ST. LOUIS AMERICAN • MAR. 29 – APR. 4, 2012
ELLIS Continued from A1 leaders, and hundreds of family, friends and church servants stood in the pulpit to offer life reflections, condolences and comfort. It was as if the entire region came together to say “farewell,” “thank you” and “amen” for nearly 50 years of service as pastor at New Northside. “It was a peaceful transition,” the Rev. Andrew Latchinson said before ministering through song. “When the spirit came, I could hear him say – like he always did – ‘Let the church say amen.’” Ellis passed away On Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at the age of 74 after a long illness. The homegoing service featured more than 30 presentations, several songs and at least two praise breaks. Each in its own way soothed the souls that cried out – the widow First Lady Beverly Ellis, in particular – and provided a reminder of the tireless service Ellis rendered to the church and community. Long before the service began, Ellis’ impact was apparent within the walls where he used his calling to the ministry as a catalyst for change. The service was set to begin at 5 p.m. But by 3:30, there were no seats to be had. The main level of the sanctuary, the
EBO Continued from A1 having mastered or developed an expertise in being a caregiver from a good theological base,” she said. Today, Sr. Ebo is far from lacking expertise, especially with a Master’s degree in hospital executive development from Saint Louis University and a second Master’s degree in theology of health care ministry from Aquinas Institute of
Photo by Wiley Price
Twenty-plus faith leaders, a handful of civic leaders, and hundreds of friends and parishioners mourned with the family of Bishop Willie J. Ellis Jr. at his homegoing service held Sunday at New Northside Missionary Baptist Church. balcony and a basement overflow area sat packed with people waiting patiently to pay their respects. His homegoing started with a unique personal touch – a processional by the New Northside Drumline, a group Ellis founded more than 15 years ago. Hours later, as the clock crept towards 11 p.m., guests and members of New Northside remained faithfully at capacity until the last “amen” was delivered. ‘Powerful force for positive change’ “Bishop Ellis was a power-
St. Louis. She has also held numerous executive hospital positions and received five honorary doctorates. On Saturday, May 5, Sr. Ebo will receive the 2012 Lifetime Achiever in Health Care at St. Louis American Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Health Care Awards Luncheon at the Frontenac Hilton. Paving her own path Sr. Ebo, who was born Elizabeth Louise, started
ful force for positive change in this community,” said U.S. Rep Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO). “And as the shepherd of this historic congregation, his inspired leadership raised the faith family to heights that no one could have imagined when he assumed this pulpit in 1964. Back then New Northside was a struggling small church. But he was a guiding light to this congregation and this community.” The congressman got personal. “For my family, his passing was a very personal loss. You see Bishop Ellis was at my father’s side at the very beginning of his political career,”
Clay said of his father, retired Congressman Bill Clay, who was unable to attend the service himself. “When others told my father there was no way he could win, Bishop Ellis told him, ‘Keep on keeping on.’ His impact on the city, the state and the region will live forever.” (Clay’s eulogy will be printed in full in next week’s Religion column.) Congressman Clay was one of many who displayed the strikingly intimate relationships that were forged between Ellis and those who were in his presence. Each of them were touched in a special way. In his
paving her own path at a young age. When she was 4, her mother died, and her father lost his job as a library custodian soon after. When he couldn’t afford to keep their house in Bloomington, Ill., he placed his three children in a home – where many black children across the country landed during the Depression. As a girl she was infected with tuberculosis in a bone in her thumb, and she spent an extensive time in the hospital. There she learned about Catholicism and committed to
following that religious path. Her choice had consequences. “I was no longer welcome back at the home,” she said. “As a result of that, I went to live with a couple of older African-American women and stayed with them until I finished my last two years in high school.” She was the first African American to graduate from her high school, Holy Trinity in Bloomington. Sr. Ebo had aspirations of becoming a nurse, but was rejected from numerous nursing schools
work and ministry, Ellis took the time to get to know and feed their spirits in a way that was specific and individually sacred. “He lifted us up and gave us inspiration,” said former U.S. Senator Jean Carnahan. “He gave us inspirational leadership. When my husband (Mel Carnahan) was governor, he loved to talk with the bishop because they both loved to think impossible thoughts.” Senator Carnahan remembered the acts of kindness and prayers offered by Ellis and several other AfricanAmerican pastors from the St. Louis area when her family received word that then Gov. Mel Carnahan and their son Randy lost their lives in a plane crash in 2000. “They lifted me up, and I believe to this day that’s what got me through,” Carnahan said. “Brother Ellis’ work on earth is done, but his life has just begun.” Many of those same ministers were among the dozens of faith leaders who came to mourn with Ellis’ wife, family, friends and parishioners. The Rev. B.T. Rice officiated. At one point, he offered a roll call of a veritable “who’s who” among faith and community to share words: Rev. Donald Hunter (New Sunny Mount Baptist Church), Rev. F. James Clark (Shalom Church, City of Peace), Rev. Michal Jones (Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church),
