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


Joseph Schereschewsky vs. Harriet Bedell

  • Harriet Bedell (63%, 3,089 Votes)
  • Joseph Schereschewsky (37%, 1,841 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,929

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143 comments on “Joseph Schereschewsky vs. Harriet Bedell”

  1. As an attendee of a church that is in a covenant relationship with a Jewish synagogue, I'm uncomfortable with Schereschewsky's conversion. He certainly did wonderful things, but that made the difference for me.

  2. Agreed, this was a very hard choice. I felt a bit wicked in choosing. I didn't , however, lip a coin. It just didn't see "fittin'" to do so; so I flipped a wafer instead.

  3. Such a pleasure to vote for someone who ministered to indigenous people with such respect. I Loved her translation of Psalm 23.

    1. I agree! Her understanding and respect for indigenous people got my vote! And I did love her 23rd psalm. I'm sure I will use that in my ministry. Thanks SEC for including the text of the psalm.

      1. The translation got me as well! It was truly a tough one! As one with MANY letters in my birth name I was pre-disposed toward Joseph. (He also shares the name of my father, my grandfathers and an Uncle. (I suspect great-grandfathers, as well.) Guys - you have to make this easier!!! Consequently, I went with Harriet.

  4. Very tough choice today. I almost went with a coin flip, but after contemplation decided to go with Schereschewsky because he seems to have cut a wider swath. Since I am from Oklahoma, I almost went with Bedell because of her ties with Oklahoma, but the larger impact of Schereschewsky swayed me.

  5. How could I note vote for someone who asks that "... we will always be welcome in the Great Chickee”? And I so agree with those who have spoken about conversion coming about as a result of observing Christian action. It's the shorter name for me today ... go Harriet!

  6. Very tough choice, but since I am part Cherokee, I voted for Harriet because of her work with Native Americans.

  7. I'm voting for Joseph both because of the broad similarities in our religious journeys and in sympathy for having a surname that is impossible to spell or pronounce.

  8. I was all set to vote for S.I.J. Schereshewsky, a longtime favorite of mine, first for his wonderful name, but also for his missionary work and sheer persistence at typing his translation of the Bible with one finger. He should be the patron saint of all seminarians who stay up late many nights typing their papers. But in the end I voted for Harriet for her work with Native Americans and her respect for their traditions.

  9. And THIS is why I look forward to Lent Madness ever year! I love reading about two such amazing, inspirational people. I would have never stumbled across their life stories on my own.
    I voted for Harriet because of her commitment to the indigenous people of this country. It was close though, because I am impressed with Samuel's persistence in the face of Parkinsons. Tough choices this year!

  10. I love Lent Madness because it introduces me to people like Harriet and Samuel. I have no idea how I will vote. I will be meditating on Samuel and Harriet's witness throughout the day.

  11. Another one of those close choices. But this deacon, having served in Alaska,
    votes for the deaconess who served in Alaska.

  12. Thank you Heather C. for seeing courage and determination and value in a priest who is fighting Parkinson's. Blessings to you and Fr. Bob.

  13. It's interesting to read of LM decision-making processes. Many hard choices this season are decided by coin toss or a personal connection. Another difficult choice today.

  14. I picked Schereschewsky in my bracket - a no-brainer, I thought. He is an inspiration to me on so many levels, and understood the importance of learning the local language so you can preach the Gospel locally. I was all prepared to vote for him - and almost skipped straight to the voting button. But then I decided to read the bios. And ended up voting for Helen. How could I not? There are too many similarities in our lives and work. And she got it - you live the Gospel first. Let God handle the conversion. That was a startling and brave stance for her to take, especially in light of the Christian Church's often horrendous treatment of Native Americans throughout North America.

    1. "You live the Gospel first. Let God handle the conversion." Amen, Lauren Stanley! (That is, after all, what Jesus did.) And people from every branch of Christianity yes did horrendous things the the indigenous populations, and felt proud of themselves while doing so. She had a level of courage and faith I think it's difficult for us now to recognise. It's still a tough choice, because they are both so dauntless and admirable... but I lean towards Ms Bedell.

    2. You're exactly right, Lauren Stanley. Now I'm wondering what happened to the work among the Seminoles after the storm destroyed their mission.

