RIP: Joan P. Grimm Fraser, pioneering Episcopal priest

Posted May 25, 2016

The Rev. Joan P. Grimm Fraser

[Episcopal Diocese of Long Island] The Rev. Joan P. Grimm Fraser, an Episcopal priest and leading spokesperson on women’s issues in church and society has died.

Mother Joan recently represented the Episcopal Church and the International Atlantic Province (Province II) of the Episcopal Church on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

The province includes six dioceses in New York, two dioceses in New Jersey and the off-shore dioceses of Haiti, the Virgin Islands and the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. About the UNCSW she had said, “It is an opportunity to give a voice to women here and abroad who don’t have a voice” about health, poverty and justice.

The Rt. Rev. Lawrence C. Provenzano, bishop of Long Island, said, “Each of us will miss Joan’s great spirit and faithful, thoughtful counsel. She was a pioneer in our church and one of the wisest, most faithful priests I have ever known.”

There will be a Requiem Eucharist May 27 at 11 am, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City, New York. Provenzano will preside.

The Fraser family has provided the following biographical details.

The Rev. Joan P. Grimm Fraser, one of the first women ordained in the Episcopal Church, and a geologist, has died at the age of 68. Mother Joan, as she was known to parishioners at Holy Trinity Parish in Hicksville, New York where she served as rector since 2004, was admired throughout the church as a kind and loving priest who blazed a trail for other women.

Born in Berea, Ohio in 1947, Fraser graduated from Allegheny College in 1969 with a B.S. Later that same year she entered the Episcopal Theological Seminary (ETS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as the only woman in her class. She graduated with a Master’s of Divinity in 1973, and was the first woman ordained a transitional deacon in the Diocese of Ohio in 1973. She was the 33rd woman ordained a transitional deacon in the nation.

Mother Joan had been invited to be one of the women who came to be known as the “Philadelphia Eleven,” who were ordained in 1974 in “irregular” fashion prior to authorization by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church for the ordination of women to the priesthood. However, continuing her lifelong practice of abiding faithfully by the decisions of her church, and obeying her bishop, Fraser declined to be one of the very first women ordained priest, and chose instead to serve as deacon at that historic mass.

She served as the associate chaplain at Kenyon College in Ohio from 1974-1976. She was the first woman formally approved by the Diocese of Ohio to be “regularly” ordained priest in 1977. Her deliberate care and intentionality led to her being the second woman ordained to the priesthood in Ohio. Many women throughout the U.S. were ordained in January of 1977, as soon as it was permitted within the Episcopal Church. Fraser had committed to being ordained priest in the chapel at Kenyon at a time when the students could participate. That delay meant being ordained priest in March of 1977. Mother Joan was thus one of the first 50 women regularly ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. The Rt. Rev. John Burt ordained her both deacon and priest.

Following her ordination, it was nearly impossible for a woman priest to obtain paying work, let alone full-time paying work. After her ordination, at her bishop’s urging, and with financial support from the Diocese of Ohio, Fraser obtained an M.S. in Geology from the University of Arizona in 1978.

She served full-time as a petroleum geologist for Amoco Production Co. from 1978-1985. Throughout her long and varied life in the church, Mother Joan frequently took lower paying, part-time or even non-paying jobs so as to be able to serve the church in an environment where women were not always considered desirable candidates for clergy positions. She was known for her cheerful disposition and her wise acceptance of the role she played as a trailblazer for others. She told many younger clergy she mentored that it was her delight to serve as a “doorknob” for other women participating in the life and ministry of the church.

Throughout her long career Fraser served parishes in Ohio, Colorado (where she was the first full-time, fully-stipended female priest), North Carolina, Western Massachusetts (where she served as Canon at Christ Cathedral), New York City, and Long Island. She was appointed by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church to be the 2015 Anglican Delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Mother Joan married Ross Fraser, director of planning at the Nassau University Medical Center, in 1979. He survives her, along with six godchildren, countless cousins, and many other family and friends. Among her friends and family, she was known as a gracious, wonderful hostess, cook and artist. At the time of her death, complex negotiations were being carried out for the sharing of her secret chocolate sauce recipe. In addition to her many other accomplishments she obtained a BFA in Design from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1999.

Memorial gifts may be sent to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society for the benefit of the Joan Grimm Fraser UNCSW Legacy Fund, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the year of the Philadelphia Eleven ordinations. It was 1974, not 1976.


Comments (7)

  1. The Rev. Debra Angell says:

    I met Joan Grimm Fraser in 1985 when she served as the first full-time, fully-stipended female priest in my home parish in Lakewood, Colorado. The first time I saw Joan celebrate the Eucharist it took my breath away. When I was a teenager I had the sense that I was supposed to serve God in the Episcopal Church as a priest. That was not possible in the 1960s. Joan truly opened the door for many of us to follow in her footsteps. My husband and I have been close friends with Ross and Joan since 1985. Reading her obituary explains the ache that I feel in my heart and the gratitude I have for the love and support she’s given me over the years. In December I will celebrate the 18th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. Joan attended my ordination. Joan’s many stories will be missed but I hope that her secret chocolate sauce recipe does not disappear. Rest in peace my friend.

  2. Frances Holliday says:

    The irregular ordinations happened July 29, 1974. Just a correction to the date in the article.

  3. Reem El Far says:

    I met her last year at CSW59. She was such a loving , caring and helpful person . She promised to come and visit me at Jordan . May her Soul rest in peace . I am sure She Will be missed among her family and friends.

  4. Jackie Pittman says:

    One of my favorite memories of Joan is hearing her explanation of why she didn’t tediously wipe out the chalice and paten after the Eucharist. This account came one night after one of her famous dinners when I asked could I help clean up. She told me that just like in church, she didn’t wash the dishes with company around the table. She was the gracious host, whether at the Holy Table or the dinner table. Thank you for coming into our lives.

  5. Glenda M. Empsall says:

    Joan was my room mate at geology field camp the summer of 1975. She was a graduate student at University of Arizona in the Geosciences Dept. and I was an undergrad finishing my junior year. After our geo-tasks were done for the day, Joan tirelessly worked late into the evening on letters and narratives for support of women’s ordination. We all called her “The Rev.” On May 6, 1978, she presided at our marriage ceremony at Grace Episcopal Church in Tucson, where she was serving. There were so few women priests at that time — and not that many female geologists, either! When people asked my husband and I about our wedding, we enjoyed watching their faces when we told them we were married by my college room mate. We are still married… Joan was and continues to be an inspiration to so many of us for her brilliance, gentleness and determination! I have since been ordained a Deacon in the Episcopal Church and am grateful for her leadership. May light perpetual shine upon her.

  6. The Right Reverend Dean E. Wolfe says:

    I met Joan when I served at Trinity Church in the City of Boston. She was a very genuine and warm person and an exceptionally faithful priest. She had a creative and wonderful ministry and she will be deeply, deeply missed. May she rest in eternal peace and rise in incomparable glory.

  7. The Rev. Alejandra Trillos says:

    Joan was a kindred spirit. One of her passions was to support newly ordained clergy. I would never forget her ongoing support in every ministry I was part in the Diocese of Long Island. She will be missed but her kindred spirit will last forever. Gratitude to Mother Joan always.

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