatever way we can we have fulfilled the Gospel. But to bring to the whole world the message of salvation in Jesus Christ is something we are all called to do, in whatever way God leads us.

  12. I fell in love with Schereschewsky when I was in seminary and my admiration has never lessened. He gets my vote!

  13. Wow. Such a hard choice today. Both amazing disciples willing to give their all to the work of caring, of teaching, of loving, of living fully in the love of God. Finally went with Schereschewsky, maybe just because I am more familiar with his story. Love Harriet Bedell and will look to find out more about her life and work.

  14. As much as I like S.I.J. Schereschewsky, Harriet is a deaconess. Being a deacon and being from Florida, and having many Seminole friends, Harriet gets my vote.

  15. This matchup is very good because both persons should advance. I flipped a coin and voted for Schereschewsky.

  16. This was probably my most difficult choice yet. In the end, I made it for more emotional reasons. I, too, worked in mission with Native Americans, and they gave me more than I probably ever gave them. Harriet Bedell was ahead of her time in valuing Native culture. Both candidates were new to me and both inspiring, but she gets my vote. Hecetu welo!

  17. Oh, my. I didn't see the note that St. Sam is the patron of the internet -- vs. a Buffalo native! One of my fave places to eat in Buffalo was Bedell's Candlelight Inn (now demolished, I think)! Yes, this was a tough bracket today.

  18. As a sort-of-almost-Chinese interested in Chinese mission history, I couldn't not choose Schereschewsky 🙂 Although I like Harriet Bedell's contextualisation of Psalm 23!

    Small correction, though: "wenli" was not a local dialect but literary Chinese, i.e. the Chinese used by scholars for scholarly texts, and used not just locally but all over China.

  19. I have loved Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky since I first learned his story almost four decades ago! So, he gets my vote!

  20. I ended up voting for Helen because I also want to go to the "Land of the Great Chikee" and be reunited with my husband who was so proud of his Native American heritage.

  21. Talk about saints! Either is Golden Halo-worthy, but I'm choosing Schereschewsky in honor of my dad, a two finger typist-- and also because if he wins, they'll need to issue an extra large coffee mug to accomodate his name. Go Joe!

    1. I voted for Helen, but I really like the idea of an extra large coffee mug!! Maybe Helen could win but the font could be extra large for those of us who are of "an age".

  22. This was very hard, and I almost resorted to Denis meenie minie mo. End the end, the one fingered typing got me, and I voted for Joseph.

  23. Such a tough choice this morning! I love them both…
    What tipped the balance for me was the remark by one commenter about the "shared ministry" - Joseph's wife held the paper and moved it for him so he could write those last 2,000 pages with one finger!
    So I voted for them (and in memory of my own mother and father, who worked together in a similar way).

  24. I vote for Schereschewsky in honor of our amazing priest emeritus, Bob, who has battled Parkinson's for many many years with similar courage and determination.

  25. Samuel gazed down upon me from his stained-glass chapel perch during my 3 years of seminary. Had to go with my old friend...