A woman of influence: Deaconess Dr Cath Ritchie

This International Women’s Day, Revive asked three Uniting Church leaders to share their stories of the women who have influenced their lives. Rev Bev Fabb writes:

The woman who has had the most profound impact on my life is Deaconess Dr Cath Ritchie. Born to a farming family in Gippsland, Victoria in 1909, educated in a one teacher rural school, she eventually graduated from the University of Melbourne. Raised in a Scottish Presbyterian family, her Christian faith was always central in her life. In 1937 she responded to a call from the Foreign Missions Department to serve as a teacher missionary in Korea, then under Japanese rule. When Japan entered the war in 1941, all Australian missionaries were recalled from Korea.  Cath dreamed of returning once the war was over, but this was not to be. After a time as a youth worker in rural Victoria, riding her bicycle between towns, she was asked to become Principal of Rolland House, the Presbyterian Deaconess and Missionary training college. She remained in this position for 23 years.

Cath insisted that all the women trained at Rolland House were given a theological education equivalent in standard to that given to the men training for ordination. She also insisted that her students got practical experience of ministry, something that the men did not get. Within Rolland House she created a community grounded in spirituality and mutual service. At the time when women attending the Presbyterian Assembly were relegated to the galleries, Principal Ritchie was alone allowed to address the gathering and was a strong advocate for women in ministry. Cath forged links ecumenically and internationally with others called to diaconal ministry. In 1994 the Melbourne College of Divinity awarded her a Doctorate of Sacred Theology in honour of her leadership in theological education, especially for women.

As a young Christian I was inspired by Cath’s keen intellect, her humility in service, her strong advocacy for women, her passion for the mission of the church and her solidarity with the poor and oppressed.

Bev Fabb

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