Home > Worship Resources > Festivals & Commemorations > Elizabeth Fedde, 1921; Emma Francis, 1945; Deaconesses (February 25)

About the Commemoration

Elizabeth Fedde was born on Christmas Day, 1850, at Feda, near Flekkefjord, Norway. At age nineteen, after the death of both her parents, she entered deaconess training at Lovisenberg Deaconess House under the supervision of Mother Katinka Guldberg, who had been trained at Fliedner’s Motherhouse at Kaiserswerth, Germany. Following her training she began work in the state hospital blazing a path for trained, professional nursing sisters. During a typhoid epidemic in 1877 she nursed a young typhoid victim back to health. In the following year she founded a hospital in a remote area of northern Norway. A serious illness forced her to recuperate at the home of relatives. There, on her thirty-second birthday, Christmas Day, 1882, Sister Elizabeth received a letter asking her to come to New York and take up a ministry to the Norwegian seamen in port and on the ships in the harbor. “You can come immediately if you dare, can, and will take on this work.” The letter was written by Gabriel Fedde, then the secretary to the Norwegian seamen’s pastor, Mr. Mortensen. Sister Elizabeth, with no knowledge of the English language, accepted the challenge and left Christiana on March 25,1883, and arrived in New York on April 9.

The work of the Norwegian deaconesses was officially established in America at a meeting held in Pastor Mortensen’s home April 19,1883, under the name of the Norwegian Relief Society. That work had its beginning in three small rooms (rented at $9 per month) at 109 Williams Street, next to the Seamen’s Church and was marked by a service in that church June 11,1883. Sister Elizabeth established a six-bed hospital that was to become a large medical center in Brooklyn. In 1885 the Deaconess House in Brooklyn was opened. The condition of the Norwegian immigrants to whom she ministered was indescribable; physical and mental illness, financial and spiritual poverty, abounded. In addition to her work with Norwegian seamen, she visited Ward Island Immigrant Hospital, founded homes for widows and orphans, collected and distributed food and clothing to the poor, made burial arrangements, taught Sunday school, solicited funds for ship fares for the disillusioned who wanted to return home.

Sister Elizabeth also established the Lutheran Deaconess Home and Hospital of the Lutheran Free Church in Minneapolis in 1889. Sister Elizabeth, plagued by ill health, returned to Norway in November 1895. There she married, and lived for nearly twenty-five years. She died at her home, Slettebo, Egersund, on February 25, 1921.

It is appropriate to remember with Sister Elizabeth another deaconess, one who devoted her entire life to the diaconate and who shows its wide-ranging influence. Emma Hermina Francesca Francis, of African ancestry, was born in the British West Indies in 1875 and was educated in Antigua and in Germany. In 1908 she opened an orphanage, the Ebenezer Home for Girls, in Frederiskted on the island of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. When the Virgin Islands passed from Danish control to the United States in 1917, she became associated with the Philadelphia Motherhouse of Deaconesses, and in 1922, at the age of forty-seven, she was consecrated a deaconess by the Philadelphia Motherhouse. As a canvasser for the West Indies Mission Board, Sister Emma helped found the Lutheran Church of the Transfiguration on 126th Street in New York City where she served as a parish worker for five years. In 1926 Sister Edith Prince, the second deaconess of African descent, joined the staff. In 1927 Sister Emma returned to Frederiksted, and at the Queen Louise Home resumed her work with children. So effective was her work and so great was the people’s love for her that the attendance at her funeral in April 1945 was one of the largest on record in the Virgin Islands. The relationship between the Lutheran Virgin Islanders and parishes in New York City remains strong.

Excerpts from New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints by Philip H. Pfatteicher, copyright, 2008 by Fortress Press, an imprint of Augsburg Fortress.

See also: Elizabeth Fedde


From Light of Christ by Evelyn Underhill

The Triumphant Church is not a collection of pious people with robes washed white—it is the whole of life’s energy running right, sublimated and woven into the loving self-expression of God—it is the Kingdom of Heaven. Its frontiers must stretch till they embrace the whole Universe in its power, mystery, beauty and bring it under the rule of Christ, the intellectual radiance full of love. For the work of the Incarnation, as St. Paul saw it, is not finished till the whole of the created order is filled with God and, at the heart of the universe, ruling it in its most majestic sweep and its homeliest detail, we find His uttered Word, His love….

And you and I are committed as baptized Christians, to what has been given His deep and touching earthly revelation, to the steady loyal effort, in our own small place and way, towards bringing that mounting vision a little nearer completeness, bringing a little more of that Kingdom in. Each faithful upward glance, each movement of trust, each act of selfless love, helps it on. A time such as we have had here is only justified if it brings that mounting vision into focus again; reminds us of what it means to be Inheritors of Heaven. The Hallowing of the whole Universe, physical, mental, and spiritual in all its grades, the infinitely great and the infinitely small, giving our lives at whatever cost to the helping of the fulfillment of their sacramental promise—we must take sides in some way for that, because we are the Children of God.

Evelyn Underhill, The Light of Christ (London: Longmans, 1945), 74-75, 91-92, 64, 27-28, 28-29, 82-83. Reprinted by permission of Wipfand Stock Publishers.


Lord God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served, and to give his life for the world: By his love, reflected in the sacrifice of your servants Elizabeth Fedde and Emma Francis, encourage us to serve those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help, giving hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, peace to the troubled, and rest to the weary; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, now and forever.

LBW Common of Renewers of Society, rev. PHP

Readings: Hosea 2:18-23; Psalm 94:1-14; Romans 12:9-21; Luke 6:20-36

Hymn of the Day:Lord of glory, you have bought us” (LBW 424, LSB 851, ELW 707)

Prayers: For the spirit of selfless service; For sailors and mariners; For the sick, the needy, the forgotten; For those who minister to those in need; For the liberation of women and men everywhere from bondage to stereotypes.

Preface: Baptism (BCP, LBW)

Color: White