August 2: Samuel Ferguson, Missionary Bishop for West Africa, 1916

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About this commemoration

Samuel Ferguson
Samuel Ferguson

Samuel David Ferguson was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on January 1, 1842. He grew up in Liberia, West Africa, having moved there with his family at the age of six. He attended mission schools that were sponsored by the Episcopal Church and eventually became a teacher.

Ferguson was ordained to the diaconate in 1865 and to the priesthood in 1867, serving first as curate and then as rector of St. Mark’s Church, Harper, Liberia.

Perhaps due to his own upbringing and his first vocation as a teacher, Ferguson emphasized the importance of education throughout his ministry. He was the founder of schools throughout Liberia and his passion for education influenced other parts of West Africa. His efforts at starting schools were supported through funds given by the Women’s Auxiliary [later to be the United Thank Offering (UTO) of the Episcopal Church Women] under the leadership of Julia Chester Emery.

Ferguson was called to be the fourth bishop of Cape Palmas, later the Diocese of Liberia, in 1885. His ordination to the episcopate took place at Grace Church in New York City. He was the first American- born black to become Bishop of Liberia. Although not the first Episcopal bishop of African-American heritage, he was the first to sit in the House of Bishops.

With the generous support of Robert Fulton Cutting, a wealthy New York financier who served for a time as the treasurer of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, Bishop Ferguson founded Cuttington College in 1889. In addition to basic studies, theological, agricultural, and industrial education were emphasized. Ferguson believed that establishing a strong spiritual and educational foundation was the best way for Liberia’s young people to transform society. Although closed for two decades during the Liberian civil war, the college, now Cuttington University, continues to serve the people of Liberia thus fulfilling Bishop Ferguson’s vision.

Bishop Ferguson remained in Liberia for the rest of his life. He died in Monrovia on August 2, 1916.

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, we bless you for moving your servant Samuel Ferguson to minister in Liberia, expanding the missionary vision of your Church in education and ministry. Stir up in us a zeal for your mission and a yearning for your holy Word; through Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 51:13–26

2 Peter 1:16–21

John 3:1–15

Psalm 119:9–16

Preface of a Saint (2)

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

7 thoughts on “August 2: Samuel Ferguson, Missionary Bishop for West Africa, 1916

  1. August 2: Samuel Ferguson, Missionary Bishop for West Africa, 1916

    This is a possible observance that leaves me groping for some of the parameters I mentioned in my “five general questions” comment, especially,
    + Are there ANY guidelines to assist in judging what may be edifying but not optimally
    fit for inclusion in the official calendar? (COMMENT: Every parish knows of
    baptized Christians whose lives are quietly heroic, or even not-so-quietly outstanding
    in terms of faithfulness, devotion, prayer, and all the rest. Surely, not ALL should be
    + Are we working towards a goal of any sort? For instance, an optional
    commemoration for every day in the year? A distribution according to
    constituencies previously neglected? An ecumenical representation?
    (COMMENT: making decisions based on likes (or dislikes) but lacking a sense of
    context, goal, or finished product is a little crazy.)
    This observance shows a normal Christian and a normal ministry. If there are extraordinary features to this man’s story the bio doesn’t say what they are. We have a disproportionate number of bishops in LFF; here’s another one. It doesn’t say he had a particular effect as a bishop on his diocese or as a priest or deacon on his people. (He may have; it just doesn’t say.) Education is extremely important in every country, but we’re left without insight as to his specific contributions as an educator. His chief contribution seems to be founder of schools, especially Cuttington.

    It doesn’t mention particular obstacles to his work or challenges to his development in any regard. We’re told “his passion for education influenced other parts of West Africa” but we have no idea what that influence was or in which parts of West Africa it made a difference. We don’t know how many schools he established (other than Cuttington).

    That he was the first Episcopal bishop of African-American heritage to sit in the House of Bishops, even though he wasn’t the first Episcopal bishop of African-American heritage, is more of an embarrassment for the church than an achievement for him. It’s no more than normal for a bishop to sit in the House of Bishops. What’s the rest of this story?

    The Collect says Ferguson expanded “the missionary vision of your Church in education and ministry” but the bio shows generalizations rather than the specifics of an expanded vision. Lacking guidelines that scream, “Yes this is exactly what we need in this calendar,” I am left wanting more, uninspired by what we have, and feeling this is not one to include, and it would be a genuine shame if all that were due to a lackluster synopsis rather than the facts of Ferguson’s life.

  2. Hebrew Reading and NT Readings: These readings are good choices.

    Gospel: The readings are of such uneven length sometimes; this time we get fifteen verses. And, it is the exchange between Nicodemus and Jesus … seems a bit of an odd choice.

    Bio: Bishop Ferguson needs a ‘who he was’, and ‘why he is important’ statement.
    2nd paragraph. Though the words ‘diaconate’ and ‘priesthood’ are correct terms, they are not consistent with other references in HWHM (see Thomas a Kempis, William White). I think that ‘deacon’ and ‘priest’ might be better choices.
    5th paragraph: Mr. Cutting was undoubtedly a wealthy New York ‘City’ financier. Again, it is my bias is for identifying New York City from the rest of the Empire State. Last sentence of the paragraph: ‘… during the Liberian civil war …’ When? What year? Not all of us know Liberian history very well.

  3. It may not be so remarkable (meriting inclusion in HWHM) that Bishop Ferguson started a missionary college, but this achievement–and others of his–were “firsts” in Black History. I think that is one reason why Bishop Ferguson and Fr. Bragg are proposed for inclusion in HWHM, and for good reason: they were Christians whose faith and perseverance led to their overcoming obstacles of race for many people. About the college in Liberia: there is a couple in our neighborhood (he from India, she from Japan–both from Anglican families) who met at that college in Liberia. I know of some recent sadnesses in Liberian history. I agree with Michael about providing answers to “when” and “in what year” questions.

  4. I think that all I do is complain and I do not intend to sound so negative. I am missing the point I guess. I do not understand why Samuel Ferguson, Missionary Bishop of West Africa, is so special that he is included in Holy Men and Holy Women. The comments of Celinda Scott help a bit, but not much. The Episcopal Church has been associated with educational institutions for hundred of years. What makes Bishop Ferguson’s education work so different or special? As Bishop, I would have expected him to sit in the House of Bishops. Why is the comment made that he did? I realize that the Western Church has a long tradition of remembering bishops among its “saints.” Why is this bishop so very special? He dies not seem to have been martyred. I must assume that he had to overcome some extraordinary obstacles. Race seems to be the unspoken issue. But we have commemorated others for the fights against racism.

  5. Including Samuel Ferguson in HWHM is important for two reasons.

    The first of anything is pretty important. While it is expected that a bishop would sit in the House of Bishops, Ferguson was the first of his race to do so. He would inspire others to that possibility.

    The second reason is that Cuttington College is not only a mission school, it is the oldest in that area.

    If I have any recommendations, it would be to remove the mention of the financier who already has a college named after him.
    The observance did make me want to know more, It did inspire me to look further into his life. Samuel Ferguson was also the superintendent of an orphan asylum which adds another layer to his life. He seemed to view education and spirituality as his path to bettering the world.

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