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William Passavant was a Pennsylvania Lutheran pastor who left an uncommonly rich legacy of service. He was driven by a desire to see the consequences of the Gospel worked out in practical ways in the lives of people in need. For Passavant, the church’s commitment to the Gospel must not be spiritual only. It must be visible. For him, it was essential that Gospel principles were worked out in clear missionary actions.
Passavant was a parish pastor at heart and served in that capacity for much of his ministry even while pursing other duties. Passavant was the founder of numerous hospitals, orphanages, and other charitable organizations, principally in Western Pennsylvania, but the reach of his efforts extended from Boston and New York in the east to Chicago and Milwaukee in the mid-west. Many of these institutions continue to this day.
On a visit to Germany, Passavant came into contact with Theodor Fliedner, the founder of the reconstituted deaconess movement among German Lutherans, and in 1849 he invited Fliedner to come to Pittsburgh and bring four of his deaconesses to serve in the hospital there. A year later, in 1850, the first American Lutheran deaconess was consecrated by Passavant and thus began the renewed deaconess movement among American Lutherans.
Passavant also knew the importance of education and was the founder of a number of church schools scattered across the mid-west, principal among these being Thiel College, a Lutheran-affiliated college in Greenville, Pennsylvania.
In addition to his charitable, philanthropic, and educational work, and his guidance of the early years of the deaconess movement, Passavant was also a cutting-edge communicator of his time. He founded two church newspapers, The Missionary and The Workman, both designed to interpret the church’s mission, in consonance with the Lutheran confessions, for the purpose of provoking the desire of the faithful toward loving service to those in need without concern for race, color, creed, or national origin. Later generations of Lutheran communicators look to Passavant as one of the trailblazers of their vocation.
Passavant died on January 3, 1894.
I Compassionate God, we offer thanks for William Passavant, who did bring the German deaconess movement to America so that dedicated women might assist him in founding orphanages and hospitals for those in need and provide for the theological education of future ministers. Inspire us by his example, that we may be tireless to address the wants of all who are sick and friendless; through Jesus the divine Physician, who hath prepared for us an eternal home, and who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
II Compassionate God, we thank you for William Passavant, who brought the German deaconess movement to America so that dedicated women might assist him in founding orphanages and hospitals for those in need and provide for the theological education of future ministers. Inspire us by his example, that we may be tireless to address the wants of all who are sick and friendless; through Jesus the divine Physician, who has prepared for us an eternal home, and who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Preface of God the Holy Spirit
Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
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