    3. Hello, Lauren! It is great to find you here in Lent Madness - I even thought of you as I read these two bios. Each of their lives had elements you too have lived and for which I respect you. I pray your life and service out west continue well. Sandy Winger and I would love to hear more about what's happening. Do you still issue a newsletter or are you doing a blog? Let us know where and how we can learn more.

  15. Good Lord, HOW did autocorrect get to "Helen"??? Of course I mean HARRIET. (Hah! Stumped autocorrect that time!)

    1. So that's what it was! I was wondering "Why are some of these commentators calling her 'Helen'?"

  16. Joseph struck a chord with me. He seemed ready willing and able to do God's calling, even right up to his one fingered typing end. Although Harriet surely did God's calling too, anywhere she was called. Tough choice.

    1. Agreed, but that was just the start of his ministry! I also voted for him as an educator, as a proclaimer of the Gospel, and as one who persevered over ill health and attendant discomfort to do the work he could still do. No disrespect for Harriet, but I just don't see her in the same league.


  17. I voted for Helen, because her approach to ministry to people in cultures not her own by birth was so similar to my training and experience as a chaplain at New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, NY. Love, respect, and serve every one you encounter, and leave judgment and the growth of the seeds you plant to God.

  18. They are both deserving of my vote, but being from Florida and remembering Hurricane Donna well, Harriet gets my vote.

  19. Hi Jackie! As I'm sure you have noticed, the s.e.c. has a nasty streak when it comes to this kind of thing, as amply demonstrated by their stubborn refusal to put Fred Rogers in the bracket!!! What they haven't apparently realized(yet)is that I come from a long line of people who, once having espoused a cause, DO NOT BACK DOWN. Yes this is a hint which I am mashing in the necessary faces, and will continue to mash where and when needed. And boy is it needed. Peace! 🙂

  20. If the aim of Lent Madness is to educate us about our saints then it succeeded big time with me today, both of our contenders I had never heard of and both already have Golden Halos! But I voted for Harriet, she is the epitome of a Deacon and I do agree with those who say that witness is in one's actions and example--preaching the gospel is useless if it falls on deaf (and deafened) ears.

  21. SIJS was baptized at trinity Church, now Trinity cathedral, in downtown Pittsburgh. While I was still the Dean there, the Living Church had an article with someone else discussing his baptism, in a different Church, in a different state. I wrote the Living Church and the person who submitted the comments to see if we could unravel this but never heard back from anyone. Nevertheless, I had to vote for old Sam just the same.

  22. Betsy, I agree. None so deaf as those who can listen, but won't. Mash mash mash!!!!

  23. s The idea of sitting still that long to what was asked of you makes my spirit
    quail, hence my vote for Joseph. And, in truth, also a fond memory of my favorite seminary professor having to chant his name at the community Eucharist.

  24. This was tough. I ended up voting for Harriet . I did not know much about her. The turning point for me was her respect and love for the native people entrusted to her care. I too had a wonderful and challenging experience working in a Native American congregation while in seminary. Their hospitality and love of Christ was truly life changing. Go Harriet!

    1. Hear, hear. I agree with Diane. After reading many of the comments I again today went with my "gut". Translating the Bible with or without a disability is amazing, but for me the turning point was how she helped the Indians in Florida get back respect and allow them to feel good about themselves. Still a tough one either way!!

  25. Such agony had to vote for Joseph for the greater impact on the world but inside I'm rooting for Harriet.

  26. S.I.J. Schereshewsky body of work is astounding! I am awed at the workings of the Spirit which no doubt made it possible for someone with his particular background to translate the Old Testament. He gets my vote (go GTS!)
    However, I would also nominate him as the patron saint of texting --That one-finger, auto-corrected, emoticon-laden attempt to communicate in a global community... he shows us the value of perseverance even when all seems lost (and the screen is cracked!) Does Lent Madness also allow us to 'elect' patron saints and not just a golden halo?

  27. I'm also part Cherokee but I voted for the Bishop who originally did not think he was fit to be one.

  28. The conditions under which both heroes worked were so challenging that they should tie in this Lenten Madness. In overtime, however, Harriet Bedell pulled away winning my heart. Jesus tasked us with feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, taking care of the sick, and visiting those in prison. Harriet Bedell preached that gospel with her life.