Pastors' Memoirs

Mary Louise Steele, 1902-1986

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The Rev. Mary Louise Steele was born July 2, 1902 in Stephens City, Virginia. She was the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Peter Stephens who was the first settler and founder of Stephens City, Virginia in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, near the city of Winchester.

Mary Louise Steele was an honor graduate from Handley High School in Winchester and continued her education in three institutions of higher education: Madison College (presently James Madison University), Shenandoah College and Conservatory of Music, and the University of Virginia.

She was ordained a deacon in 1959, an elder in 1961, and was received on probation in 1963, and in full connection in 1965. During her lifetime she was an accountant, teacher, nurse and one of the first women to serve as a United Methodist minister.

She was licensed to preach in 1956 through Braddock Street United Methodist Church and starting in 1958 served 10 years in the Winchester District as a United Methodist minister. Her years of service included six districts and eight appointments. Her appointments were Francis Asbury, Relief, Riverton in the Winchester District, followed by Irvington in the Rappahannock District, Lakeland in the Danville District, Capeville in the Eastern Shore District, Jollivue-St. Stephens in the Staunton District, and Tyreeanna-Mt. Olivet in the Lynchburg District.

Her ministry was recorded in the April issue of the Advocate in 1963 with the following quote: While the Advocate regularly carries much news of churches and ministers throughout the Virginia conference, little is said about one small, but highly important clerical group -- the lady pastors in our conference. So far as the Advocate news is concerned, this particular group of ladies keeps so busy making history that they do not take time to record it and send it for publication.

The article which followed in the Advocate told of the ministry and life of Mary Louise Steele as one of the pioneers in ministry. Indeed she was one of the first to pave the way for those who have followed. In her call, she has opened the way for many who benefit today from her call and ministry.

She was a lifesaver in more ways than one. She was granted a Certificate of Merit by the American Red Cross which was signed by the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt for her action on October 14, 1942 when she administered first aid to a Mrs. Livewell who was badly cut by flying glass in an automobile accident north of Winchester. Mary Louise was very proud of the Certificate of Merit.

Mary Louise Steele in 1963 was one of seven women ministers in the Virginia conference. At her death in 1986, there were more than 150. Thank God for her call and witness.  

--Wm. Anthony Layman



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