Bishop R.J. Ward (Kennerly Temple COGIC), Bishop Wooten (Williams Temple COGIC), Bishop Alphonso Scott (Lively Stone Church of God). “He definitely left his mark on St. Louis,” Bishop Ward said. “But the best thing I read about him in the program is that he accepted Jesus.” The admiration for Ellis was shared by all. “I’ve been a pastor for 39 years at eight churches and three regions of the country,” said eulogist Rev. Dr. Donald McNeal, pastor of Hopewell Baptist Church. “And I’m just amazed at a black man with a black church for that long.” Ellis had a special connection with Hopewell because of his service to the church as Minister of Music under the pastoral guidance of Rev. W.S. Jones. His connection with the church spanned more than 50 years – even as he led his own flock at New Northside. “You are going to endure grief, you can’t intellectualize it – you are going to have to stand it,” McNeal said. “When you endure it, you begin to forget about what you lost and think about what was gained. Bishop had been sick for two years – with all of the surgeries and hospital visits. To leave him here so you could be happy is selfish. And though we suffer, it’s time to say thank you.”
because of her race. In 1942, she found her place in the United States Cadet Nurse Corps at St. Mary’s Infirmary in St. Louis. It was a three-year program designed to train replacements for the volunteer nurses who were serving in the war. “They were hectic days and nights,” she said. “Maybe you’d get a nap in, and the rest of the time you were either on duty or in a classroom.” Soon after, in 1946, she became one of the first three African-American women to join the Sisters of Mary (now the Franciscan Sisters of Mary). Upon arriving to St. Louis, her dreams of becoming a nurse took a different direction. In 1962, she earned a degree in medical records administration, and two years later she earned her Masters from SLU. While serving as the assistant administrator of St. Mary Infirmary in the 1960s, Sr. Ebo became the director of the medical records department at St. Mary’s Hospital in 1965. She was the first black supervisor in charge of any department at St. Mary’s.
Sunday” in Selma. Her first thought was, “If I didn’t have this habit on, I would be down there with those people,” she said. God called her bluff, she said. Two days later, she became the first black sister to march in Selma. She and the other five sisters who traveled to Selma received permission from the reverend mother and Cardinal Archbishop Joseph Ritter. “It turned out that the habit was what got everyone’s attention very quickly, because nuns had not been seen doing anything like that before,” she said. “It didn’t ring a bell with me that we were getting involved with something that was hysterical and historical.”
Sister in Selma Sr. Ebo made a point to listen to her employees. On the Monday morning of March 8, 1965, Sr. Ebo’s employees – who were primarily African-American – came on duty and explained to her what happened at “Bloody
Trailblazing administrator Soon after Selma, Sr. Ebo became the first AfricanAmerican woman religious leader to be in charge of a Catholic hospital in this country. In 1967, she was appointed as the executive director of the St. Clare Hospital in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Years later Sr. Ebo experienced health problems, and she decided she was ready to stop paper-pushing, she said. With her Masters in theology of health care ministry, she began “sending in the clowns” for patients as a hospital chaplain. In a 1978 article in the Catholic Herald Citizen, Sr. Ebo compared her job as a hospital chaplain to that of a clown: “Clowns don’t do a lot of talking. They’re quiet. They bring happiness by smiling in a way that’s both happy and sad. It’s a wry smile that says, ‘I’ve experienced life – both the gladness and the sadness. I’m human just like you.’” Sr. Ebo has earned many awards for being a trailblazer and living legend, and has given speeches all over the country. In 1989, the National Black Sisters’ Conference presented her with the Harriet Tubman Award, honoring her as someone “called to be a Moses to the people.” Five universities have awarded her honorary doctorates, including the College of New Rochelle of New York (2008), Aquinas Institute (2009), SLU (2010), and the University of Missouri – St. Louis (2010). Yet, throughout her life, she has lived by the expression, “Give God the glory and give her the prayers.” Tickets for the 12th Annual Salute to Excellence in Health Care Awards Luncheon on Saturday, May 5 at the Frontenac Hilton are $75 each/$750 table for VIP/Corporate seating and $50 each/$500 table for Individual seating. To order tickets, call 314-533-8000 or visit www.stlamerican.com.